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Scarlet Lady

Our cruise aboard the new Virgin ship Scarlet Lady is now in the books. Last week, as of Tuesday morning, the ship was wallowing at a -3 on our point system. We’d said that if the ship sank down to -10, we would seriously consider disembarking in Cozumel, or maybe the Bahamas, and coming home earlier. So, how did it turn out?

            Well, the Scarlet Lady and its owner, Richard Branson, rallied nicely from three points below the waterline. Our dining experiences, following our first-night pizza mediocrity, were excellent, worth a +9 score. Having done away with the buffet concept, both as a nod toward COVID-related safety and for efficiency, the ship produced some interesting alternatives in the form of smaller, themed diners in the “Galley” area, along with vibrant specialty restaurants with tasty and unique menus, including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. So, that puts the Lady at the +6 mark.

            Fitness was advertised as one of the hallmarks of Virgin Cruises, and we found the facilities and classes to be first-rate (+3). But the spaces available for group classes, like yoga and HIIT, were barely big enough for 12-15 people. What will happen when the ship sails with a full complement of “sailors”? Our cruise was at about 45% of capacity. Knock off a point for poor planning, but add a point for having several punching bags available, along with 12-ounce gloves, so that my husband was able to get a boxing workout in on our second at-sea day, mostly making up for the lack of a ping-pong table, which Dave was close to declaring an unpardonable sin. He wanted at least a half-point reduction for that, but I reminded him we’d agreed to stick to whole numbers and leave the fractions at home. Net for fitness: +3, raising the Lady’s overall score to +9.

            Shore excursions should count, of course. The ship offered plenty of options for sailors in Cozumel and again on the Bahamian island of North Bimini. For the first stop, we chose a refresher scuba diving outing that took us down to depths of about 20 feet, and the dive shop contracted by the ship was well-organized, providing us with good instruction and a fine dive. Later that evening, other passengers told us their excursions ashore had gone well, too. In the Bahamas, we were shuttled to Virgin’s private Beach Club, which offered us 4.5 acres of space to relax in and plenty of pristine beach (notably cleaner than adjacent beaches). These experiences would result in +4. But knock off a point because when we ventured away from the Beach Club to explore Alice Town, the main settlement on North Bimini, we were told by our cabbie that Virgin discourages its passengers from exploring the town, which doesn’t sit well with its shop owners. (They were very glad to see us, though, and we reciprocated by making some purchases.) Overall: +3 for excursions, with the total now at +12. By now, of course, we knew we’d be sticking it out for the entire cruise; Bimini is only 45 miles from Miami.

            What about entertainment? Virgin had boasted that it was going to re-envision what cruise line entertainment was about, and if that’s the case, they’d better keep re-envisioning it. One aspect was a wandering troupe of singers and musicians who would set up in various locations for impromptu, “flash mob”-style mini-performances. We saw them on the first sea day and never again after that. Evening shows featuring a Cirque du Soleil-style retelling of the “Romeo & Juliet” story had cancellations due to lack of interest; likewise, a show featuring a clown that was evidently some sort of YouTube sensation. The only thing saving the entertainment fare from a total bust, as far as we were concerned, was the “sexologist.” Yes, they advertised a resident sex expert, Dr. Ashley, and we went to one of her first shows. Admittedly curious, we showed up as the last couple through the door at the ship’s night club and were treated to what was, in essence, a Vegas-style club show that was risqué, but not raunchy. The good doctor—not a doctor at all, according to her website (surprise!)—was a very attractive woman who was a more-than-competent singer backed by a very good four-piece band. Her show was very slick, well-paced and involved audience participation that at least kept everybody fully-clothed. It turned out that early arrivals were given questionnaires to fill out, which in turn gave the doc and her people an idea of who might be good candidates to come on stage. Since we were a little late arriving, we didn’t get in on that, which was probably a good thing, although Dave insisted we could’ve done way better than many of the people who did make it up there. Overall, entertainment received a -3, knocking the Lady down to +9.

            Service while on board was without exception excellent, and last week we mentioned how smoothly the embarkation process went. Disembarking the ship was equally smooth, even though all sailors were asked to bring their own bags with them in the morning, rather than putting them out the night before (although that option was available upon request). It went a lot better than we expected and avoided the cattle-call aspect that we have experienced on virtually all previous cruises. Give the Lady +4 for service from start to finish.

            Well, that produces a final score of +13, certainly a far cry from where we thought the Lady would wind up. Sister ships are now being finished for service to the Mediterranean in 2022, and we’re already thinking that sampling the Greek Isles on board a Virgin ship might be on our agenda for next year. Hopefully they’ll have the entertainment straightened out by then!

            If you’re interested in sailing on the Scarlet Lady, or her upcoming sisters next year, give us a call. It’s certainly a different experience in many respects than “traditional” cruising, and we think Richard Branson might be onto something.  


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