I follow /r/VirginVoyages on Reddit and have been absorbing experiences, tricks, tips, and things to try or avoid for the last 6 months since I booked my cruise. I was onboard and not having a great experience with Virgin Voyages as a cruise line but continued to see people onboard posting about how amazing it was.
So I took some notes that I had written up in VSCode in Markdown while doing some other real-world work (waiting for servers to reboot, internet to load, etc.) and dumped them into a reddit thread - probably my largest write-up on Reddit ever - to mixed reviews.
I'm whiny. I'm just hurting myself. That multi-billion dollar company doesn't care if I withhold spending. Who reviews hot dogs and pretzels? You're just a square, a prude. An RCCL shill (this made me laugh.) You can't be having a good time if you brought up bad things. Etc., etc..
The thing that people on the internet seem to forget is that you can be critical of an experience while still enjoying yourself. My wife and I had a very good week in the sun, sand, and warmth. But it wasn't because of the cruise line's efforts.
This was our fourth cruise. After my last cruise on RCL, I enjoyed it so much that I bought cruises for 20 of my family members to all go with us next year - basically my mid-life crisis instead of a sports car. I'm also scheduled on Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas in 2024 with my wife and another couple (that I blame for getting me into cruising in the first place.)
Before we begin:
- I am generally an open-person
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- I don't make a living off of reviews like many others who post.
- This post will make me $0.00 USD (it might even cost me server resources)
- This is a dedicated, private server running the open-source software Ghost
I work in technology and I am proficient in managing and administrating SEO, analytics, and trackers - but I choose not to, because the United States needs data privacy laws for consumers. Badly.
I'm not going to do a full re-post of my original post on Reddit but there will certainly be overlap in this write-up.
We believe that Virgin Voyages has a lot of good things going for them - but they need to figure out how to provide a reasonably comparable experience regardless of ship capacity.
The May 21st - 26th Scarlet Lady Riviera Maya was not a cruise experience that made me confident enough to re-book another Virgin Voyages cruise until they get some time operating under full capacity.
Would I re-book myself? Not yet.
Would I recommend it for others? Probably - but not if you want or need the experience of being waited on. (Which is why I wouldn't recommend it to my bougie and/or disabled family and friends.)
Everyone is already aware embarkation was delayed by roughly an hour (rumor is a Google charter of some sort.) I don't care about this - and literally nobody did besides some minor "awwws" when they made the announcements. This is not the problem that I care about.
The issue was that when we checked in - our Splash of Romance (SoR) package was clearly marked and paid for - but we didn't get wrist-bands.
I had read that you get a different color band - but it's a completely separate band - you'll have two. So keep that in mind if you have SoR - make sure you get the SoR Wrist band when you check-in before going to the boarding waiting area.
The check-in staff should give you a SoR wristband along with your actual Virgin Band for you automatically - but we didn't know what we didn't know at the time.
So because we had not been given our SoR wristband on top of our normal wristband, one of the Terminal V staff members physically grabbed my wife and I by the arms and pushed us to the side.
Even after providing the requested Splash of Romance package details in the official Virgin Voyages app (like at all other steps in this process to this point) he still decided we were deviants and did not let us continue - all while his colleague was telling us to go on.
After he again tried to tell us to go back and get in Zone A's line (which was after our original SoR and and the repeat sailors boarding) we again proved we were SoR and had been denied boarding and another person stepped in and let us proceed finally.
Unfortunately, I was able to go through the line but my wife was denied boarding. They didn't tell me though, I had to wait there for a few minutes until I realized she wasn't coming through and then push back through the crowd of Zone B people who were going through the security lines.
Long story short - you can read details on the Reddit thread - they screwed up our actual sailor wristbands multiple times so we had to get new ones twice in addition to the SoR issue we first experienced. We were severely delayed and missed booking the things we cared about trying (specifically items like the Grog Walk and other social activities that Reddit collectively recommends booking immediately when you get onboard and that SoR for pre-boarding is worth it strictly just for that before considering the other benefits.)
We asked for a refund - and for the record had no intention of still trying to take advantage of the other benefits - and made that clear to them. We weren't just trying to parlay a complaint into free services. I'm a little more principled than that, sometimes to the dismay of my wife.
They gave us a bottle of wine on Day 2. I sent them a thank you message to Sailor Services via the app. I was annoyed that the ice bucket with the wine (sweating) was placed next to my computer - but no harm, no foul.
They refunded my SoR package to the originating credit card on Day 3 while also offering for us to take advantage of the 3-hour Spa Pass. We did decline the Spa Pass - it didn't feel like a relaxing option to me at the time.
It was strange that someone complained that I reviewed the food on the cruise-line that everyone talks about how much better of a food situation it has compared to others.
The little candy window at the side is legit though: Twizzlers, Swedish fish, fruit loops bars, and more.
We (well, I) ate it all. But like...this is not the level of quality food that Virgin Voyages themselves sets as their baseline.
We were 15 minutes late to the Sail-Away Party and missed the free-flowing champagne. It was fun to walk around and people-watch but the bars were 3-people deep and we couldn't find anyone serving drinks. I lodged a chat complaint - they said I just missed it. We went to the bar and grabbed two sangrias after the party cleared out a little bit.
They never appeared to charge us for these two drinks. (Never shown on the wallet despite the scan - possibly a comped drink or something, not sure. We left enough on our bar-tab promotion to cover them, but they never did.)
We noticed two different types of groups in the Test Kitchen:
- Those who knew (or figured out) what it was, and were enjoying the experience.
- Those who didn't know what they were getting into, and moved through their meal quickly.
Reddit actually prepared me well for this - I knew it would be some unique preparations with small serving sizes - and I also prepared my wife. We enjoyed the experience - except the Beetroot dish.
We had a really good time shopping in Mexico. I got a couple new sugar skulls for my collection, a dose of Xanax so I can fly without anxiety (and because the American health system is a failure) and then went back to the ship to enjoy the less crowded time. (We also do this on Royal Caribbean.)
The Pool and Spas
Someone joked to us that the pool had a Max Capacity of 14 people. I'm not sure that is actually a joke now that I think about it more. The pool is small - this is not a cruise you take because of how intricate or spacious the pools are.
They are fun to party in - lots of champagne chugging - but it looks like they only drain the pools on the last day of the cruise so I would use the pool early on if people soup is something that disgusts you.
The Beach Club at Bimini has a great set of pools, so don't fret. The wellness pool seems a little cleaner, too. (Less drink spills.)
There is also a wellness pool - it's like a luke-warm hot-tub with a ton of seating. It was enjoyable to relax in and did not have the same party vibe (or, the over-the-top party vibe) as the main pool deck - despite being 30 feet away.
We also went in the spas in the evening when it was a little cooler and it was mostly uncrowded - people complained of temperatures not being hot enough - but I guess the one we were in was different and was hot.
No jets/bubbles though (that any in the groups who joined us could find either.)
Spa Pass & Services
While we did decline their olive-branch free spa-pass after cancelling our Splash of Romance package, the only real complaint that I have from my non-experience with the Spa is that I wish they had reflexology-specific (legs and feet) massage options advertised.
I would have enjoyed (and paid for that) regardless of on-boarding and service issues.
We also did look at the services back in April when restaurants opened up and didn't find anything that really spoke to us - but the poor service upon embarkation cemented not splurging.
Speaking of restaurant bookings 45 days before your sailing, its in UTC time, so it was 8PM Eastern the night before advertised when bookings opened in the app for my wife and I.
The shared-table offering was fun. This was my wife's favorite meal of our cruise - the company was a big part of that. My wife said the chicken was one of her favorite things. I ate it everything - beef, shrimp, octopus, pork fat - all good - even the pickled radish.
The only universal complaint was the rice needed to be better seasoned. (One of the couples with us got up and started re-seasoning everything for the rest of us, so it worked out)
Mix Soju with Corona Extra (or any beer, I guess?) and it's a delicious shot. We were taught this by our new friends at Gunbae.
Razzle Dazzle (Brunch)
The food was entertaining and pretty good - I enjoyed reading the backstory on the menu.
- The cookies were good, but needed milk and were very rich
- The rainbow churros were good and the purple ice cream went well with it
- My wife loved the tater tots and cheese-sauce
- The Fairy Toast is neat, but the bread part needs some work
- Bacon - Tasted like it was cooked over a campfire (good memories for me)
- Chocolate Chip Scone - I always forget that scones are biscuits, but it was very good (I was thirsty with no drink service)
- Apple Crustini - Seriously good from both my wife and I
The service was very bad. Plenty of details in the original Reddit post - but to illustrate: we made friends with our neighboring table by them telling us how they found the bottom of their bottomless drink purchase too many times already.
Full-disclosure: I never found the hidden Razzle Dazzle
The Wake was good. The line was long - but it had a nice seating area.
I finally was able to try a roasted garlic clove - TikTok prepared me for these and it was as delicious as they look. The green butter was good - I don't remember what it was - but it wasn't pesto like I expected. (Or maybe it was and I don't know pesto well.)
The point is, the bread and butter were really good
Day 4 (At Sea Day)
The Galley was busy but we found a table after a few minutes without much fuss.
- The Thai Curry Ramen was very good
- The Scarlet Lady from the Sweet Delight was super rich but super good
- Basically all the little sweets were delicious
We hung out on the pool deck - busy but not as bad as the first sea day. We walked around the track for a while and it was nice and breezy. Our favorite part of the ship is probably Deck 16 Aft, where the sea-saw and tire swings are - as well as the rope netting.
- The tire swings are so nice. Breezy and comfy, with a bit of sun and shade.
- There was tons of available seating (daybeds, bar seats, tables in shade) towards the back near the bar and rope/net section.
We enjoyed a bottle of wine in this area - the background music isn't as party-ish as the pool so it was a little more relaxing for us in particular.
The pool party looked fun too. People soup (alcoholic drinks and bottles get spilled, suntan and oils, etc), but fun nonetheless.
Ice cream #2, Pizza #3
The ice cream line was short. I had red velvet cone with chocolate and strawberry - delicious and light.
My wife was hungrier so we stopped at the pizza place, ordered a pepperoni pizza, and waited for it outside in the pizza place outdoor seating area.
If you're going to wait for pizza, that's certainly the place to do it.
It was good - it's hard to do a direct comparison with Sorrento's without having them both in hand, but I like both of them. Perhaps leaning towards Sorrento's because they use much more/gooier cheese. You can order soda at the counter when you order as an FYI.
My wife and I both wish there were a few additional options:
- Order via the Virgin Voyages app for delivery
- Order via the Virgin Voyages app for pickup
- Pizza-by-the-slice for quick visits
We went to Pink Agave on Scarlet Night and it was extremely busy. Even with a reservation we waited 20 minutes to see the hostess, and another 5 for a table. Tables were being turned extremely fast and it felt rushed - like we were being rushed to eat and move.
We opened the bottle of wine they gave us and were basically chugging it because all the couples seated around us had cleared tables and we felt awkward trying to enjoy the time since people were waiting.
The food was pretty good though. My wife thought the corn was a little tart for her taste, but the Chorizo Hash, Skirt Steak, and Shrimp were all delicious.
The outdoor portion was cancelled (lightning), and since we had late dinner reservations we missed the announcement that it moved.
We figured it out pretty quickly when nobody was on the pool deck, but we met a few other confused couples as well and eventually found the party inside.
It could have been our apps, but a change in venue for the biggest party of the week felt like it deserved more communication
Bimini Beach Club
We originally booked at Cabana on the beach, but cancelled it due to embarkation frustrations. We are glad we did, but it's because it wasn't necessary after-all. Even with the full sailing, we never had issues finding chairs.
The rows are pretty close together, so just be careful of your head as you walk down them - but you'll also avoid people the farther from the edges of the paths you are.
We got two pitchers of Poolside Sangria - but beware: this stuff was incredibly strong - verified by others also ordering it. We also had really bad service both times:
- Pitcher #1: Another person pointed out they were skipping me and my wife multiple times and then they served us - we thanked her - she was very nice.
- Pitcher #2: I was waiting for service alone - but 6 couples/groups who showed up after me were served before me. I asked if I was being an asshole or did something wrong for them to ignore me for so long, and the girl at the bar watching this all unfold chimed in and said she didn't think I was being an asshole. The staff apologized for being understaffed.
Help Back To The Room
That Poolside Sangria knocked me on my butt. We collectively drank two pitchers all-day but the second one was pretty quick because we were trying to use up our remaining bar tab promotion before heading back to the ship.
I drunk-walked with my wife back to my room and when we went through security they checked on me to ensure I was safe (i.e., fluids, water, etc.) but otherwise they were very courteous - mostly concerned for my wife.
A shower and nap got me back up and running - but not in time to miss my Extra Virgin reservation.
There were two areas for smoking:
- Deck 6 Smoking Room - A "fish bowl" experience that keeps smoke mostly out of the casino (especially in comparison to other cruise lines)
- Deck 16 Outdoor - They had umbrellas, seats, and tables and kept it generally pretty clean.
Overall, I liked this better than the open-smoking casino concept of the past. Lots of vape usages. Lots of cigars. On RCL, the smoking section on the pool deck was like one entire side of the ship - this felt more controlled - easier to avoid when walking around. (I'm an ex smoker.)
There were a few "do you mind if we smoke weed in here?" requests. But mostly limited to areas where it is expected and everyone was respectful that I saw.
Note: Anecdotally, the older crowd would generally disapprove of requests to smoke marijuana while the younger crowed was generally indifferent or supportive
Ship Eats Room Service
It honestly wasn't great. The service-feedback loop was also pretty bizarre - the app would tell you to contact Sailor Service, who would then tell you they don't handle Ship Eats (it's like a different company?) and to call Ship Eats from your room phone. That number was just constantly busy.
We ordered room service twice. Both times it took 60-65 minutes. Both times we did not receive a majority of our orders. One time they placed the bag on our door (because our Do Not Disturb light was on) and when I opened it after confirming delivery via the app, the bag slid down the door handle (the handle opens by pressing down) and busted open an aluminum can when it hit the floor - soaking the partial order we did receive.
I get it: a Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events situation... but yeah.
Even for water refills ordered through the app, it would take 45 minutes. We learned to stop by the galley and grab some water to take back to the room anytime we were near it or to use the galley in lieu of ordering late-night food.
Not all of us the ability to disconnect - I work in a 24/7 industry and provide technical support - so having the ability to both communicate and remotely connect via SSH and/or RDP to necessary infrastructure over a VPN was important.
The base-level (free) internet will not do it for you. You can peruse social media and do some reading fairly easily, but you won't do well with anything more advanced. (Although in the very early mornings I could sometimes connect over Splashtop.)
I upgraded to the paid plan ($50/cruise) and it supports only 3 devices. The speed was enough to connect via SSH fine, but RDP/Splashtop sessions were extremely slow - like 1 Frame Per 5 Seconds.
I ended up getting a Splashtop connection back to my work computer which allowed me to do all the heavy lifting on real internet (gig fiber) so it worked out. But the Starlink Service we had on RCL was much better, even if more expensive, and didn't require me to utilize what is essentially an off-ship jump box to get work done.
The Room (and bathroom)
We had a Limited View Balcony Guarantee rate room. It was nice - the size was fine for the two of us. We didn't spend a whole lot of time there. The shower and toilet seemed bigger than what we remember on our other cruise experiences.
My wife thought they could use more hooks for hanging stuff, similar to how a Moxy hotel might.
- There is an electronic touch-panel near the cabin door (maybe hidden by the curtain to the closet) that allows you to mark your room as do-not-disturb or requesting service. This is the different color lights you see on the outside walking down the hall.
- The tablet control is really cool, but we would have liked more music options. It's possible we missed it but we could only find the front-ship camera channel and music and the songs associated with the 4 environment/mood settings.
The bathroom itself had one weird thing: no hand soap?
The only thing we could think is that the expectation is that you open the shower door and use the body wash? Or did we just not get soap in our bathroom?
The Red Hammock
It would have been nice, but even without the actual hammock we still got a chair (which surprised me!) It was comfortable for reading, storm-watching, or airing-out in - but not great for naps or lounging.
Service: What service?
During our entire trip, we were only offered a drink once (when not in a restaurant sitting at a table) and it didn't happen until the 4th day of our sailing.
On Royal Caribbean, If you do not have a drink in your hand, you are constantly asked if you want something. This did get annoying sometimes, but Virgin Voyages showed me what the other side of this looks like: a complete lack of service.
This appears to be a common issue we heard complaints, especially from the older crowd who weren't as mobile or interested in standing in bar lines for a drink.
There needs to be some middle-ground. I think a lot of people were tipping cash to get service - something they specifically tell you to not worry about in the Virgin Voyages marketing. On RCL I can tip via card - not with the band.
My primary suggestions if you want to sail Virgin Voyages and be served are:
- Bring cash, tip often, and repeat the same server
- Get a Rockstar or Mega-Rockstar suite
- Plant at a bar, and don't move.
- Bring someone who will run errands for you
No major problems here - although we booked a 10:15AM departure in the app and had Do Not Disturb light on, we did have room service attempt to come in around 9:30am.
When trying to de-board and scan-out, we were stopped and redirected back inside to the "Red Desk." Not as ominous as it sounds, they actually paid out our credit in cash directly. I suppose it makes sense for them to not carry any of that forward.
I was happy to not have to worry about a waiting period - or the impending economic crash of the banking system - and to get my cash immediately.
We got a little sticker indicating we had seen the Red Desk and were then allowed to disembark. We made it through CPB with no issues, but a reminder that they store this data for a long, long time - and can likely be used against you. Vote for better (any!) privacy laws.