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11 things I loved on Virgin Voyages — and 6 that I kind of hated

Oct. 10, 2022
17 min read
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I've rapidly gone from vacationing on shore to setting sail as a regular cruise passenger. Despite becoming a happy family cruiser in recent years, I really had no idea how I'd react to leaving my kids back home with their grandparents to step onto an adults-only Virgin Voyages ship with my husband. After all, every cruise I've previously enjoyed has been with our kids on Disney Cruise Line.

Given the kid-free policy and edgy, adult-oriented slant to cruising the line offers, I wasn't quite sure what I'd think of this sailing. While I could imagine the cruise being the best four days of my life, it also wouldn't have surprised me if it was the four weirdest days I've ever had at sea, as the line offers a drastically different take on cruising than what I'm used to.

Ultimately, our cruise ended up being somewhere in the middle, offering many highlights, plus a few downsides. Which details did I love, and which could use some work? Here are my favorite and least-favorite parts of Virgin Voyages cruises.

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Hated: Boarding

I've admittedly become a bit spoiled with Disney's boarding process as a concierge passenger, so I knew this experience would be different. Still, even with that upgraded option factored out, I strongly disliked the boarding process with Virgin Voyages.

Unlike Disney Cruise Line, which permits entry into the terminal as you wait and staggers arrival times so passengers are processed faster, Virgin Voyages requires cruisers to stand outside — in my case, that meant in the Florida heat — in roped-off rows based on your time slot and wait until it's your turn to enter the terminal.

Lines are allowed to form much earlier than the posted times suggest, causing the area to get crowded fast. We arrived at 1:25 p.m., got through the outside portion of the line at 1:57 p.m., were upstairs in the packed terminal at 2:11 p.m. and eventually walked on board at 2:39 p.m. Had we not received a Group 1 boarding pass after figuring out the wristband situation for those with status in the Virgin Voyages program, we would have boarded in a later group.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Loved: The diversity of passengers

Despite what some initial buzz and marketing may have indicated, Virgin Voyages is not a ship exclusively full of 20- and 30-somethings.

In fact, we met and spent time with folks of every age, spanning from their 20s to their 80s. Passengers were not only extremely friendly overall, but they were diverse in pretty much every observable way.

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Maybe part of our impression stems from how starved for adult interaction we've been in the past few years, but we found everyone we met to be fabulous. The people on board truly were a highlight of the experience for us.

Related: First look: 10 things to love about Virgin Voyages' new Valiant Lady cruise ship

Hated: The cabin bathroom

Although our cabin was decent enough, one part of the space was borderline unbearable: the cabin bathroom.

Coming from Disney Cruise Line, which offers a split-bathroom layout in most cabins so you have two distinct spaces that can be used at the same time, we found this one tiny bathroom to be difficult to tolerate.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

If you're cruising solo, it's tight but workable, but if you plan on traveling with another person, know that you'll have limited bathroom space to work with. Sharing the space with someone else for days on end quickly becomes an unpleasant experience.

Related: 5 reasons why Disney cruises aren't just for kids

Loved and hated: The pools

Let's start with the good elements of the pool area.

With no kids on the ship, there are times when the main pool and hot tubs are not as busy as they would be on a typical cruise. In fact, we often had them to ourselves when visiting early in the day, during popular port days and at night.

However, the main pool is unquestionably small for the number of passengers on board.

Although our sailing was far from full capacity, the pool deck was overcrowded during prime pool times. On sea day afternoons, expect body-to-body pool time if you're set on taking a dip.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

To get around this inconvenience, do as we did and strategically time your pool visits so you're avoiding the peak swimming hours.

Related: Use these credit cards to maximize your next cruise vacation

Loved: The ports of call

If I never take a cruise to Nassau in the Bahamas again, it'll be fine. I have nothing against Nassau, but the destination's spread-out layout and pricey excursions make it a place we feel we've adequately experienced during previous visits.

Our time with Virgin Voyages did not include a stop in Nassau, much to our relief. I was thrilled to have Key West as a port of call on this sailing, as I've been to Key Largo but never as far south as Key West. It can be extremely expensive to visit Key West as an overnight guest, so being able to check it out without paying hotel rates was phenomenal.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

The dock is essentially in the heart of town, so I was able to walk off and do a $50 group bike tour I booked through Virgin Voyages. But even if you didn't want to do any organized activities, the heart of Key West is pretty compact. You can quickly get to a variety of restaurants, bars and noteworthy activities just blocks from the dock, so it's easy to hop off, have some fun on land and then hop back on the ship.

My three-hour bike tour with Key Lime Bike Tours was capped off with an included slice of key lime pie at the Key Lime Pie Company, which I savored before wandering over to Conch Republic Seafood Company to have some delicious coconut shrimp. Key West was an incredibly easy-to-navigate and enjoyable port that I would happily return to again.

Our cruise also included a stop at Bimini, a less-crowded Bahamian island that's home to Virgin Voyages' private beach club. To get to the club, all you have to do is hop on the complimentary tram at the port.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Like Nassau, you'll find beautiful beaches here. Yet Bimini's quieter setting makes it easier to truly unwind while lounging on the soft sand and swimming in the crystal-clear water. Not to mention, the beach club's beautiful pool and tasty (complimentary) food add to the feeling of treating yourself while on vacation. What's not to love about all of that?

Hated: The app's constant crashing

When I read complaints about Virgin Voyages' app before the cruise, I admit I may have rolled my eyes. How much can an app influence the enjoyment of your cruise?

Well, when everything from ordering room service to registering for dinner or activities is housed in that app, it turns out that it can affect you quite a lot.

When the app worked, it was useful and an excellent way to stay on top of all your bookings and daily schedule. However, when it became totally unresponsive at least a dozen times, I found myself starting to stress. It was not the feeling of total relaxation I seek while on vacation.

On several occasions, I resorted to restarting my phone in an effort to fix the problem. But much to my disappointment, my phone was not the problem. It was a widespread issue that others experienced, too, so mentally prepare for this inconvenience and set your expectations accordingly.

Loved: Most food and the lively Korean restaurant

A lot of the food and restaurants on the ship are pretty fantastic. While there were some culinary misses, for the most part we enjoyed the venues we visited.

That said, there was one restaurant in particular that deserves its own love letter: Gunbae.

At this Korean barbecue joint, dinner is served in booths that you share with fellow cruisers. We initially thought this sounded a little weird, but we ended up thoroughly enjoying the concept, as it invites you to socialize with others while on board.

To help you get to know your seatmates, the staff organizes a drinking game for everyone to play that is both easy and fun. Once you've become acquainted, you'll dine on an array of Korean barbecue staples that are just as memorable as the atmosphere they are served in. We loved the food so much that we ended up visiting twice during our cruise.

But Gunbae wasn't the only dining venue we enjoyed. Many of the restaurants we tried served food we'd order again. Even when they didn't, the plethora of options available made it easy enough to move on to the next dish when we were less than impressed.

Related: Virgin Voyages hopes to draw cruise newbies like me: Here's my first impression from its first sailing

Loved: The track

When I'm on the road (or at sea), I try to stay a little more active, so running above the ocean on the 1/6-mile track that goes all the way around the ship was an excellent way to start the day.

Because this is a dedicated space, you don't have to worry about bothering folks who are relaxing in nearby deck chairs as you jog by.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

For a workout beyond the track, Scarlet Lady offers a basketball court, boxing ring and outdoor area with weights, punching bags and other equipment. Additionally, passengers have access to a large indoor gym with everything from exercise bikes to a row of treadmills, should you prefer to break a sweat indoors.

You can also sign up for group workout classes. They fill up fast, so be sure you make your class reservations as soon as you board.

Loved: The hair and nail salons

Cruise rates for Virgin Voyages include tips, meaning the listed price for a service is exactly what you'll pay. I was a big fan of this pricing system, as knowing that something really costs $59 makes it easier to stick to a budget.

Since I didn't have to factor in taxes and fees for add-ons like hair and nail services, I could easily compare the cost of these extras to what I typically spend back home. Ultimately, the rates were similar, so I decided to treat myself to a pedicure and a hair wash and blow dry while on board. Both the hair salon and the nail salon were top-notch areas, offering relaxed atmospheres and superb service by the crew.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Hated: The spa

Like the hair and nail salons, the spa also offers an array of services that are priced to include tips. However, I found my experience at the spa to be disappointing overall.

The massage itself was OK at best. Additionally, the changing room situation was far from perfect due to the small changing rooms and lockers provided in the compact communal area.

The thermal spa area was also a letdown, as it was nearly as crowded as the pool area during popular times. Access is sold at a reasonable rate or as part of packages like the "Romance Package," so it was a busy area that lacked the tranquil, relaxing setting I'd hoped to find.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Loved: The totally relaxed approach to cruising

With Virgin Voyages, you do not rotate through assigned restaurants, have evening photo-ops by onboard photographers while at dinner, hear frequent announcements or have strict dress codes to follow.

While you do need to make reservations for some things (most of which are not available until you board), your cruise is what you make of it at a pace that is fully yours to set, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Hated: The bar tab

Many fellow sailors we met were unhappy that Virgin Voyages did not offer unlimited drink packages. Disney Cruise Line doesn't have those either, so I didn't miss having something I've never tried. Still, I was not a fan of the cruise line's bar tab approach.

Prior to your cruise, you can add money to your bar tab, which results in you getting a bonus amount to spend. The concept sounds great in theory, but in practice, it was impossible to know how much you'd really spend on drinks. As a result, a chunk of our funds ended up going to waste since we couldn't transfer them to other onboard charges or a future cruise.

Loved: The new status perks

Despite encountering a few problems when it came to the execution of some of the perks we received by status matching into the new Virgin Voyages Sailing Club, overall, we found the benefits to be pretty fantastic.

By matching my Disney Castaway Club status, we were given Group 1 boarding, premium Wi-Fi, a daily $10 credit for coffee drinks, an invite to an exclusive party (with free drinks), one bag of free laundry and a free "Shake for Champagne" order, which would've otherwise cost us $95.

All of these complimentary benefits saved us a few hundred dollars. Not to mention, it was great to go home with some clean clothes for once.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Loved: The free onboard games

It's been a long time since I spent any measurable amount of time playing games that didn't involve my kids. But by the end of the sailing, we had our fill of all the classics, including air hockey, shuffleboard and various arcade games.

Given the diverse selection of options, we never found ourselves waiting for a machine to become available, leaving us more time for a round or two of arcade favorites like Ms. Pac-Man. And yes, these games are all included — no quarters required.

Loved and hated: The 'Shake for Champagne' feature in the app

As previously mentioned, one of the status perks we received was a complimentary "Shake for Champagne" benefit. While I didn't fully hate the perk, as it offered free bubbly, it did have some annoying glitches.

I naively thought that when you shook your Virgin Voyages app, your order would arrive within five or 10 minutes. Since we were sitting within a few feet of a bar when we shook the app, I assumed our order would fall within this presumed arrival window.

However, the service appeared to be popular and was not coming directly from the bar, resulting in delays. It took a total of 41 minutes for the Champagne to arrive. And while you wait, there are no real-time updates on the app, so it's impossible to guess how long delivery will take.

Once the bubbly was brought to us, it more than hit the spot, so if you don't mind a wait, definitely give it a try.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Loved: The price

We booked this cruise because we wanted an affordable adult getaway. Unlike other kinds of vacations involving flights, hotels and even meals, cruises tend to be more budget-friendly, as many of your expenses are covered by the cruise fare.

For example, the sea terrace room we booked for this four-night sailing from Miami to Key West and Bimini cost us $1,400 — or $175 per person, per night.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Yes, some of your alcohol will add to that total, but you can often get a drink credit included with your booking. Plus, you may have opportunities to partake in special gatherings with free alcohol, such as the sailaway party. Even if you don't, you'll find that drink prices on board are far more reasonable than they are at most resorts, as many drinks cost between $6 and $10.

Had we stayed in Miami at a decent hotel and gone out for meals or ordered room service for four nights, we would have likely spent way more than $1,400. Factor in our visits to other beach destinations, and it's safe to say our out-of-pocket costs would've soared past what we spent on this cruise.

If you want to save more, people who sail with Virgin Voyages in November 2022 get a $300 drink credit for each cabin. Plus, you can get a discount of up to 50% using a code from the Bilt program.

Bottom line

There's no denying that Virgin Voyages does things a bit differently. From its bar tab concept to its emphasis on socializing with other sailors, the cruise line offers many aspects that you'll likely love and others you may hate.

We loved far more things than we didn't, which helped us feel like we got our money's worth. In fact, we were so impressed with what we experienced on board that I happily put down a deposit for a future cruise. Since I locked in that next sailing before our first one ended, we'll receive an even larger discount and more inclusions next time around.

As long as you go into your cruise knowing that there may be a few hiccups along the way, odds are you'll have a fun time full of memories you'll cherish for years to come.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
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  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
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Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees