10 Ways Virgin Is Disrupting the Cruise Industry
Richard Branson famously created Virgin Atlantic after a frustrating experience with American Airlines. Now, the self-proclaimed anti-cruiser has done what he does best: disrupt an industry he's not satisfied with.
The team behind Virgin Voyages wants it to be the cruise line for people who normally don't like cruises. Everything, from the sleek design to the entertainment and dining options has been designed for an experience at sea unlike any other.
The company's inaugural ship, the Scarlet Lady, set sail from Miami to the Bahamas on Oct. 6, and it's already causing ripples at sea. Here's how Virgin plans to disrupt the whole cruise industry.
1. Bringing the Adults-Only Experience to Sea
Cruises are supposed to be a retiree and family thing. And while Virgin Voyages doesn't have anything against these demographics, they recognize several cruise lines are catering to them. What there wasn't was the kind of all-inclusive, adults-only resort experience that is becoming increasingly popular with hotels.
Not having kids on the ship has allowed Virgin Voyages to be much more playful and risqué. There's an onboard tattoo parlor named Squid Ink, which was booked solid during the ship's inauguration in the United Kingdom. The resident drag performers bring fun to brunch as well as nightly entertainment, and the best place to cool down is a parlor cheekily named Lick Me Till Ice Cream.
You'll enjoy the sound of the ocean without kids fighting in the background, and that's enough to convince us.
The Sparkly Entrance to the Manor Night Club
Get Inked at Sea
2. Formal Is Out, Elevated Is In
Cruises are not necessarily the elegant affair immortalized in Marilyn Monroe's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," but formal wear is still required for specific events. Virgin Voyages is simply not interested in this "stuffy" formality.
Nirmal Saverimuttu, the chief commercial officer at Virgin Voyages, explains that the company wants to create an elevated and luxurious experience without the forced formality. The idea is to make people feel as if they're in a private yacht.
Scarlet Lady does this with its emphasis on design. Rather than bring in people known in the cruise industry, the company brought in design studios and firms known for their impeccable work in the hotel and restaurant industries.
The result is sleek and refined. Lounges can make you feel as if you're in a private beach club on a Greek island or enjoying cocktails at the bar of a five-star hotel. Similarly, the swanky nightclub, The Manor, was designed by Roman + Williams and inspired by Studio 54.
The same attention to detail and beautiful aesthetics are present in the restaurants, the cabins and the outside decks. The latter boasts two pools, hot tubs, swings, bars and private cabanas.
Get Champagne at the Sip Lounge
Make an Appointment at Redemption Spa
3. Doing Away With Buffet-Style Dining
One of the most dreadful things about conventional cruises is their buffet-style approach to food. Sure, many ships have specialty restaurants that offer higher-quality dishes, but you will have to pay extra for this luxury.
Virgin Voyages has decided to completely change the system and replace it with six restaurants and 14 eateries. Most of the food is included in your ticket, and all of the food is made-to-order. This means that the food is fresher and of higher quality and that you can eat when it's convenient for you rather than at an assigned time.
Some of the menus were created by chefs who have been awarded Michelin stars. Each restaurant has its specialty. Head to Extra Virgin for Italian, or Gunbae for Korean BBQ (the first of its kind at sea). Pink Agave offers a taste of authentic Mexican food and an extensive selection of tequila and mezcal. Vegetarians will love Razzle Dazzle, where the tables are turned by providing a menu that's predominantly plant-based, with carnivore substitutes available for those who ask.
We won't say who spilled this secret, but, ironically, the best steak on the entire ship can be found in the "Naughty Section" of Razzle Dazzle's menu.
Enjoy a Six-Course Tasting Menu at Test Kitchen
Dine at the Only Korean BBQ Restaurant at Sea
4. Giving You More Bang For Your Buck
We've already told you that most of the high-quality, Michelin-level food is included. But we want to emphasize that there are 20 eateries aboard the ship, so you can go from ice cream to late-night noodles to upscale tacos to fresh seafood in a single day without spending an extra dime.
And Virgin's generosity doesn't end here. Water, be it still or sparkling, is also complimentary, a gesture that is not easy to find aboard other cruise ships. In fact, all nonalcoholic beverages are included, as are all gratuities and WiFi for everyone.
But perhaps what we are the most excited about (besides the food) are the free fitness classes and use of gym equipment.
The most economical two-person cabin costs $1,300 for four nights. That comes out to around $162 per person per night. Not bad when you don't have to worry about food, fitness or WiFi.
Food Is Included
And So Are WiFi and Gratuities
5. Making Sea View Suites the Norm
Few things compare to the feeling of waking up to a view of the sea from your cabin window. Normally, some people pay extra for this privilege while most passengers have to be happy with inner rooms.
By using a narrow yacht-like frame, the Scarlet Lady is able to offer 86 percent of its cabins a balcony and 93 percent an ocean view. This means that most passengers will be enjoying the sea first thing in the morning.
Most Cabins Have a Balcony
Wake Up to the Ocean
6. Helping You Keep Your Fitness Goals (Even on Vacation)
As we've mentioned, fitness classes are complimentary, as is access to the training center at the Athletic Club. Facilities include a boxing ring, basketball courts and strength and cardio equipment. There is also a standalone running track at the top of the ship.
Classes include yoga and spinning, so you can keep your Peloton routine while you're at sea. If you enjoy waking up early, we highly recommend The Perch, a sundeck with 360-degree views that is perfect for sunrise yoga.
For those who like sleeping in, sunset yoga is also an almost hypnotizing experience.
All Fitness Classes Are Included
Relax at the Well-Being Pool
7. Offering One-of-a-Kind Entertainment
Great shows are a staple of cruising. After all, you have to keep people entertained while they are surrounded by nothing but the ocean.
But instead of getting the best shows on land and bringing them to sea, Virgin Voyages wants shows no one else has. For instance, The 7 Fingers Creation Collective created two original shows for Virgin Voyages. Aboard the Scarlet Lady, you will be able to see a fun retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" that will leave you gaping. The show has been such a success that it may soon be the first show to be brought from sea to land.
The ship's other five shows are just as impressive and entertaining. Each night brings about a different experience, made possible by the theater's ability to shift into four configurations to fit a variety of show styles.
Dance All Night at The Manor Nightclub
Don't Miss Drag Brunch at Razzle Dazzle
8. Adding Rock Star Touches
The Virgin brand has come a long way from its record store roots. But whether it's taking on cell phones, airlines or space travel, it's always kept true to its rock 'n' roll origins. Virgin Voyages is no exception.
First of all, there is a record store onboard, Voyage Vinyl, where you'll find both classic albums as well as contemporary artists like Lady Gaga.
Then there are the beach clubs where every cruise will enjoy an overnight stay. For the Scarlet Lady, that'll be in Virgin's private beach in Bimini, Bahamas. Cabanas and $100 worth of drinks are included, as are the late-night parties featuring world-famous DJs like Mark Ronson.
For those who want to feel like they're famous, the vessel offers Rock Star suites, which have a sprinkling of extra-special touches. On the premier suite, the Massive Suite, you'll have a private music room filled with guitars, a custom bar stocked to your specific preferences, an outdoor shower, a hot tub and ocean views from all sides.
Booking a suite also gets you access to the VIP pool area, appropriately named Richard's Rooftop.
Be a VIP at Richard's Rooftop Lounge
Or at The Scene VIP Lounge
9. Integrating Technology Into the Experience
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the industry, Virgin Voyages had already planned to integrate contactless technology into its trips. For instance, you can make a reservation for the restaurant of your choice from your phone. You'll then be notified when your table is ready. This way, you can skip wasting your time in line.
You can also use the app to book a room at The Groupie, the ship's karaoke, gaming and movie lounge, which was designed by Roman Coppola.
But the funnest feature might be the "Shake for Champagne" one, which lets you order a glass of champagne by shaking your phone. The glass is then delivered to you wherever you are on the ship, so you won't even have to get out of your pool chair for a glass of bubbly.
There Is Free WiFi Throughout
You Can Order Champagne From the App
10. Prioritizing Sustainability
Virgin Voyages claims to be the first cruise line to be completely carbon neutral from its first day of operation. This is achieved by purchasing enough carbon offsets for each ship's total footprint.
Jill Stoneberg, the company's director of sustainability and social impact, highlights other noteworthy initiatives that we hope other cruise lines follow. The most visible one is the banning of all front-end single-use plastic. This means that guests won't see anything on the ship that is not reusable or recyclable.
The made-to-order approach to dining also reduces the amount of food waste that is usually associated with cruise ships. And to balance some of the massive amounts of energy needed to power the ship, Virgin Voyages has partnered with Climeon to turn heat into electricity.
Single-Use Plastic Has Been Banned On Board
And Emissions Are Offset
How Virgin Is Managing COVID-19
If you're convinced that Virgin Voyages will provide an amazing experience, but are worried about the pandemic, rest assured that protocols are in place to protect both passengers and crew.
The company was one of the first to demand that every single person onboard be vaccinated. But to further improve safety, everyone must also take a rapid COVID-19 test before boarding. Automatic doors and hand sanitizer stations have also been added — seamlessly — throughout the ship.
Finally, for the time being, the Scarlet Lady will be sailing at 50 percent capacity. This means two things: If you go now, you'll be safer. And you'll have more of the ship to yourself.