How Scarlet Lady was launched following pandemic disruption

Rebecca Barnes speaks with Virgin Voyages’ Tom McAlpin about brand heritage, healthy sailors and why the line made the decision to launch in the UK 

How Scarlet Lady was launched following pandemic disruption
Scarlet Lady features multiple luxurious public spaces, such as the Sip champagne lounge and caviar bar

Originally planning to launch in April 2020 but colliding head on with a global pandemic, Virgin Voyages hasn’t had the smoothest of starts. 

A taster visit on Scarlet Lady in early 2020 for travel agents, media and bloggers sparked the hype for the launch of the so-called cruise disruptors, with enticing images of the ship’s many photogenic spaces lighting up social media feeds for weeks afterwards. However, the buzz around the brand cooled when the world was grounded just a few weeks later due to Covid-19, forcing the brand’s official debut and maiden voyage to be postponed.  

When sailors (Virgin’s term for passengers) are finally able to set sail, the brand’s CEO Tom McAlpin is confident they will have a healthy (as well as hip) sailing experience, thanks to a set of ambitious goals and ‘Voyage Well’ initiatives that will redefine safety measures at sea.   

“We’ve assembled an Expert Advisory Group and tapped industry leading experts and organisations like AtmosAir and EcoLab, ensuring that our air filtration systems and onboard disinfectants are top notch,” confirms McAlpin.   

“In addition to temperature checks, enhanced sanitising procedures and required antigen tests, Scarlet Lady is equipped with everything from virtual queues to ShipEats (contactless food delivery) and wearable technology, each designed to elevate sailors’ experience and make them feel safe.”  

Initially aiming to appeal to a younger demographic and convert them to cruising the Virgin way, McAlpin emphasises that the line is for everyone but especially the young at heart. Noting that it will challenge people to think about cruising differently, he says: “From Michelin-inspired menus and immersive entertainment, to spirited group fitness classes and lively events, I believe our offerings strike a balance that will appeal to both avid cruisers and newcomers alike.”  

And in the wake of the pandemic, nothing is going to stop Virgin Voyages forging ahead with their initial (and some might say controversial) ideas and concepts.  

“Our ultimate goal, to create ‘An Epic Sea Change For All’, is still at the core of our value proposition,” says McAlpin. “We launched with a vision of creating one of the most irresistible travel brands and we are eager for sailors to come aboard and experience what it means to set sail the Virgin way – witty concepts and all.   

“Today’s discerning travellers are seeking exceptional experiences, and we hope to deliver with our glamorous and thoughtful spaces, enclaves to relax and amazing entertainment. I love that you get to go to a different restaurant each night at no extra charge.”   

British travellers were the first to experience Virgin-style cruising ahead of the US market, as the line hosted six UK ‘Summer Soiree’ itineraries in August 2021. Considering Virgin’s British legacy, it only seems right that Scarlet Lady’s first voyages take place where the brand was established, explains McAlpin.  

“Her UK sailings are a homecoming and the ultimate homage to the brand’s iconic British heritage. After that, Virgin Voyages will still have a strong European presence with Valiant Lady calling Barcelona, Spain home, followed by Resilient Lady, who will be based out of Athens, Greece.”  

In addition to having different homeports, Valiant Lady and Resilient Lady will sail longer itineraries throughout Europe, each with their own mermaid at the helm to guide the voyages.  

Once her season in the UK is complete, Scarlet Lady will make her transatlantic trip back to the USA for several inaugural events on the east coast, where, McAlpin says, there is tremendous pent-up demand for travel, especially in the cruise sector.  

“Our fans are excited for Scarlet Lady’s inaugural voyage out of PortMiami this October. From there, sailors can embark on a mix of three and four-night itineraries throughout the Caribbean, all of which include a signature stop at our Beach Club at Bimini.”   

Looking further ahead, it appears there’s no shortage of interest in the trailblazing cruise line. “Future bookings are looking good!” McAlpin confirms. “Scarlet Lady is shipshape, and we’re very optimistic about the future.   

“Virgin Voyages is continuing to work closely with our first mates (travel partners), and we just launched our Sea-Blazers programme, which offers special perks for sailors willing to test the waters and come aboard in 2021.” 

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.  

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By Rebecca Barnes
20 December 2021

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