Ahoy sailors! Last month we set sail aboard Virgin Voyages’ inaugural ship, the Scarlet Lady.
Virgin Voyages set out to redefine the cruising experience and fill the gap between expensive, formal cruise lines and cheaper, mass market experiences. Inspired by the design of super-yachts, they created a voyage that combines the luxury of a yacht with the diverse options of a large cruise ship.
Throughout our 5-day trip everyone aboard kept asking each other, “What do you think?”
The most common answer we heard? “It’s different.”
We don’t like the observation that “it’s different.” That could mean so many things. We think “nontraditional” is a better description:
Continue on to read a bit about our experience, how Virgin Voyages approaches cruising, what you can expect, and what you shouldn’t expect.
What you can expect:
- Amazing food. There are over 20 dining options aboard, including steak and seafood, Italian, Mexican, vegetarian, and a pizza shop. Each restaurant has its own galley and head chef, so food is cooked to order and not mass-produced and left to sit in a warmer. While each restaurant had only a few dishes to choose from, there were plenty of options and we never left hungry. With menus created by Michelin-starred chefs, everything we ate had a creative spin on it and tasted amazing.
- Comfortable cabins. We had an XL Sea Terrace (Sea Terrace is Virgin speak for balcony room). Honestly the best cabin we’ve had onboard a cruise ship. It was well designed and spacious and the bed was SO comfortable. The bathroom had plenty of space, there was a separate area for the shower and the toilet, and the shower had a rainshower head. Unique features included a tablet to control the lights (including colored mood lighting) and the window shades, a hammock on almost every balcony (there are a handful of rooms at certain locations on the ship that are not allowed to have a hammock hanging outside), and a bed that can be converted to a couch during the day for more space. There were also a ton of outlets and USB ports located around the room.
- Value. Although the price tag may seem higher than some of the mass market cruise lines, there is a lot included:
- Free basic wifi – enough to browse the internet and post on social media. There is an upgraded option that you can purchase if you want to stream or use Zoom.
- All food is included – that means no specialty restaurants. However, some of the restaurants offer some select paid upgrade options. For example, at the steak & seafood restaurant we paid $40 for the seafood tower appetizer.
- Tips are included – the trip cost includes tips for your cabin, dining, and entertainment staff.
- Group fitness classes – there is no cost for yoga, meditation, cycling, HIIT classes, and more.
- Basic beverages are included – water, soda, tea, drip coffee.
- No masking requirements. We had to wear masks in the terminal prior to boarding, but once we were on board, it was mask-free. Everyone was required to be vaccinated, and we all underwent a COVID test in the terminal prior to departure (provided by Virgin).
- A focus on the environment. The staterooms contain sensors, and when you’re out of the room for a period of time, the lights will turn off and the shades will close to keep the room cool. There are no single-use plastics onboard, including straws and water bottles. Stainless steel bottles available for purchase (or you can bring your own) and water fill stations located throughout the ship. Many food ingredients are purchased from local farms and responsibly sourced.
- Unique shore excursions. Virgin Voyages aims to offer culturally rich and immersive experiences. All excursions must agree to uphold Virgin’s code of conduct, which includes a commitment to fair labor practices, anti-discrimination and human rights, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection standards. For example, Virgin does not work with tour operators who offer captive “swim with” programs – any excursion with wildlife will be out in the wild (we swam with sharks in the Caribbean sea).
- Inclusivity. The crowd was diverse in every way – we met people of all ages (minus children, of course, as Virgin Voyages is 18+); gay and straight; families traveling together, as well as couples and singles; first-time cruisers and experienced cruisers. Everyone we talked to was very friendly and seemed to be having a great time.
What you won’t find:
- Children. Virgin Voyages is adult-by-design. The minimum age to book is 21, but there are some exceptions for people age 18 to 20. We met a range of folks, but Virgin reports that most of their guests are age 37 to 62.
- The buffet. If you’re a fan of the traditional cruise buffet, you won’t find that here. “The Galley” takes it place – more like an upscale food court. There’s about eight mini shops to choose from, each serving a handful of menu dishes. Options included grab-and-go bento boxes, a noodle bar, a burger grill, a salad stand, an American diner, and a bakery/pastry shop. You grab a seat, a server takes your order on an iPhone, and your food is brought to you when it’s ready. It was very fast and efficient – no standing in the buffet line waiting.
- Traditional cruise ship entertainment. There’s no Broadway musical or 50’s cover band here – Virgin goes for a more contemporary approach to entertainment. The headline shows on our trip included a comedian; an aerial and acrobatic interpretation of Romeo & Juliet; and an adult cabaret entitled “Never Sleep Alone” (based on the book Never Sleep Alone by Dr. Alex Schiller). They were all very well done – just not what you would consider the norm for after-dinner cruise entertainment.
- Drink packages. Virgin offers what they call a “Bar Tab” – it’s a prepaid onboard credit that you can spend on alcoholic beverages, both on the ship and at The Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini. We were a little worried about this because we usually purchase a beverage package – but the drinks were reasonably priced – $5 or $6 for a beer, $9 or $10 for an average glass of wine (Virgin says 42% of their wines are under $10 per glass). We saw some cocktails priced up to $15. Of course, there are some more expensive premium options if you want to splurge.
- Right now Virgin is offering a $100 bonus for every $300 you put on your bar tab pre-cruise! This is also a great option if you’re traveling with a light drinker, since many cruise lines require you to purchase the drink package for each person in the same cabin.
- Choice of a specific cabin. While you can choose a specific cabin category (inside, sea view, sea terrace, central sea terrace, suite, etc.), you cannot choose a specific cabin at booking. According to Virgin, they assign the best cabin available at the time of your booking – so it pays to book early. But if you do need something specific, you can reach out and submit a request.
- Formal uniforms. If you’re a fan of your cruise staff in white shirts with bars on their shoulders, you won’t find that on Virgin Voyages. Staff mostly wore shirts representing the venue they were working in, along with gray pants or black Levis. Not a big deal to us, but we did hear some people mention that they didn’t like it.
- A cruise director. Virgin Voyages has “The Happenings Cast”, a group of 14 crew members, each with a special role. For example, on our voyage we met crew members such as “The Charmer”, a close-up magician and card reader; “The Gamer”, who led various on-board games; and “The Balancer”, a yoga instructor.
- Loud announcements. With no cruise director comes no ongoing announcements throughout the ship reminding you of daily activities. There were two or three announcements from the Captain at various times, but other than that there was no loud voice shouting for you to join them on the lido deck.
If you’re interested in exploring a new way of sailing with Virgin Voyages, let’s set up a time to chat! To schedule a Complimentary Dream Vacation Planning Session with us, just click here. Now through February 16, 2022, all Voyages are 20% off. Get an additional 10% off if you pay in full when booking. And don’t forget the $100 bonus for every $300 you deposit onto your prepaid Bar Tab.