In less than six months, in April 2020, probably the most-awaited new cruise ship arrives on the scene. Every year new ships are launched and 2020 is no different, but one ship is unlike the rest. Not just for being new, but for being the first of a brand new fleet of cruise ships. Quirky, greener, non-cruisey even. A challenger with a difference. A cruise line aimed at those who traditionally don’t cruise, so much so that the brand doesn’t even have the word ‘cruise’ in their branding. I’m talking about Richard Branson’s new travel brand Virgin Voyages, of course, and their soon-here flagship Scarlet Lady. The ship, and brand, are committed to being the cleanest of cruise ships out there. So what makes Virgin Voyages, and Scarlet Lady, the most sustainable of all cruise ships out there when she enters the market?
The name of the first Virgin Voyages ship pays homage to the beginnings of the airline Virgin Atlantic – and the lady in red featured on the livery of their planes. The new Scarlet Lady featured on the bow of this new ship is on brand, and appears in the form of a mermaid instead. Every reveal about Scarlet Lady’s features gets people excited and often surprised for not being untraditional in cruise terms. Vegan and veggies have been enthusiastic from the start when more plantbased options were promised.
But it is the environmental advances onboard that should call out to all who love the oceans and want to continue cruising the seas. And if your personal carbon footprint is something you pay attention to, in order to lower it, cruising with Virgin Voyages could be the answer. Why? Hear me out..
Sustainability at sea
Sustainability is right at the forefront of the Virgin Voyages brand. From the very first press trip with a visit to the shipyard where Scarlet Lady was getting built, sustainability was featured as one of the key differences with the new brand. With Richard Branson himself taking a sledgehammer to a plastic water fountain bottle at the event, the message was clear. Virgin Voyages was banning all single-use plastics, not just straws. It was a statement that put Virgin Voyages ahead of the rest of the industry. And while other cruise lines are slowly catching up in terms of sustainable choices, the innovation and tech still sets the new Scarlet Lady apart from the wider cruise fleet out there.
As a product, Virgin Voyages are promising to be very different – when have you heard of a cruise line unveiling their uniforms on London Fashion Week (by a UK designer Gareth Pugh). But not just fashionable, Virgin Voyages are also going to be the most environmentally friendly fleet of cruise ships out there.
Virgin Voyages leading sustainable cruise provision:
Virgin Voyages have sworn to banish single-use plastics across a range of products that their customers will use, including plastic straws, water bottles, stirrers, condiment packs and other unnecessary food packaging. This should more than half disposable plastic waste produced onboard. They plan to provide everyone onboard with reusable drink bottles. Complimentary still and sparkling water will be available to guests (aka sailors) throughout the ship’s many restaurants in an effort to diminish plastic water bottle waste. There will also be filtered water stations for refills.
In addition to replacing single-use plastics with reusable items, Virgin Voyages are partnering with Emerald to deliver a Tree-Free experience through the ship. Disposable paper products, like bath tissue, facial tissue, hot cups, paper towels, and napkins will be made from 60 per cent to 100 per cent Tree-Free material. These products are made with unique technology that uses the by-product of agricultural crops (sugar cane and wheat fibre) that are typically burned or wasted, in place of trees. Emerald are the brand behind Virgin Voyages tree-free napkins and paper cups (for the coffee).
Energy-saving & carbon-reducing operations
One of the new partnerships Virgin Voyages has to reduce their carbon emissions is with Swedish clean-energy innovator Climeon. They supply Scarlet Lady and the future Virgin Voyages ships with Climeon units to harness waste heat from the engines’ cooling water, converting it to clean energy to power the cabins, restaurants and other venues onboard. One unit can power up to 250 households and Scarlet Lady will host six of these units. The resulting environmental impact will be an estimated 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide savings annually per ship. In terms of carbon off-setting, it would take 180,000 trees 30 years to absorb the annual amount (press release).
Virgin Voyages are further reducing energy usage in ship design (hull shape and low-friction paint) and in smart interiors. Tinted windows, room sensors, LED lighting etc in guest areas all save energy, as will induction hobs and in-demand ventilation in the galleys.
Further energy is reclaimed onboard by utilising a brand new wastewater purification system by Norwegian Scanships. The technology utilises microwave-assisted pyrolysis (MAP). It converts waste into biofuel (gas) that can be used for heat or energy onboard, with final products of this process being charcoal and purified water. This waste to energy process is also featured in this joint video by Virgin Voyages, Climeon and Scanship.
As part of Virgin Voyages’ commitment to protecting the seas, earlier this summer (2019) Virgin announced Stream2Sea to be their preferred partner for reef-safe sunscreen. Stream2Sea products will be available to purchase onboard and also at the Bimini beach club. Not only is Bimini a gorgeous private resort but offers DJ-led pool parties and superstar DJs like Mark Ronson and MK in attendance on selected dates.
While many suncare products claim to be ocean-friendly, Stream2Sea doesn’t contain oxybenzone or other ingredients harmful to marine life. As a brand, their packaging is eco-friendly and sustainable as well, ranging from sugarcane resins to recycled plastic. The perfect partner for Virgin Voyages.
One of the only untreated waste cruise ships have been allowed to dispose at sea is food waste. It is normally ground up and deposited a minimum 12 nautical miles from the shore. Virgin Voyages aims to reduce food waste by not offering buffet food, but only serving made-to-order dishes across a range of 20+ restaurants on the ship. There is no upcharge at any venues, all dining options are available for Sailors. Plus, any food waste can be turned into energy onboard, thanks to the innovative tech featured above.
For the caffeine addicts among us, Virgin Voyages have partnered with a Chicago-based coffee pioneers, Intelligentsia Coffee. They are known for their quality and innovation, and for being the first US adopters of direct trade. This incorporates progressive sourcing methods, such as paying growers above fair-trade prices for their coffee. Sounds good to me.. as long as the coffee is too!
News of Virgin’s plantbased options have been received with excitement and high hopes among vegan cruisers. One of the ship’s 20+ inclusive dining venues, Razzle Dazzle, is what Virgin has chosen to call ‘vegetarian forward’. Razzle Dazzle features Naugty and Nice menus, latter ‘Nice’ offering vegetarian and vegan plantbased options (including the Beyond Burger). The former menu, ‘Naughty’, offers meat add-ons to the vegetarian dishes on the other menu, as well as alcohol add-ons for the juices and shakes.
Razzle Dazzle is also the venue for a whole new feature – Drag Brunch. Yes, indeed. There is a drag queen in residence on Scarlet Lady.. and cocktails like Yass Queen and venue namesake Razzle Dazzle. I told you Virgin were doing it differently…
While Virgin Atlantic, Branson’s airline, ditched palm oil completely from their inflight meals, Virgin Voyages has pledged to welcome only responsibly sourced palm oil on products served on their ships.
Virgin Voyages Twitter account recently promoted foods available onboard so I queried vegan options in Razzle Dazzle. This is what they replied.
I have high hopes for the vegan options for Virgin Voyages, as even at the London launch event the guests were able to enjoy vegan tacos. And to keep with the sustainability promise, only metal straws were provided for partygoers. Many thanks for fellow cruise blogger Andrew CruiseshipP for the photos from the UK launch party below.
The Virgin Voyages difference.. in addition to their green credentials
I’m not sure if I should even be talking about cruising and Virgin in the same sentence. Virgin Voyages want to distance themselves from the old cruise industry by using different words/terms for their product. Booking voyages rather than cruises. Sailors, rather than guests. There are no casinos onboard on Virgin Voyages, no kids either. All voyages are adult-only.
Scarlet Lady will be the first cruise ship to offer a tattoo studio onboard, with two resident tattoo artists. The designs onboard will be created with World Famous Tattoo Ink original vegan ink. In addition to tattoos, Squid Ink will also offer body piercings as well as permanent makeup treatments using vegan-friendly Perma Blend pigments.
Virgin Voyages will encourage its crew members to also express themselves freely through tattoos if they wish. In a unique move for the cruise industry, the company has indicated that the hiring of shipboard candidates with visible tattoos is a-okay. Well done, Virgin!
You’ll find a record shop ‘Voyage Vinyl’ selling vinyl onboard Scarlet Lady too. There will be music from various genres and eras available, even listening booths (how quaint!). Voyage Vinyl will also sell record players, headphones, music magazines etc as you would expect of a record store.
Another feature that I personally adore is the Roman Coppola-designed feature ‘The Groupie’, a bookable karaoke, gaming and movie lounge. Definitely not traditional cruise fun.. and you won’t have to fight the kids for the x-box.
Sailors all receive free wifi as do the onboard crew, which again is very forward-thinking from Virgin Voyages. Normally in ports, you find your cruise crew in free Wifi hotspots to stay in touch family and friends back at home. But on VV staff have inclusive wifi access too. Well done, Virgin!
One other inclusive item on Virgin Voyages is the onboard fitness classes. The facilities look amazing from design renders – how about that studio for free morning yoga?
Service gratuities are also built-in to your Virgin Voyages fare, as is all the food in the onboard 20+ restaurants. Soft drinks and water are also part of your voyage booking. Just your alcoholic drinks, shopping and services (spa, tattoos etc) to pay for.
Accommodations with a difference – boutique hotel at sea
But as you can already tell from the few renders above… Virgin Voyages aren’t traditional. They’re definitely not going to be to everybody’s taste. They’re firmly in the (rebellious) luxury cruise category with 2,700 passengers only. Small, compared to the megaships which can host up to 6,000 passengers per sailing.
Virgin Voyages’ cabin designs have proven to be a little like Marmite on social media. Some love them, some hate, others are wondering how comfortable they’re going to be, for looking so minimalistic. My friend Emma from Cruising Isn’t Just For Old People was invited to explore the ‘Sea Terrace’ balcony cabin mock-up recently, see her review here.
Virgin Voyage’s cabins come with designer beds that convert to a sofa/daybed so no extra lounge area is required. Can be useful if you’re social and want to have friends over… but with a stunning ship to explore, who spends any more time than necessary in their cabin? But when you are in, there is sensory lighting, a 43″ 4K TV, minibar and a vanity. And a designer bathroom with a rain shower.
The ‘Sea Terrace’ cabins are available for 2-4 persons on Virgin Voyages’ website. Unfortunately, there are no images how the Pullman beds are positioned with two additional passengers.
For groups, the best cabin to book might just be the ‘Social Insider’. It’s definitely something fresh and would certainly enjoy one for a girlie group cruise.
At night the two Pullman beds come out from the wall and make this a cabin suited for group of friends to stay in. I’m a fan of the fresh new shape. Much prefer this to the rather traditional two bunks with a bedside table in the middle. The one thing I would miss though, is the hammock seat the Sea Terrace balconies have.
And one more win for Virgin Voyages. What you see is not just a mere hammock. The hammocks featured on terraces are made by Yellow Leaf, an inspiring social enterprise in rural Thailand. The work empowers women and in turn, facilitates community transformation and lifts people out of poverty.
The second ship in the fleet, the Valiant Lady announced just this week, will be based on the Mediterranean. She’s also due to sail 7-day itineraries whereas Scarlet Lady from Miami majors in shorter ones (4-5 days appears common) to suit the US market.
And naturally, just like any other cruise ships out there, Virgin Voyages offers a selection of ‘Rockstar Suites’ with all kinds of fabulous perks associated with Suite travel. You can learn all about the Suites available, and other cabins here.
Sustainable cruise holidays – a must trend for the future
I have written a few posts on this matter over the years, featuring examples of positive news on how the cruise industry is responding to the need for change. The truth is, we cannot keep spoiling our seas if we want to enjoy them, and much is happening to ensure that the carbon footprint of cruising is coming down. Whilst all ships have some measures to reduce the burden on the environment (recycling, waste processing etc) Virgin Voyages are stepping up the game with their sustainable cruise offering. The partnerships formed, with the two tech companies and supplier brands speak volumes about the ethics behind the operation. Even if everything else the Virgin Voyages brand offers is trendy, loud, fashion-focussed and untraditional in cruise industry terms.
There is a Richard Branson quote out there about Virgin Voyages and it is worth sharing again.
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
I wish Virgin Voyages all the best & much success, because our oceans need our care. Current pollution levels cannot continue if we wish to leave sailable seas for future generations. Be it cruises or voyages. And every voyage makes a difference if you consider the carbon footprint of the sailing.
Scarlet Lady launches in spring 2020 but as she is Miami-based, I personally can’t see myself sailing with her. But once her sister Valiant Lady joins the fleet on the Mediterranean in 2021, I will be booking. I want to sample that promised vegan food. Plus I look forward to enjoying everything else Virgin Voyages has to offer. No tattoos for me but give me that Drag Brunch and Karaoke rooms at ‘The Groupie’. Not a fan of the name, but I’ll let that slide. Anyone else interested, fancy a song?
PS. If you want to learn more about ocean destruction, do check out York University documentary ‘Troubled Waters‘ which you can see for free on YouTube. Another documentary on Netflix that discusses ocean dead zones and other environmental damage is Cowspiracy – the free trailer is available on YouTube.