All the sails are set for next week’s long-awaited official launch of Richard Branson’s new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and its first ship, Scarlet Lady. After 18 months of rough seas and many delayed starts, the newly-christened cruise leads a fleet of four (count ‘em, four) new ships slated to hit the water over the next two years.

Lonely Planet writer Zachary Laks hopped on board the spanking new Scarlet Lady when it docked in New York City, ahead of its maiden Caribbean voyage in October, to get a first look at the line’s new design features and COVID-19 safety measures. Here's what he found out.

Read more: The millennial-friendly cruise with drag brunches, tattoo artists and DJs

Brilliant Suite Bedroom.jpg
The interior of Scarlet Lady's 'Brilliant Suite' © Virgin Voyages

The whole ship feels VIP

The new Scarlet Lady radiates cool. Designed with excessive dramatic flare, every part of the ship feels like a VIP room; staged for an Instagram photoshoot or a high-class hang. Favorite spots around the ship included The Manor nightclub with its mirrored-starfield grand entrance and their high-class steak and seafood dining at The Wake restaurant, included with all fares. 

There are many comfortable and design-forward places to relax in too. From the Yellow Leaf hammocks on every cabin balcony to the many top deck private bungalows, the ship beckons you to slow down and chill out.

Mirrored Room inside Scarlet Lady.JPG
The Yayoi Kusama-inspired 'mirrored room' © Zachary Laks

What do you need to board the ship? 

Beyond your #OOTDs, you’re not going to want to forget your proof of vaccine. Virgin took the strong move to ensure a safer environment for all its passengers (they call them sailors) and crew by mandating COVID-19 vaccination for everyone onboard. 

Make sure to plan ahead as they’ll only allow those more than two weeks out from their second dose before boarding. There’s also a required health screening to be filled out prior to boarding. 

Virgin provides antigen testing free of charge at the terminal prior to boarding. The whole process is quick and easy with just a few swabs of the nose and then a wait for no longer than 30 minutes. I went through the process at the New York terminal and the process was seamless; faster than I'd expected. 

Pop Star Popsicles on the Scarlet Lady
Pop Star Popsicles on the Scarlet Lady © Zachary Laks / Lonely Planet

Do I have to wear a mask on board? 

For now, masks are required for the testing site prior to boarding, the ship terminal and the shuttle services. While onboard, the line recommends passengers wear masks when moving around the ship and when you’re not able to be physically distanced. They provide masks in the cabins and throughout the ship. 

The night I was there, mask compliance was observed, with most guests removing their masks in the many outdoor settings. 

Dining area of Virgin Voyage's Scarlet Lady
The interior of The Wake restaurant, Virgin Voyage's steak and seafood restaurant © Zachary Laks

What happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19 on board?

Virgin Voyages has the protocols in place to ensure that passengers who test positive at any point during the trip receive complimentary medical care on board and are moved to a terrace cabin in an isolated zone away from other passengers. The ship crew will conduct thorough contact tracing to determine any possible exposures. 

If you test positive, Virgin will also offer a pro-rated refund of your journey, will pick up the costs for any land-based quarantining, as well as change fees incurred for travel arrangements home for you and your traveling party.

How often will I get tested on the cruise?

Passengers can expect to be rapid tested at every port when they enter the ship. The crew undergoes bi-weekly testing. 

Aquatic Club in Virgin Voyage's Scarlet Lady
The pool and bathing area on board the Scarlet Lady © Virgin Voyages

Where does it sail and when? 

Ready to set sail on its maiden Caribbean voyage on October 6, the ship will leave its new Miami homeport for four nights, stopping in Nassau and Bimini. Rates for the inaugural start at $1300 per cabin, which can accommodate up to three people (although that will be a tight fit). Future itineraries will hop around to Caribbean party ports including Key West, Costa Maya and Cozumel

Read more: Cruising the Caribbean

The entrance to Pink Agave, Virgin Voyage's Mexican restaurant
The entrancing entrance to Pink Agave, Virgin Voyage's Mexican restaurant, included with your fare @ Zachary Laks / Lonely Planet

Is the ship accessible? 

Yes, the ship has a few cabins that can accommodate wheelchairs. Virgin Voyages advises booking early to guarantee those specific cabins.

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Scarlet Lady cruise ship arriving at Portsmouth International Port on a sunny morning.


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