Howdy! Today we are taking a peek at the newest cruise line out there – that also happens to be Sir Richard Branson’s baby – Virgin Voyages. I recently had the pleasure of having Lauren Harris, Sales Manager at Virgin Voyages, South Central join me for a video chat to give us the scoop on this much anticipated new line that has been a long time coming thanks to its inaugural cruise getting pushed back for over a year thanks to you-know-what. So, let’s not waste any more time! Grab a drink and a chair on the deck of your choice and get ready to set sail with Lauren and I because we are not delaying this overview any longer! Bon Voyage!
Lauren started off her presentation with a look at the Voyage Well program and what it will look like when they get in the water and how they will sail safely. The number one thing are the testing goals and vaccinations for all Virgin Voyages employees – from Richard Branson all the way down. Virgin fully supports the idea of everybody getting vaccinated and because of that they will require that their crew and anybody sailing with them be vaccinated.
Along with that requirement there are other great standard procedures that will be in place – one of them being their Atmos Air System – an air filtration system kills 99.9% of all viruses in the air. The other major procedure in place – from a technology standpoint that is cool – but of course it is also safe – is their contact wristband. With the wristband you won’t have to touch a dirty room key or handles or sign bar tabs or touch pens or anything like that – everything will be able to be done through the band which is super cool – and important in this day and age. And you guys it really is amazing how far this technology has come. I have been to many all inclusives where I still have to bring out my room key and sign checks all while still having to wear a band. So, here’s an opportunity where your band is actually your key as well – so kudos for just being able to easily manage all of that via the band – super exciting!
Sailing The Virgin Way
Right off the bat I can tell you that this cruise line is very different – it’s not your standard cruise line by any means. And Lauren expanded on that by saying when they say “Set Sail the Virgin Way” that really speaks to Virgin as a brand. Now – if you’ve experienced any other Virgin company whether it be the hotels or the airplanes – it’s a very different experience from other brands. From the lighting and the mood to the attitude – what they’ve done is taken all of the best things about Virgin and compiled them into a couple different categories.
- Adult By Design: This means what you think it does – you must be 18 years or older to sail on Virgin – children are not allowed. But it also goes beyond just no kids. Because now with no children on board they don’t have to have chicken fingers and fries on every menu – they can cater strictly to the more advanced palate if you will. And they can have hammocks out on the balconies. And really just all of those different things that you have to think about when there are kids around that now they are free to explore. And to that end the entire atmosphere of the ship itself really caters to adults – or as Lauren referred to it – it’s boutique glamour. And that filters into the vibe of the ship and how they want it to feel like a boutique luxe hotel. It really is a beautiful floating vessel where everything will always draw your eyes to the sea – but when you’re looking around inside, you’ll see that it’s very chic and glam and the lighting always plays an important part. The ship is just absolutely incredible, and Lauren assured us there is no chance of you feeling like you have cabin fever where you have that same carpet on every single deck. Instead, it will feel like a very small, intimate, floating city.
- Relaxed Luxe: So, to me this means you can relax but you are relaxing in luxury – to which Lauren said exactly! She said whenever anybody asks her “where do you fit on the cruising spectrum because I do all of these different cruises and want to know where you lie” she tells them they lie in what they like to call a category called Relaxed Luxe. And what that means is that they’re free from formality, they’re free from all of the stuffiness that sometimes is associated with a luxe company where you have four formal nights or a dress code or very strict dining times. For Virgin and especially for Richard Branson – he always says you can’t have the best time of your life if you’re uncomfortable so think about what makes you feel good when you are on vacation. And you guys this means that, yes, you can wear your Bermuda shorts, you can wear sandals and still relax and have that beach kind of vibe. You don’t have to be in a bow tie if you’re a guy or you don’t have to wear tails and you gals don’t have to wear sequins – unless you want to because you can if you want.
- Turn the Ordinary Into Extraordinary: Along with the different things that they’ve done to try to set themselves apart – like the wrist band – which is just a small piece of the technology that they’ve built into the ship – it goes much further. Lauren explained that they have what they call their Clever Cabin where everything happens like magic. Your air temperature just changes and your lighting just changes – things like that to make it more seamless and comfortable. Then there are the inclusions that they have with their On Us value. That’s something that is there all of the time because they don’t want you to ever feel like there’s hidden fees or that they are nickeling and diming you or that you’re floating on this ship and now they got you and if you want a beer, you’re going to pay whatever the price is because you want a beer. Instead, they want you to feel like every dollar that you are spending has an incredible value.
So, What’s Included?
Off the bat – ALL of your meals. There are no specialty restaurants. They have 20 plus what they call eateries on board, and you can eat at as many of them as you want and as often as you’d like. They’re open early, they stay open very late with some of them open 24 hours. You can dine whenever and wherever with no upcharge.
Then there’s the gratuities. There are no tips allowed so anything that there is a charge for whether you’re in the spa getting a spa service or getting your hair blown out or you’re closing out your bar tab – there are no tips and no tax. Meaning – whatever the price is there’s no hidden fees or little secret add-ons at the end – so never any surprises.
Lauren also noted that they believe that why Wi-Fi is a basic human right. Now of course you can disconnect if you want, but if you’d like to create a little bit of envy back at home you can post to your Instagram and then go back to your fabulous day. It’s there for those that want to use it as much as they like. And Lauren did admit it’s quite the Instagramable ship – like unbelievably Instagramable – so much so that sometimes you may wanna post like every other minute on your story and the nice thing is you don’t have to wait till you’re in American port to be like oh I have seven days’ worth of photos that I’m now gonna dump on all of my followers.
And – all of your entertainment is also included – meaning you can party all day and all night – at no extra charge – and there are plenty of entertainment options to choose from.
I started this conversation by saying let’s talk a little bit about the food because this being Richard Branson the food has to be up to par…to which Lauren replied – it has to not only be up to par – it has to blow everybody away! She went on to say the best thing about the way that they have approached dining is that there are no buffets and no main dining room so you’re not eating with 800 of your closest friends – lol. Instead, you are eating exactly like you would in the chicest city in any country around the world with your choice of 20 plus eateries, each with its own bar.
- The Wake: Enjoy steak and seafood here in a very opulent atmosphere – per Lauren this is one of those places you may wanna wear sequin – but you don’t have to – you can just go country club casual. Whatever you choose they offer seafood towers, amazing steaks and fabulous craft cocktails.
- Razzle Dazzle: This is a vegetarian forward restaurant that has all of these really whimsical and fun menu items. Lauren shared her favorite part of Razzle Dazzle is that it also has a “naughty list” – so if you’d like to throw that piece of fried chicken on your salad or have a real burger you can find that it on the naughty list!
- The Test Kitchen: So, the menu here is a set menu that reads like an ingredients list, meaning that you have no idea what’s about to come out until is placed in front of you. Plus, there are five to six different courses every night and it’s pretty much something that you’ve never tried before. Lauren explained that it might say blue cheese, scallops and chocolate and you’re like what are they going to do with all three of these together and it just comes out and it’s like the best episode of Chopped!
- Gunbae: This is another fun one especially if you want to have a really fun social night out. Gunbae, which means bottoms up in Korean, is their Korean barbecue where they will feed you shots of soju, which is Korean liquor, provide you with Korean drinking games, cut the delicious food at the table – it’s just so lively and energetic. Lauren joked that the best way to break the ice is through alcohol – so you’ll make all of your new best friends here! But if you want to eat just the two of you or with your crew that has come with you on the boat with you, you can do that too. But here as with most tables where they are cooking in front of you there is some type of social element to it. And now especially in COVID times it’ll be more spread out than what they had originally imagined but yes, always at a safe distance and they’re never going to force any type of fun on you so – if you’re watching another party you can watch from afar and you can go hey there having fun over there look at that.
- Pink Agave: This is their upscale Mexican restaurant where you can find a tequila and muscatel tasting bar and the most incredible menu. And Lauren said for her she was like oh an upscale Mexican it’ll be great – and everyone that was on the trans-Atlantic and the few that were able to sample it early last year said this menu is out of this world with absolutely incredible flavors from Mexico City. Sooo it’s not like the Tex -Mex that we have here in Texas – but your true authentic Mexican dishes and that’s means you’ve got cultural immersion right on the boat!
- Extra Virgin: You can’t have vacation without having a hearty Italian dish and that’s what you’ll find here. They offer family style dishes and amazing pastas. And Laurens favorite – a rare Italian wine tasting program where you sample all of these rare wines while you have your fabulous Italian dishes. She also noted that with some of the rooms there that you would think Tony Soprano’s back there!
- Lick Me Till I Scream: It’s not a Virgin party unless they have their own play on words… and in case you haven’t guessed – this is the yummy ice cream shop on board.
- Draught Haus: For those of us who love beer this is where you can catch your casual favorite beer on draft along while drinking it surrounded by influences from London and the UK where they are known for their pubs – and thus this is Virgins take on a pub.
- The Loose Cannon: This place has got some big surprise and delights if you are here at the right time – and Lauren said that if you wanna feel like you’re on the chicest pirate ship and you are the hottest Elizabeth Swan in town you’ll want to go to Loose Cannon – this is the party place guys!
- On The Rocks: This is more of your cocktail lounge – or a place you’d stop by to get your whiskey on the rocks or other great cocktails. It’s a great spot to go before dinner or after dinner or before you go to a show or afterwards. It’s a great place if you just want to chill and have an amazing drink and just feel kind of elevated and like you’re in a really hot space downtown.
- Sip: They are all about champagne at Virgin Voyages – so much so that you can take your phone and shake it – and champagne will show up wherever you are! So, with technology like that of course they have a bubble bar on board too and that’s what you’ll find at Sips.
- Richard Rooftop: This is one of those exclusive spots onboard all three ships. The idea is up here you have that exclusive space for your suite sailors or your suite guests. It has amazing sail away parties and amazing cocktails and just an incredible view of the ocean and you truly feel like you’re on a super yacht when you are up there.
So, I asked Lauren to talk a little bit about how Virgin does beverages differently from everybody else. She explained that all of your basic beverages are included in the cost of your cruise. That means flat and sparkling water, soda, coffee, tea – so no need to buy a goofy soda package or anything like that for seven dollars a day.
However, for those that want to purchase premium beverages what they’ve done is they took a step back and they said they don’t want anybody that’s buying any type of drink package to feel like they’re subsidizing the drinking for the whole ship. And they don’t want you to feel like you purchase a drink plan now you gotta get your money’s worth – like you’ve done all of the math and if you have 17 and a half drinks every single day, you’ll get my money’s worth. Instead, they simply priced their drinks at a fair and reasonable price – similar to or very comparable to a midsize city like Dallas. They are not the most expensive but not the cheapest either.
They also created Bar Tab and that’s their drink package which is a non-refundable onboard credit that can be spent on premium beverages all around the ship and at The Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini. It cost $300 and for every $300 that you spend they will give you an extra $50 – or during some of their promotions – they will give you an extra $100. You can buy your buddies a round, you can share it among cabins, you can buy five bar tabs – there’s no limits around how many you can buy or who can buy it for or what you can spend it on, and the possibilities are endless. Lauren laughed that people always ask her what happens if I don’t spend it all and she’s like if you didn’t spend it all you didn’t have a very good time! The only red tape around it is that it has to be a beverage – but it can be fresh pressed juice and it can be premium coffees or cappuccino, but most people will spend a majority of it on their alcohol. So, if you have money left and if you are coming up on the end of your cruise get an amazing bottle of wine or order bottle service at The Manor nightclub!
Virgin’s Ports and Ships
Lauren advised that they built a port in Miami so Scarlet Lady will port at her beautiful home at the very edge of Port of Miami year round. They also have Valiant Lady, and she will be there in in the winter – so between the two of them you’ll always leave out of Miami. Scarlet Lady’s ports of call are Miami (Home Port), Costa Maya, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Key West, Puerto Plata, DR, San Juan, Roatan, Honduras and the Beach Club at Bimini in the Bahamas. Valiant Lady’s ports of call are Barcelona, Spain (Home Port); Ibiza, Spain; Ajaccio, France; Cagliari, Italy; Malaga, Spain; Marseille, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco and Olbia, Italy.
- Scarlet Lady: She has four and five night options to choose from and you’ll always visit the Beach Club at Bimini which is absolutely incredible. In the Riviera Maya they dock in Cozumel, but they are there so late that they truly allow you to explore all of the best parts of that area. So, you can go to Tulum, or you can go to Playa del Carmen, or you can go down to Isla Mujeres. You have time to do all of that and still make it back to the ship on time so it’s truly more expansive than just Cozumel or just Costa Maya. Lauren said they really do have cool ports and shore experiences that they offer in all of them – hundreds and hundreds actually. The Beach Club at Bimini? That is exclusive just for Virgin cruise ship passengers – or as Virgin refers to them – sailors and Lauren assures us that this beach club rivals some of the most bad a$# clubs that you see in Miami, Barcelona or Greece and is really excited about what it has to offer for everyone.
- Valiant Lady: She has a little bit longer options in the Eastern/Western Caribbean as you can either do a six or eight night cruise and again the nice thing in almost every port, they stay very late. Lauren raved that they have a ton of options on Valiant Lady in the summers as she does three different itineraries. The highlight here is that it overnights in Ibiza on every single itinerary, so if you’ve been before you know that the nightlife in Ibiza makes the city come alive – it’s very different city during the day – and so you have the ability to take full advantage of Ibiza with Virgin. Then another one of the itineraries overnights in Monte Carlo as well so you can have an itinerary with two overnights in these amazing cities then come back to the Valiant for the best trip ever! And for those of you guys that have never been to Monte Carlo at night it is exactly what James Bond makes it feel like. I have been there at different ages of my life, and I can tell you that it’s still classical and it’s just amazing and it’s a must – you must experience it.
- Resilient Lady: Lauren also shared that earlier this year – on International Women’s Day – they announced that their third ship Resilient Lady will be sailing out of Athens on two separate itineraries – the Adriatic and the Baltic. Stay tuned for details!
Who Are Virgin Sailors?
The sweet spot for the age of cruisers with Virgin Voyages is somewhere in the mid-30s to mid-60s – people who love the idea of an adult only experience or they love the idea of the different lengths of itineraries. Whether they are still working and have a limited amount of vacation time to spend or have obligations such as they can’t stay away from your kids for too long – Virgin has all of the options there that’s really appealing and plus you don’t bring the kids. After that everything else is kind of split down the middle. There are slightly more women because they see a lot of girl’s trips, a lot of 40th and 50th birthday parties and even some divorce parties. They are finding a lot of celebrations per Lauren. Another thing she thought was interesting was that 60% of their sailors have children at home! So, 60% of the people are like it’s time to get away – yeah, it’s time for adult time!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing all of Virgin Voyages sailings are open to fully vaccinated Sailors only and they will provide antigen testing free of charge at the terminal prior to boarding.
You guys I am so excited I can’t wait to go and be on one of these cruise ships! And of course, you know once I decide I will let you all know so that you can join me! But in the meantime – let’s start curating your cruise on the oh so fabulous Virgin Voyages line!
For more details on Virgin Voyages – including full itineraries, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!