Sunday 10 April 2022

Introducing Virgin Voyage's Latest Ship Valiant Lady

(PR Stay for the UK Showcase - see disclaimer)

It seems no sooner had Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady arrived, Valiant Lady was hot on her bow! The launch of Virgin Voyages was hotly anticipated by many, it saw Sir Richard Branson's first step into the world of cruising, completely shaking up the cruise world as we know it. I was invited to spend a night on Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady back in February 2020, my last time on a cruise ship so it seemed perfect that the first ship I'd step on once the world reopened would be her sister ship, Valiant Lady.

Virgin Voyages saw a tremendous uptake in cruises as Scarlet Lady sailed out of Portsmouth last summer and it seems the opinion has finally changed after an extremely controversial start. Personally, I adored Virgin Voyages from the second I stepped on - they tore up the rule book and created something so different it seemed as though people just didn't want to accept and you know what? That's okay, if we all enjoyed the same things it would be boring right? 

Virgin Voyages' first fleet will be known as the Lady Ships, a play on the term ‘your ladyship’ giving a nod to Virgin's British heritage. Scarlet Lady is the first of four Lady Ships being launched by the brand, with their third ship Resilient Lady making her debut later this year. 

Ship facts
Maiden voyage 18th March 2022
Builder Fincantieri
Tonnage 110,000
Length 278m
Beam 38m
Decks 17

The brand new cruise line is aimed at people who would never normally cruise, it's adult only - a complete hideaway at sea for the 18+ traveller. It's an interesting move for Virgin Voyages but let's face it - Virgin has never been one to fit in. They're appealing to a completely different generation of cruisers and with dance parties, lucid dance shows, resident drag queens, famous DJs and of course, the tattoo parlour - this is the cruise line for those who want fun, travel and excitement whatever your age.

I think one of the most important angles to Virgin Voyages is its stance on Sustainability. We're all aware of the impact cruise ships have on the environment and our oceans, I don't think it's sensible to say "oh well they're not that bad" - we need to acknowledge that they are and find a way to counteract this and I think Virgin Voyages have made a great start at this. Offsetting its carbon emissions from its very first cruise, Virgin Voyages will be the first cruise line in history to declare itself carbon-neutral from its first day of commercial operation.

"There is nothing more important in this world than our oceans, and we're on a mission to protect them and set an example. Success needn't compromise sustainability"
Sir Richard Branson

The company has also ​banned single-use plastics onboard​ its ships, including straws, bottled water, other beverage bottles, condiment packets, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers, and take-away coffee and teacups. Instead, the company will emphasize the use of recyclable and reusable materials across the ship. While onboard, sailors will be provided with access to complimentary filtered still and sparkling water - any excuse to purchase the Virgin Voyages refillable water bottle eh?

Bear in mind, Valiant Lady is the sister ship to Scarlet Lady so a lot of what I share applies to both so if you've read my post on Scarlet Lady you will see a lot of similarities as I pull some information across. 

One thing I do need to touch on as I mentioned above, there was a lot of controversy after the UK Showcase of Scarlet Lady. Seasoned cruisers were not ready for the shakeup and there were a lot of (some) silly gripes about cabin space, storage for cases, the size of the pool and so on. However, things have slightly changed when it comes to their cabins as they've had a shakeup! Natural wood slat has been installed to give rooms a warmer feel while a cupboard door has been added to tuck the fridge away and there's an extra table in cabins. All small things but noticeable. 

To access the cabins, sailors will be given bands that function as their room keys with each one being made from recycled ocean plastic - we used these for the first time of Valiant as they weren't available for the Scarlet Showcase and they're such a great bit of kit. You'll also find recycled toilet paper as well as refillable shower gel, shampoo and conditioner containers in their statement red branding in bathrooms plus the cabin sensors mean lights are turned off while air conditioning is operated lower when cabins aren't occupied.

Oh and the hammocks on each terrace? They've been lowered meaning even I can get my short legs into one, I didn't attempt it last time! 

Once again, we stayed within one of the Sea Terrace cabins that feature the controversial Seabed. The cabin layout has been designed by Pearson Lloyd alongside the Virgin Voyages' design team using intelligent architecture to optimise space and views of the ocean. Each of the cabins is custom-created to accommodate the Seabed, the first-ever transformational cabin bed at sea, specially engineered and handcrafted by Walter Knoll in Germany. The concept of the Seabed came from the convivial nature of cruising and gives Sailors more space for social gatherings in the cabin.

I loved this addition to the room, it gave us more space while we spent some time in the cabin getting ready and when we went back to our cabin after the night's activities. Our cases also fitted perfectly underneath! The room also featured a 43"+ 4K flat-screen HDTV, mini bar, a desk area that I transformed into my makeup station and freshwater and glasses that were regularly replaced throughout our stay. The wardrobes were much roomier than I feel some realise and I loved the flexible curtain idea. There was a good-sized rail, plenty of floor space as well as a cupboard featuring shelves to house your belongings.

Remember, you don't need to store a ballgown after all.

You'll need at least five days on Valiant Lady just so you can enjoy the multiple bars and restaurants dotted around the ship. There are over 20 eateries onboard offering everything from traditional Mexican and BBQ Korean to sophisticated steak and seafood and the much talked about Impossible Burger - a vegan delight at Razzle Dazzle. Your food is all in too, there's no speciality dining, no add ons - just book a table via the app (applies to some, not all) and rock up!

We took ourselves on a self-guided tour to discover exactly what was on offer and we weren't disappointed. Our first stop was The Galley which is modelled on international food halls where you can taste a variety of options in one place. It's the go-to spot for a quick bite to eat, meal or snack during the day. The area features a mix of ships and food-truck style carts offering a burger grill, taco shack, sushi bar, salad stand, bakery and pastry shop! 

After an afternoon of travelling to Tilbury Docks, we filled up on salads, tacos, bento boxes and some of the best chips I've ever eaten - it was SO delicious! 

We couldn't resist grabbing an ice cream from Lick Me Till... Ice Cream on the way back to our room - next time you're on board, make sure you try the Butter Pecan.

Sip is a beautifully curated champagne lounge designed for all. It's inspired by the glamour and effervescence of champagne featuring a long marble bar with rose-gold inlay, gold and rose-pink hues that echo the colour of the champagne that is served all of which is beautifully offset by deep watery blues and Carrara marble bars and tables.

On the Rocks found just behind the roundabout on deck 6, is a unique place to enjoy a cocktail or two. You can forget the menu here and just tell the bartender exactly what flavours you like and watch them create something unique and magical before your eyes. It felt like the heart of the fun whenever we walked past.

In the evening we ate at The Wake which serves a sophisticated take on steak and seafood. Designed by Roman and Williams, it's the most glamorous restaurant on the ship offering a gorgeous mid-twentieth century chop-house atmosphere, a raw bar, table-side drink cart service and champagne poured by the glass from a magnum bottle. We enjoyed starters of Clam Chowder followed by the most succulent steak and crispy polenta. Having eaten at The Wake for breakfast previously, it was so great to go back and enjoy the dinner service.

Once again, it was spectacular and a must-visit on any Virgin Voyages ship. 

There's a multitude of bars, fun hangouts, a shopping quarter, a retro gaming room, a casino, and an artist area - the sky really is the limit for activities on Virgin Voyages. The ships are ultimately fun, exciting and full of laughs and that reflects in the entertainment which is provided so perfectly.

While on the ship you'll be able to choose from a festival-like lineup of all-new completely original entertainment developed by some of the world’s most-talked-about producers, directors and artists in the expansion of the company’s Creative Collective. This includes Jenny Gersten, Randy Weiner, Sam Pinkleton, Ani Taj, PigPen Theatre Co, The 7 Fingers, Roslyn Hart and Alfredo Guenzani and the Spark Cooperative.

In The Red Room, the first-ever transformational, multi-form theatre at sea there will be six original shows and Pinkleton & Ani Taj have created a hype music video disguised as an absurdist style dance party, called ​UNTITLED DANCESHOW PARTYTHING​. It is quite a sight for eyes featuring lucid neons and a giant pink whale - I won't give the rest away!

I think the place that has received the most amount of love is, of course, The Manor. It's set behind a mirrored door that doesn't look like much but once you step inside you'll discover the most beautiful and dazzling, wall to floor twinkle covered corridor. It was Instagram heaven and Sparkle Central as we called it was the place to be to get that all-important shot!

As you venture through the twinkling walls you'll come to the signature nightclub designed by Roman and Williams, inspired by Richard Branson's history in the music industry and his first-ever Virgin music studio of the same name. The space doubles as a nightclub and area for entertainment and is where we ended our night with a set by Twiggy Garcia under blue strobe lights, glasses of champagne and pumping dance music.

It really was quite spectacular.

If taking a few hours out to completely pamper yourself after all that dancing then the Redemption Spa is the place to be. Designed by Knibb Design, the gorgeous hideaway is complete with a hydrotherapy pool, mudroom, salt room, cold plunge pools, quartz beds, and rejuvenating spa treatments. It's absolutely beautiful and if I closed my eyes while I took five minutes on the quartz beds I could almost smell the Caribbean - in my dreams right?!

As well as the spa, there are plenty of places to head for a spruce up - Stubble and Groom, designed by Softroom is an intimate upscale barbershop while The Dry Dock is a blow-dry and hairstyling beauty bar. There's also the Mani-Pedi Spa to make sure your nails are looking ship-shape.

And who could forget Squid Ink? If you're feeling adventurous at sea why not head to the first-ever tattoo parlour at sea which will offer tattooing, permanent makeup and body piercing services. The studio will have two resident tattoo artists as well as an occasional guest artist from the World Famous Tattoo Ink Pro Team.

Last but not least is, of course, the outside decks! Virgin Voyages’ brand design ethos, ​Modern Romance of Sailing,​ seeks to enchant crew, sailors and pirates alike by capturing a fresh, contemporary and sleek look, with nods of glamour and romance that evoke the soul's innate love of the sea and pairs it with touches of saltiness and nautical tradition. This can be seen perfectly once you venture outside, from cosy cabanas and poolside bars to well-being pools and quiet corners, the higher decks are where you'll want to be in the sunshine.

The Perch ​designed by Concrete Amsterdam is a space offering 360-degree ocean views as a secluded sundeck for sunrise and sunset yoga while The Runway also ​designed by Concrete Amsterdam, is a standalone running track that forms a halo-like vision over the ship. You'll also discover the Well-Being Pool featuring a large whirlpool and two plunge pools.

The Aquatic Club is where you can lounge poolside and soak up the sun with a cocktail in hand. The pool certainly has a lot of people talking, especially about its size but size doesn't matter, right - I'll leave that up to you to decide. 

Once again, I adored Virgin Voyages and I did not want to get off, sure I'd have preferred a trip to the Caribbean instead of its next stop in Liverpool but you can't always get your own way. I think that many have forgotten that Virgin Voyages aren't looking for your seasoned cruisers - gone are the formal nights, stuffy dining rooms and the traditional cruising way and in place is something cool, hip and actually quite groundbreaking.

Virgin Voyages are different, they wanted to shake things up and to be honest, I think they've done it. Would I need to experience a few days of sailing to really get a feel for the ship? Totally but first impressions count and mine were exceeded beyond comprehension, they've stolen my heart.

Sometimes a new dog doesn't need to be taught old tricks for it to work.

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