If you’d like to book a Virgin Voyage I encourage you to use the following link, courtesy of my friend Isabella, who can answer even more questions than me (leave a comment and I’m happy to put you in touch with her!).  Full disclosure: I do not receive a thing from her if you use the following link, just supporting a dear friend: Virgin Voyages Booking Link

I was kind of done with cruising.  When I was a youth we went on cruises with our extended family and we had some great times (we even ended up in the news after our ship’s air conditioning went out in the middle of the Caribbean).  When some friends and I were in our twenties we did a couple of big group cruises on the Carnival Conquest.  The cruises were fine but they all kind of felt the same:

  • Large dining halls with assigned seating
  • A statistically significant number of buffets serving very average food
  • So. many. people. and by people I mean kids running around vomiting on everything
  • Feeling nickel and dimed at every turn, especially with the mandatory tips

Now the last cruise I went on was in 2009 so admittedly I hadn’t really kept up with things, instead just casually paying attention to headlines like Royal Caribbean Unveils New Ship Larger Than Island of Manhattan full of theme parks, helipads, lazy rivers, the world’s biggest average food buffet, even lazier rivers, full-size football fields, and still the dining hall with assigned seating.  It was just lost on me, I thought I had grown out of it until I have kids someday and inevitably spend the entirety of my disposable income for them to go on a Disney Cruise and cry while Mickey Mouse tries to make them laugh…as long as they’re in their assigned seat in the dining hall.


But then a friend invited me on a Virgin Voyage last month.


How Virgin Voyages has changed cruising

As usual, when Sir Richard Branson wanted to make a cruise line, he wanted it to be different.  He wanted it to be edgy, fun, and free of the eye-rolly things like Formal Night.  Free of the nickel-and-diming and roaming photographers taking pictures to try and sell you later.  A simple, fun, refined experience.

Oh, and there needed to be hammocks.

And a dance party where everyone dresses in scarlet in front of an enormous octopus.

Oh and NO DINING HALLS WITH ASSIGNED SEATING (thank goodness, that joke was getting old).


And how did Sir Richard do?

a large crowd of people on a boat

He may have converted me back into a cruiser.

What makes Virgin Voyages different than the others

I think cruise lines generally fall into one of four different categories, with a few examples for each (note: I’m not the leading market expert on cruise brand categorization so give me some rope here):

  • Mass-market big ships: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, MSC
  • Upscale bigger ships: Princess, Crystal, Azamara
  • River Cruises: Viking, Ama Waterways, Avalon Waterways
  • Antarctica/Expedition Vessels: Lindblad, Quark, Seabourn

Virgin Voyages, in my opinion, sits perfectly between the mass-market and upscale categories.

Here’s what makes Virgin different:

  • Amenities are consistent: the four Virgin Voyages ships are all exactly the same, unlike needing an abacus and/or slide rule to figure out the different amenities offered from ship-to-ship on bigger cruise lines
  • Ships are brand new and reasonably-sized: the current four Virgin Voyages ships are brand new (the first was only delivered in 2020) and more reasonably-sized than the mass-market mega ships.  Virgin Voyages ships have a capacity for just under 2800 passengers and 1160 crew.  Compare that to Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, the upcoming largest ship in the world, which has a passenger capacity of 6988 and 2300 crew
  • So much is included with your fare: Tips are included.  Soft drinks and drip coffee are included.  Basic wi-fi is included even!
  • The food is INCREDIBLE: you’ll see in my next post, but the food is absolutely insane on Virgin Voyages.  Gone are the ridiculous dining halls, instead there are a variety of specialty restaurants along with a food hall where you seat yourself and can eat from a variety of food “stalls” featuring everything from American Diner fare all the way to a legit Ramen spot
  • Adults-by-Design: No kids are allowed on Virgin Voyages
  • Less…I don’t know how to say it…Generic Cruise Stuff: there’s no formal night.  There’s no photographers jumping into your face and taking pictures to try and sell you later.  There’s no Overly Caffeinated Cruise Director.  Instead there’s Scarlet Night, photography meetups, and the Happenings Crew to provide all sorts of entertainment throughout the voyage

It just feels like a more modern evolution of an institutionalized industry.

Let’s get started so I can show you the whole thing.

The Virgin Voyages “Lady Ship” Fleet

a large cruise ship at night

Like I said above, Virgin Voyages currently has four ships in its “Lady Ships” fleet (Scarlet Lady, Valiant Lady, Brilliant Lady, Resilient Lady), and they’re all the exact same design.

Ship exterior

The ship’s exterior form and livery were designed by Magpie Studio in London to mimic a luxury yacht, sporting a silver-grey hull with splashes of Virgin Red all over the ship, including the funnels at the very top of the ship.

a large red ship with white lights

86% of Virgin cabins have balconies (Virgin calls them Terraces) and 93% have an ocean view!  Virgin actually uses lights on these terraces to spell out messages in ports when they’re still docked as the sun sets (check out the ship spelling “AHOY” below, in Bimini.

a ship in the water

It’s just a stunning ship all around, not infested with random water slide tubes or go-kart tracks like the monstrosities from the mass-market ships (although I’m sure those are fun).


My Cabin

I had a Sea Terrace on the 13th deck, which is nice and high on the ship but not too close to any public areas.

a room with a bed and a desk

The cabin had plenty of storage space (my camera was on a tripod next to the closet area so I didn’t get any good pictures of that, sorry).

In-room technology was done well, like the curtains opening when you opened the cabin door and the tablet for all in-room controls, including the TV.  This is one of those things that makes getting on a new or newly-renovated ship worth it, the thoughtful use of tech was great.

To cut down on plastic bottle usage and reduce their carbon footprint, Virgin Voyages instead has a water carafe that is refilled whenever needed so you have fresh water on the ship.

a group of glass containers on a table

There’s a small desk area and a very comfy chair where I would take video calls for work (many of my customers and internal colleagues didn’t even realize I was on a cruise).  The bed was supremely comfortable and had outlets near the bed for charging devices.

a room with a television and a bed

But let’s be honest here.  My favorite feature of the room was the Sea Terrace itself, featuring the now legendary red hammock.

a chair and a table overlooking the ocean

Ok technically it’s a chair hammock.  I spent countless hours in my hammock and even slept in it a few nights.  They’re made by Yellow Leaf Hammocks, who have created weaving communities in underserved villages in Thailand to provide stable employment and sources of income for women and men living below the poverty line.  I loved reading Yellow Leaf’s story, available here.

There was nothing better on my trip than watching the sun set from the comfort of my hammock.

a cruise ship in the water

a sunset over the water

The Virgin room numbering convention is a tribute to how the ships were built but it’s confusing.  Let’s take the 13th deck, for example.  Room numbers start with the deck number, followed by the cabin number, followed by a letter.  So an example would be 13210A, which would be a Sea Terrace cabin on the port side of the ship.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, there is also a 13210Z on the starboard side of the ship (there are also M cabins for the interior cabins).  I ended up doing a back-to-back cruise and was in very similar room numbers from one week to the next but moved from a Z to an A and got it wrong a few times.  Don’t worry, though, your bracelet will not let you into any cabin other than the one you’re supposed to be in, so you’re safe there 🙂

The Ship Interior

The “Lady Ship” interior was designed by a Creative Collective of interior designers, famous the world over for stylish boutique hotels and resorts, but they all had one thing in common – they had never designed for the cruise industry.  The public spaces are luxurious, functional, and don’t have the typical overly-vibrant shouty interiors common to the mass-market megaships.

(This is not intended to be an entirely comprehensive photojournalistic essay of every public space, just illustrating some of the design language)

As you came aboard the ship, you were in the Roundabout Atrium, one of the central hubs of the ship.

a spiral staircase in a building

Downstairs was a small entertainment venue for ship bands to play and for folks to grab a beverage.

a clock on a table

If you ever get lost on board, there are three elevator banks that have a quick and easy guide for which venues are on each floor.

a sign on a wall

Dotted around the upper deck of the Roundabout Atrium were a variety of small eateries and beer-focused bar.  Each space had its own design language to set it apart from the main walking areas, separating the areas without being obtrusive.

(and yes, there are plenty of double entendres on board, including the name of the ice cream parlor)

a counter with a neon sign

a bar with a wooden counter and a table

Next to the ice cream parlor was a great pizza parlor, where each pizza was custom-made, and also had interior/exterior dining areas.

a kitchen with a large oven

Elsewhere on the ship, next to the casino, was the champagne bar area, with lots of seating and a swanky vibe.

a bar with stools and lights

a group of bottles of champagne on a table

The place I probably spent the most time was the Grounds Club for a morning latte or three.

a restaurant with a counter and people

Every area had plentiful seating and great wifi access.


Coming Up Next

You better believe this will be a multi-part review.  Up next, we’ll get into some of the incredible food on board at some of the specialty restaurants.  Stay tuned!




Have you sailed on a Virgin Voyage?  Which ship and route?  What did you think?  Tell me in the comments below!

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