When the Virgin Group first threw its hat into the already competitive cruise industry with the launch of Virgin Voyages in 2014, the conglomerate envisioned something different. Whereas some cruise lines target older couples or families, the brand sought out a younger, hipper demographic that might not have otherwise considered cruising as a vacation destination. After all, how many cruise ships come equipped with an onboard record store, personal hammocks on stateroom balconies, and boxing equipment scattered across decks?
Now, Virgin Voyages has taken its rock star reputation a step further by curating a “one-of-a-kind” package with its Chief Entertainment and Lifestyle Officer Jennifer Lopez. The Limitless Voyage aboard the Scarlet Lady, the brand’s inaugural cruise ship, offers a unique VIP experience focused on celebrating and empowering women. In addition to the Lady’s other features, guests opting for the Limitless Package were also invited to participate in TED Talk-inspired seminars, “zen-inducing” wellness programming, uplifting dining experiences, and entertainment and fitness classes set to Jlo’s style.
Unfortunately, Lopez had to cancel a planned appearance to wish sailors bon voyage. But even without getting to bask in her glowy presence, there was certainly plenty of value to be gleaned from the very first Limitless Voyage, which recently sailed out of Miami from April 14-19. (The experience is made even better if you sneak down to South Florida for a day or two of land fun, especially when staying at InterContinental Miami.)
The daily morning seminars were crafted to connect with women who experience all too familiar struggles in their lives and careers. Panelists including What Not to Wear co-host Stacy London, Spartina Productions president Carrie Byalick, Expectful CEO and co-founder Nathalie Walton, Rei of Light founder Rei Chou, Latina entrepreneur Beatriz Acevedo, and FabFitFun co-founder Katie Rosen shared stories from their own personal journeys on topics detailing how they overcame the fear of risks, imposter syndrome, and maintaining a work-life balance. (The latter is a trick question—it’s impossible!) Participants found the sessions so enlightening that a Facebook group was even created to stay connected after the sailing.
Other activities exclusive to Limitless Voyage guests included The Class, a blend of cardio, strength training, and guided meditation hosted by fitness coaches Natalie Kuhn and CJ Frogozo, designed to restore balance. On the final night of the sailing, Chou hosted The Feast, an event which she also founded, at the ship’s trattoria Extra Virgin. The immersive dining experience was designed to build meaningful connections and share stories over intimate dinner conversation. In addition to a newfound sense of fulfillment, dinner guests walked away with the gift of a sodalite crystal to empower their truth, sense of self, authority, and expression.
But with ports in Puerto Plata and Bimini, there was also fun to be had along the way, beyond the classes and seminars. Limitless Package sailors were given an option of several “Shore Things” or excursions during the day in Puerto Plata, in which they got to choose from surf lessons at Cabarete Beach, participating in a recycled art project with a local women’s co-op, or exploring the lush waterfalls of Damajagua. I chose the latter option, which involved jumping or sliding from death-defying (or at least it felt that way) heights into crystal-clear, freshwater pools. Because our group was made up of all women who were part of the Limitless Package, the empowerment mantra seemed to bleed over into the excursion, as the group rallied and cheered for those of us who were, shall we say, a bit more apprehensive of some of the steeper drops.
In Bimini, on the other hand, sailors of the Scarlet Lady were welcome to spend the day at Virgin’s exclusive Beach Club. With an expansive, lagoon-like pool, six bars, and ample beachfront seating, guests could relax and take in the sun with a drink in hand. Lunch was served from dual food groves serving up international bites such as coconut curry chicken, fresh local fish, Mexican-style elote, and naturally, rum cake—because it is the Bahamas, after all.
However, even those who didn’t indulge in the Limitless Package were sure to have a blast aboard the Scarlet Lady. If you’ve never experienced a Virgin Voyages cruise before, it is indeed different than your typical cruise.
Perhaps the biggest distinguishing factor between Virgin Voyages and other cruise lines is the food and beverage programs. Instead of paying upfront for pricey drink packages, Virgin employs a pay-as-you-go system using prepaid “Sailor Loot”—the brand’s cheeky way of defining onboard credit. There are likewise no buffets to be found on Virgin ships. Though some grab-and-go options are available, the closest answer is The Galley food hall, which serves a variety of domestic and international fare from eight different shops and food truck-style carts, including all-day breakfast, bento boxes, burgers, noodle soup bowls, tacos, and more.
And with over 20 specialty eateries aboard the Scarlet Lady, you also won’t pay extra to eat at some of the more upscale spots on the ship. Reservations are first come, first serve, and guests are discouraged from dining at the same spot more than once with a wait list policy, but the restaurants on board are open to all sailors. And honestly, with so many fantastic options, there’s no reason to frequent the same restaurant more than once.
Even during a five-night sailing, it was impossible to try every restaurant onboard—although I certainly did try! Highlights included Gunbae for lively Korean BBQ cooked right at your table with obligatory flowing soju; the stylish Mexican restaurant Pink Agave, where those brave enough can sip on a mezcal cocktail garnished with real crickets; The Wake, for high-end steaks and seafood; and Virgin Voyages’ signature restaurant Razzle Dazzle, a primarily plant-based affair serving up fun options such as “unicorn toast” and a popcorn old fashioned. (Yes, it actually comes in a popcorn box!)
But if there’s one can’t-miss dining experience onboard, that would have to be The Test Kitchen, Virgin’s take on high concept, modern cuisine, which—true to its name—is an experimental-style restaurant that’s described as part cooking school and part eatery. In place of a traditional menu, the meal consists of six set courses (diners are given a choice from a few main course options) with ambiguous names such as “corn,” “salmon,” and “beetroot.” Standout dishes involved a corn pate served with bread for spreading (I’m not ashamed to admit a good deal went straight from plate to mouth) and an asparagus sorbet palate cleanser before the dessert course.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Virgin Voyages also takes an unconventional approach to entertainment. Many of the shows have a decidedly more intimate feel than typical cruise ships and some might even be a bit too bawdy for older, more conservative sailors. Drag queens host brunch at Razzle Dazzle and karaoke at the Social Club Diner, which slings carnival fare such as hot dogs and milkshakes by day.
The largest entertainment venue aboard the Scarlet Lady is the aptly named Red Room, which boasts modular seating and a stage that can be moved across three separate configurations, such as one in which the stage moves during the show. I was lucky enough to take in the “Dual Reality” show one evening, an hour-long Romeo and Juliet-inspired story performed by The 7 Fingers, an innovative circus collective that blends acrobatics with theater for an unforgettable, high-flying experience. Audience members were seated on either side of the stage, which was positioned in the middle, and given color armbands to designate which “side” they were on as the acrobats “dueled” it out onstage using poles, chains, hula hoops, and so on.
Due to the poor weather conditions during our sailing, the festivities for the ship’s eponymous “Scarlet Night” also took place in the Red Room, instead of on the main pool deck, where it usually kicks off under the stars. The ship-wide party features dancers and performers across a wide variety of spaces, where sailors can let their hair down and dance the night away. Eventually, the party makes its way to The Manor, the ship’s Studio 54-style dance club pumping house music and slinging bottle service. But for those who are too exhausted to make it to the afterparty, don’t miss a visit to the trippy, mirrored hallway entrance to The Manor, easily the most Instagrammable spot on the ship.
If you find yourself having such a good time aboard the Scarlet Lady that you want to come home with a souvenir you’ll never forget, visit the onboard tattoo shop, Squid Ink. Starting at $150 for flash sheet tattoos and $250 and up for custom pieces, one of the rotating artists, depending on your sailing, will ink you with a permanent reminder of your trip. Encouraged by the wife of Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin (though, admittedly it didn’t take much), I went with a delicate pink mermaid flash sheet piece on my inner left ankle.
Something simple to hold me over until the next trip.