Like many in the UK my impression of the demographic who “go on a cruise” is of people in their 70s or 80s who’re too old to travel themselves and instead go on what is basically a floating hotel to different places, then do organised excursions on land. When my girlfriend suggested we go on a Virgin Voyages cruise my initial thought was “but I’m way too young for a cruise, I know I’m getting older but I’m not that much older”. It turns out I was completely wrong and instead I had the best holiday ever! Some review style writing and a shed load of photos to follow.
What is Virgin Voyages?
Virgin Voyages are an adults only cruise company (part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group) which (as of the time of writing) has two brand new, state of the art cruise ships that can house around 2700 passengers. They sail around the Caribbean and Mediterranean and we travelled on the latter. What sets it apart from the stereotypical “oldies” cruise ships my imagination made me think of is that their offering seems aimed at a much younger audience.
On board you can find several gyms (and I don’t mean just a few running machines, there is everything you’d need to stay in shape if you’re an elite level athlete, want to do yoga with an amazing view, hit a heavy punch bag or if you just want to do arm curls in front of a mirror). There’s even a running track! With countless classes from early morning yoga to HIIT sessions to one on one personal trainers to massages (all booked via the app on your phone while on board) there’s plenty to stay active. Plus you can get your haircut or even have a tattoo if you so desire (I skipped this one).
With over 20 restaurants (more about them later – spoiler: the food was amazing) you’re never stuck for something to eat and they have a full blown theatre where we saw various acts from acrobats to stand up comedy to a man who could solve the rubik’s cube blindfolded in seconds (I can solve the rubik’s cube in a few minutes so to see someone with such mastery was something to behold – very impressive).
There were pools and jacuzzis as you’d expect along with a large selection of bars. But the most striking thing to me was the staff who were absolutely delightful. They told us they were encouraged by Virgin to be themselves and it was nice to see so many of the crew being just that – there were countless nationalities, many people with tattoos, awesome haircuts and they made the trip even more fun as we got to know a lot of them.
And the demographic of the people on the cruise? I’d say they were mostly 20s-30s, fit, active and I definitely felt more towards the upper limit in terms of age (although there were people older than me). However age didn’t matter, everyone was treated the same and there was something for everyone to do.
Prior to departure Virgin Voyages offers a bidding process where you can bid for room upgrades to some of their “Rock Star” suites. Think business class vs economy class. I figured “what the hell”, bid on a few and ended up getting what’s called a “Brilliant Suite”. It was appropriately named.
The room was massive. It had a walk in wet room, the sort of bathroom I’d expect in a luxury hotel, a super king sized bed, balcony (all balconies have a hammock – where I spent plenty of time swinging watching the sea go by), L-shaped sofa to relax on, a record player (oh yes), a large drinks cabinet with free alcohol (almost none of it we drank but I can say the tequila was lovely) and a really handy vanity area for looking even more gorgeous (which I left to my girlfriend because it was never going to work on me).
One of the coolest features was the rooms lights and curtains were controlled from a tablet. It contained “moods” that once clicked would set the mood. One was “get it on” which closed the curtains, turned the lights to a nice shade of pink and played exactly the sort of tune you’d expect to hear if you were going to “get it on”! First time that button was pressed it was hilarious! 😀 I love the attention to detail.
Having such a luxurious and relaxing cabin meant we were more than happy to spend time chilling there. It was great after a day hiking up a hill on shore to come back and unwind, watching dolphins from the hammock. 12 nights there didn’t feel like long enough, it very quickly felt like home, something I never find even in top class hotels.
Now that said, having had a look at the standard rooms while on the ship I would also have been quite happy to spend time there too. With clever design features to maximise the space and the option of having “day mode” where the bed converts into sofas it wouldn’t have been much of a hardship. Although for me having a balcony would be essential, I loved relaxing watching the world go by from it.
The Valiant Lady (The Ship)
A cruise ship that can house 2700 guests comfortably is pretty big. Fortunately there were just under 1000 people on board when we travelled which meant we had free rein and never felt overcrowded anywhere we went. There were plenty of places to chill out and relax in the sun, or in the shade, or in the quiet, or where there were other people, in fact you could pretty much imagine any setting you wanted and go and find it on board. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the design of the ships various areas to provide different moods or atmospheres with a common design language throughout.
Staying in a rock star suite meant we had access to Richard’s Terrace, a section at the front of the ship where there was free champagne on offer in the late afternoon. It was cool, but we found our favourite spot was towards the back of the ship so didn’t spend a great amount of time there. Interestingly the average age of people on Richard’s Terrace was probably mid-60s! No conclusions drawn.
Having never been on a cruise ship before I had to keep reminding myself I was actually on a cruise ship. My brain thought I was in some luxury hotel / village and there was nothing to give away that I was floating on water. Well except when walking out on deck, obviously.
The staff were always on hand so were happy to go and get you food and drink lest you get off your lazy arse and get it yourself. Which brings me onto the next point…
Oh my. Where to begin. You know when you do your web based research about an eatery and of course all the photos of the food look amazing? Usually it’s because the photographer has used all kinds of tricks and things like hair spray to make the food look delicious and better than the reality. In this case, if anything the food was better than I expected, and I was expecting very very good food.
With over 20 restaurants to choose from, we were wondering if we’d be able to try everything in the 12 days of time on ship. Half a dozen of the restaurants need to be booked in advance – which you do on the app on your phone – but the rest are drop in. We started with “The Test Kitchen” as that looked the most interesting on paper with a selection of experimental style dishes and it did not disappoint. I’ve had tasting menus in Michelin star restaurants and while it wasn’t quite to that standard, it was pretty close. Thinking we’d already been to the best restaurant we went to “Extra Virgin” a couple of nights later (an Italian) and that was even better! Incredibly fresh seafood, delicious sauces and cooked to perfection. That high standard of cuisine was the common thread throughout our stay.
There was literally everything you could want whether you wanted to eat healthy salads, cakes, fried food, tasting menus, drink fancy coffees, etc. I can see why people put weight on when going on cruises if this is what it’s like – and the fact that all the food was included in the price made it even more of a bargain. I’ve been to a lot of restaurants over the years but few have rivalled the food I had on the ship. Here’s a selection of photos that show how it looked, but trust me, it tasted even better! (And no hairspray was used).
The Land Based Activities
Ok so a cruise is on water but eventually it docks and you can either stay on the boat or get off and go do something. While Virgin Voyages offered excursions you could book via the app, we prefer just wandering and hiking around so Google Maps combined with general web-based research gave us some great ideas for where we landed. Normally their mediterranean cruises start and end at Barcelona but we were on a one-off run from Portsmouth to Barcelona via La Coruña, Lisbon, Cádiz, Gibraltar, Málaga and Palma de Mallorca. In each place we found plenty to do and it was great spending a day wandering around, getting in the sights and then going back to the ship and relaxing. It was literally like staying in a luxury hotel that moved you from place to place while you slept. A lot easier than driving around and living out of a suitcase.
Can you tell I was coming around to liking cruises?
Anyway, as wonderful as the cruise ship was, it was nice to hit land and explore. And explore we did!
Overall Thoughts and Summary
Having previously never been the sort of person remotely interested in a cruise, I’ve 100% changed my mind. It’s a great way to see a bunch of different places without the stress of driving around, making connections, changing hotels and locations and things inevitably going wrong. When I drove around New Zealand that road trip was part of the fun, but if you want to both explore and unwind then a cruise like Virgin Voyages is an excellent way to go.
It’s basically two holidays in one. One is staying in a luxury all inclusive resort with amazing food and entertainment. The other is touring different cities on the coast. With none of the drawbacks! I’ll certainly cruise with them again, and it’s also made me want to check some of the other companies out to see what they’re like.
And when I am in my 70s to 80s, then I’ll know which ones cater to my age group. But for now, Virgin Voyages very much gets the John Conners Seal of Approval! Except the wifi, that was glacially slow. But I was on holiday so I didn’t care! 🙂
After seeing how much a glacier has receded in just 22 years, it seems odd that you decided to go on a cruise ship trip, given that it’s one of the worst things you can do from a climate change perspective. In your blog post about the glaciers, you remarked that seeing the change was “unsettling”, and that it made you upset. It’s the invisible and slow disconnected nature of CO2 and climate change that makes it possible for us all to still do these things, which is unfortunate.
Whether I go or not it changes nothing – the cruise still happens. What do you suggest? I sit at home feeling depressed that there is literally nothing I can do to change the onslaught of climate change and wait until I die and I’m one less mouth to feed? Speaking of which, I never had kids, which is in fact one of the best things I can do for climate change. I’m not flying around the world any more, I don’t commute. I’m doing what I can. What are you doing?
Hey, I don’t blame you. These things are hard, and individual action in a raging sea always seems pointless. But I learned as a kid that if we all moved in the same direction, we could turn a massive swimming pool into a fast-moving whirlpool, or a powerful wavepool (I’m surprised we didn’t break the pool, we got that water moving so fast it would be half empty when were done). By not paying for a cruise trip, you make it less profitable for cruise companies to operate. I don’t think you should sit at home feeling depressed and starve yourself to death, or deprive yourself of luxuries, but rather choose different luxuries. And sometimes its OK to do what we want regardless of the externalities, because we can’t always worry about what’s best and our own lives are more important than everyone else’s, and maybe this is one of those times.
Personally, I bike whenever I can, rather than drive, and I advocate for making my region a more bike-friendly place. This week I biked close to 100 km. I wish I could bike or walk everywhere, but I live 10 km outside of a car-dependant suburban city in Ontario, Canada and that’s just not possible right now (I hope to move soon). Personally I’m quite optimistic that we’ll figure this climate change thing out, and it won’t be so bad in the end.
(I don’t think anyone should deprive themselves of children if they actually want them though; reproduction rates naturally decrease when education levels increase, and most developed countries are already close to or below the replacement rate.)
I always look forward to your blog posts, because it’s a glimpse into the life of someone radically different from my own, and not many people keep blogs anymore. I used to use JBS back in the day, which is how I found this blog.
When I was younger I used to share your optimism for the human race and our ability to “make a difference”. But I’ve seen too much of what humanity is and does over the years up close to have any faith in its capability to do the right thing for the long term. In small numbers yes, but collectively no. You don’t have to look further than Texas to Eastern Ukraine to countless acres of palm oil plantations around the world to see what humanity is about. There is enough wealth to abolish poverty worldwide. But it’ll never happen.
The notion of personal responsibility is a neat tool that keeps people looking at each other rather than the real problem. It’s like the meme of a rich person with a pile of cookies telling the middle class man who has only one cookie that the immigrant over there wants his cookie. Classic misdirection and we all lap it up. And speaking of which don’t get me started on conspiracy theories!
The planet will endure and thrive again long after humanity has gone. And I’m happy with that future.
For many years I’ve been tempted to write about my view of the world and everything in it but it would not be very uplifting! 😀
Anyway thanks for hanging around. Figured I’d get back to blogging again. I always wrote for myself anyway and often find it therapeutic and leads to some interesting conversations.