A PERFORMER in a white lab coat hands me a condom and asks about my sexual preferences. Welcome to Virgin’s playful, unique take on cruises.
We joined one of the first sailings of Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady as the brand makes waves in the cruise market with adult-only ships aimed at millennials.
The 17-deck Scarlet Lady will usually sail around the Caribbean from Miami, starting in October, but its first journeys were delayed by the pandemic.
The USA’s loss was the UK’s gain as Brits were invited to enjoy three or four-night sea-cations around the British Isles from Portsmouth.
Scarlet Lady floats proudly with lifeboats painted in the recognisable Virgin red.
Attempts to attract a younger crowd are clear as soon as my wife Danielle and I board.
Passengers are called sailors, wristbands have replaced cruise cards and paper tickets and daily planners have been cast aside for a smartphone app to book your dinners and shows.
Virgin, like all cruise lines sailing out of the UK, tests all passengers as they board and only those who have been double-vaccinated at least two weeks ago can board.
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There is also comprehensive testing and vaccination for all crew.
But once on board, there is a festival feel, with music blaring from the various decks.
Scarlet Lady has ditched the traditional self-service buffet.
Instead, The Galley hosts food stations with catchy names offering cuisines such as fresh sushi from Bento Bar or Mexican at Let’s Taco About It.
Staff take orders and bring dishes to your table. It’s a nice change from long buffet queues to grab the last pizza slice.
Unlike other cruises where speciality restaurants involve an extra fee, Virgin promises more than 20 different places to eat, all included in the price.
Virgin Voyages set out to reinvent the cruise experience. Its designers have never kitted out a ship and the differences are easy to spot.
The small pool is more for sitting by and sipping cocktails than doing lengths, and Insta-friendly backdrops have replaced kids’ clubs and splash parks.
We took a photo under a witty sign saying “Save water, drink champagne” and sat bravely on Deck 16’s catamaran net overlooking the sea.
The 1,330 cabins have plenty of photo opportunities — such as the red hammock on the balcony of our central sea terrace — and feature an innovative king-size bed that converts to a cool sofa for daytime lounging.
The in-room tablet device controls your TV and opens and closes your curtains but can also set the best picture and mood-lighting.
Options include a bright photoshoot feel, a darker hungover mood, or raunchy, red “get it on” lighting and music.
And if this isn’t enough to spice up your night, inside each cabin you’ll find a number of sex toys, in a little black box. It does cost an extra £22 ($30) to open it, though.
For those who want the rock- star experience, there are two Massive Suites featuring a vast terrace with hot tub.
There are also 76 suites with extras, including large terraces, a peek-a-view outdoor shower or a peek-a-boo shower window indoors, stargazing loungers and champagne table.
The 278 metre-long ship has bars on every corner and within a few hours we had sampled frozen pina coladas and rosé- wine cocktails by the pool as well as Mediterranean gin and tonics in The Dockhouse. Was it the boat or us rocking?
Two men who look like passengers began playing guitar and sax on deck as we departed. They are part of Virgin Voyages’ Happenings cast, who replaces the old cruise directors. That is just the start of the unique entertainment.
The Edinburgh Fringe comedy festival has been scouted for acts rather than relying on traditional cruise staples like musical tributes or dance troupes.
We liked Mr Thing, a comedy gameshow with the style of Avenue Q, and Nineties quiz Shooting Stars.
Virgin Voyages has also developed its own unique shows such as the gravity-defying Duel Reality.
Performers hang and leap from poles, juggle and throw themselves into impressive dances and flips that we could only dream of.
Lunch and dinnertime are equally impressive. Restaurants such as vegetarian American diner Razzle Dazzle, seafood and steakhouse The Wake and Korean barbecue Gunbae each have unique decor.
We enjoyed a soft, rich gnocchi at the Extra Virgin Italian restaurant and bravely tried Test Kitchen’s Michelin-starred six-course lab-themed taster menu, which was a feast for our eyes and stomachs.
For those long-standing cruise fans, there are still plenty of familiar features around the ship.
We had a dip in the hot tub, considered the gym and had a semi-successful flutter at the casino’s blackjack table.
Ibiza at sea
There are no dress codes or formal evenings. Guests are instead encouraged to wear red at a poolside disco with an inflatable octopus for Scarlet Night.
It felt like Ibiza at sea as we danced to Don’t Stop Me Now and The Macarena before hitting The Manor nightclub’s after-party below deck.
We weren’t adventurous enough for a tattoo or piercing — a unique feature of the ship’s shops.
But I did hide in the corner of the risqué saucy cabaret Never Sleep Alone.
Sexologist Dr Alex Schiller and her cast of “researchers” in lab coats probe audience members on their sexual fantasies.
I laughed and cringed as she gave advice on flirting and how to improve your sex life, while belting out pop songs.
It may not be what we have come to expect from a cruise, but from saucy shows to the end of self-service buffets, Virgin Voyages is proudly sailing against the tide with an unrivalled and unique experience.
The live shows are entertaining and at times very risque[/caption]
You can also grab some quiet time in the spa too[/caption]
GO: Virgin Voyages
GETTING THERE: Virgin Atlantic has return flights to Miami from Heathrow from £730 return in December. See virginatlantic.com
SAILING THERE: A four-night Fire & Sunset Soirée full-board cruise sailing from Miami to Key West and Virgin Voyages’ private Bimini Island in the Bahamas is from £1,064pp this December.
There are sailings through to April 2022 starting from just £530pp. virginvoyages.com