Sir Richard Branson promises cruise ship guests a private yacht experience. So does


Sir Richard Branson says his first cruise ship to hit Australia offers a luxury experience like no other…but the reality struggled at first to keep up with his dream.

Thanks to a major computer glitch, the thrill of my first cruise was dampened by the check-in queue at Port Melbourne snaking hundreds of metres through pouring rain.

But two hours later than scheduled, all that was quickly forgotten when we finally stepped aboard and were greeted by the staff’s warm welcome telling us: ‘The bar’s open!’ 

That first glass of champagne had to wait until I’d found my cabin and tackled yet more technical issues with the wristband that doubled as my cabin key and onboard payment device.

Thankfully though, by the time we eventually did say bon voyage to Melbourne that evening, it was all smooth sailing as we sat down to dinner.

Welcome aboard Virgin Voyages’ maiden voyage Down Under, dubbed the ‘MerMaiden Voyage’.

Holding up to 2,770 passengers, the Resilient Lady is an adults-only luxury ship that has ditched the cruise traditions of food buffets, formal dining halls and tipping.

Instead there’s five star dining, world class entertainment and a thriving nightlife that Sydney could only dream about under post-lockout laws.

The traditional cruise director role has also been overhauled and replaced with 12-crew ‘Happenings Cast’.

For the next five nights, the Resilient Lady was our home away from home as it crossed the Bass Strait and sailed along the Tasmanian coast, stopping at Hobart and Burnie before returning to Melbourne.

And if sipping cocktails by the pool isn’t your thing, there’s a diverse range of other activities for everyone, regardless of whether you’re 19 or 90.

Virgin Voyages has introduced its newest ship Resilient Lady to Australia with plans to disrupt the $5billion local cruise industry. Pictured is the ship in Hobart on its MerMaiden voyage

Virgin Voyages has introduced its newest ship Resilient Lady to Australia with plans to disrupt the $5billion local cruise industry. Pictured is the ship in Hobart on its MerMaiden voyage

The signature Scarlet Night (pictured) on each voyage is one of the highlights of the cruise

The signature Scarlet Night (pictured) on each voyage is one of the highlights of the cruise

What’s included

All the food on board is covered with 20-plus eateries to choose from which range from upscale multi-course menus to seafood brunches, casual dining, a provocatively named ice cream parlour and late night pizza and burger bars open until 2am.

Japanese, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Greek and American are among the options along with Aussie faves.

While there are no food buffets in sight The Galley offers everything from ramen, poke bowls and toasted sandwiches to tacos, bento boxes and 24/7 breakfasts as the next best thing for convenience foodies.

There’s also a Ship Eats menu if you simply want room service.

Soft drinks, tea, filter coffee and juices are also covered but you need to pay for alcohol which is reasonably priced, ranging from US$10 to $20 per drink.

Most restaurants require a reservation but that can easily be booked through the ship’s app.

A must for adventurous diners is Test Kitchen, an experimental-style degustation  where diners are only provided with a list of five or six ingredients while the chef prepares a Michelin-inspired, multi-course feast.

Other dinner options include The Wake for seafood, Pink Agave (Mexican), Extra Virgin (Italian), Gunbae (Korean BBQ) and Razzle Dazzle.

One dinner not covered is Almost Rose, a two-hour mesmerising cabaret show that created and produced by New York-based playwright Randy Weiner.

The audience interactive show includes a multi-course menu and unlimited sparkling rosé, which is well worth the $50 ticket.

There’s even basic wifi internet access on board for voyagers working remotely at sea.

For those who want to stay in shape, there’s a 255m outdoor running track along the top deck, fitness equipment and a diverse line-up of complimentary group workouts, ranging from yoga and bungee fitness to aerobics.

Most food is included in the cost but you must book if you opt for dinner at Korean BBQ restaurant Gunbae (pictured)

Most food is included in the cost but you must book if you opt for dinner at Korean BBQ restaurant Gunbae (pictured)

Adventurous diners will enjoy the experimental-style multi-course menu of Test Kitchen

Adventurous diners will enjoy the experimental-style multi-course menu of Test Kitchen

Sleeping arrangements 

My Sea Terrace cabin came with a spacious (and comfy) bed, large-screen TV and a balcony with ocean views, complete with a hammock. The occasional pod of dolphins splashing by is a bonus extra.

You can control the television, lights and curtains or request staff assistance with the touch of a button on the cabin iPad.

The normal free to air channels aren’t available to watch but there is a wide selection of TV series and movies from recent box office blockbusters to old classics.

Using the ‘Shake for Champagne’ icon on the phone app will result in a bottle of Moet delivered to your room, which is a handy but risky feature to have!

One negative about the cabins is that the bathrooms are a touch on the small side. 

And while bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash are supplied in the shower, I suggest packing your own. 

The Sea Terrace cabins (pictured) come with a spacious and comfortable bed

The Sea Terrace cabins (pictured) come with a spacious and comfortable bed

The ship's onboard nightclub The Manor has Studio 54 vibes with a different event each night

The ship’s onboard nightclub The Manor has Studio 54 vibes with a different event each night

Entertainment 

Cruises are renowned for their shows and entertainment and Virgin Voyages doesn’t disappoint.

Persephone is an exciting and immersive theatre experience, telling an ancient Greek tale through storytelling, dance and acrobatics.

If you’re into game shows, the hilarious Miss Behave experience is like no other.

The 400-500 strong audience are split into two groups who shout, scream and sing for points during fun games such as age lottery (won by a 90-year-old still kicking on after 10pm on the night we attended).

A must-attend event is Virgin Voyages’ signature Scarlet Night where guests are encouraged to wear a splash of red.

The night begins with roving entertainers roaming around the ship with pop-up circus performances, interactive games, karaoke, myth-telling and live music.

It ends in a massive pool party where revellers dance the night away on the pool deck. 

But warning- there’s no guarantee you’ll be still dry at the end of the night.

All night-ragers flock to The Manor, described as a ‘kick-ass’ two-storey nightclub by Virgin Voyages’  entertainment vice president Richard Kilman on a ship cruise tour.

Named after Sir Branson’s first music recording studio, the venue hosts 1980s raves, pyjamas parties and other themed events.

Many revellers then hedge their bets at the casino next door, while several bars on the ship play live music into the early hours.

For non-party animals, go-to places include the games arcade packed with complimentary pinball machines, curling up with a good book in the library or the Social Club which is stocked with almost every board and card game imaginable.

There are also trivia events, drag shows and meet-ups for any solo sailors on board.

You can also splash out for masterclasses ranging from beauty and photography to cocktail-making and coffee.

Game show enthusiasts will love the audience participation involvement of Miss Behave

Game show enthusiasts will love the audience participation involvement of Miss Behave 

One of the headline entertainment shows is Persephone, an immersive theatre experience telling an ancient Greek tale through story telling, dance and acrobatics

One of the headline entertainment shows is Persephone, an immersive theatre experience telling an ancient Greek tale through story telling, dance and acrobatics

Shot for Shot, a cocktail making masterclass (pictured) is one of dozens of onboard activities

Shot for Shot, a cocktail making masterclass (pictured) is one of dozens of onboard activities 

Shore thing

Tours and excursions were offered at our stops in Hobart and Burnie (for an additional cost).

Or you’re welcome to explore on your own, which I did on a 29C sunny morning in Hobart where I did a bus tour of the city’s attractions followed by a boat cruise on the Derwent River.

A visit to the quaint little village of Richmond is well worth the 30-minute drive from Hobart  where you can taste the famous scallop pie from the local bakery (included in the Shore Thing booked with Virgin Voyages).

Afterwards, head next door to the Drink Tasmania Tasting House for a wine, gin or whisky tasting while the village’s lolly shop will bring back childhood memories if you have a sweet tooth.

At Burnie, we managed to avoid the town’s day-long power outage by doing a Shore Thing tour of the seaside town of Stanley, a 90-minute drive offering stunning coastline views and turquoise waters.

Highlights included The Nut, a volcanic plug offering spectacular views from the top reached by chairlift or a 40 minute hike up and back.

The famous scallop pie at Richmond Bakery is worth the 30 minute drive from Hobart

The famous scallop pie at Richmond Bakery is worth the 30 minute drive from Hobart

A Shore Thing excursion to the seaside town of Stanley (pictured) is a must for the Burnie stop

A Shore Thing excursion to the seaside town of Stanley (pictured) is a must for the Burnie stop

Other facilities 

Treat yourself to a indulgent massage at Redemption Spa or escape to the Thermal Suite, complete with a mudroom, salt room and steam room.

The cruise’s High Street shops of souvenir, clothing and duty free outlets are open when the ship is at sea.

There is also a hair and beauty salon and even a tattoo parlour for those looking for some ink to remember their trip.

I was lucky to have exclusive access to Richard’s Rooftop, a private rooftop bar with a chilled vibe, equipped with day beds, hot spas and a daily happy hour of complimentary Moet from 5pm.

The ship’s design, with small window seating nooks and other cool spaces, is also unique with no 70s-style swirly carpets or so much as a single chandelier in sight.

‘The designers involved were not previously involved in the cruise ship industry,’ Mr Kilman explained.

‘What it brings onto the ship is something very new and different.’

A snap of the stunning restaurant entrance at Pink Agave is an Insta-must

A snap of the stunning restaurant entrance at Pink Agave is an Insta-must

Rock star guests on the ship get exclusive access to Sir Richard Branson's private rooftop

Rock star guests on the ship get exclusive access to Sir Richard Branson’s private rooftop

Would I do it again?

The voyage is an ideal introduction to cruising and turned this first-time sailor into a eager cruise enthusiast.

With more than 50 activities and shows to choose from, five days wasn’t enough to pack them in all so I would happily book a different voyage on the Resilient Lady.

All pre-trip documents and health check forms are filled out online. Unlike the check-in nightmare, disembarking before the 10am rush hour was quick and smooth.

Fellow voyagers on the ship were a diverse mix ranging from young couples, solo sailors, groups of friends and families to more mature retirees and the elderly.

Voyages during the Resilient Lady’s inaugural season in Australia start from three nights for A$894.

The 14-day Pacific New Year’s Ahoy voyage from Melbourne includes stops in Burnie, Hobart, Picton, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland, with prices starting at $5,572.

Resilient Lady will cruise Australia’s shores until March before returning to Europe for the northern summer until it returns Down Under later in 2024. 

Daily Mail Australia travelled as a guest of Virgin Voyages.

There is something for everyone, regardless of whether you're 19 or 90. Pictured are some of the pools and spas on level 15

There is something for everyone, regardless of whether you’re 19 or 90. Pictured are some of the pools and spas on level 15

Voyages during the Resilient Lady's inaugural season in Australia start from three nights for A$894

Voyages during the Resilient Lady’s inaugural season in Australia start from three nights for A$894



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