Virgin Voyages & Scarlet Lady: Embarkation Day Recap

Today through Sunday, January 30th, Premier Custom Travel Founder and President Chris Grum is onboard Scarlet Lady, the first ship launched by the newest cruise brand – Virgin Voyages. Each day, Chris will be posting a recap blog with his thoughts on the ship and the experience. Here’s a look at his embarkation day and first evening onboard.

This may be my 42nd cruise, but the excitement of seeing the ship for the first time and arriving at the terminal never fades. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today’s anticipation has an added layer of uncertainty, as this is not only a brand new cruise line but also one that seems (from the pre-cruise marketing and interactions) to be very different. As I arrived at the terminal, I continued to wonder what awaited me once onboard. I have read many reviews of this new brand, and they were all over the place. Some loved it, others did not. I also read stories about issues on embarkation day specifically with luggage and with the pre-cruise testing. I was eager (and perhaps a bit nervous) to see how the day would go.


The pre-cruise communications from Virgin Voyages has been sparse, to say the least. I completed my check-in via their mobile app, which I must say has some issues to be worked out. The app doesn’t play well with others, so to get it to work optimally you need to close out the other apps on your phone. This is an area where they really need to work on improving things. There is no online account to access and after checking in, no forms, boarding passes, or luggage tags to print. There’s also really no explanation of the boarding process other than to arrive at your pre-selected time (mine was 11:45am). I get that they want to have a different vibe, but would a single email explaining that you won’t need luggage tags and what to expect on embarkation day really spoil the theme?

At 11:20am I ordered an Uber and headed to Terminal C, where I was told to check-in. I arrived just a few minutes ahead of my arrival window and was met by the porters you see for any other cruise line. Mine was very personable and asked if I had luggage tags. When I told him I did not, he asked me to open the app to get my room number. All morning today it would not even load and kept crashing. Thankfully he had a list of passengers and room numbers. I suspect this is because of the glitchy app. He filled out my luggage tags, attached them, and pointed me to the main entrance.


When you first enter terminal C, you go through security, similar to any other port. Your hand luggage is scanned and you walk through a magnetometer. There was no line at all and I was through in under a minute.


Like many other things, Virgin Voyages does pre-cruise testing differently than other lines. With most of the others, you test a day or two prior to your cruise and bring the results with you. Virgin tests you in the terminal on embarkation day, free of charge. I had heard some very negative reviews of this process, but I must say that my experience was very pleasant, efficient, and orderly.

When you arrive at the terminal, there are Virgin employees waiting outside with QR codes for you to scan. You will out a short form, giving them your personal info and an email address and/or phone number where they can send your results. The one pre-arrival email I did get had a link to do this in advance, which I did. Doing it the night before is the smart move – gets you inside the terminal much more quickly. Once past security, there are a number of stations (similar to check-in on other cruise lines) where employees are waiting to set up your test. You give them your name and they print several labels and your test sheet. You then take those to the next section, where there are several tables set up with medical folks to perform the tests. Again, I did not have to wait at all and I was swabbed and on my way in about 1 minute. She double-checked the labels to make sure they had the right name and email, attached one to the bag and another to the vial, and then did the swab. She did both nostrils for about 10 seconds each, but thankfully she did not go too deep and the whole process was not the least bit uncomfortable. After the test, I was sent to the first waiting area to await my results. I was told that I would have them in about 15 minutes, but mine arrived in about 8.

I would have taken photos of the testing area, but I was asked not to do so and was happy to honor that request. It was very well organized and areas were clearly labeled.


After taking the test, I was directed to a set of stations where the employees were doing the cruise check-in. I was asked to show my passport (a requirement of Virgin Voyages – no birth certificates allowed on any of their voyages) and my proof of vaccination. He then asked if I had received “The Band” in the mail, which I had not. He set one up for me and even helped fit it to my wrist. The Band is your room key, charge card, and wearable tech that makes the voyage more interactive. Once my band was in place, I was sent to the first waiting area to await my test results. Once they arrived via email, I showed them to the Virgin rep and was led to the next step.


Now armed with my negative COVID-19 test, I was sent to the next area of the terminal, which is the general waiting area. I was given a boarding card (Boarding Group 3) and assigned a seat with my other group 3 people. It was clear that they were organizing us by group, with the lower numbers closer to the boarding area. Makes a lot of sense.

The terminal was comfortable and had vending machines with sodas and snacks. I was in my seat by noon, perhaps a few minutes later. We did not start boarding until around 1:50pm, which is quite a wait. I had been told that they do not board until 2pm typically, so the wait was not surprising. But perhaps they should not have us arrive so early if we are going to have to wait almost two hours.

When they started the boarding process, they clearly announced “Group One” only, but that didn’t stop pretty much everyone from going to the gangway. The announcements were a bit hard to hear and that, coupled with the long wait, I think may have made people a bit antsy. The good news is that it wasn’t too terribly crowded and we were onboard the ship in a matter of minutes.


As we were greeted by some enthusiastic crew members, my first impression was that this ship is absolutely gorgeous. It has that new ship feeling, is very clean, and is very different from any other ship I’ve been on. Words that come to mind include luxurious, hip, colorful, and trendy. I was worried that it might be pretentious or off-putting, but at least so far that has not been the case. I immediately headed for my stateroom to drop off my backpack.


As they do with many things, Virgin Voyages takes a different approach to numbering their rooms. Each side of the ship has the same room numbers, with the letter A following rooms on the port side and the letter Z for those on the starboard side. I’m curious as to why they chose this system, as I have never seen it before on the other 41 voyages I’ve taken. I will be curious to see if there is any confusion over this in the coming days, especially after people have had a few drinks.

When you first enter your room, you are surprised by a bit of a show. I wish I had caught the entire thing, but the video above gives you the end of it. As you open the door, the lights come on, music plays, and the curtains slowly open to reveal your sea terrace. It’s a very cool welcome to your home for the next few days.

The room appears to be roughly the same size as a typical balcony stateroom on a cruise ship, with a few Virgin enhancements. The bed converts from day to night. In my photos above, it’s in the night configuration. Hopefully they’ll convert it at some point and I can get the daytime look. I’m told it’s very comfortable despite being convertible – we shall see this evening. There’s a hammock on every balcony – and there’s a great story behind those, which I will share in a future blog. I had read a lot about the lack of storage space, but I’m certainly not finding that to be an issue since I am sailing solo. The bathroom is the main place where there is not a lot of counter or storage space – it would definitely be challenging with two people sharing it.

Everything in the room is controlled by a provided iPad. You can set the temperature, open or close the shades, control the lighting, the TV, and even select from some pre-programmed “moods.” I’ll share a video about that later this week. There is a mini-fridge (not stocked, at least in my accommodations), bottled water (included), and, in a cruise ship first, plugs by the bed! On both sides! Congrats to Virgin Voyages on being the first to do this. Those of you with breathing machines or wanting to charge your phone at night will be thrilled. There is a single plug and two USB connections on each side. Bravo, VV!


Virgin Voyages is doing muster drills very similar to how other lines are doing them in the age of COVID-19. First, you watch a video on your phone (on the VV app) or on your cabin TV. Once you’ve done that, there is a time window when you can visit your muster station and watch the quick life jacket demo. It took all of 2-3 minutes. They scan The Band and you’re good to go. Like other lines, they are required by law to do the full announcement of the safety procedures and test the horn. What was different here is since there is no cruise director, the announcements were pre-recorded. There is a female voice that (so far) has done all the announcements, which have been sparse. I have yet to hear any announcements other than pre-cruise safety ones. Quite frankly it is nice to not have someone cutting in every few hours to announce what’s coming up on the ship. We all have the app, and for those who don’t, paper schedules are available at Sailor Services.


For my first dinner onboard, I chose Extra Virgin, the ship’s Italian eatery. On Virgin Voyages, all the food is included. There is no “main dining room” nor is there a buffet. Instead, you make a reservation at the restaurant of your choice and enjoy. You are not supposed to be able to make reservations at the same restaurant for the same meal more than once, but I was told after dinner that if I wished to return, I was welcome to do so.

I must say that the service was outstanding, attentive, and very friendly. Gregory and the whole team were incredible. I actually wish that there had been a bill so I could tip them more (gratuities are also included on Virgin Voyages). I’ve included screen shots of the menu, which has a lot of great options. The portions are large, making this a great place to go family style and, if you have a large enough party, order one of everything.

For my Antipasta course, I chose the Braised Mini Meatballs. Gregory also brought me the Affettati Misti, which is the Chef’s selection of meats and cheeses. All were excellent and the accompaniments like nuts and honey complimented the meats and cheese very well. Of course, the meal included home-made focaccia bread and oil & vinegar. For my Secondo course (which includes an entree and a pasta choice) I chose the vegan option – the Brussel Sprouts Arrabbiata. It was absolutely delicious. Just a touch of spice and so flavorful. My pasta choice was the pappardelle al ragu, which was also very tasty.

The drink menu had so many good options, it was hard to choose. However, I did land on the “Italian Stallion,” and I may return to that restaurant just to enjoy that wonderful drink again. The dessert menu offers several choices and the option to have some table side Gelati and Sorbetti, which I declined due to being full from the main courses. I did sample the Chocolate Olive Oil cake, which was delicious.

If Extra Virgin is any indication of the culinary experience on this ship, I’m in for four nights of amazing food.


I will post the full day’s schedule for each day in the Facebook photo album for this cruise (not to mention tons of photos of the ship). I’ll add to that album each day. Today’s schedule is already posted there. I had a lot of entertainment options for this evening. I decided to check out a group called Phantom Folktales. They are some incredible musicians who typically do pop-up shows around the ship featuring something called “micro-plays.” I haven’t seen one of those yet, but every single one of them was incredibly talented and their 30 minute set was just not enough. Sadly, I was the only passenger in attendance, along with several crew. I felt bad for them, and one of them actually thanked me for attending.

There are less than 1000 Sailors onboard for this cruise, so the ship is less than half full and you can certainly tell it. I never thought I’d say this, but I wish there were more people onboard to experience this. I noticed several places during my evening stroll that had few, if any, passengers enjoying them. There were several places where the crew outnumbered the guests. At least so far, my apprehension about this brand has been misplaced. Everyone has been very friendly and welcoming, including my fellow Sailors. I’ve met a few people so far and all are approachable and seem to be having a great time.


Tomorrow we will be in Nassau. I’ve been there several times, so I am staying onboard and will explore the ship more tomorrow. I’ve photographed two full decks and random features of others. Having most of the people onboard off the ship tomorrow will give me some time to get some more photos and wander around a bit to see what else this “Lady Ship” has to offer.

I have three great culinary reservations for tomorrow, plus some entertainment tickets reserved as well. I am curious to see what their “shows” are like. Tomorrow’s blog will also cover the casino and some of the features that make Scarlet Lady unique (a boxing ring!?!)

Until then, good night from somewhere between Miami and the Bahamas. Thanks for reading!