Are you Virgin curious? Here’s what to expect from a Virgin cruise.
Launched only in 2021, Virgin Voyages is a relative newcomer to the cruise seascape. Like other Virgin-branded products, they aimed to disrupt the existing industry with new and different concepts – like being adults-only – and in our opinion they’ve succeeded spectacularly. We’ve sailed on two Virgin cruises and have a third one booked for 2024, so we wanted to describe our experiences and offer our review of the line, as well as pros and cons.
Virgin has three ships currently, with a fourth in production. Each one can accommodate just under 2,800 passengers and they cover the Caribbean, Europe, the South Pacific and Atlantic crossings. We’ve done a short four-day Caribbean cruise out of Miami aboard the Scarlet Lady, as well as a longer 15-day repositioning cruise from Singapore to Sydney aboard the Resilient Lady. Both were very different; the short cruise out of Miami was young and energetic, with the average passenger age being 25-35 years old. The longer cruise in Asia was a bit older, with the average passenger age being closer to 45. It is a very inclusive line and they really lean into this. Even their own crew have visible tattoos and piercings, which is a departure from most lines we’ve been on.
In March 2024, we will do a weeklong Caribbean cruise out of Puerto Rico aboard the Valiant Lady. (Once the Brilliant Lady comes online, I guess we will have to check it out too – even though all four ships are essentially the same at 110,000 tonnes.)
What Makes Virgin Special?
Virgin is for the adult market and it’s meant to be an atmosphere where one can cut loose and relax. It stops just short of being gratuitously hedonistic, but the theme is apparent with cute double-entendre names like the gelato parlor’s Lick Me Till… Ice Cream and adult-themed evening shows.
- Adults only – 18 is the minimum passenger age
- Tipping handled – gratuities are included in the price
- Specialty dining included – no upsells for premium restaurants
- Free wi-fi for all – no need to pay extra for an internet package
- Electronic wristband – no key card to keep up with
Virgin Voyages launched with features meant to differentiate them from other cruise lines; some ideas didn’t work so well and have been since discarded, so if you read other reviews, make sure they are recent and not from 2020. For example, the original cabin design was to have a sofa that they would convert to a bed at evening turndown, but it wasn’t so popular. Turns out some people (like me) like to lie down during the day on occasion (or every day) so now the king-sized beds stay down full-time (although you can ask them to convert it if you wish).
Virgin offers cabins with a balcony (Sea Terrace), cabins with a porthole window (Sea View), or inside cabins (Insider), as well as tricked-out suites (RockStar) with special perks and exclusive access to spaces and amenities. All cabins are “clever,” with a tablet to control the curtains, lighting (including mood lighting and music) and temperature, and lots of electrical outlets and USB ports. Plus, each cabin features a super-comfortable hand-woven hammock to chill in, as well as complimentary water.
One notable departure from most cruise ships is the lack of a main dining room or big buffet. Instead, Virgin offers 20+ different eateries, all included. There are six upscale specialty restaurants whose menus have been curated by Michelin star chefs:
Other food options include a noodle shop, a pizza place, an ice cream parlor, an indoor-outdoor restaurant with casual mezze options, and a stand with carnival favorites. In addition, The Galley is a food court with a bakery, a panini stand, a burger grill, a taco shack, a sushi bar, soup and salad, and a 24/7 American diner. A coffee bar serves Intelligentsia coffee drinks. Guests who can’t make do with all of this can contact ShipEats for around-the-clock food delivery.
There are a lot of fun onboard activities to entertain you and keep you fit. The pool is small compared to some ships, but still a fun place to hang out on a hot day.
Virgin has rejected the classic Broadway-style shows in favor of more edgy avant-garde fare, like Romeo and Juliet retold in a cirque-style format. The shows are bawdy, lascivious, and fun, making it quite an exhilarating departure from the ordinary. If you’re uncomfortable with sexual innuendo, scantily clad women and men, and the occasional bit of profanity, then this might not be the cruise for you. Otherwise, embrace the difference! The shows vary by ship. On Resilient Lady, Another Rose was an elaborate dinner party show; our other favorites were Persephone and Lola’s Library. There is some audience participation but it’s never too pushy; there seems to be plenty of folks who are more than happy to get involved. In addition to the production numbers, there are comedy shows featuring various comedians.
A pleasant surprise for us on our most recent sailing was the assortment of great musicians and bands on board. I particularly liked The Jones, a rock and roll trio from London, but we constantly marveled at the great sounds emanating from all the stages scattered around the ship.
There are information presentations by a variety of guest speakers. We had a guy on our ship who had worked for Virgin Galactic and he gave a great two-part presentation on space travel complete with video from some of the early flights into orbit. Very cool.
The opposite of getting dressed up for dinner, now you can simply wear your pajamas. It’s the ultimate in casual, and “all styles are welcome.”
Some ships have their demure White Party; Virgin has the Scarlet Night, a crimson-soaked evening of celebration and revelry that culminates in a massive pool and dance party presided over by a giant red octopus. “Wear what makes you feel bold… with a splash of red.”
The onboard casino features slot machines and table games, plus some tournaments if you’re feeling lucky.
Cruises give us a chance to get some physical activity, and the gym on Virgin ships is really nice. It’s split up into two sides, one being the cardio machines and the other being free weights and weight machines. Towels and water are provided.
There is a broad offering of classes, including yoga, spin, HIIT, bungee, meditation, zumba, and core.
The outdoor sports court was designed for basketball but is mostly used for pickleball, which is currently all the rage. On our ship, there was a lot of interest, and someone put together a sign-up sheet to organize matches. The Runway is a running track on the top deck which is great for early-morning sprints or after-dinner strolls.
In addition to an assortment of massages, facials, body treatments and acupuncture, there is a thermal suite with sauna, steam, salt and mud rooms.
There is a full-service salon and barber shop. For us nomads, it’s a great place to handle up on those grooming issues, like haircuts, root touchups and pedicures.
Yes, Squid Ink is the first and only tattoo parlor at sea! It typically features a couple of artists and is always busy.
There is a wide range of shops onboard, from fine jewelry, active wear, and fragrance, to cosmetics including items from Sephora, Virgin-branded items, and pre-owned luxury handbags to sundries.
Virgin’s version of this is Shore Things. They are similar to other cruises – just check pricing and maybe look at options outside of the cruise line to make sure you’re getting a good price. If you want to go with ship excursions, definitely book as soon as you are able.
Our Rating – Pros and Cons
- No announcements at all hours from the captain, cruise director, etc..
- No upselling
- No photos you’re pushed to buy
- No tipping
- No pushing of excursions constantly
- Excellent use of tech with the wristband for your stateroom door, payments, getting on and off the ship and so on, rather than a cruise card you have to keep up with.
- No beverage packages; the Bar Tab concept works well
- All restaurants included – including ‘specialty’
- Nice brunch options
- Food variety (Upscale Mexican, Korean BBQ, Italian, Steakhouse, Comfort Food, Healthy, Pizza, Modern (Test Kitchen concept), etc…Food Hall has numerous styles of food.
- Shows were fun – different but not standard issue or boring
- The live music was good
- Food hall brings to you vs. buffet
- The nicest gym at sea
- Virtually everything outside of the bar tab is included, so no big end-of-cruise surprises (internet included, gratuities, specialty restaurants, gym classes)
- There are a handful of optional ‘classes’, but priced reasonably – we didn’t do any
- The cabin was super comfortable – great bed
- They let you leave the ship late on the last day
- Scarlet Night party is fun to experience (not saying I’m jumping in the pool, however)
- The Internet was shockingly good (we got a free upgrade to premium wifi with status matching)
- The app works very well for schedules, your personal agenda, signing up for things, reservations, and so on.
- There is NO single-use plastic, which is great; plus, there are plenty of free water dispensers and free soda refills.
- Status matching (if you have elevated status with other cruise lines or hotel chains) is provided: $100 free bar tab, $10 a day in premium coffee, free laundry, a private event, some other stuff can’t remember
- I just appreciated this original take on a cruise – it makes it a different experience than other lines while still being familiar.
- Grab ‘n go bento boxes, salads, sandwiches
- No dress codes – yes, in a hot climate you can wear nice shorts to dinner (or even pajamas on PJ Party night).
- The staff was uneven on the four-day Caribbean cruise – always casual and comfortable, but sometimes there was indifference as well (the same thing everyone suffers from but no real issues). However, on the longer cruise, we found the staff more friendly and engaging.
- We were amongst the old-timers (which is rare) on the four-day Caribbean cruise out of Miami, which made perfect sense. (However, on the Singapore to Sydney, we were the average age and the older people were very active).
- A/C was lacking in some general areas – it got hot at times in some hallways/areas
- The outdoor furniture all looks cool and fun, but a lot of it is kinda impractical – maybe style over function sometimes
- The food and drinks were all very good for the most part; there was an occasional miss
- You could argue that on the sea day there could have been a few more planned events.
- We didn’t need it since boarding was fast, but some kind of promised priority boarding did not happen.
- Bathrooms in the cabins are undersized (regular balcony cabin).
- You board later than other cruise lines (starting around 2 pm); on the flip side, they allow the last cruise passengers to leave later
- Lighting for make-up could be improved in cabin desk area
There are several loyalty tiers that offer different perks. Visit their website to learn more about loyalty levels, matching programs and Deep Blue Extras.
Once You’ve Booked
Here’s a pro tip: you will typically find a Facebook group for your SPECIFIC sailing. This is a fantastic way to get to know your fellow passengers prior to embarkation and to stay on top of things during the cruise. Just go to Facebook and search your ship name and the date of your sailing.
Download the Virgin Voyage app before you sail. This is how you can sign up for shore excursions and make restaurant reservations. At some point the show schedule will be made available and you can book dinners around the shows you want to see, but you won’t be able to book shows until you are on the ship. Once you’re onboard, just connect to their wi-fi and the app becomes your daily calendar, as well as your guide to all the ship has to offer.
As Soon as You Board
Once you’ve gotten onto the ship, you are free to start booking shows, fitness classes and other services. Some classes, like the bungee class, spin and flow yoga, will book up fast so grab these as soon as you can. Book your shows now as well. On longer voyages the shows will repeat so you should be able to see everything you want.
Summary: Virgin Cruises 2024
We appreciate Virgin’s efforts to shake up the cruise industry with adults-only ships, cutting edge entertainment and just a different way of doing things. We’ve really loved the two we’ve been on, and we’ve met plenty of folks who’ve done multiple cruises with them. Most of the people we talked to really enjoyed the cruise and embraced all that makes them stand apart from their competition. If any of this intrigues you, definitely check them out!