#NInjaVerdict: Virgin Voyages Cruise | The Holiday Ninja
The NInja Verdict

ninja-wheel #NInjaVerdict: Virgin Voyages Cruise

As a first-time cruiser, and one who has never thought that the idea of a holiday at sea seemed that appealing, I was really unsure what to expect when I booked my trip, Virgin Voyages’ 7-night ‘Irresistible Med & Rome’ round trip from Barcelona. 

One of the things I had to learn most quickly was that, with Virgin Voyages, even the terms I used were incorrect. The Scarlet Lady isn’t a boat, she’s a ‘Lady Ship’. I wasn’t a cruiser, I was a sailor. And it’s not a cruise, it’s a voyage! Virgin Voyages’ mission is to redefine the cruise industry by bringing the luxury of a boutique hotel to sea travel – so I had to leave all my preconceptions at the port.

I guess that when I thought of cruising, I imagined an expensive all-inclusive hotel (and I hate all-inclusive hotels!) full of elderly people and families queuing for the buffet, rocking from side-to-side on the rough waves while they sit on deckchairs listening to lounge singers. And a formal ‘captain’s night’ with tuxedos and sequins. All wrong!

Firstly, this is an adults-only cruise, so you can swap kids’ menus for Michelin-style menus and leave your little darlings at home. The average age of sailors on a Virgin Voyage is 47, so although there are elderly people on-board – and they are all made very welcome! – they aren’t the target demographic.  Secondly, as I’ll explain in more detail later, there is definitely no buffet. Instead, there are more than 20 restaurants to suit all tastes alongside a huge focus on health and wellness, and world-class entertainment. It’s reasonably priced too, and all costs are sorted upfront – because there’s no tipping. Gratuities are included in the price and it’s a cash free ship. Want to wear shorts and a vest to dinner? Go right ahead, because Virgin Voyages have no dress code. Some nights I wanted to make the effort and get dressed up for dinner, and others I was too tired to bother. With Virgin, you can wear whatever makes you happy. 

This modern, convenient experience started before I left, when I downloaded the Virgin Voyages app. I didn’t think I would use this that much, but – you’ve guessed it – I was wrong. You can get ready in advance by entering all your personal details, buying Shore Things (excursions), adding a pre-paid bar tab to your credit card and even making restaurant reservations. I would recommend pre-arranging as much as possible, because Shore Things sell out quickly, and are more expensive on-board. Pre-paid bar tabs come with a bonus too, for example a $100 dollar tab is topped up to $110. And these can only be bought up to 24-hours before sailing. Once you get on-board and are connected to the ship’s wifi, you can view all entertainment and activities for each day of the voyage and book or add to your calendar. You’ll then receive a notification reminding you of your agenda. One word of warning – the onboard basic wifi package (included) is fine when you’re using the app, but not for much else other than messaging and low-data browsing. If you download or stream frequently, do it in advance to save you buying the premium plan. 

My arrival didn’t start well with a delay on the Belfast flight and a further delay at the airport when an unfortunate tourist was knocked down by a bus. My plans for a great day in Barcelona were curtailed and I had to make do with a great afternoon. My pre-booked transfer left me right beside the ship and it was super easy to leave my luggage at the Scarlet Lady for delivery to my cabin. This free, curb side service took less than 5 minutes and I was soon off on my quick visit to Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia – and a sangria of course!- before I strolled back to port for my embarkation time of 3.45pm. I’d booked this on the app the week before – the earlier you download the app, the earlier embarkation slot you’ll be able to access. General boarding starts at 2pm, but earlier times may be available to Rockstars (Virgin Voyages’ VIP sailors) and those who are returning customers.

I actually received a notification telling me that I could embark from 3.30pm just as I wandered into port, which meant absolutely no queuing. I walked straight through to check-in, picked up The Band, and boarded the Scarlet Lady. The Band, which straps to your wrist, is wearable technology made entirely of recycled and recyclable materials. It acts as key to your cabin, is used to make onboard purchases including drinks and checks you in for booked activities. It looks pretty cool too – much better than an old-school paper bracelet!

From the second you arrive at port, the service from the Virgin crew is nothing short of outstanding. As you walk onto the Scarlet Lady, you’re high fived and greeted like an old friend. Crew members dance to funky tunes as you step on to deck 6. I was tired after a very early start from Belfast, but soon cheered up when I saw my cabin! I stayed in a mid-ship sea terrace which was spotlessly clean with a huge, king-size bed which converts into a sofa during the day, if you want more floor space. The bed was super comfortable with a proper duvet and a selection of pillows. The ‘smart cabin’ is controlled by a tablet – you can pick a mood and adjust the brightness and colour of the lights to match, and open / close your curtains from your bed. You can also order room service, control the wide-screen TV with its selection of movies, news channels and box sets and call the crew to assist you. There’s plenty of storage space for two people, and the bathroom, although small, is perfectly formed. For more room, simply leave the door open while you’re washing or cleaning your teeth. A bonus for me was the fantastic walk-in shower. I hate a weak shower, but the rainfall was just right, and the pressure of the handheld attachment almost knocked me into the wall! The most instagrammable feature of the cabin is definitely the hammock on the terrace. In Virgin red, this huge hammock would probably hold two people and is perfect for lying with a cold drink, watching the waves. Virgin Voyages have thought of all the little details in your cabin that make a holiday special. High quality shower products (including conditioner)? Check! Washing line? Check! Gorgeous freshly laundered throw to use when you’re in your hammock at night? Check! Daily fresh water in your cabin and refills on demand? Check! Bottle opener? Check! Top tip – you can bring two bottles of wine onboard when you arrive. So handy to have this chilled in your fridge for a pre-dinner drink!

The whole ship is absolutely immaculate. I was so impressed by how hard the crew work to keep the Scarlet Lady clean. There are more than 1500 people from all over the world working onboard who take massive pride in their work, and are a credit to Virgin Voyages. Every sheet, towel and pillow is sparkling white. Every bathroom is gleaming. I was endlessly fascinated by the carpets in the communal areas – they seem to vacuum them 24/7 and I never once saw a single speck of dirt on them. I wish these guys could have come home with me! 

I found the first few days of the trip exhausting – Virgin Voyages cleverly make the ‘Irresistible Med & Rome’ tour one of two halves. Sunday to Wednesday was action-packed with Shore Things; while Thursday to Saturday was chillout time ending with an Ibizan party. As you would expect Virgin do shore excursions a little differently. There’s no hard-sell here, and you’re free to use your time in port however you wish. Of course, they offer the traditional tours too, but if you want an experience you wouldn’t otherwise have, their Shore Things are amazing options. Fancy a hike on Mt. Faro or a foodie segway tour when you dock at Toulon? How about a tour of an Etruscan cemetery followed by a stop at a medieval village when in Civitavecchia (Rome)? Kayaking or partying in a cave in Ibiza? Virgin can sort all of these cool things for you. I just booked the ‘on your own’ transfer options to Rome and Florence – these are expensive when compared to taking a train or bus transfer via public transport, but for me it was absolutely worth the extra cost for the peace of mind. The ‘hit and run’ nature of these quick port stops comes in for some criticism, but I preferred to see these trips as taster tours. Now I know how beautiful these cities are, I’ll definitely be back for a longer stay!

The one thing everyone has asked me since I returned from my trip is – tell me about the food! No queuing for a lukewarm buffet here, instead this is made fresh to order, and always included in the core price. There is such an amazing choice that I still hadn’t tried all the restaurants when I left, despite my very best efforts. There are six sit-down, high-end restaurants on the Scarlet Lady, and you need to reserve your table via the app if you want to dine at a specific time (though you can always try for a walk-in spot!) My favourites were Razzle Dazzle, a funky American style spot with familiar favourites and an amazing vegetarian selection, and Pink Agave, an ‘elevated Mexican’ which serves a spicy selection which goes far beyond the usual tacos, alongside the most delicious margaritas. 

If you want to try a bit of everything, The Galley is the place for you. This foodcourt-style space is open 24/7, with a variety of restaurants serving everything from all-day breakfasts, sandwiches, sweet treats, salads and burgers to bento boxes and burritos. This isn’t even the end of the restaurants, as I haven’t even mentioned the walk-in pizza place, Lick Me til… Ice Cream, or The Dock House with its delicious meze selection, delivered straight to your day bed!  I could literally talk for hours about the food offering on board without running out of examples. Korean BBQ at Gunbae, experimental cooking at The Test Kitchen and carnival-style hotdogs at The Social Club… there really is something for absolutely everyone. And almost everything can be ordered direct to your cabin via room service. If you don’t want to pay the small fee for that, there are also grab-and-go stations in The Galley with items as varied as caesar salad, overnight oats, chicken wraps and a charcuterie board. Oh, and side note – the veggie offerings onboard the Scarlet Lady were the best I have EVER seen!

The options are equally endless when it comes to places to drink. Fancy a cocktail or mocktail? Every bar on board the Scarlet Lady (and there are 12 of them, not including restaurants!) has its own menu of mixologist-designed drinks, and at a price that suits every budget; starting from around $7 dollars for beer and $9 for wine. Fancy champagne? The Sip Lounge is designed to satisfy your bubbles and caviar needs. (pssst…. The app has a special, secret feature – shake for champagne! If you shake your phone when the app is open, and tap the button which appears, a bottle of Moet & Chandon will magically be delivered to you, wherever you are on the ship.) On the Rocks is a great place in which to start your night, with live musical performances every day and squashy, sofa style seating. My favourite bar was The Dock – and there is so much other entertainment onboard that I didn’t even discover it until the last day. This is the perfect relaxation space, situated at the wake of the ship. sunsets, daybeds and rosewater cocktails… perfection!

The entertainment on the Scarlet Lady is world-class. The corridor to the nightclub, The Manor, is an insta dream with its thousands of twinkly lights, and there are fabulous DJs who play floor fillers into the small hours each night. My favourite singers were the Slam Allen Blues Band and Nikita – who teamed up with Slam for one particularly memorable performance of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ in On the Rocks on the last night. What a voice! Entertainment isn’t limited to music either. Other standouts for me included Duel Reality at The Red Room, the ship’s theatre: a modern, circus style take on the Romeo and Juliet story, and the daily pub quizzes at the Social Club. We may have come last in the movie trivia game, but we sure had fun playing! There’s something for everyone, whatever age you are. Crochet, painting, karaoke, meditation… it’s all going on from 7.00am each day. And all bookable through the app!

The pool area is pretty lively too. Yes, there’s no denying that the main pool is small. But it’s the place to be if you want to party, starting late afternoon each day. There are several other water areas too – a large jacuzzi, hot tubs, and whirlpools. If sun worshipping is your thing, there are comfortable beds of all types all over the ship, and plenty of space for everyone. I liked to lie on the padded double beds (with pillow!) at the wake of the ship on deck 16 – pretty quiet and a gorgeous view while you sail. Oh, and don’t worry about packing towels – Virgin Voyages provide all you need, whether it’s for the pool, the beach, the spa or the gym.

I admit I only visited the spa and gym briefly. I took one exercise class, a bungee resistance band introduction. This was so much fun, and is well worth signing up for. You’ll need to book as soon as you board as it’s one of the most popular classes, and with good reason. Swinging through the air feels very low impact, but you’ll realise the next day when your muscles ache that it works! As you’d expect from a ship with such a focus on health and wellness, the gyms are large and well-equipped. If you don’t fancy spin or weights, how about an 80s-style aerobic dance class? Or a 90s boyband choreography class? There are also 7am sun salutation classes – something I meant to attend every day but never quite got round to. When you can lie in bed and gaze at the view from your terrace as you arrive at your new port, it’s hard to move!

I spent a relaxing couple of hours in the Redemption Spa. I didn’t partake of any of the range of available treatments, but my skin definitely felt the benefit of the mud room and salt room. Another tip – go to vvinsider.com and click the link to the specific Facebook page for your voyage. Not only will you get to meet some of your fellow sailors in advance, you’ll also have the opportunity to swap dinner reservations and, if you’re really lucky like me, get the opportunity to claim free spa passes! (*note VVInsider is not affiliated in any way with Virgin Voyages)

My spa time came the morning after the famous Scarlet Night, and couldn’t have been better planned. If you don’t know what this is, I urge you to google it. The whole ship turns red, as befitting her name, and there are pop-up performances and music throughout the Lady. All the sailors – also dressed in red – make their way to the pool, and many end up in it. There are themed cocktails and eats, and the night ends in The Manor for a ship-wide party. I love a theme, and it was amazing to see what felt like the whole ship join in this extra-special evening. The crew, as usual, go all out to make sure you have a night you won’t forget and when you finally make it back to your cabin, you’ll realise that even your terrace is bathed in red light!

There’s also a 5pm Sail Away party (with free prosecco!) on the first day onboard, which was a fun introduction to the crew and sailors. Later that evening, there is a pyjama party, and on the last night a 70s themed party. I attended, but unlike my fellow sailors who filled me in on the partying the next day, didn’t make the most of either of these nights as I was exhausted from everything else I’d been up to. Richard Branson says: “Make every second count”, and his team certainly makes it possible to try, even if you do cry off early!

One of my favourite things about the voyage was definitely the fantastic people I met, of all ages from 18 to 80. They all had different reasons for picking Virgin, but they kept referring back to the relaxed atmosphere and how much they enjoyed the company of such a wide range of people from all walks of life. Many of those onboard were on their second or third Virgin Voyage, and one person I spoke to was on his fifth. Virgin really value these returning sailors too – if you book your next voyage while onboard, you’ll receive a $300 discount, and $600 onboard credit. 

I arrived back to Barcelona slightly heavier than when I arrived, with a whole list of new friends and best of all – the most amazing memories. Disembarking was as quick and easy as embarking had been a week earlier, and I sneaked a couple of the bakery’s delicious cookies in my pocket for the journey. What a fantastic introduction to cruising it had been! If you want the traditional cruise experience that I had dreaded – Virgin Voyages is not for you. If you are ready for something different, an adults-only experience that will stimulate all your senses, get booking today!

You can check out the FULL highlights from this Ninja trip over on the Instagram page – on the homepage under the Virgin Voyages highlight tab – CLICK HERE

Why not visit your LOCAL NInja travel agency and ask them to plan your next NInja adventure onboard a Virgin Voyage – you can contact them via Holiday NInja CLICK HERE and we can easily make that connection for you!!


Scarlet Lady docked in Barcelona
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