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You can count on Sir Richard Branson to market his new ocean-going cruise ship, the Scarlet Lady, in an utterly unique fashion—and that’s what he has now done.  
 
Springing the funds for a costly, full-page New York Times ad, he has used that extravagant space to appeal to residents of South Dakota, of all places—because, he claims, South Dakota is the only state in America that has not yet supplied a  passenger for the first sailing of his Virgin Voyages (on the Scarlet Lady). 
 
In a faintly condescending text, he has claimed that people in South Dakota take fewer vacation trips than anyone else in America, and will thus be missing the best experience of their lives.
 
So what will the Scarlet Lady look like or resemble? How will it differ from other cruise ships? 
 
That question is nowhere answered by the Branson organization at this time, except in other vague promises by Branson and his staff that it will be outstanding and entirely different, a fit vessel for ultra-modern smart adults (children are banned from it).
 
Though the exact qualities of the Scarlet Lady are thus unspecified, some small facts about it are gleaned from the line’s recent website.
 
First, when will it begin sailing?
 
The first of four eventual ships in the Virgin Voyages fleet will be completed this coming February, and will undergo all sorts of ceremonies in England in that month.  
 
Later, the Scarlet Lady (designed to carry about 2,500 passengers) will embark on its first Caribbean passenger sailing in early April, a five-night voyage from Miami to Havana, Bimini, and the Dominican Republic.  
 
The stay in Havana will be overnight, enabling passengers to enjoy the famous nightlife of that iconic city.  
 
The stay in Bimini will be at a private beachside club. 
 
To the extent possible, sailings will be all-inclusive in nature, with fares covering several services for which most other cruise ships charge extra. There will be a ban on tipping, for instance. Wi-Fi will be free, and group exercises in the several spas will also be free of charge. 
 
The ship will have twenty dining rooms, eliminating the need to occupy a massive central one, as on some other ships.  
 
Theatrical entertainment? “Other lines present watered-down versions of Broadway musicals. We wouldn’t dream of that,” says a Branson spokesperson, but without specifying what the sophisticated evening entertainment in the Scarlet Lady’s performance space (pictured, in a rendering) will resemble.
 
Except for some other wordy descriptions of cabins furnished by noted designers, no other details are given.  
 
The adult public considering a Virgin Voyages cruise will simply have to rely on Richard Branson’s reputation for ultra-sophisticated effects, like purple light in the Virgin airplanes earlier operated by the dashing British entrepreneur.  
 
Only time will tell whether a similar approach will spell success for an ocean cruise ship. Go to www.virginvoyages.com for more.

Update: In response to the Trump Administration-imposed ban on travel to Cuba, the stop in Havana will be replaced with a stop in Key West, Florida.
 


Tags: arthur frommer, cruise, Cruising, virgin voyages, Scarlet Lady

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