When it comes to vacationing, I typically always choose a cruise with Royal Caribbean. I really enjoy the ships, the entertainment and activities onboard, as well as the itineraries they offer.
I had been intrigued by all of the marketing I’ve seen around Virgin Voyages, but was initially put off of the higher prices. My husband and I don’t have any kids, and the idea of an adults-only cruise was definitely appealing. While we haven’t run into many issues where kids were a nuisance on our past cruises, there was one time where a tour group of teenagers onboard one of our sailings made the idea of an adults-only cruise sound like a dream.
I had always figured that I could sail on one of my favorite Royal ships for much less than a Virgin sailing, and kept going back to what I knew. However, I did not realize that Virgin Voyages offers a more all-inclusive type of pricing, especially when compared to Royal Caribbean.
The fare for an interior cabin on Virgin Voyages for a 4-night Key West and Bahamas sailing was $1734, for two cruisers. Comparatively, within the last 2 years I have sailed on 3-5 night sailings on Royal Caribbean with our cabin, even including a Junior Suite, costing less than $1000. What I had failed to realize was just how much was included in Virgin’s base fare.
They have what they call “Always Included Luxury” for their sailings, which includes not only the cabin fare, but also gratuities, group workouts, all food, essential beverages such as waters, juices, sodas and coffee stations, and even WiFi. We found that you can more often than not find a booking promotion that will also score you a “bar tab” which is a set amount of money that goes towards alcoholic drinks, mocktails, and specialty coffees.
When we sail with Royal, we have to add in the automatic gratuities, we almost always buy a WiFi package for 2 devices, and before getting Diamond status we would always purchase a beverage package. Having these included in our fare literally saved us hundreds of dollars. With this knowledge, we decided to go ahead and book the cruise, and try out a new (to us) cruise line.
After spending 4 nights onboard a Virgin Voyages cruise, here is how I would compare the experience to Royal Caribbean.
We were both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the planning process.
While booking the cruise itself was easy, what came next completely threw us off. We are used to booking our cruise, and heading straight to the Cruise Planner to ensure that we have all of the add-ons we enjoy while cruising, and it was really refreshing to not have to add anything on to enjoy our Virgin sailing.
However, that’s not to say that I didn’t miss the Cruise Planner when preparing for our Virgin sailing. Contrary to Royal Caribbean, where you can get all of your pre-cruise planning done from the computer or their app, Virgin requires you to do everything through their app. In a quick glance in the App Store, you’ll see that Virgin’s app scores a measly 1.6 stars, whereas Royal’s scores 4.8 stars. This immediately set the tone for how the planning stage would go for our cruise.
The app was not intuitive, and I constantly felt lost on which page I was on and which page I needed to get to. It also was constantly crashing, and I experienced a lot of delays when things were loading. Since you are required to fill out all of your personal information prior to sailing on it, I had to tough it out, but it really made me miss the option of being able to fill out this information on a computer like Royal Caribbean allows.
You also have to utilize the app to pre book your complimentary dining reservations, which were completely filled by the time I booked my cruise about 45 days out from sailing. This left me scrambling trying to find out exactly where and what we would be able to eat once onboard. Each time I went to check if a restaurant had a reservation available, I had to go back to the home screen and navigate back to the dining section to check a new restaurant.
I am also used to getting cruise documents prior to sailing, which typically include your sea pass and luggage tags. Virgin doesn’t require either of those, and doesn’t provide you with any documentation, so I arrived at the port feeling slightly helpless, without knowing what was exactly needed from me, and hoping I had what was needed to get on the ship.
The boarding process set the tone for our cruise.
Luckily, the boarding process was extremely easy, and I actually got onboard in the quickest amount of time of any of my cruises. After parking, we approached a porter and found out that if you don’t want to carry on your luggage, they will provide the luggage tags for you at the port entrance and take your bags at that time. We were easily able to drop our bags and head inside to check-in.
The port itself was well laid-out, and we were efficiently ushered towards an open check-in desk. Here we were given our bracelets, which acted as our sea pass and room key for the duration of our cruise. This was a huge improvement over having to carry a physical card around, especially seeing as most of my clothing doesn’t have pockets, and I have definitely lost a sea pass or two on my sailings before. The bracelet was thin enough that it wasn’t bothersome, and it felt like one less thing for me to worry about once onboard. All-in-all, from dropping our bags off to setting foot on the ship took us less than 15 minutes.
We were interested to see if the food lived up to the hype.
One of the things I was most excited to experience was the food. This is something that Virgin Voyages is known for, as they famously don’t have a main dining room or buffet on any of their ships. Instead, they have over 20 included eateries onboard, with 6 reservation sit-down restaurants, a made-to-order pizza place, fresh scooped ice cream, and plenty of other options for every cruiser.
Now, I am someone who actually enjoys the main dining room and buffet when sailing on Royal Caribbean. I enjoy knowing what to expect when it comes to the food, and getting to know the waitstaff throughout your cruise. I also appreciate the ease and quickness of eating at a buffet, as there are certain times I just want to grab a quick bite and not deal with a full sit down style service.
I was interested to see not only how the venues worked onboard Scarlet Lady, but also how good the food was, as there weren’t any up-charge specialty restaurants. At first glance, when downloading the app and immediately realizing all of the 6 reservation-required restaurants had no availability, I was worried.
I mean, if you wanted a sit down dining experience onboard, these were your only option, and I couldn’t get a reservation before 10 PM for any of the nights. I did a quick search online and found some forums from previous cruisers that they saved a lot of the seating availability for once you were onboard and connected to the WiFi. Luckily, that was the case for us, and we were able to get the dining reservations at the times we wanted, but we were definitely stressed leading up to the cruise.
Our first stop onboard was The Pizza Place, which featured made-to-order personal pizzas. You placed your order at the counter, were given a buzzer, and waited just a few minutes until your pizza was ready. As a Sorrento’s fan, I have to admit that this pizza blew Sorrento’s out of the water. Not only could you customize what you wanted on your pizza, but they also had plenty of unique options on their menu to choose from, and you quickly had a fresh pizza to enjoy.
For our dinners, we ended up eating at their Italian, Mexican and steakhouse restaurants. I found these to be on par with Royal Caribbean’s specialty restaurants, which was amazing as they didn’t cost us any extra. The food was definitely a bit more adventurous than I am used to on a cruise, but the appeal is there for foodies and those looking to try new things. I was always able to find something that I enjoyed.
For breakfasts and lunches, we mostly ate at The Galley. This food hall concept includes 8 different food venues, a specialty coffee counter, and plenty of drink stations throughout. This definitely was the closest area to a buffet, however instead of going and serving yourself, you had the option of finding a table and ordering through a server, from any of the venues, or standing in line to grab something yourself. These different food venues ranged from bento boxes, to sandwiches, salads, pastries, burgers, and more. There was absolutely something for everyone here, and it was a perfect quick meal.
Another thing that we appreciated is that around the ship you could find various grab-and-go stations, mainly consisting of salads, wraps and sandwiches that could be enjoyed anywhere on the ship. Overall, the food lived up to the hype and is definitely a selling point for Virgin Voyages.
Our cabin was impressively thought out
Of course, another extremely important aspect of cruising is your stateroom. We opted to go for an interior cabin on our sailing, and I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve stayed in interior rooms on various Royal Caribbean ships many times, and I tend to think of it as just a place to sleep, shower and change, and nothing more.
However, this is another area that Virgin Voyages has won us over in. Immediately upon entering our stateroom, we were impressed with how large it seemed. Even though it was only 177-square-feet, it had enough room for a desk, seating area, and we were able to walk around both sides of the bed. For two people, we never felt cramped or that we were getting in each other’s way when moving around the cabin.
Another selling point for me was the amount of outlets in the room. Not only were their multiple outlets around the room, but they all included USB outlets in addition to the standard American plugs. This was helpful for us, as we are used to one measly outlet on Royal Caribbean, and needing to bring an extra outlet adapter just to charge all of our electronics.
Probably one of my favorite features of the room was that the lights and TV were controlled by a tablet. If you’ve stayed in an interior room, you know just how dark they can be once the lights are turned off. With using a tablet I was able to turn them on and off from bed, and didn’t have to stumble across the cabin in the dark.
They also had a variety of preset “moods” for you to choose from, which would change the room to different colors and hues, such as a Hangover setting with lower lights. Something else that we weren’t used to, was having a large selection of popular movies and shows to choose from. On Royal Caribbean, we are stuck with the 30–ish channels, that seem to somehow be almost all news or sports. This was a great way to ensure that if you wanted to spend some time in your cabin, you would have something to watch.
We felt that the onboard activities and entertainment were lacking
While at this point we were blown away by the food and the room, we soon found out exactly where Virgin Voyages was lacking. We made our way up to the pool deck to see what it looked like, and were shocked to find just two very small pools for the entire cruise ship.
These pools looked like they could comfortably fit no more than 20 people each, and it made me curious how that would work on our sea day. Spoiler - on our sea day I counted 45 people crammed in the pool at one point.
This was extremely disappointing to us, as we love to spend our sea days by and in the pool. Royal Caribbean has done a great job in ensuring that there is a lot of space on their pool decks, and especially with their newer ships, having enough pools to fit the needs of their crowds.
After realizing there was no way we would be fighting for a spot in the pool, we packed up our stuff and headed inside for the remainder of our pool day. I wasn’t all that shocked to see that many other people had the same idea, and were also looking for things to do inside and away from the pool decks.
Just another one of the areas that I feel Royal Caribbean shines in, is having activities going all day long, with multiple choices to fit every cruiser at some point. I found myself missing the lineup that Royal Caribbean offers both through the day and into the evening. While the shows that Virgin Voyages did have were excellent, they often repeated throughout the cruise, and by the second night we had seen the only two shows we were interested in.
Though, to their credit Virgin Voyages did offer some unique areas that we weren’t expecting to see on an adults-only ship. They had an arcade that was complete with retro games, and had the added benefit of not being sticky and gross from the lack of children. They also had seesaws and swings around the outdoor decks, as well as plenty of hammocks and hot tubs scattered around for people to enjoy.
Virgin’s The Beach Club, at Bimini Bahamas offered a more upscale experience compared to Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay
One of the things that I was most excited for on this sailing, was visiting Virgin’s beach club, the Beach Club at Bimini, Bahamas. This private beach club, while not on a private island, is one of their signature stops on their Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries.
I am a huge fan of Perfect Day at CocoCay, as I enjoy the all-inclusiveness of the island, and not having to book an excursion to have a great time. I was hoping that this would be the same for The Beach Club, and we didn’t book any excursions for our day there.
Immediately upon entering The Beach Club, it reminded me of Coco Beach Club on CocoCay. However, unlike Coco Beach Club, Virgin’s beach club is included in your cruise fare. Upon entering, we were happy to see that there was plenty of seating around the pool area, with and without umbrellas.
There were two pools, one with a DJ booth and one with a volleyball net. Both had plenty of in-water loungers for people to enjoy as well. Making our way down to the beach, again we saw rows upon rows of complimentary seating, and some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. This Beach Club truly felt like we should have paid a lot of money to access.
Like other cruise line private destinations, the lunch was also included. However, you were not going to find your typical island buffet here. Instead, you were able to order from a small menu featuring island-inspired dishes. While I can admit that these were on par with their food onboard, as a pickier eater I was left with not many choices to eat. I know that most cruisers would prefer this type of food, but personally, I have always been happy with the food at CocoCay, and the wide variety that ensures that everyone can find something suited to their taste buds.
Aside from the food, the rest of our day at this private destination was amazing. We got to enjoy the pool float party, where they threw about 50 inflatables into the pool for people to enjoy while the DJ kicked off the afternoon, as well as the beautiful beach.
We left The Beach Club agreeing that we would pick a future itinerary solely because of a stop here. We felt the value we received was well above what you receive at other private islands, for not paying anything extra.
My husband and I both agreed that we would sail with Virgin Voyages again.
While we are lifelong Royal Caribbean fans, we both left this sailing agreeing that we would be happy to cruise Virgin Voyages again. We would be interested in trying one of their other ships, and a different itinerary to compare experiences. We agreed that if our friend group got together to sail again, we would urge them to choose Virgin sailing, as we saw a lot of groups having fun on our cruise.
However, if the prices between a Royal Caribbean sailing and a Virgin Voyages sailing were similar, after the add-ons I would need to take into consideration with Royal, I would probably book with Royal first. I tend to be a creature of habit, and love knowing exactly what to expect with Royal. I also consider the ship part of the destination, and want to ensure that I can spend my sea days with fun things to do, and I know that I will find that on a Royal Caribbean ship.
Our sailing on Virgin Voyages opened up our eyes to trying out different cruise lines, and broadening our horizons.