It’s been a minute since we’ve posted about adventures to far-flung locales. For the past few years, purveyors of high-end travel have been laser-focused on the guest experience. What works now? What do people want? How to deliver? Offerings have been tested and tweaked until they’ve become tried-and-true. Suddenly, we’re in demand again from companies fully confident in letting our swell audience know about what they’ve got.
We were invited by Virgin Voyages—Richard Branson’s cruise line—as part of a press tour to learn more about the company’s luxury adult cruises. No, we didn’t leave land, or even Boston. Not yet, anyway. This “work” evening included seats for the brand’s premier land showing of Duel Reality, produced and created with Virgin Voyages in partnership with ArtsEmerson Boston, and playing at Boston’s Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre through Feb. 18. Following the high-energy circus arts performance, our group convened at nearby Yvonne’s, a chic supper club/speakeasy located a short distance from the theatre district, in the former Locke-Ober’s space. Our tickets, meal, and parking were paid for by Virgin Voyages.
Same oceans, different cruise
Virgin Voyages has made significant changes in onboard meals presentation. Always an essential part of the cruise experience, food can make or break sea travel. Virgin has tossed “traditional” cruise dining overboard. Management has canceled the buffet and the main dining room concept, along with notions of a strict formal dress code and assigned seating and dining times. Don’t worry, you won’t starve or be lonely. Instead of dining pomp and circumstance, the mid-sized ship’s 2,700 “sailors” (that’s Virgin Voyages-speak for passengers) have a choice of 20+ eateries including six signature restaurants with menus from a Michelin-star Chef Collective.
Entertainment is another area where the team felt they had to go with a big concept. While most cruise lines take Broadway shows and adapt them, Virgin Voyages has done the opposite. Their signature show, Duel Reality, a modern and unique take on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo & Juliet, has gone from sea to land, something Virgin boasts hasn’t been done before. The performance is brought by renowned circus collective The Seven Fingers. Sailors can see Duel Reality on the ships Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady, which are currently sailing around the Caribbean for the winter season.
Duel Reality was a drop-dead amazing show. I’ve seen The Seven Fingers collective in action before, and they have outdone themselves. Among the eleven cast members, they have extensive experience in acrobatics, juggling, hula hooping, rhythmic and artistic gymnastics; and dance. One company member grew up in a circus family and is named “Aerial” (for the no-handed cartwheel trick, not for the mermaid.) Another took gold in the acro sport World Championships as part of a men’s team that benefited from his fast, aggressive style. All are consummate performers, team players, and a lot of fun. We all sang “happy birthday” to Anni during final bows.
The no-intermission show is part acrobatics, part circus arts, with plenty of fight scenes. Shakespeare quotes are thrown in at the right times, juxtaposed with modern music from hip hop to rock to chill folk. There’s a lot going on, and it’s all to the good. Duel Reality at the 1,200-seat Emerson would be a great high-interest theater experience for kids. Other than a little light burlesque during the hula hoop sequence, and some hot and heavy Romeo and Juliet action that’s interrupted by their uptight families, this is a G-rated show. I can’t say what changes might find their way shipboard when it’s an adults-only audience.
I can say I almost fainted as two of the acrobats slid headfirst down separate 25-foot poles, noses stopping mere millimeters from the floor. We were given to understand that one side won that contest—the Capulets? The Montagues? I was too breathless to process the results.
Taking it easy at a speakeasy
We were wined and dined at Yvonne’s, a modern-day version of an old-time supper club. To enter, guests slip down a back alley and enter the 2 Winter Pl. restaurant through a door at the back of a blow-dry bar. Things don’t stay utilitarian spa for long. From there, we emerged into the dimly lit 150-year-old interior where everything from the well-dressed clientele to the upholstered seating whispered “luxury” in the COJE Management Group restaurant. It’s a great place to receive top-secret information, or to start a clandestine affair, or anything noir and sexy like that.
The menu was carefully chosen for our group. Drinks included a specialty cocktail, the Scarlett Lady (tequila, strawberry balsamic, martini fiero). Three courses were brought out with treats like lobster dumplings; charred maitake mushroom toast; and garlic shrimp pita. The crispy tuna fregola (a type of pasta, similar in appearance to couscous) was a stand-out for our table, served with roasted cauliflower, green olives, pine nuts, and a chili dipping sauce. The tuna dish, just barely seared, was as light as its third-course companion, a beautiful and flavorful rack of lamb, was hearty.