Jump to content

Scarlet New Year's Ahoy Review (12/27/23)


Alsmez
 Share

Recommended Posts

We just returned from our virgin voyage on Virgin Voyages, and I wanted to share my thoughts with my fellow Cruise Critics! This trip was to celebrate my husband’s 50th in early January, which was part of the reason we chose VV – we would normally never cruise during school holidays, but with no kids to worry about, we were thrilled to be able to do a combined NYE/birthday sailing. We’ve been sailing Celebrity exclusively since we got married 13 years ago so we were also just ready to try something new! I’ll try to review VV on its own merits below, but since we were just on Eclipse in May I couldn’t help but draw a few comparisons.

 

ABOUT US: we are younger Gen-Xers (46 and 50), classical musicians and foodies living in NYC. We traveled with one of my besties from college and his husband, both 48, also New Yorkers. We chose an XL sea terrace for this trip, as we didn’t feel the price of even the lowest Rockstar cabins was a good value. Also, our status match with X earned us Deep Blue Extras on this trip, which had a few perks similar to Rockstar. However, our friends were in a suite, so we got a preview of the Rockstar life in any case. Now that I’ve disclosed my potential biases, on to the review!

 

EMBARKATION: We had early embarkation through Deep Blue Extras, but I only knew this because of Cruise Critic. When we checked in and registered for our embarkation on the app, it stated we were to arrive at 3:15. Just one of many app fails we would experience throughout the trip (more on this below). That said, embarkation itself went smoothly. We arrived at the port around 12:45 and the porter directed us to a lady at a podium who had a checklist for DBE and Splash of Romance passengers. We were on the list, so we got our blue wrist ribbons and joined the line. We probably stood outside for about 20 minutes before they ushered us into the indoor waiting room, and from there it was just another 20 minutes or so before they called DBEs to the entrance. We planned to head straight to our room to drop off our hand luggage, but we ran into our friends in Sip so we sat with them (and piggybacked on their free Rockstar champagne!) until they were ready to meet with their Rockstar agent.

 

THE APP/INTERNET: Anyone who has booked a Virgin cruise already knows their tech leaves a lot to be desired, and the app’s performance on our cruise was no exception. We had booked all of our restaurant reservations in advance (and secured prime times thanks to our friends’ Rockstar status), but we encountered issues with the app crashing as soon as we started trying to book shows after embarkation. Our friends didn’t have any better luck. We were eventually able to get bookings through, but there were a lot of errors/crashes/restarts/frustration involved. We had our friends use their Rockstar agents to make any subsequent changes just to avoid issues. Once the initial rush of show bookings died down, the app functioned reasonably well throughout the voyage, although we never had success when trying to order food. Sailor Services was pretty slow to answer texts and the answer was usually “go to the desk.” Our DBE perks included premium internet and it was fast enough for browsing and even streaming sports, so no complaints there!

 

THE CABIN: XL Sea Terrace 12330Z, a few rooms forward of the forward elevators. I really liked the room and especially the bathroom – having taken a peek at the size of the standard balcony bathroom, I think we’d stick with the XL or larger going forward. The shower was FANTASTIC – loved both the rainshower head and the handheld with that incredible water pressure. We are both tall (6’ and 6’3) with long arms and we felt there was plenty of elbow room. Drawer space was very limited in closet and bath, but we got around that by using our suitcases under the bed as pull-out drawers. Husband didn’t like the sheer curtain that covered our closet, but I preferred it to a door that would just have been in the way. Having an opaque curtain would hide any clothing messes a bit better, but that’s a very small nitpick. The balcony was generously sized and I loved the hammock. Beds were very firm but comfortable, and I was THRILLED to have both a king-sized and regular-sized pillow on the bed – most hotels (and X) only supply the shorter standard size. I love the length of a king-sized pillow and find it difficult to sleep without one. The wall sconce reading lights were also a nice touch – kept the relatively limited bedside table space free for phones, water, glasses, etc. Overall a very thoughtful design. One annoyance – the doors on the shower and toilet rooms are not soft-close, and tended to slam shut LOUDLY even when you were trying to close them gently. There was a TON of slamming from neighboring cabins that woke us on our first morning as people were learning how best to navigate their toilette. Fortunately this abated as the cruise wore on, but installing soft-close hinges on these doors would be a nice touch. Our friends’ suite (one of the entry-level ones) was larger, but not as well thought out, IMO, especially the bathroom, which had an idiotic window into the bedroom that could not be shaded fully.

 

THE SHIP: While she boasts some cool spaces and features, overall we did not love the layout of Scarlet Lady. Everything feels very tight and compartmentalized, and there is a marked lack of connection with the ocean. There are also dead ends everywhere, meaning that you have to know which side of the ship things are on before you leave the elevator bank or you might not be able to get where you want to go without backtracking. Public bathrooms were few and poorly marked. As for décor, it leaned heavily on Instagrammable backdrops but no real substance in terms of design or style. Materials were VERY cheap and are already showing major wear and tear even though the ship is only a couple of years old – carpets were dingy and worn in high traffic areas, pleather seats were peeling, etc. Also, there is seating everywhere, but no COMFORTABLE seating ANYWHERE. It was either too low, too high, too hard, at a weird angle, had a weird bar, or required too many knees to fit into too tight a space. We were a fairly tall group, but our one average height (5'7") sailor complained just as much as we tall folks. On the positive side, the three elevator banks made getting from floor to floor a breeze, and the ship rarely felt crowded despite sailing full, so perhaps having all those choppy little venues helps with crowd control!

 

THE PASSENGER VIBE: We always try to avoid children while traveling – it’s one of the main reasons we like Celebrity, and one of the main features that attracted us to VV. Well, let me assure you - the SHEER AWESOMENESS of the adults-only policy cannot be overstated. We always try to schedule cruises during periods when we're unlikely to encounter many children, but it was really striking to notice how much the complete, guaranteed absence of children (which also meant no entitled parent behavior, no rowdy teens, no large multi-generational families, etc.) changed the experience. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it. Other lines (especially those that already cater more to adults than families, like X) need to consider this policy or they are going to start losing market share to VV in a big way. More generally, our cruise seemed to attract a more diverse but less international and much younger crowd than we are accustomed to on X – median age seemed to be mid-40s. Very few under 25 or 70+ passengers. There was a strong party vibe, which we expected from VV (and which may or may not have been magnified by the fact that we were on a holiday/New Year's sailing). You could avoid it if you wanted to, but there was always a party happening somewhere.

 

POOLS/OUTDOOR AREAS: This was a mixed bag for us. We LOVED the Dock House area and spent a ton of time there. Unfortunately, since this was really the only area where you could enjoy an unadulterated view of the ocean, a lot of our fellow sailors did too, making it hard to find seating at times. The pool area is a complete disaster – not only is the pool itself TINY, the whole area feels very tight and enclosed. Also, the DJ made the area completely intolerable for me due to the noise level (I have very sensitive hearing and it was loud enough to be physically painful). The 16th floor is equally problematic – the Athletic Club in particular could have a been a lovely place to enjoy the sea, but the high walls and seating facing AWAY from the ocean destroyed it. The Sun Club area was just as noisy as the pool deck, and twice as crowded in many cases. Navigation was a problem on 16 too – narrow, single-file passageways and general clutter if you tried to walk from one end to the other. There were a handful of other outdoor areas on deck 7, but who wants to look at lifeboats? We basically spent all of our outdoor time on our balcony or at the Dock House.

 

FOOD/DRINK: I posted a separate, extensive review of all of the dining venues we patronized onboard, which you can find here: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2983385-long-ass-dining-review-of-scarlet-lady-122723/ To recap briefly, we ate in every venue except Gunbae, and as a party of four, ended up tasting most of every menu. With just a few exceptions, the food was good to very good and occasionally excellent, although IMO the idea that VV’s cuisine is SO much better than other lines is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The restaurants are certainly better than the MDR on Celebrity, but if you compare them with X’s specialty restaurants or suite-level restaurants, it’s a much closer race. Beef dishes were consistently weak (low quality beef), and there is a marked absence of higher-end proteins that you typically can find on other lines (albeit for an upcharge), disguised by creative-sounding preparations. Heavy reliance on carbohydrates in most venues as well – we eat low-carb when not vacationing, and if I had tried to stick with an LC diet on this ship I would have been incredibly frustrated. Breads and desserts were mostly mediocre to terrible. The Galley also has a lot of limitations – it worked fine for me, but my husband HATED it given the lack of options and static menu. Having Razzle Dazzle and the Wake available for breakfast/lunch helped, but not enough in his view, and I could see getting VERY bored on a longer sailing, especially a TA where you’re not even eating lunches in port. Drinks were relatively expensive if you wanted anything other than well liquor (e.g., a Bloody Mary with Bombay Sapphire gin was $15; a single shot of Angel’s Envy Bourbon was $17). The cheaper wines and champagnes were undrinkably bad and there were few mid-range offerings in most bars (i.e., often you could get the hideous Saint Louis bubbly for $7 a glass or Moet for $25 a glass, nothing in between). Cocktails were mostly well-made but we were served a couple of clunkers. We have become accustomed to X’s drink packages and didn’t enjoy having to do the mental calculation of whether a particular drink was worth its price or whether we were spending our Bar Tab too fast (or not fast enough). DBE gave us $10 of credit at the Grounds Club daily, another nice perk, but neither one of us enjoyed the Intelligentsia coffee no matter how it was prepared (I tried espresso, macchiato, cappuccino and americano) – it was a light roast and horribly acidic.

 

ENTERTAINMENT: The shows were a step up from what we experienced on our last X cruise in May, but that’s not saying much. Our favorite show by far was a solo cabaret by a wonderful musical theatre singer from Scotland, which replaced Around the World in 80 Minutes with the Diva (canceled due to illness, bummer!). We also enjoyed Duel Reality, but it became clear very quickly that there was a sameness about most of the big production shows – It’s a Ship Show, Ships in the Night and Untitled Dance Party Thing all had a dance/acrobat/drag queen element, just presented in a different way. Still fun, and the dancers and acrobats were excellent! The host of Ship Show reminded me of a terrible cruise director, which could have been funny if it hadn’t been so annoying. There was a lot of live music in the smaller lounges, but not a ton of variety IMO (mostly rock/pop adjacent – no classical whatsoever, no real jazz). The Happenings cast did a decent job with trivia, although I felt they took it a bit too seriously (constantly warning people not to use their phones and making people swap papers for checking). The Arcade was a pleasant surprise – as children of the 80s, we had a great time playing some Ms. Pacman and Space Invaders. The table shuffleboard was awesome as well. Plenty of other activities sounded fun but just didn’t fit in with our plans – it was nice to have a variety of things to choose from and we were never, ever bored!

 

FITNESS/GYM: Free fitness classes are only a value-add if they’re good. And VV’s weren’t. I attended a yoga class with an “instructor” who I seriously doubt has ever so much as watched a yoga video on TikTok, much less had any training. The same instructor also led some of the spin and HIIT classes that my friends attended, all of which were so bad that they left halfway through. I did have fun at the VHS cardio class, led by some of the Happenings cast, but aerobics is a different animal from yoga. Anyway, the gym was adequate but not impressive. Husband likes to lift free weights and was annoyed at the limited selection and small area devoted to free weights. The random pull up bars, benches, push up bars, etc. near the pool and up on 16 did see some use, but mainly by attention-seeking Instagrammers – IMO those public spaces could be better utilized.

 

CASINO/SHOPPING: We’re not gamblers and didn’t bother playing so much as a single slot pull. The casino was hopping any time we walked through it, though, and they did offer a good variety of low-ante games for casual players. Shops were as expected – expensive and not that interesting. I bought a travel-exclusive bottle of Scotch at the duty-free just to use up some Sailor Loot, but didn’t find anything else of interest. Oh, except for a $6 roll of 8 Tums for my husband. 😉

 

PORTS/ITINERARY: To put it bluntly, Virgin’s Caribbean itineraries suck, and this one was no exception. They have a lot of catching up to do in this area. We didn’t care in this case because we were mostly cruising for the ship, but after two visits to Costa Maya we will stay on the ship from here on out. We were excited to snorkel in Honduras but our catamaran tour was canceled due to weather, and a brief walk into town was depressing (and probably a little dangerous). That said, the Beach Club at Bimini was nice enough, although mostly because our Rockstar friends were able to get us into the uncrowded, exclusive suites portion of the club. The regular section was TEEMING with people and the pool was hideously loud. Had we been stuck there, we would have gone right back to the ship. The food at the Beach Club was tasty, but kind of a weird menu for a beach day – we all wanted nachos and other casual, beachy finger foods, not a sit-down meal. It would be nice if they would offer a couple of snacky things to round out the menu.

 

DISEMBARKATION: Fabulous. We went to the Wake for a very civilized breakfast at 8:30 and then relaxed in Sip with our friends (who were doing a B2B) until around 10:15, when the line started dying down. We zipped right down to the luggage claim area and found our bags immediately since most people were already long gone. No line at customs and the facial recognition machines took mere seconds to clear us. While having to wait until 1:30 or later to embark was a little annoying (hotel check outs are typically at 11am, leaving some dead time to fill), you do benefit on the other end, especially if you have a later flight.

 

CONCLUSION: There were things we loved and things we didn’t. Husband enjoyed the trip less than I did overall, but we would both happily sail Virgin again for the right price and the right itinerary, if for no other reason than the adults-only policy. However, I’m still trying to decide what the right price and right itinerary ARE for us on VV. We typically like a more sedate, relaxing cruise rather than a non-stop party, but I would be curious to see how the vibe on VV changes for a non-holiday cruise (or a more port-intensive one). This was also our first time sailing with another couple, which of course led us to party and socialize more than we otherwise might have. We did not love Scarlet Lady herself, but any negatives about the ship are outweighed (or at least balanced) by the absence of children. We might prefer her layout for a cool-weather itinerary, too. We didn’t buy a future cruise certificate while on board because we weren’t sure we’d return within the allotted time frame, but we will consider VV for future trips as the line evolves.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, basenji56 said:

I totally missed that Deep Blue Extras get you early boarding time.  How early? How do you prove you have the Extras before they give you the wristband?

Officially on the website VV only promise expedited boarding with a dedicated line. But many people arrive at 12.30 and are able to check in earlier than their slot. They will have a list of who should have the extras, but you can see it under add-ons in the app.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, basenji56 said:

I totally missed that Deep Blue Extras get you early boarding time.  How early? How do you prove you have the Extras before they give you the wristband?

 

DBE board right after Rockstars. In our case, that was right around 1:45. We arrived at the port around 12:45, which worked out well - we had time to get our luggage tagged and checked and then a minimal wait outdoors before we were ushered into the indoor waiting room. Our DBE status showed in the app, and when we went up to the podium to get our ribbons, we were on the check-in lady's list. We didn't know we had to go up to the podium before speaking with our luggage porter, though - there was no sign saying "DBE check-in here" or anything like that. 

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 minutes ago, Alsmez said:

 

DBE board right after Rockstars. In our case, that was right around 1:45. We arrived at the port around 12:45, which worked out well - we had time to get our luggage tagged and checked and then a minimal wait outdoors before we were ushered into the indoor waiting room. Our DBE status showed in the app, and when we went up to the podium to get our ribbons, we were on the check-in lady's list. We didn't know we had to go up to the podium before speaking with our luggage porter, though - there was no sign saying "DBE check-in here" or anything like that. 

My boarding time was 4 pm. I wish I had known this before. Thanks for sharing this information!

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nice review.  As frequent Celebrity Cruisers also, you hit on several items similar to our experience.  Your statement at the end "about trying to figure out the right price / itinerary for VV for US" is absolutely brilliant.  It completely sums up how we feel too.  We will sail with VV again but figuring out which cruise makes sense for us is the conundrum. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 minutes ago, Team Stag said:

Nice review.  As frequent Celebrity Cruisers also, you hit on several items similar to our experience.  Your statement at the end "about trying to figure out the right price / itinerary for VV for US" is absolutely brilliant.  It completely sums up how we feel too.  We will sail with VV again but figuring out which cruise makes sense for us is the conundrum. 

Thanks! I keep going back over the cruise and particularly the ship in my mind, thinking about how it might have worked for us in other locations we have been to (we most recently cruised Alaska and Bermuda, thinking about Scotland/Iceland/Norway for our next one). If we had an aft balcony as we did on Eclipse in AK, I think I might enjoy Scarlet Lady on a cooler weather itinerary as well, although of course that would mean booking an expensive suite. Not sure, though. That lack of connection with the ocean and limited indoor or outdoor areas for viewing scenery would be a minus. It may be that we only choose VV if doing a party cruise with friends who prefer VV!

 

As far as pricing goes, I can say without question that I would not be willing to pay a premium for VV over X S-class or E-class unless I wanted to sail during a school holiday. The no-kids policy is really the only thing I value highly that can't be duplicated on X. We paid almost exactly the same amount for our Eclipse 7-day to AK as our VV 6-day Carib once drinks/upgraded dining were figured in, and there was absolutely NO comparison as to which was the better ship and vacation overall (Eclipse!!!!). 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hit the nail on the head with this one.

 

These Caribbean (out of Miami) or a snoozefest. For the amount VV wants, I could just be posted up on a beach at a 5 star all inclusive for a week cheaper. Happy they now included the ones out of San Juan.

 

These prices need to come down a lot, and it sounds like they might be coming down a bit.  At least that what it sounds like from the CEO. This was from a user who posted about their TA currently on the Top 100 sailing.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 minutes ago, Alsmez said:

....  thinking about Scotland/Iceland/Norway for our next one ....

If you're looking for something more destination focused, with a more sedate onboard vibe that includes classical duos and is also adults only, you might consider Viking. You'll skew towards the lower end of the age demographic and shouldn't have any high culinary aspirations, but the small ship approach with understated but elegant Nordic decor has a lot going for it.

 

We sailed "Iceland's Majestic Landscapes" this summer and would recommend it as a great way to see that part of the world, in a way that is relaxed and comfortable. It is more about the destination than the ship though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 minutes ago, WanderingBrit said:

If you're looking for something more destination focused, with a more sedate onboard vibe that includes classical duos and is also adults only, you might consider Viking. You'll skew towards the lower end of the age demographic and shouldn't have any high culinary aspirations, but the small ship approach with understated but elegant Nordic decor has a lot going for it.

Thanks! We would definitely consider Viking for a very destination-focused cruise, although we tend to prefer somewhat larger ships overall. We sailed Summit to Bermuda and felt the ship was too small for our taste given the amount of time at sea and single destination, but an Iceland or Norway cruise would be a different ball of wax. Interestingly enough, my husband commented many times that Scarlet Lady reminded him more of Summit than of S-class, even though it's much closer in size/passenger load to S-Class ships. I think it was due to the relatively small size of each individual venue and the lack of high-ceilinged, wide-open spaces on board. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
23 minutes ago, CineGraphic said:

 

Would I be correct in assuming that you're a mezzo?

I was - and thank you very much for the compliment 😉. I switched to dramatic soprano a few years ago but still switch hit for specific roles. I'm very glad to know that my mezzo personality still shines through 😁. Or maybe it's just the user name! 

Edited by Alsmez
Clarity
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
31 minutes ago, Alsmez said:

I was - and thank you very much for the compliment 😉. I switched to dramatic soprano a few years ago but still switch hit for specific roles. I'm very glad to know that my mezzo personality still shines through 😁. Or maybe it's just the user name! 

 

It was easy for this ex-lyric baritone (lazy tenor) to recognize.

Sadly, I haven't sung in years.....used to be John Wustman's student assistant in the early 80s.

Edited by CineGraphic
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just now, CineGraphic said:

 

I was easy for this ex-lyric baritone (lazy tenor) to recognize.

Sadly, I haven't sung in years.....used to be John Wustman's student assistant in the early 80s.

Haha, my husband is the lazy tenor in our family. He misses being a baritone SO MUCH. Unfortunately many of us are singing less and less since COVID (and since the 2008 recesssion, and, and, and...). The changes the industry has undergone are distressing to say the least.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

22 hours ago, Alsmez said:

PORTS/ITINERARY: To put it bluntly, Virgin’s Caribbean itineraries suck, and this one was no exception. They have a lot of catching up to do in this area. We didn’t care in this case because we were mostly cruising for the ship, but after two visits to Costa Maya we will stay on the ship from here on out.

This is what has kept me away from VV - the itineraries. They are boring and repetitive. We are going to give them a try. But we discussed if we like VV, we probably will not sail with them again until they add some unique ports.

 

We tend to like port-intensive cruise lines like Azamara and Windstar.  

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 hours ago, -The-True-North- said:

Hit the nail on the head with this one.

 

These Caribbean (out of Miami) or a snoozefest. For the amount VV wants, I could just be posted up on a beach at a 5 star all inclusive for a week cheaper. Happy they now included the ones out of San Juan.

 

These prices need to come down a lot, and it sounds like they might be coming down a bit.  At least that what it sounds like from the CEO. This was from a user who posted about their TA currently on the Top 100 sailing.

I agree, for the ports offered, prices need to decrease. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was on this cruise, my 4th one last year. It's interesting how differently people view the same things. We will be on Celebrity Edge in 5 weeks, so close enough that mentally I'll be able to do the good comparision (our last non-VV cruise was 2018 and RCL).

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Welcome to Cruise Critic
      • ANNOUNCEMENT: Set Sail Beyond the Ordinary with Oceania Cruises
      • ANNOUNCEMENT: The Widest View in the Whole Wide World
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Cruise Critic News & Features
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • Canadian Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×
×
  • Create New...