Richard Branson’s Virgin travel brands already cover the air, railways, the world of luxury hotels, and even outer space—so it makes sense that the billionaire visionary is now heading for the seas. As announced earlier this year, Virgin Voyages will launch in March 2020 with the introduction of the Scarlet Lady, an 18-and-over ship that will sail between Miami and the Caribbean all year-round. (A second ship, the Mediterranean-based Valiant Lady, is scheduled to launch in 2021, followed by two more through 2023.) But before all the VIPs and entertainers board the Scarlet Lady for the first celebratory cruise, the ship had to undergo its initial sea trials—which it just passed with flying colors under the watchful eye of Branson himself.
Following the two sea trial phases, which took place between Marseille and Genoa, Branson boarded the ship with his family and some top Virgin Voyages executives for his first look at how things are coming along. As seen in a Branson-narrated video tour, the design is in line with the signature Virgin style fans love about the aircrafts and hotels, while adapting them for the seas. It’s also got plenty of nods to Virgin brand history—and its irreverent, independent spirit. “The stereotype of a cruise ship is not particularly something I want to go on,” he notes in the video, “so we thought if we could create the kind of cruise ship that ourselves and our friends would go on, then we’d go on it—and that, I think, is what the wonderful team at Virgin have done. They’ve created magic.”
As Branson further reveals, the name the Scarlet Lady is an homage to one of Virgin Atlantic’s first planes, and the ship’s on-board The Manor nightclub and entertainment space (designed by noted firm Roman and Williams) takes its name from one of Virgin Records’ first studios, at which The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and more recorded. Of the 1,330 cabins and 78 RockStar suites, 86 percent will have balconies and 93 percent ocean views. Designated as “adult by design” (so, 18-and-over only), the ship will have lots of fun dining options, including some new-to-the-cruise-world spots like a contemporary restaurant serving brunch with shows by the resident drag performer, a food hall with stalls and food carts, a Korean grill, and a part-school, part-restaurant Test Kitchen.
Of course, there are also numerous drinking and entertainment venues (think karaoke bars and a vinyl room with personal listening booths), world-class fitness and spa offerings, unlimited free WiFi, and much more—including the first-ever tattoo parlor at sea. Sustainability initiatives will be implemented throughout, as will engaging and game-changing on-board and shore programming. “Virgin likes to surprise,” notes Branson. “We’ve gone into quite a few sectors in my lifetime, and I think surprised people and changed those sectors—and I’m absolutely convinced we can do that in the cruise—or what we call Voyages—business.” Bookings, including for the special March 2020 Sneak-a-Peak cruises and the April 2020 inaugural sailing, are available here.