Scarlet Lady Postcard #4 – Portsmouth & Disembarking

 

I was awake early this morning to see our sail into Portsmouth, we were then greeted with a torrential downpour as the skies seemed to open just as we were being tied up. Although we booked a time slot to disembark, we had not received any other information so we called Sailor Services to find out the protocol. We were told cases out by 10:00 or you can carry them off yourself. Being as we hadn’t got any luggage tags and our cases weren’t too large, we decided we would walk off with them.

 

 

 

With enough time to have breakfast, we paid our last visit to The Galley to get something to eat before grabbing our things from the cabin and disembarking.

 

 

Shuttle buses were on standby to ferry us back to the terminal building where it was just a 5-minute walk to get back to the car. We have really enjoyed our first experience with Virgin Voyages and would certainly consider them should the right itinerary come along with a price that works.

 

 

I don’t think we are totally ready to embrace everything on the phone just yet and we did have issues with keeping the phone fully charged while out and about around the ship. We also thought it encouraged people to sit and stare at their phones more than they probably would, with it being particularly noticeable in restaurants. We have rekindled our love for cruising and are now seeking to fill a holiday slot left open by a South Africa cancellation so that maybe not be all for this year. We have had a change of heart regarding Staycation cruises so lookout for some new posts in the not too distant future.

Scarlet Lady Postcard #3 – Sea Day 2

This morning Nicole decided to get up a bit earlier and go to a couple of the free classes. Something called Sun Worshippers (sun salutations, chakra balancing) followed by a Slow Flow Yoga class. She came back totally invigorated. I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to go around and take some more photos, stopping briefly for some coffee and toast. 

 

 

The Wake from The Wake

 

 

When we eventually got back from our solo time, we again took breakfast in The Galley which does cater best for both of us.   With the sun out, we made our way up a deck to sit outside, I took my chance to experience the Suspended Catamaran Net which is hung over 9 decks of open space. Not for the faint-hearted and a very unique and unusual experience.

We sat outside until a squall of rain forced us inside. When it passed over we came back out by the pool but again came back in due to the cold wind, eventually finding ourselves back out by the circle of beds by the net which provided us with shelter from the wind. 

We made a second visit to Razzle Dazzle for lunch and then with virtually clear skies we found a nice comfortable sofa on the prom deck (7) for the best part of the afternoon. 

Virgin Voyages claim 20 eateries on Scarlet Lady and there is a bit of licence in that statement. The Galley makes up 6 or 7 of the 20 and by my calculations there are only 6 of what I would classify as proper restaurants. The Wake which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Razzle Dazzle which is open the same but the others are only open in the evening such as Pink Agave, The Test Kitchen, Gunbae and Extra Virgin. For our last night onboard we decided to try Pink Agave which is classed as Elevated Mexican, it was either that or Gunbae which is a Korean BBQ.  Our evening went really well and once again we both ate really well. The only downside to all this is that the menus didn’t appear to change and remained the same throughout the cruise. I was very surprised that the main restaurants didn’t at least have one or two different menus.  Tomorrow morning we get off and have booked a 9:00 slot via the App and I will do one final post when I get home. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed my return to cruise rambling. 

Scarlet Lady Postcard #2 – Sea Day 1

I had a great nights sleep but still woke up feeling quite tired. It was amazing to at long last open the curtains and see the sea, blue skies and a few clouds, however, it wasn’t to last.

 

We decided to have breakfast in The Galley this morning as it provided a lot more options for both of us. Although not strictly a buffet, it does have many similarities and there is plenty of selection. Drinks and pastries can be collected from the appropriate station yourself but anything cooked needs to be ordered with one of the waiting staff and are then delivered to your table. It does work rather well albeit a bit slow this morning.

The Galley

 

Afterwards, we started to explore the ship some more but only the inside decks as the weather had taken a turn for the worse and provided us with some rain which at times was quite heavy. Two of the eateries we looked at were Extra Virgin, Razzle Dazzle and it was an ideal time as most were closed and empty.

Extra Virgin
Razzle Dazzle
The Roundabout

 

Instead of a seapass card, we were issued with bands with our first name on them that are made from recycled materials, they seem to work well but if I am honest, I much prefer to have a card. In order to use them for payment, you need to tap them against the mobile unit your server is carrying which at times has been a little awkward. More often than not, when making payment, they have not even bothered with it and just asked for our surname instead. There is never a receipt or bill to look at as it is all recorded via the app.

 

Because of the weather, we retired to the cabin, Nicole making good use of the hammock and reading a book, I on the other hand went for a nap.

 

We took lunch in The Galley and while gazing out to sea, noticed that the skies were clearing so decided to explore the open decks. We ended up lying out there for an hour or so which was great, considering the earlier weather.

 

 

 

At 5:30 we made our way to the Red Room to watch something called Duel Reality, it’s very loosely based on Romeo and Juliet and involved splitting the audience into two groups, red and blue, both on opposite sides of the area where the performance was taking place. It’s a real treat for the eyes with lots of gymnastic skills on display with a dozen or so very talented individuals. It’s a must-see on this ship. Our meal this evening was in The Wake which is a steak and seafood restaurant, they do a bare minimum selection for Nicole and so she agreed to go as a treat for me. I can report that we both had a fabulous meal in what is a great location. We have had a really super first day onboard and are looking forward to another tomorrow, it really does feel amazing to be back on a ship again.

Scarlet Lady Postcard #1 – Portsmouth & Embarkation

I was awake early this morning, anxious being the best way of describing my mood and it probably has more to do with the pre-boarding Covid test. We are normally really well organised before we go on a cruise and on this occasion it just didn’t feel like we were, I can’t put my finger on it but the feeling was there. Taking a lateral flow test prior to leaving home eased my concerns and we were soon on our way to Portsmouth. All went well until we arrived at the testing station where we encountered a long queue and wait to go with it. Not being able to get into the actual covid testing car park, we ended up using the park and ride and walking round to the testing station where we joined the back of a very long queue. We were eventually tested at 4:00 pm and as soon as my negative result came back we headed back to the car for the short drive to the port.

 

 

From there it was a greatly improved experience, with nobody at the check-in desks we sailed through in minutes, security was much the same. There followed a short bus ride from the cruise terminal to the ship and we found ourselves sat next to Tom McAlpin the CEO of Virgin Voyages, he had a mask on but his disguise didn’t fool me. Because of the delay in getting on board, we were able to go straight to the cabin where we watched the muster video on the TV. I have to say it’s a little different from what we have been used to and I do wonder how practical it really is. If instructions being sung to you in a rock video style is your thing then you should be fine. To complete the process we then had to check-in at our muster station which for us was at an area called The Roundabout.

 

 

Back to the cabin, it generally looks great, a little bit pinched in places but it has a really airy feel to it. There are lots of innovative ideas which include a tablet where you can control curtains, lights, air-conditioning and the TV. The night ended up being a bit of a dash as we had pre-booked a table in one of the eateries called Razzle Dazzle for 7:00 prior to getting onboard. Because Nicole is vegan it was the first one we wanted to check out as there were plenty of options for her. I can report back that it was absolutely delicious and Nicole was over the moon with her food. Towards the end of our meal, Tom McAlpin came over the public address system to apologise for the issues encountered with the Covid testing, as a gesture of goodwill, beers, house wine was free in all restaurants and sparkling wine throughout the ship for the evening. This was later updated to all bars and $100 onboard credit per cabin. Sailaway was delayed by 2½ hours and we eventually set off at 9:30 to nowhere.

We passed by the Spinnaker Tower on our way out, which put on a light show, flashing lights and changing colours as we passed. I don’t know if it is a regular thing but it was great to see. We probably would not have seen this if we had sailed when we were supposed to. I haven’t seen any guidance with regards to mask-wearing and there are a good deal of people going without and it seems like it might be the same set-up as the UK at the moment, in contrast, all crew are wearing them. We eventually retired for the evening at about 11:00, feeling tired from all the hanging around during the afternoon. Tomorrow we will get a better look around the ship with the luxury of time we didn’t get today.

 

 

Scarlet Lady Long Weekender Preamble

Earlier this year around April, a lot of staycation cruises starting to go on sale in the UK, and although we were initially curious, they didn’t really provoke too much interest from us. We felt that many were overpriced and the itineraries were not that inspiring, along with the fact we were just not that keen to get back on a ship with the prospect of having to take a ships tour to then get off the ship. However, when Virgin Voyages announced that Scarlet Lady would be returning to the UK and would be doing 6 short cruises to nowhere, we decided to check out the prices. Okay, not a great itinerary I hear you say but competitive prices, plus it was a chance to try a new cruise line. Since it was first announced in 2014 that Virgin would be building some new cruise ships, we were naturally very curious as to whether they might be something we would like, so with that in mind, we decided to make a few price enquiries. With two types of itineraries to choose from, Long Weekender (3 nights) or Summer Weekdaze (4 nights), we priced both up and eventually decided to book one of the 3 nighters, embarking on a Friday and disembarking on a Monday morning. It did feel really strange booking a cruise after the long layoff but by the end of the process, we felt totally invigorated and were raring to go.

You will understand when we say that the Covid-19 situation has always been one of our utmost considerations, and there have been many twists and turns around this subject since we booked. When we made the booking, it was stated that the ship would not sail with a maximum capacity, this was a UK government ruling which capped passenger capacity at 1,000 or half the maximum whichever was lower but the more recent relaxing of government guidelines in July has once again adjusted the number of passengers allowed to sail to 50% capacity and if my calculations are correct, the total passengers allowed onboard should be 1385.

Virgin Voyages booking terms state that there is a requirement for all guests needing to be fully vaccinated along with lots of other measures that have been put in place to ensure everyone’s safety and we have been more than happy with the steps they are taking.

Full details of their Voyage Well Policy can be found via this link.

Our cabin selection was relatively simple, we looked for somewhere mid-ship halfway between the upper and lower public decks and decided on a Central Sea Terrace on deck 10. Sea Terrace being the name Virgin Voyages call their balcony’s and they come complete with a hammock. The cabin also has a day set up and a night set up with the beds being dismantled in favour of an L-shaped sofa during the day to provide a bit more room in the cabin. Looks like a lot more work for the steward to me.

Here are a few other notable snippets of information about the ship and cruise line that played a part in our decision to book.

  • All Virgin Voyages cruises are 18+
  • There are 1330 cabins in total
  • The ship aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible, all heat produced by the ship is converted back into electricity to help power it.
  • No single-use plastic is used on the ship.
  • No Buffets, this is to predominately eliminate food waste but in turn, has created incredible dining standards.
  • Free WiFi
  • All gratuities are included.
  • Filtered still and sparkling water, non-pressed juices, sodas, teas, and coffees are all included in the cruise fare.

Portsmouth is also a new embarkation port for us, so that will provide a new experience too, we have been there several times before and it will make a nice change to sail out of a new port.

On the run-up to embarkation, we received an email encouraging us to check-in, this all has to be done via the Virgin Voyages App which I downloaded to my phone soon after we made the booking, however, the app has not performed as well as I would have anticipated and I have found the need to uninstall then reinstall it several times to get it working again. There is no option to check-in online via a browser which I found rather disappointing, everything concerning this cruise has had to be done via smartphone and I do struggle with finding my way around things when the screen is 135mm x 65mm so from that perspective its, not something I would endorse.

Restaurants and some entertainment can also be booked via the app and there is an inbuilt planner which then highlights anything you have managed to book. I can see a need to recharge my phone battery regularly during this cruise just to keep up with things.

So. all that remains to be done is to get a negative Covid test en route to the port and we are good to go, the following are the instructions we were guided to prior to embarking.

For Sailors arriving in their own car:

    • Drive to the testing site at W4 Tipner Ln, Portsmouth PO2 8RD, UK
    • Park your car (temporarily) at the site, and go inside to the testing marquee
    • Once inside, you’ll get your COVID-19 antigen test, and be asked to show proof of your COVID-19 inoculation
    • Once you’re cleared to sail (having passed the tests), you’ll be given your luggage tags, your Band (the wearable), and an additional band to indicate that you’ve been cleared
  • Afterwards, you can return to your car and drive to the port terminal where you can park and leave your car for the duration of you voyage

The very last time we were on a ship was November 12, 2019, and the amount of time that has elapsed between then and to when we are next onboard which all being well is August 6, 2021, equals to:

  • 633 days
  • … or 90 weeks & 3 days
  • … or 1 year, 8 months & 25 days

I think we can all agree it’s been far too long.

If you are reading this, it means good news in that we have tested negative and are on the way to the ship.