After my very disappointing transatlantic cruise onboard the Enchanted Princess in April, I was looking forward to discovering a new company, at least in the world of sea travel, Virgin Voyages. Despite a start that was greatly hampered by the pandemic, Virgin finally launched its first two ships: the Scarlet Lady and the Valiant Lady, while waiting for the next two: the Resilient Lady (August 2022) and the Brilliant Lady (2023).
It was aboard the latest to date, the Valiant Lady, that I was able to discover the promise of a new approach to cruises, seen by the very creative Richard Branson and his teams. The idea was to start from scratch, not to copy what already existed and to create a different experience. Better? The first echoes I got were quite radical: we didn’t like it, because it was too different, or we loved it, because, well, it was different! What effect was it going to have on me, for my 58th cruise, one of the last to come?
The 12-day itinerary, starting May 2, 2022: Portsmouth, La Coruña, Lisbon (overnight), Cadiz, Gibraltar, Malaga (overnight), Palma de Mallorca (til midnight), Barcelona.
Boarding is a bit later than most other cruise lines, but that’s because disembarkation is also later. And this is already a first break with customs: while most companies push you quickly towards the exit on the last day (before 8 a.m., or, at best, before 9 a.m.), the exit will be much more relaxed and will be possible until at 10:45 a.m.
Another major (and infinitely pleasant) difference: there are almost no “shouted” announcements on the loudspeakers, as it is the case with other companies. Apart from messages related to security, no “This is your Cruise Director speaking, blah blah blah, bingo at 11, art auction at 12, etc”. Useful messages are sent by text on the application. We can therefore spend whole days without being assaulted by these strident communications (and which I have nothing to do most of the time).
We do not receive a tag for the luggage, everything is managed at the port, by the company. And the tag that is affixed by the staff on the suitcases is also the one that will be used at the end of the cruise. No need to worry about it. The luggage will then be distributed by deck (the one where his cabin is located), inside the terminal. Apparently, the practices of the profession have all been questioned, and improved, simplified.
If you chose a suite, then you are a “Rockstar”. Your boarding is taken care of by a dedicated team and it goes much faster. There, we are closer to what is done in the competition. You are given a kind of bracelet (“a wearable”) which will be the means to open the cabin, and to identify you on the ship. Like Princess Cruises and its Medallion, Virgin has opted for RFID technology (making less noise about this choice, unlike the Carnival group company, which does too much about its not yet very mature system…) . The strap is black if you’re a Rockstar, red otherwise.
This cruise was my 3rd attempt with Virgin: my first booking in 2021 had been canceled due to the pandemic. My second booking in April 2022 was also canceled (I will be learned that the ship had been entirely leased to a company… and that passengers were no longer welcome). But Virgin apologized by offering several options around the amount already paid … and even a cruise offered in a cabin with a balcony to make up for it. With the credits thus generated, I was able to replace the balcony cabin with a suite, all at Virgin’s expense. Thanks !
The cabin was a “Cheeky Corner Suite”. This cabin category is located at the aft, with a huge balcony, overlooking both rear and one side of the ship. Without forgetting the hammock! What a sight! The interior surface is not larger than that of the balcony!
The bathroom is in marble, all in length with a large shower. A single large basin, and no real storage, just the possibility of storing your toiletries under the cabinet.
The entrance opens onto a large closet. A piece of furniture and a large mirror in height follow. The bed is comfortable and faces aft, and you can see the ship’s wake through 2 veranda windows. The curtains open and close automatically. Everything in the room can be controlled using a tablet: the curtains, the air conditioning, the light (with different moods and colors possible, the television, the call for room service, etc.).
At the other end of the cabin, there is a corner sofa and a table. A fridge and all the equipment for preparing cocktails are accompanied by a collection of bottles (gin, vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey, white, red, rosé wine… and a bottle of champagne and a few cans of sodas). Everything is included in the price of the cruises, it’s a privilege of Rockstars. There are even several books dealing with mixology. Two carafes (still water and sparkling water) are filled twice a day.
And finally, a turntable, accompanied by a few vinyl records, which can be exchanged for others during the cruise. There is a record store on board and bins that you can search, and buy any favorites.
Virgin Voyages presents its cruises as “all inclusive”. This is true with 2 exceptions: excursions, of course, but also alcohol. There are soft drinks included (water, coffee, orange juice, sodas), but otherwise it’s a la carte. The prices are pretty standard. Note that there is no drink package either. The only option offered is to prepay for consumption and Virgin matches the amount (for example, for a prepayment of $300, Virgin adds $50).
Wifi is included in the “surf” version. The more powerful option, “stream”, is paying ($10 per day), but was not available on this cruise. Bandwidth was not yet sufficient for this to be possible. The internet experience is therefore mixed, with some moments of high saturation, but also periods when even watching videos on Youtube was possible, probably because the number of passengers was well below the maximum capacity of the ship (850 passengers on the 2770 possible on board).