Over the next three years, Virgin Cruise Lines is launching four ships unlike any before them — each has a tattoo studio on board. Enter Squid Ink, the first ever tattoo studio launched on the high seas. It's here to elevate both tattooing and cruising culture.
For artists, tattooing in the Squid Ink studio combines the adventure of a vacation with a killer business opportunity. For clients, it’s an unforgettable vacation you can permanently commemorate with body art. It’s a maritime adventure, bonding experience, and huge part of tattoo history.
About the Cruise Line
Virgin Voyages declares that tattooing culture belongs at sea with this new venture. The cruise pays homage to the nautical history of tattooing, giving a nod to the huge role of body art in sailor culture that exploded in the 19th century. Squid Ink has a big mission to elevate tattoo culture to a new level. In the past, cruise ships were considered more high-brow and tattoos were frowned upon. Now, for the first time ever, all sailors are encouraged to get tattooed — in fact, crew members are some of the most popular clients at Squid Ink.
“It’s […] a historic thing. Like, being the first tattoo studio on a cruise ship and to be able to be one of the first artists to [participate]. I think that was pretty much the drop,” says Jason Ackerman, who was on board for the Scarlet Lady’s maiden voyage before the pandemic. He tattooed alongside Michela Bottin-Ackerman and body piercer Dennis Gensinger, all from Soho Ink in New York City. Ackerman has enjoyed a storied career as a studio owner with a vast following, having tattooed Post Malone’s publicist and making a name for himself in the world of hip-hop; but his experience on the Scarlet Lady was a first. “I was excited. It was my first cruise ever. I had never been on a ship.”
The Virgin Voyages mission strives to give all sailors that first-time feeling with a memorable voyage full of "firsts." Tattooing at sea is, of course, a first; but combined with drag show brunches, choreographed shows, cabaret, and acrobatic performances to boot, this kind of cruising is a first-time experience all around.
Tattooing On Board
Tattooing on the high seas might have been an initial concern for the artists aboard the Scarlet Lady, but those worries were soon put to rest.
“I was nervous. With the movement of the ship, I was worried about the stability of the client. But they have [Squid Ink] set right dead-center at the mid-ship level, which is [where] you get the least amount of movement. So really, it wasn’t bad at all. You really didn’t notice it,” says Ackerman.
Placing Squid Ink at the mid-ship level also ensures that every sailor sees it the moment they step on board. This location caught more than a few eyes, with guests climbing aboard at every port. All three artists on the maiden voyage attest to staying busy with a steady stream of eager clients from open to close, suggesting sailors and vacationers are more than eager about Squid Ink’s launch.
“I think the biggest chunk of friends and family got on in England, and they for like the transatlantic. So, a lot of people were getting little anchors to commemorate the [journey] across the Atlantic,” says Ackerman. “Typical working hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. [and] the two longest [tattoo] sessions were full-day tattoos,” says Gensinger, who also served as Assistant Manager to Ackerman.
Ackerman calls the experience “seamless,” with Squid Ink operating just like a studio that’s, well, on land. He and Bottin-Ackerman tattooed plenty of commemorative, nautical, and custom pieces — even a few first-time tattoos; and they were well-equipped for the job.
“We had an overabundance of everything we needed. We showed up with just us and our clothes. We didn’t need to bring machines, power supplies, needles,” says Ackerman.
A Working Vacation
Among the supplies were high-quality brands like FK Irons, World Famous Ink, and Recovery Aftercare. Working at Squid Ink is a great opportunity to try out new tattoo machines and innovations by FK Irons. With quality brands and steady clientele, each artist certainly considered it a positive work experience, but they also found plenty of down time to enjoy their vacation.
“You're not slammed the whole time where you can't get up and go outside and look at the ocean watch dolphins go in one of the mess halls and get food. It's an awesome experience. You’re busy. You're working your ass off. But it's not to the point that you can't enjoy yourself,” says Ackerman.
“I feel like we made most of the people happy […] without overworking ourselves. It was a good experience also for me […] I enjoyed the facility,” says Bottin-Ackerman.
Plus, Squid Ink closes for business when the ship is in port, which gave Ackerman, Bottin-Ackerman, and Gensinger the opportunity to enjoy each destination along with every other guest.
“When you port, you’re not allowed to tattoo, which means you get off the ship and you go have fun,” says Ackerman.
Outside the Studio
Thanks to Recovery’s black Derm Shield bandage, artists and tattooed clients alike weren’t afraid to take a dip in the swimming pool, join a fitness class, chill out in the relaxation lounges, or attend any of the fantastic shows on board. Ackerman and the Soho Ink crew also enjoyed free food... lots of it. The Scarlet Lady boasts 20+ restaurants and fresh-to-order food from 10 different international eateries, many of which have a stunning view.
“At the end of the ship, there’s a steak house and you’re literally sitting there overlooking the wash from the propellers. Absolutely beautiful,” says Jason Ackerman.
While basic drinks are free (water, soda, drip coffee and non-squeezed juices), alcohol isn’t on the house; but sailors are more than welcome to enjoy cocktails from renowned mixologists and bartenders.
“It’s insane and the ship is beautiful and you get treated like a rock star. They literally treated us like we were kings and queens […] the food is unreal. It’s a great experience,” says Ackerman. He also mentions Kings and Queens are welcome to bring guests for a small fee. “[$15] covers their food and board. For artists, [everything is covered] like your sleeping, your food, and you can eat 24 hours a day. It’s amazing. That’s all booted.”
Artists also get to enjoy comfortable cabins in the crew area, complete with WiFi, configurable sea beds, and ocean views.
How to Join
It’s easy to see why artists are eager to hop on this opportunity. With such a successful maiden voyage, Squid Ink is open for talented new artists to get to work.
“What attracted me to this experience was being a big part of history, since it was the first time this was happening,” says Dennis Gensinger.
“I would say it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. You get to travel and see exotic places and you get paid to do it,” says Ackerman.
Squid Ink is open for business, with guest spots becoming available this October. If you’re interested in being part of tattooing history, all you need to do is fill out an application to start. The high seas await!