I've sailed on every major cruise line but the entertainment on adults-only Virgin Voyages blew me away, from drag disco to a sex therapy show
This past summer, I was excited to try the new Virgin Voyages adults-only cruise. Right away, I knew it would be a different experience from other cruises I've taken.
And while I tend to be loyal to a few cruise lines, I was intrigued by the adults-only experience with Virgin Voyages and wanted to see for myself how it made this cruise line different.
So this past summer, I decided on a June sailing out of Miami on Virgin, and paid $2,711 for a 5-night cruise on Scarlet Lady. Included in the cruise fare was specialty dining, unlimited Wi-Fi, crew gratuities, and shipboard entertainment.
On my previous sailings, I've become accustomed to original main stage productions on Carnival, Broadway shows on Norwegian, and featured dance shows on Royal Caribbean.
Based on what I saw in Virgin Voyages' advertising, I knew to expect dance parties and some sort of main stage attraction.
But once we set sail, I learned there were many surprises in store when it came to entertainment, nightlife, and music offerings, many of which I've never seen on a ship before.
I realized the vibe on Virgin Voyages would be different the moment I boarded.
From the moment I entered my balcony stateroom on Scarlet Lady, I knew this would be a different cruise experience.
First, I had a wristband tech wearable that opened my door instead of a traditional key card. I also found colorful mood lighting inside my room and a bright red hammock on my balcony, which were all features I had never experienced on other cruises.
And when I turned the TV on to watch the safety briefing, I again sensed how different the vibe was on Virgin Voyages.
While the safety briefing video played in my cabin, the tone went from serious safety to serious rock 'n' roll in a flash.
At first, the video began by explaining the typical cruise safety instructions for where to find a life jacket and how to join a muster station. Then, the video transformed into an original rock music video, with safety instructors singing the rest of the briefing.
It was a preview that music and entertainment would be a big part of my cruise. With Virgin Records founder Richard Branson at the helm of Virgin Voyages, it made sense to me that music would feature prominently on the ship.
I appreciated how the ship had so many different music venues, even in unexpected places, with something for everyone.
Most cruise lines I've sailed on have a variety of music venues, so it wasn't surprising to see them on Scarlet Lady.
But I did find it surprising to see how many performance spaces Scarlet Lady had onboard, even transforming non-traditional music venues into them at night for everything from low-key tunes to all-out dance parties.
I found a quiet piano bar next to a restaurant where, throughout my sailing, I saw a solo pianist perform while guests sipped cocktails. I thought the piano corner was a nice place to hang out and listen to classic and popular music before dinner.
Many ships I've been on have smaller performance spaces like this for solo musicians, but I liked that this space was located directly within one of the most popular specialty restaurants, so it was convenient to catch a few songs before being seated for dinner.
Just below the atrium, another lounge area had a small stage where soloists and bands performed. I only counted seating for about 30 people here, but thought that made the space feel more intimate. I saw a few different acts in this setting on my cruise, and not once did I see all the seating occupied.
I think this was largely due to the fact that there were just so many different venues where passengers could hear music. I also found solo musicians and DJs in other places like restaurant entryways, wide hallways, and near the ice cream parlor.
I was surprised to find an onboard record shop called Voyage Vinyl, where a resident DJ played some of the shop's collection.
With another nod to Virgin's music-loving mission, Scarlet Lady had a vinyl record shop onboard my sailing.
I thought the space was really cool and noticed it had an occasional DJ spinning selections from disco to rock and country hits.
While the shop didn't seem that large compared to land-based music stores, I thought the record selection was eclectic with albums from artists like Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks, Willie Nelson, Lizzo, and Depeche Mode.
The lighting inside the shop was also neat, adding a nightclub vibe with deep blue and purple hues at all hours of the day.
When a DJ was on-site, passers-by like me would slow down to peruse the collection, but most times I went by, the shop seemed like a quiet space to browse.
In all my years sailing, I have never seen a record shop on a cruise ship, so I thought this was a unique feature that really made Virgin Voyages stand out from the others.
Scarlet Lady has two large venues that host casual events like bingo and aerobics by day, but at night, transform into nightclubs.
There were two main entertainment venues onboard Scarlet Lady where music was the main attraction for those that wanted to stay out late and dance the night away, The Manor and The Red Room.
Both venues had DJs and dance floors and anyone could attend with no ticket or reservation requirement.
I stopped by both, and was surprised that neither venue felt crowded considering it was where most guests showed up to dance and socialize at night.
Many cruise ships I've been on in the past host dance parties as well, but more often, they take place on the open pool deck or in atrium spaces. It's rare that I've noticed larger dance clubs apart from the new Norwegian Prima, which has a large disco dance venue.
The Manor, pictured above, hosted nightly dance clubs while The Red Room was a multi-use space with a variety of events like game shows during the day and dance parties at night. I found both venues to be social and not crowded, making it easy to pop in and out for a few songs.
I loved dancing at The Red Room, especially when drag queen hosts led the party.
Virgin Voyages is probably the most inclusive cruise line I've been on.
In addition to a drag brunch served at Razzle Dazzle restaurant, drag queens also often hosted the nightly dance parties in The Red Room. These ladies kept the energy going by dancing on stage, posing for photos with guests, and cheering on the DJ.
I loved the fun-loving vibe, and also occasionally saw ship entertainers doing a few street dance moves on the stage to encourage the fun among guests.
I'm not usually one to stay out late at a club, but the atmosphere was so fun and different from what I've experienced on other cruises, I found myself dropping in for a few songs throughout my voyage.
Another new-to-me experience on Scarlet Lady was seeing an onboard sex therapy show.
One of the big headline shows on Scarlet Lady was Never Sleep Alone, an interactive event led by a sex therapist.
Couples from the audience volunteered to go on stage and share their fantasies, talk about inhibitions, and partake in playful games to test their boundaries. Since Virgin Voyages is an adults-only cruise, they were able to explore topics more than I've seen in somewhat similar Match Game-like shows on other cruises that were tamer in comparison.
All audience members were provided with free masquerade-style masks, so there would be an element of secrecy and anonymity for those who confessed secrets onstage. After the initial introduction, the audience was also asked to put away their phones and avoid taking photos of people onstage to further protect privacy.
So with that in mind, the only other thing I'll say about the show without spilling someone else's secrets is that it was fascinating to watch guests lower their inhibitions and freely share fantasies with one another in a supportive commentary led by the show's host.
I've never seen anything like this on another cruise line. To me, the event seemed part performance and part casual therapy, as the therapist combined games and challenges with live music from a band.
It was definitely one of the most intriguing aspects of nightlife on an adults-only sailing.
Not every event on Scarlet Lady was risqué or sexy. Some events felt more familiar to my past cruise experiences, like wine tastings, but with added variety.
Wine tastings and pairings were offered day and night on my Virgin cruise, and though I've seen these on other cruises, I thought they had a wide variety and good value in this case.
One wine pairing I saw offered six selections to accompany a six-course meal at The Test Kitchen for $35 per person. A typical glass of wine on Scarlet Lady costs around $10, so that seemed like a good value for those who want to try different varieties.
I also noticed beer pairing events that cost $25 per person and cocktail events seemed to average $35. Since I was satisfied with one or two cocktails per cruise, I didn't join, but I thought it was cool to see the cruise line offer so many tasting experiences to suit all palettes.
I wasn't sure what to expect with the cruise's signature Scarlet Night party. I was extra curious when I saw an inflatable octopus on the pool deck.
One other really cool event on my Virgin Voyages sailing was the Scarlet Night party.
When I chatted with crew while getting my morning coffee, they would often ask if I was going to attend the big party, but refrain from sharing any actual details about it. No one wanted to ruin the element of surprise by giving away what to expect — all I knew was guests were invited to dress in scarlet red and join the fun.
Once Scarlet Night began to unfold on my last night of the cruise, I saw why it was such a big deal. The ship-wide party featured inflatable characters on just about every public deck, and DJs set up in most of the lounge spaces. The primary party took place on the pool deck where a huge inflatable octopus was highlighted by disco lighting and colored smoke.
While I've experienced my share of cruise ship deck parties, I thought Scarlet Night had a much different feel thanks to these inflatable characters and dramatic red light enhancements. By day, the pool deck on Scarlet Lady was a relaxing hangout with more deck loungers than I've ever seen. But by nightfall, it transformed into Scarlet Night, a hot nightclub.
The crew led the crowd with dance moves, and some guests actively joined in the fun, while others were simply mesmerized by the venue transformation.
After all it took to set up the big party night, I was a little surprised that the Scarlet Night party at the pool lasted just a little more than an hour. After that, the dance club vibes continued back inside at The Manor and The Red Room, and guests were able to return to lounging by the pool.
While Virgin Voyages has typical cruise entertainment like musicians and bingo, I thought the overall vibe was more energetic thanks to unique events.
Some entertainment seems to always appear on cruise ships, like bingo, musicians, and wine tastings.
And Virgin Voyages offers all of that, which is great for guests who want to experience familiar events onboard.
Yet for those who want to try something a little out of the box, I found this cruise gave me exactly that. Between a drag disco, scarlet red dance party, and the unexpected Never Sleep Alone show, I was blown away by the variety and uniqueness the cruise line entertainment offered.
I can't wait to see what they'll have on my next Virgin Voyages sailing onboard the Valiant Lady.