Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Virgin Voyages is one of the newer entrants in the cruise industry as it inaugurated its first sailings at the height of the pandemic. With travel roaring back, Virgin Voyages has already been a hit, operating itineraries in the Caribbean, Europe, and further afield.
What sets Virgin Voyages apart from the rest of the crowd is that it’s an adults-only, all-inclusive cruise. The sticker price covers (nearly) all of your expenses, including meals, standard Wi-Fi, fitness classes, entertainment, and, best of all — tips. While alcoholic beverages are not included, you can prepurchase drink packages and usually get a solid discount when booking in advance.
Teetering the waters between a cruise enthusiast and a complete newbie, I was inclined to try one of Virgin Voyages’ European sailings this summer. If you’re a points and miles enthusiast like me, you’ll want to look out for stellar deals through Virgin Red where you can book one of Virgin Voyages’s weeklong European cruises for just 80,000 Virgin Points.
I embarked on an itinerary in late May 2023 that included stops in some of Europe’s most idyllic summer holiday spots, from Ibiza to Cannes. Here’s an overview of what you can expect from a Virgin Voyages sailing and whether I thought it was worth it.
Virgin Voyages participates in Virgin Red, the loyalty program encompassing Virgin Group’s other brands such as Virgin Hotels, Virgin Atlantic Holidays, and more. While it’s entirely separate from Virgin Atlantic Flying Club — the frequent flyer program of the U.K.-based carrier — you can transfer your points between both loyalty accounts seamlessly at a 1:1 ratio.
Several times throughout the year, Virgin Red releases promotions where Virgin Voyages cruises are bookable with points. Most recently, you could book a Sea Terrace cabin (2 levels above the baseline Insider or Sea View rooms!) in any Virgin Voyages cruise for summer 2023 for just 80,000 Virgin Points — and that’s the price for 2 travelers! There were also no port taxes or additional fees to pay, making this a truly extraordinary deal while redeeming your points and miles.
Best of all, Virgin Red and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club participate in nearly every major transferable points program, including Amex Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Capital One Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
These weeklong European cruises can be over $4,000 during peak summer, so you could score nearly 5 cents in value with your points. This cost covers everything discussed below, including your meals, entertainment, and shuttles to and from port — for 2 people.Hot Tip:
There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason when Virgin Red releases these cruise promotions, as these sales usually have no published start or end dates. However, many of our Upgraded Points readers hopped on this fantastic deal last time, so be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know when the next deal comes back.
Still, booking a Virgin Voyage with cash can be an incredible deal, given what’s included for the entire week. Best of all, paying for a cruise with your credit card can be a great way to earn thousands of bonus points. We recommend paying with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or the American Express® Green Card, which both earn 3x points on travel (including cruises!).
Currently, Virgin Voyages offers 4 sailings departing from Athens or Barcelona. All itineraries are 7 days long, with intriguing stops across a few countries:
If you’re torn between the itineraries, a few factors may help you narrow your decision. While price and departure dates will likely be the main drivers, you’ll also want to consider the number of sea days built into each itinerary.
Each sailing features 5 ports, so the week-long cruise will fly by no matter what. However, some itineraries feature up to 2 full sea days, giving you more time to take advantage of the onboard amenities and restaurants. On the flip side, you will spend less time at each port.
Other itineraries only have partial sea days built into the schedule, like my French Daze & Ibiza Night cruise. While this schedule allows you to explore each destination longer, you may feel burned out by seeing too many cities in 1 week. Ultimately, the decision will rest on the vacation you’re seeking with Virgin Voyages.
Although the official boarding time started at 3 p.m. local time, guests needed to register for a boarding slot beforehand. As the boat officially departed at 6 p.m., theoretically, you had most of the afternoon to arrive at the cruise port terminal. However, many guests used this as a chance to explore Barcelona or other parts of Europe.
During the morning of departure, you can also drop off your luggage at the cruise port terminal. I arrived in Barcelona (BCN) on an early flight from London (LHR) and spent the morning wandering the streets of the bustling Spanish city.
The luggage drop-off and security screening process was seamless and took under 15 minutes. My friends and I spent the first few hours wandering the decks, sampling ice cream and pizza as we explored the eateries onboard.
You won’t want to miss a few other highlights on the first day. Once you’re on board, you can access the Virgin Voyages app by connecting to the onboard Wi-Fi — which serves as the hub for everything you need to know about the cruise.
While the app was glitchy or slow at times, it was nice to be able to scroll through each day’s itinerary, purchase excursions, and book reservations for dining, entertainment, spa treatments, and more. You’ll want to get on the boat early and nab up those time slots to get your ideal bookings for some of the most hyped-up restaurants like Gunbae and Test Kitchen.
Of course, there’s also a safety briefing you’ll need to attend on the first day. However, Virgin Voyages makes the meeting brief so you can go about and enjoy the rest of the cruise. Now, all left to do is clink your glasses for a Champagne toast as you watch the boat sail away.
With just 300 miles between Barcelona and Marseille, the boat moves at a snail’s pace all night before arriving in the South of France at 8 a.m. You can barely feel the cruise move at all, as the stops on this itinerary are quite close to each other.
Virgin Voyages offers a shuttle at each port that runs approximately every 30 minutes to and from the city center. Guests also needed to book their disembarkation slots through the app, but the crew members didn’t seem too strict on timing. Marseille was our first port, and we had approximately 10 hours before we had to return to the boat.
I had already spent a long weekend in Marseille 5 years back, but this short day trip felt too rushed to revisit one of my favorite spots, Calanques National Park. Therefore, my friends and I spent the day leisurely walking around the city, stopping at Marseille’s traditional soap stores, enjoying a café (or 2), and meandering our way to the top of the Notre-Dame de la Garde for this panoramic view.
The next day, we continued along the French Riviera. Cannes is a tender port, meaning it’s too small to accommodate cruises like Virgin Voyages. Therefore, disembarkation took longer as we had to transfer to smaller shuttle ships to reach the French Riviera.
My friends and I were curious to see what a Virgin Voyages excursion was like, so we booked a day excursion to Nice, Eze, and Monaco for $110. This included all transportation and a local tour guide for the 8-hour day and guaranteed you would be back on the boat on time.
If you felt like the cruise was already too rushed, booking an excursion through multiple cities will feel like a whirlwind. While I loved getting a taste of what each destination had to offer, my friends and I vehemently agreed that we should have focused on 1 city instead. With a jam-packed schedule, we only had an hour at each stop.
For example, we had enough time to grab a snack, quickly stroll through the weekday markets, and hike to the Colline du Château in Nice. Still, seeing so many places helped me learn where I want to return to (Nice and Cannes) and places I can skip next time (Monaco and Eze).
As much as I enjoyed sightseeing thus far, I was thankful to get a breather with the partial sea day on Wednesday. We wouldn’t arrive at Palma de Mallorca until the late afternoon, so at this point, I felt that I hadn’t experienced the ship to its full extent.
I spent my morning working out at the spacious fitness center with updated Technogym equipment. The rest of the afternoon was at my leisure, and I spent most of the time reading my book in a cabana by the rear deck.
Once we docked in Palma, we enjoyed Spanish tapas and briefly explored the nightlife scene before returning to the boat.
Thursday’s port day was much shorter since we spent the night docked in Palma de Mallorca. We found that there wasn’t enough time to go farther out on the island, so we set our sights on the Ca’n Pastilla area near the airport. Upon enjoying another tapas lunch, this made for just the right amount of time for a few hours at the beach, complete with kayaking and some planespotting.
Once we were back on the boat, we were getting glammed up for Virgin Voyages’ iconic Scarlet Night — think a full-ship party. Guests were encouraged to bring something red to wear and may (or may not) get to jump in the pool at the end.
The decks were much quieter at sea as we were headed to Ibiza on Friday morning. I first toured the spa on the day of boarding and made a mental note to return. I used this free day to book a day pass at the Thermal Spa for $59 while the ship was sailing.
Considering you’re on a floating ship at sea, the spa facilities looked pretty impressive. There were hot and cold plunge pools, Turkish hammam benches, and steam and sauna rooms.
While I didn’t take any pictures on this day, the facilities seemed too small to accommodate the number of guests who frequented the spa on this sea day. Unfortunately, the temperatures in the hot tubs and steam rooms were also tepid at best. The cold plunge pools were also a letdown, as the water wasn’t freezing cold for that ice bath effect you’d typically expect. Despite a slightly underwhelming experience at the spa, my favorite part was the full-body exfoliating mud mask at the end.Hot Tip:
If you’d like to visit the spa onboard, book a time slot while the boat is docked. The price drops from $59 (while at sea) to just $39, and there will be significantly fewer people there!
By the late afternoon, we were approaching Ibiza. Many guests, including myself, were preparing for the Calvin Harris concert at Ushuaïa Ibiza, a beach club that drew in as many as 10,000 people per night.
Ibiza is renowned for its nightclubs, so my friends and I decided to explore a quieter gem instead. Just a 30-minute ferry from the main port of Ibiza, we spent our final hours in Formentera, a gorgeous yet remote island that felt worlds away from the rest of Spain.
Based on a few recommendations from friends, we ate breakfast and lunch at Bocasalina. The menu items were fresh, emphasizing seafood, inspired by Spanish and Italian cuisine.
The restaurant overlooked a beautiful beach with some of the bluest and calmest waters I’ve ever seen — rivaling some of the hotspots I’ve visited in the Caribbean.
Just past dawn, we arrived back in Barcelona, where it all started.
Although the boat docked early in the morning, we could book our disembarkation slot up until 11 a.m. — so there wasn’t a rush to get going immediately. By booking a later slot, we got to enjoy 1 final breakfast before officially parting ways with Virgin Voyages.
When you think of cruise ships, you may think of cramped quarters with tiny portholes. However, Virgin Voyages’ guest rooms were surprisingly spacious across the board.
First, there are 5 room types on Virgin Voyages: insider, sea view, sea terrace, Rockstar Quarters, and Mega Rockstar Quarters. Comparing them to traditional hotel guest rooms, you can consider the first 3 room types standard rooms, while the Rockstar and Mega Rockstar Quarters are suite-style rooms.
What’s most interesting about Virgin Voyages is that nearly 80% of its cabins are sea terrace rooms, which are much larger than your average cruise room and come with balconies and hammocks. A much smaller fraction of rooms are insider (windowless) or sea view (port holes), so the sea terrace room is not only much more common but is worth the investment for only a few hundred more dollars more.
The rooms are designed to maximize space, so you can ask a staff member to help convert your bed into a sofa lounger during the day. Otherwise, I thought the rooms perfectly balanced functionality and space, with plenty of storage areas in the closet to organize your belongings.
You won’t need to bring any converters with you, as there are multiple U.S. outlets and USB ports everywhere you turn. Finally, each room comes with an iPad where you can order room service, fresh towels, and anything in between. The real highlight was the staff members, who catered to every request (in what seemed like) lightning speed.
The bathroom was tight, which is to be expected on most cruises. However, I was surprised that the water pressure was strong and the shower got hot immediately — both were huge wins in my book.
Before this experience, I had only been on one other cruise (MSC) before, where the food onboard was largely disappointing. However, I had heard pleasant musings about Virgin Voyages as it aims to reinvent the wheel on cruise dining. For starters, there are 6 sit-down restaurants — so naturally, you’ll want to try out a different one every night of the week:
From the hostess stand to the menus at the table, it felt like dining at a real restaurant every step of the way. While Virgin Voyages goes above and beyond to bring a large range of dishes that caters to every dietary restriction and inventive dining experiences, we ultimately found that the execution fell flat.
For example, Test Kitchen is a Michelin-inspired kitchen that offers chef-driven menus, which sounded great in theory. The actual dining experience was sublime, but none of the dishes ended up being that appetizing — and this is coming from someone who will eat anything. Dishes like the pea and raw egg yolk dish to a mushroom pate photographed beautifully, but the taste itself didn’t work.
Over at Gunbae, the Korean BBQ felt overly greasy, with disappointing kimchi and other side dishes.
That’s not to say that all of the food onboard was bad — actually, quite the opposite. There were memorable standouts throughout the week, like Pink Agave’s chips and guacamole or The Wake’s steak and dinner rolls. We also found that Virgin Voyages excels in the staples at the more casual joints onboard — think pizza, ice cream, and salads.
For a more traditional cruise-style buffet, we frequented the Galley quite often. This cafeteria-style eatery offered everything from sushi to burgers, all day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night eats. Ultimately, we mistakenly set the bar too high, but you will find that the food is much better than your average cruise.Hot Tip:
From 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night, visit the Galley for a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie at the dessert bar.
The bars were just as gorgeous as the restaurants and the rest of the ship. If you don’t have a prepaid bar tab, you can expect to pay around $15 per cocktail. For non-drinkers like me, there are plenty of spirit-free options. The bartenders were also friendly and more than willing to shake up cocktails sans alcohol.
From drag brunches to karaoke nights to circus shows, Virgin Voyages offered a mile-long list of activities so guests could truly kick back and have fun.
With all of the entertainment included in the fare, there was something to do nearly every hour during the day without feeling like you were breaking the bank by opting in. These shows were also a great way to mingle with other guests onboard.
Cruises have been around for decades, but Virgin Voyages aims to bring a fresh take to appeal to a new generation of travelers. Virgin has heavily invested in its technology to bring a seamless experience for its guests, whether it’s requesting room service on your in-room iPad or using your wristband to pay for virtually anything onboard.
Unfortunately, the standard Wi-Fi was relatively slow, and the app had several glitches. I ended up paying for the premium Wi-Fi package ($80 for the week) and found that it was well worth the upgrade. The premium Wi-Fi worked quite well, and I was able to catch up on some work, FaceTime friends and family back home, and everything in between.
Virgin Voyages was also a knockout regarding the comfortable and spacious rooms, and every single staff member was so helpful and a joy to talk to. The amenities onboard were also excellent, and we were never bored while on board (pun intended). Furthermore, the strict no-tipping policy was fantastic, so you know the price you pay is exactly what you’ll get.
A common complaint I heard among the crowd was that the pool was quite small and was noticeably crowded during sea days. And while we found many of the sit-down restaurants underwhelming, we found plenty of other things to eat in the grab-and-go or casual joints that were much more appetizing.
Nonetheless, Virgin Voyages offers extraordinary value — especially if you can book a sailing entirely with points.
When it comes to travel, I find joy in planning every detail and enjoying a slower pace at each destination. However, planning can be tiresome at times, and a cruise on Virgin Voyages may be just the answer to travel burnout.
It’s difficult to encapsulate the extent of the entire weeklong itinerary, but I hope this review gives you a picture of what you can expect from Virgin Voyages. While my experience didn’t turn me into a full cruise convert, the hands-off approach made it easy for me to truly relax. Overall, I would happily go on another Virgin Voyages cruise in the future to switch up my travel occasionally.
For rates and fees of the American Express® Green Card, click here.
Virgin Voyages is an adults-only cruise (18+) that includes all meals, non-alcoholic drinks, tips, Wi-Fi, fitness classes and shows in your price. The staterooms are spacious, and the facilities onboard are fantastic compared to other mid-tier cruises.
While Virgin Voyages aims to appeal to millennials, there’s a wide range of guests onboard from 18 to 65+.
Yes! All of the dining onboard is included in your fare. There may be some opportunities to upgrade your meal at some sit-down establishments, but all of that is entirely optional.
Virgin Voyages adheres to a strict no-tipping policy. All of the gratuities are included in the cruise fare itself, so you can enjoy your vacation without worrying about bringing extra cash without you.
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