The Traveling Steve's

Onward to Miami, Virgin Voyages, and Sarasota!

I’m a bit behind in posting due to all of the above; but Steve (DOS) and I arrived in Sarasota yesterday afternoon, for a week’s stay. We just completed our first ever cruise on Virgin Voyages, Scarlet Lady yesterday, which was a short 4 night cruise to see how we would like this “un-cruise” compared to the many other cruises we have sailed on. I have a lot to write about the cruise, so I’ll do a quick blurb here on our pre-cruise stay, and now on our post-stay in Sarasota so far, and do a review of the Scarlet Lady in my next post in a couple days.

But to save you the suspense waiting about our cruise experience: We absolutely LOVED it! Is it for everybody; NO, obviously not for families as it’s an 18 year old plus cruise line, and NO it’s not a risqué adults swingers cruise like we and many people imagined it to be before sailing on her, and YES the food and entertainment are different and high quality, and NO it’s not a formal dress cruise; rather casual at all times, with a little bit of RED suggested for Scarlet night. Check back in a day or two and I’ll have a more detailed review of the Scarlet Lady. For now, here’s a preview pic of our first night dining aboard at The Wake restaurant.

Anyway, this is just a quick pre-cruise and post cruise blurb about our travels getting to the cruise and immediately after. We drove down from Orlando to Miami on Sunday, although the cruise did not leave until Wednesday.

While it’s only a four hour nonstop drive from Orlando to Miami (without traffic), we broke our drive in half, staying overnight in West Palm Beach Sunday night, as we weren’t in a rush (like all of the other South Florida drivers! LOL!) to get “there”. The first part of the drive via the Florida Turnpike is fine, but once you get to South Florida, just around West Palm Beach, the drive is very stressful with everyone in a hurry, zig zagging, racing, whatever, to get “there”. (I’m sure these same drivers would say that about us when they come to Orlando, as it can also be a madhouse on the freeways there, but mostly because of the tourists and uncertainty of where they are going, lots of toll roads, international tourists used to driving on the other side of the road, etc. Ok fair enough comparison in driving styles and locations!)

We are really looking forward to the Brightline Train starting in September, which will connect Orlando with West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami and will make it quick, efficient, and safer getting from “here” to “there”, in our case for a cruise. On this trip though, we needed our car anyway as we drove from Miami to Sarasota after the cruise, and eventually back to Orlando in another week’s time.

We stayed at the Hyatt Place, downtown West Palm Beach, which was very nice, except for the minor construction in “a very few rooms from 9am – 6pm”. The minor construction actually sounded like a constant jack-hammer and drill coming from the rooms next door and above us! It wasn’t, but the noise was coming from the attached garage down the hall, with drilling into the concrete walls, which reverberated throughout the hotel. DOS twice asked to switch rooms, but was told it was that noisy everywhere, unfortunately. Gee, thanks for the “small warning” on the website and at checkin. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem as we would be out of the room during that time, but after the drive we wanted a short nap before dinner, which was impossible with the noise. A bigger problem would be for business people working in their rooms, and worse yet on Zoom or other calls, but fortunately being retired we didn’t have to worry about the in-room work.

As there were no other hotels in the immediate area with availability (huge conference going on downtown), we stayed for the one night and had a nice dinner later that evening at City Cellar Restaurant, located in The Square area of West Palm Beach. The Square was a fun place to walk around, with indoor and outdoor eating and drinking establishments, shops etc, and was a short Uber ride from the hotel.

The next morning we slept in a bit, getting our “wake up” call with the noisy construction around 9am. Hyatt is usually very responsive to our requests, such as changing rooms etc, but in this case I guess there wasn’t much they could do. We didn’t ask for anything but did fill out the survey after checking out, and they did give us 5,000 Hyatt points. Anyway it was a good hotel, and hopefully the construction is only going on for the two week period in July, and will be done by early August.

We next headed down to Miami, about an hour and a half away, and while we left after rush-hour, it’s always a “rush” as we neared Miami.

We checked into the Hyatt Regency Hotel located in downtown Miami, near Brickell Avenue.

We had a nice corner Jr. Suite on the 18th floor, which provided a view of the high sky-rises downtown, and a partial view thru the buildings of Bayside Market and the port of Miami in the far distance.

The staff and service at this Hyatt were outstanding, and we had a short, but nice one night stay there. We had dinner at the hotel, which was relaxing and quite enjoyable.

We had considered U’bering over to Bayside Market for dinner, but we figured we’d get enough food, drink, and excitement on the cruise the next few days days, so we saved our energy and also planned our restaurants for the cruise via the Virgin Voyages app, and jotted down the times and days we wanted for the shows. On Virgin you can pre-book your restaurants 45 days ahead of time (60 days for “Rock Stars”, i.e. Suite categories like us), however as we booked the cruise less than a month before sailing date, all of the restaurants were already booked. We had called Virgin and were told to book dining reservations once we get aboard, as they hold back 30% of available slots, and worst case you can just show up at your requested restaurant, which for 2 people is much easier than a large group. (Flash-forward, we had no problem once onboard getting any of the times or shows we wanted, so don’t worry if nothing shows available pre-departure.)

At the restaurant it was Taco Tuesday, so I had a couple tacos as appetizers, and later a burger and fries, along with a couple local brewskis. The ground floor restaurant was nicely decorated, and we sat in a high top adjacent to the bar area, which overlooked the inter-coastal waterway, Metro Rail (monorail-like that goes around the downtown area), and drawbridge.

While dining, we noticed a group of five ladies sitting adjacent to us, who were also looking at their app, so we asked them if they were going on the cruise in the morning, and they smiled and said Yes! We ended up befriending them, and ironically met them as the first fellow cruise-passengers we met and also the last familiar passengers we saw, as they dined next to us on the last night. They were all around 62 years old, and went to Junior High School together in the mid-West, and stayed in touch via high school reunions all of these years. Each year they travel together on a girls trip, but this was the first time they had taken a cruise together, and seemed excited to be going, and having a ball once onboard! I asked if we could take a selfie and here it is: It was such a pleasure meeting everyone in their group!

The next day we had breakfast again at the hotel, before checking out around noon.

Daytime breakfast view from the Hyatt Regency Restaurant Downtown Miami

We then drove to the cruise port, around around 12:15pm, for a 1:30pm embarkation time. While DOS was driving in the big city of Miami, I got my first glimpse of the Scarlet Lady cruise ship as we went over a bridge.

I will blog extensively about the cruise in the next post, as I have to write it up, and go thru hundreds of pics and deciding what to upload.

TIP: We were actually able to book our dining and show reservations in the lounge using the ship’s wi-fi on the app, which was a huge help getting all of that finalized, even before getting on the ship. We had been told the app dining/show bookings wouldn’t work until on-board, but it sure enough did for us in the departure lounge!

Now, skipping ahead five days . . . we debarked the ship yesterday (Sunday) at 10am. Virgin Voyages is in so many ways different than other cruises; in this case we didn’t have to vacate our room until 10:30am, but we had requested a 10am departure time so we could be on our way to Sarasota, a four hour drive ahead. Virgin boards passengers later on the day than most cruises on embarkation day, but that is more than offset than not being so rushed on debarkation days, as most cruises start debarkation around 7am, leaving little time for breakfast, and you have to be out of your room by 8am. Here on Virgin Voyages you even get a farewell message in the elevator from Richard Branson encouraging you to have breakfast before debarking!

Debarkation was smooth and quick, and like our recent cruise out of Port Canaveral on Royal Caribbean, the Immigration services uses Face Recognition, which really makes things so much quicker, without long lines for a ship load of people.

After gathering our luggage, we walked across the outdoor terminal area to the adjacent garage, and paid our $88 parking tab for the 4 days, upon exit. We took our time driving to Sarasota, and took the scenic Alligator Alley across the southern part of Florida.

We didn’t see any alligators, although I’m sure they are quite in abundance in the waterways and marshes we drove across. There are several scenic areas along the way, a couple with restrooms, and most with docking facilities for a small boat should you want to head thru the mysterious waters and scenic trails thru the Everglades.

We stopped at a large Everglades welcome center, which provided lots of information on the Everglades, via wall displays and a huge interactive terrain map of the area. We didn’t realize that the water actually flowed to the Everglades from as far North as Orlando (just south of Disney World).

We finally got to Sarasota around 3pm, and checked into the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sarasota. This is one of our favorite Hyatt Hotels, and we’ve stayed here many times over the years. As a Hyatt Globalist member, we got upgraded to a 2 room/2 bath suite on the 10th (top) floor and they sent us a welcome back bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our view this time overlooked the pool and marina area, boarded by the Ritz Carlton and Residences, and several high rise condos overlooking the Sarasota Bay.

We had dinner at Clasico Restaurant, one of our favorites in the downtown area, and a short Uber ride away. Clasico features excellent Italian cuisine, and has a “piano man” for entertainment. As the portion sizes are huge at Clasico, DOS and I split everything we ordered; from the pizza appetizer, to huge salad, to huge chicken parmigiana.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel, with me stopping for a nightcap in the hotel’s lobby bar, and then off to bed. Welcome back to Sarasota!

One thought on “Onward to Miami, Virgin Voyages, and Sarasota!

  1. Anik and Gary ??

    Hello ?? to both of you!

    It has been a pleasure to cross your path on Scarlet Lady! Omg it was an immediate love ?
    Hoping you made it back home safely my friends

    We may have the pleasure to meet you again in Orlando!

    Will follow your blog !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *