Virgin Voyages cruise review from Frommer's
Virgin Voyages

Virgin Voyages Review: Are Virgin Cruises Only for Party People? Here's Our Experience

When Virgin Voyages began sailing in 2021, its first ship, Scarlet Lady, sold voyages from Miami throughout the Caribbean. Even though it began sailing in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Virgin’s low-key party cruises to Bimini and Beyond were an instant hit. In the early days, the highlight of a Virgin cruise was a stop at the Bimini islands of the Bahamas, where guests could party at the new Virgin Voyages Beach Club, featuring celebrity DJs and lots of daybeds for luxurious lounging. 

The stop at Virgin Voyages’ private beach defined the new brand’s party aesthetic. Rowdier than Royal Caribbean, classier than Carnival, and younger than Holland America, Virgin beckoned to a hipper tier of guests: millennials who wouldn’t normally go on a crowded, mass-market cruise. Virgin Voyages cruises are open to guests aged 18 and over only, so there are no kids running around, and frequent Virgin Voyages cruisers are even referred to by the company as “RockStars.” 

Virgin’s prices can seem higher than comparable cruises, but the numbers work out in the end. For example, tip-fatigued Americans rejoice in the fact there are no gratuities on Virgin ships. A lot is included, such as group exercise classes and basic beverages including sodas. There are no buffets (although the line’s The Galley has cafeteria-style prepared food ready to serve—crew simply hands dishes to you), and there is no additional cost for eating at any of the specialty dining restaurants on board. 

These changes from the mid-priced industry norm sound great, but the question remains: How many hip millennials are there who would honestly want to take a cruise at all? 

As of June 2024, Virgin now has four ships (Scarlet Lady, Valiant Lady, Brilliant Lady, Resilient Lady), with more to be added to the fleet in the coming years. Virgin is no longer playing it safe in Bimini-bound party cruise territory, either. I joined the Scarlet Lady, the ship on which it all began but which is pretty much the same as the others, this time sailing along the European shores of the Mediterranean Sea. 

So how does the mass-market cruise passenger—who might be a bit older, somewhat geekier—fit in with the cool Virgin crowd?

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's
Virgin Voyages
Day 1: Boarding

A few hours after we set sail, I walked around to explore the ship, but it felt like something was missing. Everything was just… quiet. The champagne lounge was empty, the tattoo parlor was empty, the private karaoke booths were empty, and there was no activity in the central promenade except for one guy playing guitar in a bar beneath the main spiral staircase. Where were the cool millennials they were supposedly made for? 

Most of the passengers wandering around were polite, middle-aged cruisers. Their jeans shorts looked forlorn in contrast with the velvet couches of the champagne lounge. A pajama party was scheduled for later that evening, but I only packed cotton gym shorts that are not meant to be seen by anyone else. It didn’t seem like most of the other shy passengers were the pajama party crowd either. 

Back in the refuge of my cabin, I found out where my fellow customers were. They were arguing in the room next to mine. Every word they shared was articulated through the thin cabin walls. It seemed that even though the cruise had just started, the stress of traveling had worn their nerves, and they accused each other of trivial wrongdoings of one sort or another. The louder adversary yelled, “What do you want? I don’t know what you want!” Or was that the voice of the Scarlet Lady, trying to please me? 


Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: chicken soup
Dan Renzi

Instead of joining the pajama party, I called room service and ordered a bowl of the Virgin Voyages chicken soup, which is highly touted on board and is only available by delivery to your room. (Room service has a $7 service charge, but that’s waived if you order any sort of paid drink such as alcohol.)

The soup was good. It had lots of orecchiette noodles al dente, which is super difficult to do in a hot soup. And it was seasoned just right. I didn’t quite get the vibe of this ship yet, but at least I had the comforting embrace of that bowl of soup. 


Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: bed review
Dan Rezni
Day 2: My Virgin Voyages cabin

Somebody must have gone to the pajama party, because at around midnight, another neighbor treated our entire side of the ship, and all of the Mediterranean Sea, to loudly singing an unrequested serenade from their balcony. 

I was awake anyway. My first night was teaching me about the hard luck sleeping on this ship: Virgin Voyages beds aren’t actually beds in the American sense of the term.

While cruise lines like Celebrity have their own brand of luxury mattresses that are even sold on land should you wish to take one home, beds in Virgin cabins (pictured above) are more like two benches, neither of which have much padding, pushed together and covered with sheets. 

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: cabin review
Dan Renzi

During the day, passengers can request housekeeping configure the benches into L-shaped seating. If you don’t do this, you’ll only have a single chair to sit on.

In my Sea Terrace cabin (pictured above), the mid-sized standard cabin category (about 200 sq. ft./ 18.5 sq. m), the frame for the bench/bed includes a large wooden board that sticks out of the side to support the L-shaped configuration. That piece of frame gobbles up valuable floor space, with no space for any other furniture except for a single chair. If passengers leave the cabin set to the bed configuration, which they often do, how are two people supposed to eat room service meals? 

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: alcoholic drinks and shore excursions
Virgin Voyages
Day 3: France

I had signed up for an all-day activity, a tour of three cities in France by bus in just 8 hours. The tour was standard shore excursion stuff: on the bus, off the bus, herded like cattle, released into the wilds of the French Riviera to graze on croissants and buy “I Love France” t-shirts. 

Back on the ship, feeling simultaneously exhausted yet frazzled from the experience, I hoped an espresso martini would both perk me up and calm me down. 

On Virgin, there aren’t any of those infamous cruise drink packages, where you pay several hundred dollars for unlimited access to standard alcoholic beverages. Instead, you deposit money in a non-refundable account, with added bonuses from Virgin if enough money is deposited. For example, a $300 deposit may receive $50 in bonus money, if that’s the incentive offered on your particular voyage. Each drink is then deducted from your account, encouraging you to drink up all of the money. At least there is a manageable end in sight. 

I chit-chatted with a nice husband-and-wife couple at the bar. They hailed from somewhere in Canada and had been on multiple voyages with various cruise lines in their past adventures. This was their first Virgin cruise, and they absolutely loved the excursion today. Seeing all of the South of France in 8 hours by bus was apparently their idea of a good time. But back on the ship, they said, they were a little bit bored. “There isn’t much going on,” the husband said.

Unlike traditional cruise lines that blast event updates over the ship public address systems, Virgin makes no announcements—at all. It’s part of a “chill vibe,” the phrase for the anti-cruise cruise experience that Virgin wants to cultivate. Passengers can read event listings on the Virgin Voyages app, but that app is deservedly panned for being clunky, confusing, and often glitchy. And with no activities going on in the central areas of the ship, The Canadian couple expressed feeling disconnected with the social scene. That one guy playing guitar in the bar beneath the staircase wasn’t doing much to liven the place up.

I finished my drink and said my goodbyes, and as I walked along, I approached The Red Room, the ship’s theatre (pictured above in a photograph staged by Virgin) where music was booming out of the doors. I peeked inside. A group called Dual Reality was performing an acrobatic parkour-meets-street-dancing interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. As weird as that sounds, the show was lively and fun, and the audience applauded enthusiastically. Oh, so this is where everybody is, I thought. Too bad the Canadians didn’t know.

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: deck lounge
Virgin Voyages
Day 4: At sea

With an entire day at sea, I committed to being social and trying as many activities as possible. First, I finally found where the cool people were hanging out. The hipster hive was down on Deck 7 at The Dock (pictured above in a publicity image provided by Virgin), an outdoor deck where rows of daybeds beckoned with views of the ocean’s horizon. 

Here was the Virgin Voyages cruise that I had envisioned: men with funny mustaches and women with lusciously inflated lips drinking IPAs or just scrolling their own social media accounts. Mellow music, nobody screaming at you to join a ping pong contest—the vibe was elegant and chill. Alas, there were no beds open at The Dock, because as much as Virgin tries to be the anti-cruise cruise, the Scarlet Lady still falls prey to that scourge of the high seas, People Who Save Seats By Putting Their Stuff Down And Then Vanish For Hours. A cruise is a cruise is a cruise. (“We can’t do anything about it,” said a server, motioning to an unused bed with a backpack on it, before rolling his eyes and adding, “…unfortunately.”) 


Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's
Dan Renzi

I was at the elevators when a curly-haired twentysomething woman bounced around the corner, clad entirely in colorful Spandex. We had already met briefly, but she greeted me like an old friend. “What ya doin’?” she chirped, in a rolling English accent. I stammered a response about being lost as usual.

She shook her head dismissively. “Come with me,” she commanded, and playfully grabbed my arm to pull me onto an elevator. We scurried across the ship to The Manor, the ship’s nightclub—yet another space that I did not know existed—where ‘80s music was blaring. 

Three members of the Virgin Voyages crew were on stage, adorned in neon ‘80s attire and leading a class in old-school aerobics. My new friend pointed to an empty space in the crowd where I could have some room to move and we joined the action, working up a sweaty glow to songs by Janet Jackson and Madonna. The main attraction was the witty, sexually suggestive banter from the instructors.

“Everybody grab your Shake Weights!” shouted one of the instructors, and everyone ran to the equipment table to grab one of the isometric contraptions. (And because Virgin includes all activities in the fare, there was no one to stop us to ask us to pay anything to join.) Shake shake shake, we proceeded to shake them vigorously in front of our faces, while the instructors lobbed jokes laced with sexual innuendo. This would never happen on Norwegian, I thought, as I shook myself silly. Carnival, maybe.

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's: entertainment
Dan Renzi

Following that class, I actually succeeded in finding another fun new activity: Drag Queen Bingo. For $40, I received two sets of Bingo cards in the hopes of winning several hundred dollars in prize money. 

The hostess of the event, a drag queen called The Diva, sauntered onto the stage, her sequin gown gracefully draped across her football player’s shoulders. Her entrance was greeted by uproarious applause from the audience, and she launched into singing a skilled rendition of “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked. The passenger sitting next to me, a middle-aged mom from Long Island taking the cruise with her (18-year old) daughter, clapped vigorously and cheered. “This is my ninth Virgin cruise,” she told me, her voice thick with a Long Island accent. “I know all of the drag queens on all of the ships. This one is the best singer.”

I asked her what she loved so much about Virgin Voyages that kept bringing her back. “The staff,” she gushed. “They’re so friendly. And there is such a feeling of acceptance on the ship, for everybody. Especially for the LGBTs,” and she motioned toward The Diva, who was rattling off the rules of the Bingo game. 

 I agreed, and I mentioned how I noticed a plentiful supply of same-sex couples (lured by Virgin’s adults-only policy) who held hands as they moved about the ship. “It’s not like they’re swappin’ spit at the pool,” she said emphatically, shaking her head. “They just want to be themselves, to be free.” She paused as her eyes gazed into the distance. “I think it’s beau-ti-ful.”



Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's
Creative Blood

That evening, I checked the Virgin Voyages app for open seats at the restaurants. Virgin ships have more than 20 specialty dining options, from Korean barbecue to “vegetarian-forward” cuisine, ramen noodles, upscale Mexican, and the list goes on. The food in these restaurants was arguably the best aspect of ship life on Virgin Voyages. I thought everything, really everything, was delicious.

I chose The Test Kitchen (pictured above), the experimental food lab concept on Virgin ships, where guests are served a set 6-course meal, with each dish highlighting one particular ingredient. “Beets,” “Asparagus,” “Venison”—flavors are accentuated with emulsions and foams, with combinations like strawberries and wasabi blending together to create a unique culinary experience. Or at least that’s the goal. Portions are small, so big eaters tend to grab a pizza after.

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's
Dan Renzi

I sat at the bar next to a young woman who had just been served her first course, a plate of mushroom pâté. Mushrooms were blended with cream and truffle oil and then molded back into a cartoonish shape of a mushroom, to be spread on toast. She was telling the server she didn’t think she could eat it. 

Everyone around her, the server included, sprang into action, encouraging her to try it: it really is good, you can do it, it’s not as weird as it looks. The couple sitting on her other side, both of whom were of grandparenting age, looked at her lovingly and cooed “Try just one bite, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” And she turned to look at me, searching for sympathy, but all I could come up with was, "You know this is all free, so you can just go get something else if you don’t like it.”

Strangely, this reasoning seemed to register with her. She sat up straight, and slathered some of the grey goo on a piece of toast. After a moment’s hesitation and a deep encouraging breath, she took her first crunchy bite. Her eyebrows raised and her eyes widened at the cool, creamy, savory goodness with just a hint of truffle. She smiled and looked around. Her fans cheered her on. And as we applauded her bravery for trying something new, I thought: Okay, Scarlet Lady, well played. I’m starting to get it now. 

Virgin Voyages review by Frommer's
Dan Renzi
Day 5: Scarlet Night

Today, it seemed everyone found their vibe. This was Scarlet Night, the premier party of this Bimini-free cruise, where everyone is encouraged to wear red and gather on the pool deck, to dance and drink and be merry. 

House music boomed through the air as lasers shot beams of light across the crowd. Retirees shuffled back and forth with energetic millennials who happened to bounce by. Everyone was dressed for the occasion somehow, including the the Virgin staff members, who seemed to be wearing as little as possible. 

I spotted the Canadians from days before. She looked fabulous in her red dress, and he was wearing a red flannel shirt, presumably the only red shirt that he owned. Watching them coyly dance back and forth, but smiling at each other, I was glad that they finally figured out how to join the party. 

And it seems that’s what Virgin Voyages is really all about.  Some cruises hire cruise staff to run around with perma-smiles and force drunken karaoke upon passersby in the central promenade. Virgin doesn’t do that. It welcomes you onto its ships and its provides the champagne and the trendy beer and the beautiful spaces to sit, but it is up to you to figure out how to make it work.

Later, I saw my Drag Bingo friend from Long Island. We had an overnight stay in Ibiza coming up, which would be nice, but after that the cruise would come to an end. She asked me if I was sad to be leaving soon. I told her I really was sad, a little. Like The Canadians, I had finally figured out how to join the party, too. 

She told me to she was already signed up for her next Virgin cruise, bringing her tally to 10. But, she said, this cruise was going to be hard to beat: “I was up on the RockStar deck,” she said, referring to the deck for VIP frequent cruisers like herself, “And there was a group of guys, and they were having a gay wedding!”