Setting sail in 2020, Richard Branson’s new Virgin Voyages cruise company will be debuting with the Scarlet Lady, a cutting-edge ship that features a tattoo parlour, open-air gym and vinyl record shop. There will be no buffets and no kids. Alice Snape reports
For adults-only, Virgin Voyages is completely redesigning cruises for the millennial and Gen Z generation, fitting out ships with trendy Tom Dixon interior design, Intelligentsia coffee shops, modular cabins that be transformed into party zones, karaoke studios, and spas with mud rooms and pedi stations for men.
There’ll even be a tattoo parlour called Squid Ink, an open-air gym with punching bags and a record shop called Voyage Vinyl that has been curated by Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe-winning artist and producer Mark Ronson.“I’m thrilled to be part of the Virgin Voyages’ Creative Collective, helping lead the charge in music. Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin brand were legendary game-changers in the music industry and it’s a thrill to join them as they bring that same spirit to sea travel,” Ronson said. MK (Marc Kinchen) and Sofi Tukker will also be in residency. Not only that but Virgin Voyages cruise ships will be serving its own brand of craft beer, there will be music playlists put together by Ronson, personalised in-room bars stocked with guests’ favourite snacks and drinks, and hair and make-up crew to ensure everyone looks fabulous. When people step aboard one of its liners (the Scarlet Lady, capable of hosting 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crew, will be the first but there are three more in the pipeline), they will not be a passenger but a “sailor”, ready for a “an escape from the chaos of casinos and kid-filled creches”. Perfect for short yet hedonistic getaways, Virgin Voyages will offer four- and five-night cruises to the Caribbean. In total there will be 20 city-style restaurants but passengers won’t pay extra to eat in them, unlike onboard other cruise ships. Tom McAlpin, president and chief executive officer for Virgin Voyages, says: “We have set out on a mission to capture the spirit of dining in the best cities of the world and bring it to sea. Because food is the fuel for our bodies and souls, and we’re Virgin Voyages, naturally it all had to be included within your ticket price.”At Razzle Dazzle, for example, diners will be able to sample the veggie-friendly Impossible Burger, as well as cocktails such as the Yasss Queen and drinks infused with CBD. There will also be regular “drag brunches” with performances by drag queens. Passengers can also feast on Mexican food in Pink Agave, which is designed by Tom Dixon – as is the ship’s VIP top deck, which has a contemporary, Instagram-ready look with circular loungers, giant umbrellas and rainbow-effect glass.Unlike conventional cruises, there will also be no main dining room, no forced formal wear, no assigned seating and no assigned dining times so people can relax and eat when they want. Virgin Voyages says it also aims to be “one of the cleanest fleets at sea, with a ban on single-use plastics and no buffets”. Meanwhile, the Manor is a nightclub inspired by the name of Branson’s first music studio. Signature onboard parties will be designed and produced by Randy Weiner, the award-winning producer of Sleep No More, Queen of the Night and The Donkey Show.Come morning, the Scarlet Lady’s cave-like spa, Redemption, will soothe any hangovers with its hydrotherapy pools and quartz beds, which apparently “realign the seven chakras of the body”.
The 1,330 yacht-inspired cabins feature mood lighting and Seabeds that can be converted into a couch for after-parties. Social Insider cabins sleep up to four in chalet-style bunks and Solo Insider cabins have been designed and priced exclusively for the solo traveller.Rock Star suites (of which there are 78) have been also designed by Tom Dixon. Categories include Massive, Fab, Posh, Gorgeous and Cheeky Corner suite, and amenities include electric guitars and amplifiers, gold-plated vinyl record players, records, marble-clad bathrooms, outdoor spa baths, hammocks, catamaran nets for stargazing, bars and meditation areas.Services for guests staying in these premium rooms range from personal assistants and Rockstar Co-ordinators to staff who will pack and unpack, and a nightly express swimsuit drying service.
All passengers get free wifi but those in Rock Star suits get upgraded premium wifi with streaming. 93 per cent of cabins will offer an ocean view and 86 per cent will have a terrace with custom-designed hammocks handwoven by artisans from Yellow Leaf, a social enterprise that fosters women’s empowerment and community transformation in rural Thailand.Dee Cooper, senior vice president of design for Virgin Voyages, says: “Whether it’s sleeping, socialising or stargazing they desire, our cabins will transform to match our Sailors’ whims. Stylish yet somehow still informal, these cabins change the face of modern sea travel.”Virgin Voyages is reflective of the rise in popularity of adult-only cruises, a trend which has been buoyed by more adult-only decks appearing on mainstream liners.Virgin Voyages’ senior vice-president of hotel operations, Frank Weber, says: “The cruise industry is incredibly successful and growing, and all the cruise lines have a formula that they run very successfully, but we looked from a different perspective and said: ‘If we’re creating a vacation product in the cruise industry what would it look like?’ It’s getting away from the ‘one size fits all’ [approach] and creating multiple experiences that you can customise.”Indicative of this forward-thinking and pleasure-seeking ethos, Virgin Voyages has also partnered with queer travel brand, Atlantis Events, for an LGBTQ+ cruise that set sails on the Scarlet Lady from Miami in May 2020.
Hotspots included on the trip will be Key West, Florida; Cozumel/Playa del Carmen and Costa Maya, Mexico. Passengers will also have VIP access to the company’s private Beach Club on Bimini Island in the Bahamas.
Richard Branson said: “Businesses are now standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, especially in the travel industry, as many LGBTQ+ travellers feel discriminated against or feel uncomfortable while on holiday.”
The open-minded and caring nature of Virgin Voyages is also exemplified by its green credentials, with each vessel in the fleet featuring Azipod propulsion technology to reduce fuel consumption by 15 per cent.