Everything To Know About Virgin’s New Adults-Only Cruise
A boutique hotel at sea with no hidden charges, suites where it’s okay to unleash your inner rock star, and not a single child in sight; Virgin Voyages is gearing up to bring a breath of fresh sea air to the cruise industry with the launch of its debut ship in April 2020.
Adults-only by design, Scarlet Lady is intended to be a very different cruise experience.
The first of four ships on order, it will feature over 20 stunning eateries; a catamaran net allowing you to lounge and gaze down seven decks; a lavish hammam with windows at sea level, the first tattoo parlour at sea, free Wi-Fi and fitness classes – plus a whole lot more.
Dee Cooper, Virgin Voyages Senior Vice President of Design, has been heavily involved right from the start, helping to transform ‘her lady ship’ from a blank page into reality. Although serious discussions only started around five or six years ago, the dream of sailing on his own cruise line is one Virgin founder Richard Branson kept alive for over 40 years.
“It’s something I always remember him talking about,” says Cooper, who has worked with Virgin since the early 90s, both as a designer and a senior board member.
An industrial designer by trade, Cooper has played a pivotal role in numerous Virgin projects over the years, from designing Virgin Atlantic interiors and Clubhouses to amenity kits and even in-flight meal services. Her most ambitious project, however, is the Scarlet Lady.
“I’m very lucky to have been involved since day one,” says Cooper. “The fact we’re a brand-new cruise line meant we could approach it from a different, very exciting perspective.
“Firstly, it was a matter of understanding who our customer is and defining our difference in this amazing space. And then, in turn, the process of designing all the elements of the ship, the terminals, the beach club… everything our sailors will experience with us.”
Though the initial vision focused on the beauty and glamour of sailing, it soon flourished into a holistic ideal and design aesthetic of ‘the modern romance of sailing’.
“This was important as it gave us a judgment criterion for ourselves, to ensure we were designing in a modern and contemporary way but still remembering we were at sea. We chose to be adults-only by design, to offer a grown-up vacation with choice. That was a real eureka moment for us and really helped to make this a very different experience.
“It’s the highs and lows, the variety and contrast that keeps it interesting.”
To that end, the ship will offer lots of freedom and choice, with venues such as The Red Room, a transformational multi-form theatre; and an Athletic Club where you can both detox and re-tox with a sports bar, cabanas and an outdoor strength training zone.
There will also be a variety of included dining options onboard such as The Test Kitchen, a laboratory-like restaurant meets cooking school; Pink Agave, a Mexican mescal bar and restaurant; and Razzle Dazzle, a visually stunning plant-based restaurant and juice bar.
“From a design point of view, we focused on the promise of bringing back the romance of sailing – being inspired by the old but still executing it in a bang up-to-date, modern and glamorous way.
“We had fun with materiality that was reflective of maritime heritage, such as steel and brass, and also used a lot of dichroic glass, which changes colour in certain lights. When you’re at sea you get these amazing, big skies, so we wanted to emphasise that.”
Rather than design everything in-house, the team realised early on it was important to work with a variety of designers in order to maintain a high quality throughout the entire ship. “If you look at beautiful hotels you can almost see when the designer has peaked. That’s why we brought in a team to help us create these amazing spaces, so they would complement but also contrast.”
New York design firm Roman and Williams are responsible for several key spaces including Wake seafood and steak restaurant, which glistens with an Art Deco edge; and The Dock, a glamorous beach bar with lounge seating and, a rarity on cruise ships, real trees.
Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio brought an eccentric British flair to the VIP Rockstar Suites, which feature vinyl record players (there’s a vinyl store on board), hand-woven hammocks, and a novel Peek-A-Boo shower overlooking the bedroom and out to sea.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the Runway, our jogging track by Concrete Amsterdam,” says Cooper. “Cruise ships are often quite sedentary, so we wanted this to be an active ship. The fact we have this elevated track and made it bright red – people are curious to know what it is.”
Scarlet Lady’s inaugural season will be spent in the azure waters of the Caribbean, where Virgin has also created The Beach Club at Bimini – an exclusive Bahamian hideaway which will feature artist residencies from Diplo, Mark Ronson and Sofi Tukker, to name a few.
“We want people to take a new look at cruising. For us, it’s about reminding people of the beauty of the sea. Kicking back at The Dock with a beer in your hand just watching the waves go by – you can’t beat it!”
(All images: Virgin Voyages / supplied)
Published 31 July, 2019