The Scarlet Lady is ready to set sail - and she's a real beauty, says Michael Drummond.
Climbing aboard the sleek and slender Scarlet Lady cruise ship, I'm met by a glamorous interior, as the grey and windy Port of Dover is left behind and I'm immersed in a world of class and style.
This is my first glimpse of Virgin Voyages, Sir Richard Branson's luxury and strictly adults-only cruise line that will soon be chauffeuring passengers to Mexico and beyond.
What's it all about?
Named after an early Virgin Atlantic plane, the Scarlet Lady is a stunning departure from the cruise ship mould, and like the mermaid painted on her prow, she is sure to capture the hearts of sailors.
In many ways, she resembles a gigantic yacht, with her sleek silvery-grey hull, smoked glass and distinctive splashes of red. But at every turn on board, it's clear things are being done 'the Virgin way'.
The 18+ voyage is aimed at travellers who want a sophisticated cruise experience, packed with everything the Virgin Group has to offer, and don't mind paying for it.
Launching the venture, Richard Branson said his dream of 40 years is now a reality: "I wake up in the mornings and before I open my eyes, I pinch myself and think this can't be true. I must have had the most incredible dream."
What are the cabins like?
There are 1,330 cabins and 78 RockStar Suites aboard the Scarlet Lady, carrying a total of 2,770 passengers with 1,150 crew. Almost all of the cabins come with an ocean view, meaning sailors can survey their stunning surroundings as they cruise through the Caribbean.
Rooms are simply laid out with comfortable beds, as well as the thing that every seafarer never knew they needed - champagne delivered anywhere on board at the shake of an app.
Need to live the extravagant lifestyle that befits your celebrity status? The RockStar suites' marble-clad bathrooms, racks of electric guitars and exclusive stargazing terraces will keep your groupies asking if you're around...
What about food and drink?
My first taste of the Scarlet Lady's culinary delights is The Test Kitchen - a gleaming space that feels as much like a laboratory as it does a restaurant.
I'm greeted with a cup of Hojicha green tea before sitting down to six courses of master-crafted food. Among the lab-tested delights are novelties like Guinness bread and vegetarian caviar, which both pair nicely a glass of red.
If gourmet dining isn't to your taste, the ship offers everything from Mexican food and history lessons at Pink Agave, to ship-made scoops at Lick Me Till Ice Cream, in its 20-plus dining areas. So far, celebrity chefs providing their services will include Brad Farmerie of Saxon + Parole in NYC, and Sohui Kim of The Good Fork and Insa, also in New York.
How about the entertainment?
Cocktail in hand, I head to The Red Room, just in time for the Duel Reality show. The stunning acrobatics and dancing feels like Cirque-du-Soleil-meets-Shakespeare, and I'm swept along in a fast-paced modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet.
Elsewhere on ship, sailors can belt out their favourites in private karaoke rooms, try the running track or even face the needle and get a stylish tattoo on the high seas at Squid Ink - the first ever tattoo parlour on a cruise ship.
Where's it going?
Travellers in 2020 will be able to sail off to Costa Maya in Mexico, Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Key West and The Bahamas.
From 2021, sister liner Valiant Lady will usher passengers on seven-night soirees around the Mediterranean.
In terms of excursions, Virgin Voyages promises 'authentic, off-the-beaten path' experiences catering to 'the curious traveller who wishes to truly immerse themselves in a destination and its culture'.
How to plan your trip
Virgin Voyages (virginvoyages.com/book) offers a five-night Riviera Maya itinerary from 640 per person (based on two sharing) with RockStar Suites starting from 5,090 per cabin (sleeps two). Departs Miami on April 5, 2020 and returns to Miami on April 10, 2020.
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