Tattooing on the High Seas | Painful Pleasures Community

Tattooing on the High Seas

Tattoo on the high seas by stepping aboard the Scarlet Lady. Learn more about Squid Ink, the first-ever tattoo studio on a ship by Virgin Voyages.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: September 3, 2021

For the first time, World Famous Tattoo Ink in partnership with Virgin Voyages is bringing tattooing to the high seas.  

Introducing Squid Ink, the first tattoo studio on a cruise ship. Soon, Squid Ink will host tattoo artists who are ready to make big waves in the history of tattooing — and we mean BIG. Each 60,000-ton Virgin Voyages ship comes with amazing amenities that will make every sailor’s experience a nautical dream. This groundbreaking cruise introduces tattooing to a new kind of “cruising culture.”  

Virgin has four ships that will set sail over the next three years, each with a fully stocked tattoo studio. The Scarlet Lady sets sail on August 2nd, 2021; the second ship will launch in spring 2022; while the third and fourth are slated to launch later in 2022 and 2023.  

The Scarlet Lady has already completed her maiden voyage prior to the pandemic, with two tattoo artists and one piercer on board. We chatted with the artists, and here are a few reasons why you’ll want to set sail soon.

Be a Part of Tattooing History


The Scarlet Lady cruise ship by Virgin Voyages  

“What attracted me to this opportunity was being a big part of history, since it was the first time this was happening,” says Dennis Gensinger, body piercer from Soho Ink and Manager on Squid Ink’s first voyage.  

While tattooing on a cruise ship is a new experience, the connection between sea voyages and tattooing is not new. In fact, Virgin Voyages is reminding the tattoo industry of its nautical roots.   

Tattooing has a long history intertwined with maritime culture. In 1768, explorer Captain James Cook’s voyage on The Endeavor research vessel introduced Europe to ancient tattooing practices from Tahiti, New Zealand, and the Society Islands. The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian infinitive word “tatau” (to mark), which first appeared in an account of Captain James Cook’s research voyage in 1769.  

In the 19th century, tattooing became a distinctive part of sailor culture. Different symbols represented various milestones, superstitions, and overall sailor culture. The anchor is one of the most iconic tattoos for sailors, often meaning stability or safe passage across the Atlantic Ocean. Iconic figures like Sailor Jerry contributed to the evolution of traditional sailor tattoos. 

By hopping on board with Virgin Voyages, you’ll be a part of tattooing history. With Squid Ink, you’ll be able to give sailors their own maritime commemorative tattoos.

Network and Build Your Client List 


Tattoo artist and his client on the Scarlet Lady voyage

Alongside Dennis Gensinger, tattoo artist and Soho Ink studio manager Jason Ackerman enjoyed his adventure at sea, doing what he loves: tattooing. Ackerman built new relationships with his clients, some of which have lasted past their time at sea.  

“I made a few friends, like one of the clients that I [tattooed]. He’s from Ireland. Now, he and I talk all the time. He’s actually a really cool guy,” says Ackerman.  

While an award-winning artist like Ackerman has no trouble picking up new clients, Virgin Voyages offers an opportunity for artists to expand their client list and get additional exposure through Virgin Voyages’ social media.  

“They were promoting Squid Ink a lot. And I know they will be [promoting it more] in the future,” Ackerman says.  

As an artist on Squid Ink, you’re sure you stay busy. The artists on the first voyage were booked up each day, tattooing everything from walk-in clients with flash pieces to creating custom tattoos. A big part of your customer base will be the crew themselves. With over 1,400 crew members rotating every 3-6 months on the ships, there will be no shortage business, and many of them like to get big tattoos. 

“Typical working hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. [and] the two longest [tattoo] sessions were full-day tattoos,” says Dennis Gensinger. 

Enjoy A Balanced Work Day and Try New Supplies 


Tattoo of nautical anchor on inner arm

You may be wondering if you’ll be able to enjoy a work-life balance while you’re tattooing at Squid Ink; according to tattoo artist Michela Bottin-Ackerman, your workday is flexible. 

“[Working] 10 to 12 hours is not appealing, and I feel like everybody probably [feels the] same. But you can still have your own rhythm. You can still manage your own clients with your own freedom, [so] that there is no need to rush.”  

Plus, Squid Ink is stocked with all the supplies you’ll need, including the full line of FK Irons tattoo machines, inks from World Famous, and tattoo essentials from Recovery Aftercare.  

“We had an overabundance of everything we needed,” says Ackerman; however, if you prefer to use your own tattoo machine and needles, Michela Bottin-Ackerman says you are welcome to do so.   

In addition to all the supplies you could ask for, you can also count on solid ground while tattooing on Squid Ink. The studio is strategically located on the mid-deck, which is the most stable part of the ship. Squid Ink’s mid-deck location also allows new clients to walk right past the studio as they board.  

Clients can tip via cash or a Venmo-like app, but all tattoos and piercings will be up-charged to compensate for any lack of tip. Therefore, you can expect this to be a financially worthwhile venture. As for what you’ll be tattooing?  

“Everything was kind of linked to the sea,” says Bottin-Ackerman. “There was a lot of anchors and mermaids and custom work […] it was pretty seamless. There were no real issues. It was literally run just like a normal tattoo studio.”  

Take Advantage of Amenities and Privileges


Tattoo artists planning in the Squid Ink studio

While working at your own pace, you can also enjoy all the amenities and privileges you would expect from a luxury cruise line. After a day of work, you can take advantage of free food, basic drinks, entertainment, fitness classes, and relaxation lounges, some of which overlook the back of the ship; some restaurants also provide a view of the ocean. 

“At the end of the ship, there’s a steak house, and you’re literally sitting there looking over the [sea], watching the wash from the propellers. Absolutely beautiful,” says Ackerman.  

If a steak house isn’t your thing, you’ll have 20+ eateries to choose from while on board, many of which are open 24/7 to accommodate your busy schedule (or late-night cravings). Entertainment can also be a part of your dining experiences, with drag brunches lighting up the restaurant scene. Virgin Voyages is playing host to all kinds of entertainment never before seen at sea. You’ll be able to enjoy acrobatics, folktales, cabaret, and more from world-renowned producers, directors, choreographers, and artists. This festival-esque lineup is a far cry from cruise lines of old with their traditional Broadway productions.  

If you’d rather relax, take a refreshing dip in the swimming pool, or sink into a daybed on the yacht-style pool deck, also known as the poolside oasis. You’ll have plenty of time to relax when the ship is in port. During that time, the studio is closed, and you’re free to explore and enjoy the port as a sailor would. At night, retire to your cabin. All tattoo artists’ cabins are in the crew area; WiFi is included.  

Relish the Adventure


Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady ship watching fireworks on the water

Sailing is all about adventure. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The vast open blue of the Atlantic. The wending, cobble-stone streets of Italy. Experience new horizons with voyages to Europe, across the Atlantic, and the Caribbean islands. 

If you’re like Jason Ackerman or Dennis Gensinger and it’s your first time setting sail, this is your chance to see stunning vistas, all while doing what you love: making killer body art.  

“You’re not slammed the whole time where you can’t get up and go outside and look at the ocean or watch dolphins,” says Ackerman. “[…] We would see dolphins – just schools of dolphins – jumping and swimming. All-day. It was great.” 

Plus, for $15 a day, Virgin Voyages permits you to bring a friend or apprentice to join in the adventure. The $15 fare covers your friend’s lodging, board, food, and basic drinks. Partners or friends can stay in your room, while tattoo or piercing assistants are boarded in a separate room, depending on availability.  

Ready to Set Sail?


Virgin Voyages ship ready to set sail 

Apply to step onboard and tattoo at Squid Ink at today. Guest spots are available starting October 2021, although they are filling up quickly. A once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits you on the high seas, thanks to Lou Rubino and the World Famous Tattoo Ink team.  

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