She’s already created more headlines than a rock star caught with drugs. But tonight, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages ship will face its first big test – cruise critics from all over the world.

They will descend on the British seaport of Dover and spend the night on Scarlet Lady, the vessel Sir Richard himself maintains is like no other.

For months now we’ve heard how this billion dollar baby will change the face of cruising – because it’s not really cruising at all. It’s what the Great White-Bearded One describes as “rebellious luxe”. It’s a lifestyle brand.

Richard Branson at the Sydney Launch party November 2019
Richard Branson celebrates the Sydney launch of Virgin Voyages

Sir Richard, the master of hype, has been working as a one man publicity machine on this project.

The ship has no kids on board, of course. That goes without saying. Adults only cruises are all the rage. But drag acts, a tattoo parlour, dancing on the tables? Passengers called sailors; cabins “Rockstar suites”? That’s Virgin on the ridiculous.

It’s all part of the new line’s claim to want to attract non cruisers – Sir Richard is one of them. He’s never taken a cruise.

Make no mistake: this is a high stakes gamble. The ships itself cost a billion dollars, and a second is on the way (Sir Richard told Cruise Passenger that vessel could be heading our way last year during a whirlwind trip to Sydney). There also an island in the Bahamas.

And Australia, with its huge cruise penetration, is a key market in Virgin’s plan to conquer this growing travel segment. Sir Richard told us he believes Australians will love his relaxed and irreverent take on cruise.

So what’s all the fuss about?

The hype says the 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady will have “the smooth curves of a yacht”. And, as our pictures from her sea trials shows, she is indeed curved. At 17 decks, she is a mighty ship with Virgin’s signature Red splashed on the top decks.

The 78 “Rockstar Suites”, which are the top of the range, will each have a turntable. The music theme continues through the Minister of Music DJ Mark Ronson. There’s even a vinyl record store on board – a signal that the 70-year-old Sir Richard is seeking to appeal to a demographic not far from his friends.

You can buy a signature perfume that ‘smells like ship’, and when you download the App, you can shake your smart phone and instantly a waiter arrives with a bottle of Moët et Chandon Impérial in a scarlet ice bucket.

There’s a big environmental offering, naturally. Virgin Voyages is offsetting its direct climate change emissions through the purchase of carbon offsets. This commitment makes the brand the first cruise line to become carbon-neutral for its direct emissions footprint from its first day of commercial operation.

“The ocean is our home, and we are on a mission to protect it. The single-biggest threat facing our ocean is climate change, and we want to be part of the solution,”  says Tom McAplin, CEO and President of Virgin Voyages.

And food? Well, nothing as naff as a buffet – though there is something rather similar.
Scarlet Lady offers more than 20 dining options, all included in the fare, from a Korean barbecue to fine dining.

After her debut, she’ll be off to Miami offering three nights and Dominican Daze five night trips.

Valiant Lady, a sister ship, will be launched in 2021 with Mediterranean itineraries season including Barcelona, Ibiza, Monte Carlo, Marseille and Olbi.

Cruise Passenger will be on board the ship’s first night – see our review on Sunday.