Disclaimer: On February 25, 2020 I was invited to attend an evening on board Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady as their guest during her call into Liverpool before she headed across the Atlantic to NYC and then finally onto her home port of Miami. I was not paid to write this review, and these are entirely my own opinions and I retain full editorial control.

You’ve got to take risks if you’re going to succeed – Richard Branson​

Let’s face it we were never going to get something traditional and safe (in the figurative sense of course) from The Virgin Group and Richard Branson – the original disrupter of markets.

Before I stepped on board Scarlet Lady in Liverpool, she had already called in Dover where other press, social media influencers and travel agents had been invited on board. So rather interestingly by the time I embarked at Liverpool, I had already consumed various first impressions and reviews of what others thought of her.

 

Want to see what I experienced on board? PART 2 COMING SOON

For a new ship and a new cruise line there is always going to be a degree of variety in terms of how positively the new offering is received by the market. However, what intrigued me the most with Scarlet Lady was the intensity of opinions expressed – both ways.

In fact, the crushing disappointment for some verses the almost limitless excitement for others told me a lot. This was a ship you were either going to embrace, love and ‘get’, or it was absolutely positively not going to be for you at all. I was intrigued to find out which side I would come down on (I had a hunch but reserved my judgement until I actually had a chance to experience it).

 

In marketing terms this strength of opinion is great – it indicates that Virgin Voyages have done some great market research. They have clearly defined their customer avatar. They know exactly who they are selling to; therefore all the branding, advertising and experiences on board ship are designed to appeal to THAT customer. (Hint: it’s probably not going to be 80% of the current cruise market). What I find intriguing is that this customer is not defined just in terms of age or demographics but in terms of personality (or ‘psychographic’ – and as a psychologist, this greatly interests me).

 

So let’s start with who Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady is NOT for.

If you like the tried and tested, and you are of the “we’ve always done it this way, and you can shake it up a little bit… but not too much” mentality, then this will not be the ship or cruise line for you. You are likely to holiday on Scarlet Lady and come back feeling that you’ve been short-changed, and you will share your disappointment with friends or on social media. Virgin don’t want that.

I get the sense that Virgin Voyages are completely relaxed about the fact that Scarlet Lady might not be for everyone. But it will be a big “yes” for plenty – it’s called market segmentation, it’s called choice, it’s called something completely different.

As a new entrant into the traditional, well-established cruise market, you need to be different. There’s a lot of barriers to entry. Virgin Voyages has not smashed those barriers, they’ve created a whole new market.

 

So who is Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady likely to appeal to?

It seems that Virgin Voyages are not after well-seasoned cruisers who might be loyal to a particular cruise line. They are not even after a market that was thinking about going on a traditional cruise line. Virgin Voyages’ customers are likely to be those who are intrigued by holiday at sea but have been left somewhat uninspired and perhaps even a little intimidated by the formality presented by a traditional cruise holiday.

Ditch the tradition, I’m not interested.

Let’s face it – these customers are not going to be interested in meeting the Captain at a Gala Reception. They are not going to be bothered about whether they should go for first or second sitting at dinner, they are not even going to be concerned about whether they need to buy a new tuxedo for formal night.

Whether the food court (The Galley, on board Scarlet Lady) is really a buffet or not and how the pool size, cabin decor and bathroom size compare to those on another cruise line is not going to enter into their thinking when booking a Virgin Voyages holiday aboard Scarlet Lady.

Remember, these customers haven’t even stepped on a cruise ship before – they have nothing to compare it to. They will judge the experience they have on board Scarlet Lady against other holidays they have previously experienced on land.

Seeking affluent, open-minded travellers

Scarlet Lady is likely appeal to slightly more affluent travellers who are open-minded, and who are prepared to try something different; they are likely to view the chance of getting inked at sea as an exciting idea and not a frivolous gimmick. Scarlet Lady is basically a Virgin Group hotel at sea. It’s an extension of a South Beach resort. She will fit in perfectly in Miami.

There’s never enough time

With less than 24 hours on board I wasn’t able to explore every part of the ship or experience everything that Scarlet Lady has to offer. However what I did get was a tantalising taste of the type of holiday you could experience on board. (I ‘m in the process of uploading a companion blog post and a YouTube video with more detail about the areas of the ship very soon)

What I did take away from my brief visit was the passion, energy, love, blood sweat and tears that had been willingly invested over the years by everyone involved in this massive project. Virgin Voyages deliver exceptional customer service, and you can only do this authentically and consistently if everyone shares a common goal to give customers the best experience. The bedrock of this to ensure team members are treated well and this is something I’ve always admired about the Virgin Brand.

Virgin Voyages have jettisoned the term ‘cruise’ on many levels. This holiday at sea IS a Voyage, it’s an experience it’s not a traditional cruise. Yes there are nautical nods on a design team but that’s where it stops. So it’s no good comparing Scarlet Lady against other cruise ships or cruise lines. Scarlet lady is not a cruise ship.

The big question

So, the big question is: would I holiday on Scarlet Lady myself? At the moment, no.

….and here’s the ONE reason why:  Scarlet Lady is an adults-only ship. 

With two kids under 18 and no one to look after them for a week, sadly my only experience of Scarlet Lady for the next few years will be my one-night stand with her in Liverpool.

I can only hope that Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, and Dr Yes himself, Richard Branson decide that ships three and four (which are currently on order and yet to be built) include some child/family friendly element to them. When this happens – take my money.

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