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  • Writer's pictureColette DeGrazia

My take on Virgin Voyages

I will preface my comments by saying that my Virgin Voyages on-board experience is limited to a 6 hour visit on Scarlet Lady this past week while docked in Miami. She's preparing for her Mermaiden Voyage in just a few days. I am a keen observer but don't have the full on experience today but once I complete my 5 night sailing, embarking 10/15, I will update and include anything I left out in a future newsletter, promise! First Impressions It takes 27 seconds to make a first impression. Well, Scarlet did impress. To tell the truth, I was teary when I boarded. After all I've been through as a travel advisor and all the voyages I have canceled and rebooked, it got to me. Cruising is back, finally! We know how to do this and we CAN do this, safely! There's nothing like seeing happy travelers! This leaves me wondering if my time on Scarlet was magnified by all these feelings. The jury is still out if it's a good fit for me & Rajiv. I expect to have this sorted out in my mind after my own voyage. My recommendations are routed in what is best for the clients I serve so while I really like this brand, it may not be for you. Read on. Vibe Here are the words/phrases I would use to describe the vibe on board: energetic, stimulating, active, youthful, modern, kitschy, vibrant, experimental, techy, yummy, indulgent, boutiquee, boujee, hip, 1970 meets 2030, loud, kind, service oriented, good corporate citizens, cutting edge, joie de vivre, safe, respectful, inclusive, independent, unique, rebellious, bold. Are you forming a picture yet? Fitness Fans this IS your cruise line It's apparent immediately that there is a very strong focus on well-being when you walk around the ship. The centrally located B-Complex, on either side of the main pool, called the Aquatic Club, weaves in an area for building & balancing opposite to the biking & burning area. There's a training camp for group fitness, a Well-Being Circular pool, an Athletic Club and The Runway jogging track as well as The Perch outdoor wellness place. Group classes are a major part of the activities on board and happen all around the ship, not just in a mirrored room with 4 walls. And we shouldn't forget nourishing your body - Gym & Tonic offers up healthy juices and a full bar. More later on the cuisines available on board. Spa and Other Services Redemption Spa has all you need to splurge onboard. The thermal suite includes a mud room, salt room, sauna, steam room, hot and cold plunge pools and heated marble hamman benches. A first on any ship at sea is Squid Ink, a working Tattoo Studio. The Tune-up (manis and pedis), Dry Dock the salon and Stubble & Groom barber shop are also ready for you. I enjoyed a killer view while getting a pampering pedicure in Tune-up while on board. Ahhhhh. Boarding Process and Voyage Well Most pre-boarding is done via the Virgin Voyages app by the Sailor. At this time, the app is still in beta mode so all features aren't fully functional. We can expect staggered boarding times for all cruise lines to handle the added steps that this pandemic has served up. All in all I think this is a better approach. We were 700 and boarding time started at 7am, we arrived around 9am and we were on board by 10am. This included ID and Vaccination card check, making a testing appointment, getting the test, going through security and waiting for the results. It was seamless & very stress free. I am so looking forward to this process on a regular sailing. Talk about easy! The nasal swab test was also totally painless, my eyes didn't even water! Bravo to the team at Virgin for making this part seamless. I can't tell you of the painful process to board a ship for ship inspections in the past without COVID. They have it down and I think this is one of the best enhancements to boarding which is the first in-person interaction sailors will have. Dress Code Stop holding your breathe, there are no formal nights on VV. Don't pack that tux or ballgown. Get as dolled up or down as you want! They do encourage you to wear more than a bathing suit to go to a restaurant and consider shoes, but your style is your style. Who are they to judge? I suppose more will be less? We shall see! They will have soirees which may or may not include PJ Parties Under the Stars, Retro Glam and Scarlet nights. Keep some space in that suitcase for your festive attire and watch the app for updates on your particular sailing. Bimini Beach Club and Shore Things Every sailing leaving from Miami has a stop in Bimini with a stay into the evening. This Bahamian Island is 57 miles from Port Miami and measures 9 square miles. What is cool is that the crew on board will be manning the beach club, not some local crew. You can rent cabanas or find a shady spot to soak it all in. There's plenty to do, places to quench your thirst and find a bite to eat. Every port will have Virgin designed excursions that are not your average tour. They're Instagram-able, Small Group sized and use Local Hang outs for added culture. They categorize the offerings as relaxing, energetic, cultured, daring, once in a lifetime and Richard's Shortlist (aka Richard Branson). Prices seem in line with what is in the market. The shortlist is impressive and they have a varied selection that should appeal to all. Foodie Paradise You won't find any buffets on this ship or set dining times. The food has been the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Brad Farmerie and Sohui Kim (of The Good Fork and Insa in NYC). They classify their restaurants in this manner: Refined, Elevated, Casual Everyday and Fast Casual. The Galley, a food court per se, serves up fast casual breads, deserts, noodles, bento boxes, burgers, tacos, daily offerings, and a diner (open 24x7). Nothing on the ship is self-serve. Our lunch at elevated Pink Agave (Mexican cuisine) did not disappoint. The service is on point and the feel was like being in a nice, hip restaurant shoreside. We really felt cared for and attended to. For starters we had guacamole with chips the size of small tortillas that were halved. The shrimp with mole was not as spicy as I would have expected but very fresh. For my entrée, listed as a large plate, I enjoyed a flavorful Cochinita Pibil (pork dish). Stephanie had a tasty steak, grilled just right and our margarita's were strong and tasty. We ended with a chocolate taco each that was dreamy and oh so light! I'll be back! I am anxious to try the Test Kitchen and Razzle Dazzle, where the focus is on vegetarian delights. Events & Gigs No chasing the clock, rushing dinner for timed “shows” on this cruise line. You can look forward to immersive, modern entertainment with a festival-like line-up developed by cutting edge artists and producers. Happening in venues and spaces around the ship, expect the unexpected. Some of the venues are the nightclub, The Manor, The Red Room, a live performance space like no other, and The Groupie, karaoke rooms you can reserve by the hour. An arcade and gaming area including air hockey, shuffleboard, foosball, board & card games in The Social Space. And what would a ship be without a Casino with a lounge? There is so much happening on this ship there's no way you can scratch the surface no matter how many days you are at sea. There is no “Cruise Director” on board, there is a Happenings Cast inviting all to participate in the planned and unplanned activities on board. My fav so far? Abby the Hostess with the mostess. You can't miss her, you'll see. She has an amazing voice. Getting Your Party On or Not A huge part of the Virgin culture is about partying. Now that can include consuming alcohol but it doesn't necessarily have to. If being with people, meeting people, enjoying music, dancing and socializing is your thing, this is the ship for you. The people watching on VV will have you realizing no other cruise line compares to what you will see on this line, I guarantee it. Wallflowers are welcome, you don't have to be the center of attention, there will always be someone else to take that spot. Wifi I think they put their money in plenty of bandwidth equipment. Given the number of social media influencers that have already been on board and first hand knowledge from the crew that have worked on other ships, my experience was really good. The crewmember I spoke to said she could stream movies in her cabin and there was never an issue, she joined the ship in Italy months ago. Fingers crossed this holds at full capacity. A Wink and a Nod for Sustainability The way the food is prepared, not buffet or large scale, there will be less waste compared to how other cruise lines manage food. Direct trade coffee and sustainable seafood is on the menu too. They are Carbon Neutral From Day 1. Virgin uses technologies that transform heat from the ship's engines into clean energy, and purify wastewater so that it’s even clean enough to drink. Included all over the ship are tinted windows, LED lighting, and room sensors. They considered retail, from hammocks that empower women to up-cycled ocean plastic sunglasses to providing reef-safe sunscreen, I think this is great! Every cruise line has cut the straws but VV takes it further: water bottles, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers and takeaway cups are all banned from the sailor experience. Bravo! Décor & Space This yacht inspired boutique hotel at sea has 50+ public spaces that are much more intimate than I've experienced on other ships. I'm comparing the slightly larger Celebrity Edge which has many nooks & crannies to relax in all over that ship. All of the spaces on Scarlet feel smallish to me. I am curious to see how they might fill up on my voyage even with 40% capacity. Typically on a 3 hour ship inspection, I can get through a whole ship, see cabins and have lunch if I hustle. I was on this ship 6 hours and I missed a ton. The design is, for lack of a better word, chopped-up to me. I did not sense a smooth flow at first blush. I have not seen it all and have more to investigate in a few weeks. That is a good thing but it leaves me wondering how lost people will get when they're not used to ships to begin with. There was always a crew member around to ask so I like that part. I am also concerned about the space in public areas if one is in a wheelchair or scooter. Corridors are not as spacious as other vessels, some doorways seem at odd angles. I end with happily adding Virgin Voyages to my preferred cruise partner, giving my clients a unique option to cruise the world!

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