I've spent more than 100 weeks at sea cruising, but my first Virgin Voyage was different from any other. Here are 12 things that surprised me.

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I've spent more than 100 weeks at sea cruising, but my first Virgin Voyage was different from any other. Here are 12 things that surprised me.
  • I'm a seasoned cruiser who just went on my first Virgin Voyages cruise on the Scarlet Lady.
  • Many things surprised me on the 5-night, adults-only cruise sailing from Miami to the Caribbean.
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I'm an avid cruiser who has spent more than 100 weeks at sea on various lines. But until this past summer, I hadn't tried the adults-only Virgin Voyages.

I'm an avid cruiser who has spent more than 100 weeks at sea on various lines. But until this past summer, I hadn't tried the adults-only Virgin Voyages.
I sailed on Scarlet Lady for my first Virgin Voyage cruise.Lori A. May

I'm a seasoned cruiser and have sailed on many different lines, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.

But it wasn't until this past summer that I sailed on the adults-only Virgin Voyages for the first time.

Their focus on wellness appealed to me, and I couldn't resist their fun, relaxed vibe. So I paid $2,711, inclusive of taxes and port fees, for a 5-night sailing on the Scarlet Lady.

I booked an XL Sea Terrace balcony cabin and the price included gratuities, Wi-Fi, beverages like soda, and specialty dining.

During my sailing from Miami to the Dominican Republic and Bahamas, I swam in the pools, sampled nine different specialty eateries, and never felt overcrowded even though Scarlet Lady is only slightly above what Cruise Critic considers to be a mid-size ship. It can accommodate up to 2,770 passengers who are aged 18 and over, and 86% of guest cabins have a balcony.

As hoped, I enjoyed a relaxing getaway, but there were many things that surprised me, even as an experienced cruiser. Here's a closer look, including why I plan to sail with Virgin Voyages again.

Instead of a typical room key card, I was surprised that all guests receive a personalized tech wearable.

Instead of a typical room key card, I was surprised that all guests receive a personalized tech wearable.
Wearing my band.Lori A. May

At check-in, prior to boarding the ship, I was given a personalized tech wearable referred to as The Band.

The wristband was to be worn throughout the voyage, on land and while sailing, as it was how I would enter my cabin, pay for onboard purchases, and also act as my ship identification when returning from shore excursions.

On all my past cruises, I used typical key cards for onboard purchases and entering my stateroom, so this was a new experience and I wasn't sure I would like having to wear the band all week.

But I quickly got used to flicking my wrist to open my door or pay for coffee, and I ended up loving not having to fumble around in my bag to find a key, which is something I've done countless times on other cruises.

At the end of my voyage, I was able to keep the wrist band as a souvenir, as I have with key cards. I only wish the band noted the specific cruise ship and sailing date, so I would better keep track of my growing ship ID collection.

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While I've stayed in balcony cabins on cruises before, this was my first one that came with a hammock.

While I've stayed in balcony cabins on cruises before, this was my first one that came with a hammock.
My balcony hammock.Lori A. May

On most cruise lines I've been on, my balconies have been standard, often outfitted with just a table and chairs.

Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady set itself apart, I thought, by adding a dangling red hammock, in addition to two chairs and a small table.

I was surprised by how often I used it over the chairs, too, whether for an afternoon nap or reading a book.

I knew the pool deck would be a focal point, but I was shocked by how many poolside loungers were readily available.

I knew the pool deck would be a focal point, but I was shocked by how many poolside loungers were readily available.
Free-to-use daybeds line the main pool on Scarlet Lady.Lori A. May

When I think of relaxing during a cruise, sipping on a cocktail poolside is one of the first images that comes to mind.

I always look forward to scoping out the pool deck and finding a chair to lounge on, but whether at sea or while docked on land, I've found it can be a challenge to find poolside seating. In my experience, pool decks onboard cruise ships are often overcrowded, and I've often had to wake up very early to ensure I have a chair on other cruises.

This was surprisingly not my experience, however, on Scarlet Lady.

As I explored the main pool deck, centrally located on deck 15, I noticed lounging options for more than 100 people, even though I never saw anywhere close to that many people on the pool deck during my cruise.

I was surprised by the variety of lounger options, too. There were daybeds for groups of friends, individual loungers, and casual group seating areas surrounding the main pool, all on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There was also a second pool, the Well-Being Pool. I noticed that this area had even more loungers, and between the two areas, I always was able to find a nice place to sunbathe.

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The main pool was smaller than I expected it to be.

The main pool was smaller than I expected it to be.
The main pool on Scarlet Lady.Lori A. May

I loved the main pool on Scarlet Lady. I thought it was such a great spot to catch some sun rays.

However, I was a little surprised by the pool's size and depth. From a distance, I thought the main pool took up a sizeable footprint of the deck. Upon closer inspection, I noticed only the central portion of the pool had a 5-foot depth while the entrance on both ends was less than 1-foot deep.

Other guests seemed to enjoy simply dipping their feet in the shallow ends while sipping a beverage, but I wished there was more depth to swim laps.

From my past cruising experiences, I do know that many cruise ship pools don't have enough length to swim proper laps, but I thought Scarlet Lady might be different considering the cruise line's focus on wellness.

Thankfully, during my cruise, the pool area was never filled to capacity, so I was at least able to enjoy a full-body dip whenever I wanted.

I was also surprised and excited that both pools stayed open really late.

I was also surprised and excited that both pools stayed open really late.
A pool at night.Lori A. May

Based on my past experiences, I've come to expect cruise ship pools to close by midnight, if not earlier.

So I was very surprised when I learned Scarlet Lady's two pools remain open pretty much all night.

On my first night, I walked by the Well-Being Pool and found it still open well after midnight. When I asked a crew member, he told me that the pools stay open unless they're closed for cleaning, which he told me generally takes place around 3 a.m.

I immediately went to my cabin to change into swimwear, and every night of my sailing, I visited the pools after midnight because I could.

I often felt like I had the pool to myself in those late-night hours, or at most, shared it with another two or three people.

My late dips became one of my favorite activities during this cruise, and a big reason why I'll book a Virgin Voyages cruise again.

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I loved that there was a wellness vibe to my cruise, and I noticed amenities I've never seen on other ships.

I loved that there was a wellness vibe to my cruise, and I noticed amenities I've never seen on other ships.
The boxing ring on Scarlet Lady.Lori A. May

Throughout my various cruise experiences, I have come to anticipate a solid indoor fitness center and often an outdoor jogging track. I've seen cruise lines offer group fitness classes like aerobics or yoga, but often for a surcharge.

I had all of the above on Virgin Voyages, and more, included. There were free morning yoga classes and stretch sessions, adrenaline-inducing aerobics, and personal training options.

But what really surprised me, though, were the outdoor workout areas. In addition to a jogging track, I saw a boxing ring on the upper deck, free for anyone to use at any time.

In another area, I saw a solo punching bag for drills or a high-intensity interval workout, and also noticed cardio and weightlifting zones. I've never seen any of these amenities on another cruise before.

Yet with so many wellness activities, I was pleasantly surprised that the cruise didn't take itself too seriously.

Yet with so many wellness activities, I was pleasantly surprised that the cruise didn't take itself too seriously.
I joined a retro 80s workout.Lori A. May

I booked my Scarlet Lady sailing with more interest in relaxation than wellness and workouts.

So I was a bit surprised by my developing interest in the various fitness options onboard. I took a jab at the punching bag, I joined a retro 80s workout with fitness instructors clad in leg warmers, and I managed to have fun while working out.

I rarely attend group fitness classes on other cruise lines — okay, never — but I surprisingly found myself looking forward to these activities just about every day.

At the same time, I was relieved that each activity felt more about having fun and trying new things rather than placing an emphasis on getting sculpted at sea or joining intuition seminars.

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Despite so many mouthwatering dining options, I surprised myself by reaching for smart food options.

Despite so many mouthwatering dining options, I surprised myself by reaching for smart food options.
My avocado toast at Razzle Dazzle.Lori A. May

Experienced cruisers like me know that cruise ship dining can sometimes be overwhelming with so many choices.

Often, specialty dining incurs an extra charge, but not on Scarlet Lady. I could choose from nine different eateries onboard, ranging from steak and seafood to an Italian trattoria.

But two dining venues surprised me the most.

Prior to boarding, I didn't think I'd visit Razzle Dazzle, which serves contemporary vegetarian and vegan dishes.

But I decided to check it out, and found a menu with a nice variety, including a few in-the-know items by request for carnivores, like avocado toast with an optional side of bacon and a secret steak option.

I was also excited to learn it hosts a drag brunch, a fun event that I thought was an energetic way to start the day that shouldn't be missed.

As a cruise fan, it was a huge surprise to learn Virgin Voyages does not have a buffet. Instead, there's The Galley, a 24-hour eatery.

As a cruise fan, it was a huge surprise to learn Virgin Voyages does not have a buffet. Instead, there's The Galley, a 24-hour eatery.
Inside The Galley.Lori A. May

One of my biggest surprises onboard Virgin Voyages was that there was no buffet.

Instead, Scarlet Lady has The Galley, a casual 24-hour eatery where table service replaces self-serve dining. Seated guests select made-to-order items, rather than pre-cooked serve-yourself items off a buffet line.

I thought it still had the variety of a buffet, including the 24-hour availability, but with far less chaos. At The Galley, I chose from an extensive selection of tacos, burgers, salads, roasted meats, sides, and desserts.

The only section of The Galley that was self-serve was a wall of healthy options, where I found myself reaching for snacks day and night. I tried grab-and-go offerings ranging from overnight oats to pre-made sandwich wraps, salads, and mixed nuts.

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My sailing was also the first time I ever spent time in a cruise ship arcade.

My sailing was also the first time I ever spent time in a cruise ship arcade.
Retro arcade games inside The Social Club arcade.Lori A. May

While I enjoyed all the wellness options, cruising for me is also about letting loose and having fun. Many unexpected activities onboard Scarlet Lady made that easier than I hoped.

For starters, I rarely venture into cruise ship arcades and associate them with kids. But on this adults-only sailing, The Social Club had vintage video games that I couldn't resist. It was really fun finding Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros, and other retro arcade games I haven't played in years, all free to use.

The arcade also had board games, foosball, a bar serving hot dogs and pretzels, and candy options such as licorice and saltwater taffy, all included with the cruise fare.

I loved how Scarlet Lady's nightlife differed from so many other cruise experiences.

I loved how Scarlet Lady's nightlife differed from so many other cruise experiences.
I had fun dancing at the disco club at night.Lori A. May

For just about every one of my cruises over the years, I've come to expect some sort of main stage entertainment, whether it's a Broadway production, an in-house song and dance performance, or a variety show.

This was not quite my experience on Scarlet Lady.

Instead, Virgin Voyages' take on live entertainment was that each ship venue came to life in its own unique way, such as resident drag queens leading the disco club at night. Elsewhere, I also saw gigantic balloon creatures and dancers leading a two-step.

I only stayed at these parties for a few songs each night, but I liked pushing myself to try new things.

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I thought the most surprising entertainment option on Virgin Voyages was an interactive sex therapy show.

I thought the most surprising entertainment option on Virgin Voyages was an interactive sex therapy show.
I sat in the audience for the sex therapy show, Never Sleep Alone.Lori A. May

On Virgin Voyages I saw Never Sleep Alone, an interactive show led by a sex therapist that invites guests on the stage for on-the-spot therapy and playful couples' games. I've never seen anything like it on other cruises.

Those bold enough to volunteer took to the stage for couples challenges, like revealing their deepest desires or secret fantasies, while the audience gets to sit back and watch.

Guided by the therapist, I watched as guests confessed secrets and made new attempts to attract their partners on stage in front of others, and thought it was a good example of how varied the activities on this cruise line can be.

What mostly surprised me about my Virgin Voyages sailing was how just about everything was designed to ensure adults felt playful. I can't wait to sail with them again.

What mostly surprised me about my Virgin Voyages sailing was how just about everything was designed to ensure adults felt playful. I can't wait to sail with them again.
I plan to sail with Virgin Voyages again.Lori A. May

From vintage video games to interactive shows, I thought my sailing was fun and relaxed.

I never felt crowded by other passengers, and was able to really unwind and be carefree while trying new-to-me foods, wellness experiences, and entertainment.

That sense of wellbeing and relaxation is exactly what made me immediately book a second cruise with Scarlet Lady, and why I can't wait to sail Virgin Voyages again.

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