From being adults only to including things like gratuities and wi-fi into your fare to even getting rid of the buffet and main dining room, Virgin breaks the mold in cruising.
But what’s it really like? I recently booked a four-day cruise aboard Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady to see just exactly what’s so different about the line and if the new style of sailing is worth it. You can follow along as I experience what the trip is like sailing for the first time on the line.
You can read other days of the cruise here:
- Day 1: First Impressions of a Completely Different Cruise Line
- Day 3: No Kids Allowed in Paradise
- Day 4: A Must-Have Meal & What’s the Final Verdict on Virgin?
Key West: Sunken Treasure, Six-Toed Cats, and Lobster Pizza
After finally getting settled into a new cabin around 2 a.m. following the first day of the cruise (details on what happened here), needless to say I slept in a bit longer than usual on the second day of the cruise.
And when I finally did wake up and make my way out the door, I was reminded of why interior cabins like mine can play tricks on you a little bit. The previous day in Miami had spotty rain but today we were docked in Key West. While I’ve never visited, in my mind’s eye it’s always sunny in Key West.
Well, getting up this morning I obviously didn’t have a way to see outside. It wasn’t until I went up to the pool deck to cross the ship and get a look at the island that I saw it was absolutely pouring rain. In fact, without a covered way across the top decks of the ship, I actually had to head back inside, go down a floor and walk through cabins before coming back up near The Galley for some breakfast.
Turns out, however, that sleeping late actually worked to my advantage. Instead of getting off the ship right when it docked and getting caught in the weather, I was able to take my time, wait it out, and watched as it cleared up later in the morning.
Despite dozens of cruises, one spot I have never visited was Key West. Needless to say, I was excited. Being a first-time tourist here, I wanted to see all the highlights and try to fit them into a single day.
The first stop was the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. If you aren’t familiar, Mel Fisher was a treasure hunter who discovered the wreck of the Atocha, a Spanish ship that sank in the early 1600s. The wreck is said to be the most valuable ever found, and many artifacts including silver and gold bars, are on display at the museum. Also on display are cannon, weapons pulled from the wreck, and a number of personal items that help to put a human face on the treasure. It’s also right near the cruise port, making it an easy visit. If you are captivated by things like shipwrecks and treasure hunting, it’s a must see.
From there, it was down Whitehead Street to arguably the most famous house in Key West (yes, even more famous than Harry Truman’s Winter White House) — the home of Ernest Hemingway.
During the walk along the way, you start to get a feel for the island and why it captures the imagination of so many people. Sure, there is the busy party area near the port. But walk down a little from there, and it’s quiet, narrow streets shaded by large trees and lush foliage. The houses are all brightly painted. There are wild chickens running around everywhere. It gives of a feeling like no other city in the United States I’ve visited. Compared to most places in America, it almost feels foreign.
Hemingway’s two-story house is a major attraction and there certainly were plenty of people there to visit. The time it takes to tour is fairly short. I walked the main house in about 10-15 minutes. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how much the cats steal the show. Hemingway’s home is well-known for having six-toed cats. What I didn’t know is that they are everywhere. Instead of an author’s house that happens to have cats, it seemed like a cat’s house that used to home to an author.
To be honest, visitors also seemed much more interested in saying hi to the cats, and I don’t blame them. There are big cats. There are small cats. There are orange cats, black cats, and brown cats. And they all seem used to having plenty of people visiting their home.
Keep walking down the street from Hemingway’s home and you soon have crossed the island, ending up at the famous southernmost point marker. What most people don’t see is that just outside of the photos you see on Facebook and Instagram, there’s a long line of people waiting to get their picture. Rather than dealing with that wait, I just snapped a quick picture of the marker itself in between others posing and kept on exploring.
One thing I liked about Key West is that you can see so much without needing a tour guide. The entire area is walkable and seemingly every block has something that’s interesting to see. Just down the street from the southernmost point, I saw a sign advertising “World Famous Lobster Pizza.” Curiosity piqued, I sat beachside at the Seaside Café and ordered the house specialty for lunch.
Watching the ocean as chickens darted back and forth, the waiter brings out the pizza. Basil, oil, cheese, and plenty of lobster… it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s pricey (about $30), but if you are in Key West, I highly recommend it.
Following a lunch that consisted of way too much pizza, for some reason walking didn’t sound near as enjoyable as it did in the morning. Instead, I took advantage of the free bus that runs a circle around the western side of the island. It advertises itself as “Free and Frequent” but they also don’t mention that it has amazing air conditioning that hit the spot after walking all morning in the heat and humidity that comes after a hard rain.
I took advantage of the afternoon to explore some of the more touristy spots closer to the ship. It’s a lot of kitschy shops selling all sort of tacky souvenirs, mixed in with a number of museums, an aquarium, and more. During my exploration I stumbled upon The Original Key Lime Pie Bakery, which even after too much lunch I made room for. The sign on the door says key lime pie was made here in 1856… and who am I to argue with a sign?
Following a little bit more window shopping and exploring, it was back to the ship.
Back Aboard: One Show I’ve NEVER Seen on a Cruise
If there is one negative of this trip so far, it has to be that restaurant and event reservations have been hard to come by. To eat, there is The Galley, which is a collection of several spots where you can drop in as you want and get something to eat. It’s not a buffet as there are no troughs of food that sit out while passengers serve themselves, but it’s all ready made and a plate is made for you as you want.
Then there are the sit-down restaurants. On most ships these would be specialty dining (steakhouse, Italian, Mexican, and more), but here they are included. The only issue is that spots are all filled up days in advance. They say there are some walk-in spots available, but due to scheduling of other events I haven’t had a chance to try.
It’s a similar issue with events around the ship. Some require a reservation and they seem to go quickly. If you aren’t on the ball, then you’re going to miss some things you want to see. The good news is that several shows play multiple times.
Luckily, I was able to snag a seat for Duel Reality. In this show, two groups of performers (red versus blue) have a “fight” whereby they do different stunts and acrobatics. There are performers climbing 25-foot poles, juggling, being suspended in air, and other things that simply make you hold your breath due to the risk. The highlight was two performers springing up and down on a seesaw, taking turns launching the other in the air, where they would flip and twist. The story itself was a bit cheesy with fake fighting, but the stunts were top notch.
That was followed up with something I’ve certainly never seen on a cruise — a drag show. One difference with Virgin Voyages is that with the adult crowd they can take some risks and do things you don’t see elsewhere. In this case, the “Diva” — complete with a bright orange beehive hairdo — cracked jokes, pulled gags, danced, sang, and offered up plenty of sexual innuendo (and most of it not very subtle!).
I can’t imagine seeing this on any other line, but there’s no doubting it was a funny show and something memorable. Just know that if you’re uncomfortable hearing sex jokes, you might want to skip this one!
But the big event of the night was that this was “Scarlet Night.” Most cruise lines have things like a neon party or and ’80s party in one spot during the cruise. Virgin, of course, is a little different.
They offer up Scarlet Night and it’s a shipwide event. Like formal night, everyone across the ship is encouraged to dress up. This time, however, it’s a theme of wearing red. Then the ship is transformed into a full theme party, complete with red mood lighting everywhere, decorations, music, and performers randomly coming and going around the ship to keep things interesting.
I’ve got to say that it’s a fun twist that combines the full-ship experience of formal night with something that’s less traditional. Judging by the crowd, all the red everywhere also seemed to put people in a romantic mood.
Day 3 sees the ship visit Virgin’s Beach Club in Bimini.
- This is one cruise where you can always find some space for you and your partner to have some quiet time. While certain areas will definitely get busy, look around and you’ll find private loungers, daybeds, and chairs easily. I’ve noticed that many people seem to have their own private hot tubs at night. If you’re someone that thinks cruise ships have too many people, Virgin may be ideal.
- I mentioned the rainstorms that we’ve had so far on this cruise. One benefit was tonight I stepped out onto the pool deck to check it out and on the horizon was a lightning storm in the distance. Mother Nature can put on one hell of a show.