Before you consider Virgin Voyages, I review what you need to understand and consider.
Many people have ask me if they should consider cruising on the new Virgin Voyages cruise line. They launched at the worst time possible, just as the pandemic started to sweep across the world. However, I was one of the few fortunate people to spend time and actually get to stay on their first ship, Scarlet Lady, before lockdown.
I am Gary Bembridge and this is another of my Tips For Travellers.
I want to share with you what I discovered, and what you need to think about before you even consider booking a cruise on this line, including if one of the big design flaws could mean they are a no-go for you. I also reveal if I decided to book, and why.
Watch My Virgin Voyages Video
Watch my Virgin Voyages Video on YouTube
Virgin Voyages Fleet
First of all, what about the fleet? Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady is ready to sail as cruising resumes, their second ship (Valiant Lady) enters in 2021 in time for the Mediterranean season, with 2 more due (one in 2022 and another in 2023)
New and Untested
It’s new and untried, which will inevitably mean some – or many – things will not work. This also, of course, makes it exciting if you want to take some risk or be adventurous with your cruise plans. Although headed by a very experienced cruise CEO, Tom McAlpine ex of Disney Cruise Lines, many of the people involved are new to cruising, including much of the leadership team and designers. This shows in some areas which do not feel that practical, like certain aspects of the cabins (which I talk about later).
There will inevitably be adaptions and changes based on who finally cruises, what they use, what they like like and demand. If you want to be part of that changing experience then definitely consider them.
These are new ships with a new approach. Although in practice not as much as some have argued in my view.
Firstly, It is more around the look and feel (the exterior and interiors which is more trendy hipster hotel than other ships). Secondly, the way they way they provide services (like no main dining room just a myriad of alternative venues) and thirdly, their focus on music based partying on and off the ship at their Bimimi Beach Club and partnerships with DJ Producers like Mark Ronson.
If it helps, they describe the ships as “rebellious luxe”. No? That did not help me but also heard them say “casual sophistication” which from what I saw is a god description. If that appeals to you, then consider them.
One of the key appeals for me, is they are adults only. You have to be over 18, although if 18 to 20 you can only come with at least one adult over 21.
Early on Virgin Voyages seemed to be implying that their core was the “millennial generation”, but they now talk about being for the “young at heart from 18 to 80” and especially people who not thought cruising was for them. Remember that Richard Branson is well into his 70s.
We will not know until the line has been sailing for a while who really comes on board, and how that settles down age wise. I think it will have a hefty amount of the “older” crowd of cruisers aged from 45 and upwards – simply because (like me) they are the ones who cruise a lot, have money to take some risks to try new lines and have grown up with the Virgin brand. Also, as I discuss more later, this is not a value or budget line, it is a more premium offer and younger cruisers may be drawn to the value lines in the end. So if you are on the older age spectrum, like me, I don’t think you should reject them for that reason alone.
One thing that may be a no-go for you is, it is not for those looking for educational and enrichment cruises and immersive historic ports of call. They are much more around having a good time drinking, dancing and so on and calling on popular well-trodden tourist ports.
The itineraries on offer in both the Caribbean and Mediterranean are limited and they repeat the same itineraries across the season.
In the Caribbean Scarlet Lady has three key itineraries out of Miami of 4 or 5 days, which are Mayan Sol (Costa Maya), Dominican Daze (Porto Plata) and Fire and Soiree (key West). All spend a day at their private beach club at Bimini in the Bahamas.
In the Mediterranean, Valiant Lady also has three key itineraries out of Barcelona which are 7-nights and are French Daze (includes French ports like Marseille and Monte Carlo), Spanish Obsession (Spanish ports obviously) and Irresistible Mediterranean (mix of both Spanish and French ports). All spend time overnight on the party island of Ibiza.
Cabins Will Not Please Everyone
One of the most hyped features of the ship by the line were the cabins. However, the Cabins will not be to everyone’s taste. But they are something different and are distinctive. You certainly will not get them confused with other cruise ship cabins.
The regular cabins have what are called “Seabeds”. These beds turn into couches during day. A sceptic could argue to make the cabins, which are quite small, feel more spacious. On the plus side they do mean more room in the day, but not great if you want a nap before a hard night partying. I did though find them comfortable made into the bed.
There is also a hammock on the balcony which is fun. The bathroom looks great, but is fairly small and cramped. I didn’t mind it but others on the ship with me were less keen. There is less storage than other ship cabins as you cannot store cases under the bed. Overall I quite liked the cabins, though I struggled to find the light switch (tip: it is in the open- fronted cupboard and not easily spotted at first).
There are 78 Rock Star Suites of varying sizes, which look fantastic and they have access to Richard’s Rooftop area, a suite-only access area which looks great.
When it come to dining, if you love buffets and have been put off Virgin Voyages by the reported lack of a buffet, don’t be. There is really a buffet really, but for me on the plus side it is more like a food court than a traditional buffet and so already was more Covid protocol ready. It is called The Galley and has a series of themed food stations much as a food court does.
I also liked that there is no main dining room, no assigned tables and set times. I am not a big fan of main dining rooms, often as cruise solo and so tend to avoid going. Instead there are 20 included in the fare restaurants, and no paid-for speciality dining on costs. This includes venues like Wake – steak and seafood, Razzle Dazzle – plant based and drag brunch, Test Kitchen – lab cum restaurant, Geonbae- Korean barbecue, Pink Agave – Mexican street food and so on Right through to The Pizza Place
If you like the formality and process off the main dining room, then this line is not for you as every night you will have to choose, and book, a different venue to eat in.
The different approach to entertainment is refreshing, but not going to please you if you love the themed song and dance shows so prevalent on cruise lines today. Personally, I find them all so similar and like the new fresh approach on Virgin Voyages, They have the Red Room which is a large space that can be configured in all sorts of formats. I saw a acrobatic dance show where seats were on either side of the room, and later that evening it had been turned into a large open space where the audience stood and the dancers performed on a ramp and stage. It is quite experimental and different. If you are looking for something out fo the ordinary in evening entertainment then Virgin will please you.
The other venue of note is the Manor, a multi level night-club venue named after Brason’s first recording studio. Great space and lots of great music and light effects.
There’s a huge choice of bars including things like Draught Haus – brewed beers and Champagne Bar. Much as you have on other large ships. So not that different but there is choice and high in design and look.
Fares More Premium
The fares are on the pricer side, certainly on the surface. This is not a value line offer and when comparing fares, before you reject them, look at what is included when comparing.
Their fares includes: all dining, gratuities, Wi-Fi, fitness classes and filtered water and sodas
It excludes: alcoholic drinks, speciality coffees and shore excursions
You will find cheaper cruises in the Caribbean and Mediterranean on lines like Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, but if you looking for a more premium line experience with more bundled in, you may find the total cost of your cruise is not as much as it first appears. Compare carefully before rejecting. And sign up for their emails as their are often deals and offers.
Facilities Not Working
The swimming pool is ridiculously small, but the fitness offers and gyms are massive and extensive. Not sure what the designers were thinking. There are very few or no sea days on their cruises and so the size of the pool may not be a deal breaker. But, if you love hanging out around the pool and taking a dip, then look carefully before booking.
Personally, I think some of headline grabbing gimmicks seem a bit trying too hard, but they are fun. Not sure if they will survive, but they add to the fun. Things like the Tattoo parlour (Squid Ink), though bearing in mind you cant get a new tattoo wet and your are cruising in the Caribbean or summer in the Med and will want to swim I am not sure how this works. There is also a Voyage Vinyl record shop, which I guess more about the brand. It does not really matter if these do not work for you as they do are a novelty to check out at least
What Did I Decide?
Taking all this into account, I have booked to cruise on both Scarlet Lady in the Caribbean and Valiant Lady in the Mediterranean. I think it is interesting enough, even with some concerns and watch outs I covered, to make it worth getting on board and trying them out. I think the Caribbean and Med cruises will be quite different. Not just as the passengers will be different, few Europeans will likely travel to Miami for 4 or 5 night cruises, but also the length and port mix will attract different types of people. It is worth finding out and being adventurous I decided on balance.
What do you think based on this? Is Virgin Voyages a line you will book when you head out cruising again?
Gary Bembridge’s Tips For Travellers aims to help you make more of your precious travel time and money on land and when cruising the oceans or rivers of the world. To help you, in every video I draw on my first-hand tips and advice from travelling every month for over 20 years and average of 10 cruises a year.
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