Having a cruise line launch a new ship — with all sorts of bells and whistles — is commonplace these days. In fact, there can be as many as a half-dozen newsworthy ship launches in a single year.
What’s not so common — and much more newsworthy — is the launch of an entirely new cruise line. That’s exactly what’s going on with the new Virgin Voyages.
You likely recognize the Virgin namesake from Richard Branson’s empire that covers everything from music to airlines. Now the company is making its first foray into cruise lines, and it’s making a big splash.
The new line just opened up its itinerary for booking, and plans to start sailing in April 2020. Right now it has one ship under construction, but a fleet of four ships planned in total. If you want to sail on Virgin Voyages, you’ll sail from Miami.
There’s a good chance you might have heard about Virgin and the different wrinkles they are bringing to cruising. In fact, if you’ve sailed a traditional cruise line like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or Norwegian, then what you can expect on board a Virgin cruise could be totally different.
Below, we’ve focused on the differences between Virgin and traditional cruise lines. Some are big, some are small, but they all add up to make a unique experience on the new cruise line.
Virgin Is Focused on Adults Only… Or Really Millennials
If you’ve heard anything about Virgin, it’s likely that it’s an “adults only” cruise line. That’s right. While most mass-market lines focus on the family by having kids areas and activities, Virgin has a policy of being 18 years or older to take a cruise on its ships. That means no kids running around and no space on the ship used trying to entertain families.
And while Virgin is adults-only, it’s clear that the cruise line is actually focused on millennials. We’ll cover some of the unique differences below, but just know that cruise lines have largely missed catering to younger passengers (who was the last young person you saw that wanted to pay $20 a day for Internet access?). From the dining to design, Virgin is pulling out all the stops to carve out their niche of passengers… and it’s not traditional cruisers.
Virgin Doesn’t Nickel and Dime (Internet, Beverages, and ALL Dining Included)
One of the bigger complaints about Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and others is the nickel and diming that goes on once you are on the ship. First you pay your fare and then it’s extra for bottled water… or soda… or Internet… or some restaurants… and don’t forget tips. The price you actually pay on the ship can be just the start of what you’ll spend.
Instead, Virgin is turning that model around, making many of the things like drinks (not including alcohol), Internet, and all dining options included in the price of the cruise. Once on board, you’re going to need to pay for alcohol and excursions, but not much more.
The Buffet Is Gone
On cruise ships, the buffet is one of the main points of dining… and we aren’t sure why. We’ll be honest — we don’t like buffets and try to avoid them. Food sitting out under heat lamps just don’t appeal to us. Evidently it doesn’t appeal to Virgin either.
The cruise line is completely doing away with buffets. Instead, all the restaurants on its ships will be available free of charge — there are no specialty restaurants with charges to eat at like on most cruise ships. Furthermore, the food seems to be more in line with what younger passengers should like. There are many sit-down options, but also easy and tasty items like bento boxes, tacos, and a burger grill that you can grab and eat without much fuss.
Short Port Stops Are a Thing of the Past
If you take a 7-day cruise with three stops, you might think that means you have three days in port. The truth is much less time is spent on shore. Ships will normally arrive around 8 or 9 in the morning and then all aboard is around 4 p.m. So you get about eight hours in port.
It’s been a big complaint among cruise passengers that so little time is spent in ports of call. In fact, some traditional cruise lines have started to extend their stays, even with overnight stays in places like Havana. Virgin Voyages is taking things a step further.
The cruise line will also have overnight stays in Havana, but its stops in other ports are longer too. Trips to Costa Maya in Mexico arrive at 9 a.m. and don’t depart until 7 p.m. And stops at “The Beach Club” — Virgin’s private island — are from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on some trips.
In other words, Virgin is adding much more time in port than other cruise lines.
Out With the Old (and Sorta Hokey) Onboard Entertainment
Let’s be clear — there are no specific details yet of what the minute-by-minute schedule of things to do on a Virgin cruise will be. But we know that in general the “traditional” entertainment you see across cruise lines will be given a run for its money.
Expect performance shows that are “off-off-off Broadway” and “wonderfully strange,” according to the company. Music and DJs are a big part of the atmosphere, and there are going to be things to do 24 hours per day. There is also a a “Scarlet Night” scheduled to be a blow-out event to put a punctuation mark at the end of your trip.
We think it’s safe to say that some of the more bland entertainment on a ship that is common across traditional cruise lines will be tossed overboard.
You Can Go Topless on Your Cruise
Perhaps nowhere is it more clear that Virgin is a completely new take on cruising than the fact that it will have a topless area for its passengers. While not out of place in Europe, topless cruising isn’t really a thing in North America.
But check out the FAQ from Virgin Voyages:
Is there a topless/nude area on board?
Yes, because we find tan lines to be kind of vintage (not in a good way), there will be a designated area for you to go topless.
With families and kids around, you wouldn’t see this on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise.
There is a Focus on Shorter Cruises
Many cruise lines have taken to offering shorter trips. Instead of the traditional 7-day cruise, you’ll see lots of four and five-day trips. These trips are especially popular with younger passengers who don’t have to take as much time off from work or school and like the lower fares associated with shorter cruises.
Still, a cruise line like Carnival, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean offers a number of longer trips.
Virgin Voyages, however, offers only four and five-night trips at this time, with prices (remember everything that is included) starting at $725 per person.
The Design is Vegas… Not Cruise Ship
No matter how nice and modern the cruise ship, there are still so many design elements that are traditional on ship. From the lounge chairs to the wooden-topped railings to the cabins, most cruise ships actually look like very similar when it comes to details.
That’s not the case here. In our opinion, Virgin has a strong touch of Las Vegas in its design. With everything from mood lighting to reconfigurable furniture, the designs and feel of the cabins are totally unlike anything seen on a traditional cruise ship.
That’s not to mention public spaces, which feature styles and designs you’d never expect on a cruise ship.
Gratuities Are Included
We’ve talked a bit about everything that’s included in your cruise fare. But we’ve left off one major item — gratuities.
Traditional cruise lines don’t mention gratuities (or tips, or service charges) until you are almost ready to book. Then they mention the extra charge, which can add up to be significant. For instance, a cruise line charging $14 per person, per day for gratuities would tack on another $140 to the cost of a couple taking a 5-day cruise.
On Virgin, tips are taken care of already so you don’t have to worry about an extra charge on top of your cruise fare.
If you think that Virgin might be the cruise line for you, you can learn more at VirginVoyages.com. The first ship starts sailing April 2020.