Probably no singular cruise line drew the short stick from the pandemic more than Virgin Voyages. Now, having experienced the still-new cruise product firsthand, I recognize the fanfare it should have received then — and continues to deserve.
Scarlet Lady launched in February 2020 and was briefly introduced to media and industry insiders in the U.K. But before embarking on a maiden season with paying passengers, COVID-19 shut down its grand inaugural events that were supposed to take place from its homeport of Miami. In reality, it was not until October 2021 that it could be properly introduced to customers departing from Florida.
Since then, Scarlet’s sister ship, Valiant Lady, has joined the fleet, first debuting in May 2022 in Spain before reaching the U.S. (The ship count will double by next year, with Resilient Lady scheduled to debut this May, and Brilliant Lady in the fourth quarter of 2024.)
As it turns out, Valiant Lady is just that — courageous in the face of long odds. It was the setting for Virgin’s first-ever annual Ink Awards ceremony, which is designed to recognize the line’s First Mates (Virgin speak for travel advisors). It was on this soiree sailing that I became an even bigger fan of the brand myself.
The Virgin Voyages Experience
Passengers and advisors I spoke to applauded the line’s casual nature as a selling point, and I completely agree. There is zero dress code onboard (except for no swimwear in the restaurants), and it was an absolute pleasure to remain in shorts all day long — even at dinnertime. The exceptional crew are equally relaxed and genuinely friendly and attentive.
The 2 p.m. check-in time — although late by cruise industry standards — ensured cabins were ready upon boarding and allowed for a leisurely 10:45 a.m. checkout.
My Sea Terrace was spacious overall with satisfactory storage and USB and electrical charging ports, and set the tone for the vessel’s informality with a hanging hammock seat and convertible furnishings. The bed can be made into an L-shaped sofa configuration by day, but only upon request. Other seating is limited to one chair and a pouf. Housekeeping service is also once a day unless more towels, drinking water or anything else is called for via Virgin’s excellent smartphone app.
Meanwhile, standard bathrooms are small but entirely useable. Showers are easy to maneuver in, and the rain shower head is a premium perk, although some guests may miss a shaving ledge.
Fresh Takes on Entertainment
Entertainment on Valiant Lady is unusual and perhaps not to everyone’s liking — but also very innovative and enticing. Not only can The Red Room morph from a standard theater to a hybrid nightclub, it can also be oriented with bleachers facing opposite each other for a unique arena in between. Suffice it to say, “Untitled DanceShowPartyThing” was an interactive (but only as much as you want it to be) delight, with hilarious parodies of traditional cruise ship performances, and “Duel Reality” was a clever and kinetic contemporary retelling of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Scarlet Night, on the other hand, turns the whole ship into a dance party. DJ-driven music spills seamlessly into every venue for a contiguous experience that culminates in a wild deck show — including dancing in the shallow ends of the pool.
Despite headline-grabbing offerings such as sex seminars and an at-sea tattoo parlor (other retail options include a salon, a barber shop and a vinyl records store), the ship is not nearly as scandalous as I originally expected. As in Vegas, clients can choose to engage in as much or as little of the sensual side of things as they wish.
Virgin is refreshingly an adults-only line, so letting your hair down is easier to do without the little ones around. Of course, more subdued moments are possible in between — with great live sets of acoustic or blues music.
A Range of Dining Options
Last, but certainly not least, is the fine dining on Valiant Lady. There are no main dining rooms nor a buffet. Instead, all specialty restaurants, and an expansive food hall, are complimentary and bookable with a reservation. Ranging from the vegetable-forward (but still carnivorous if desired) Razzle Dazzle and the behind-the-scenes Test Kitchen, where you can interact with the chefs, to Extra Virgin for Italian and Pink Agave for Mexican, I found all dining venues to be very impressive.
Additionally, The Galley food hall and other smaller eateries ensure there are always plenty of food options available. This includes a nearly 24/7 station for all-day breakfast. (Yes, I did enjoy a delicious pre-midnight omelette and side of bacon, as well as a tasty midnight pie from The Pizza Place.)
Even room service is more extensive than on most ships. Just keep in mind there’s a $5 delivery fee for free items, unless purchasing premium beverages for delivery, which waives the charge.
Despite effectively being the antithesis of a stuffy luxury line, there are still plenty of elegant touches throughout. The Wake steakhouse and Sip Champagne bar are both beautiful, highly polished reminders of nautical ocean-liner history.
Virgin is generally for a younger crowd in its 20s to 40s, but the line is extremely inclusive, seeing its fair share of older, open-minded passengers, as well.
Personally, I can’t wait to get back onboard Valiant Lady or one of her other fleet-mates in the near future.