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 sail 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 2: Key West, Key Lime, and Treasure
- Day 4: A Must-Have Meal & What’s the Final Verdict on Virgin?
The Beach Club: No Kids Allowed in Paradise
Every cruise line will have a private destination that’s for the exclusive use of their passengers. These spots range from the wild (Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay, for example) to more low-key (MSC’s Ocean Cay). But Virgin Voyages is the only one that offers a private spot — The Beach Club — that’s entirely for adults. Today, I got the chance to experience it for the first time.
After Scarlet Night, the entire ship seemed to be moving a little slower the next morning. Walking into breakfast around 8 a.m., there was hardly anyone around, giving me a chance to eat while sitting at a table overlooking Bimini.
If you’ve ever visited The Bahamas, then you know just how electric blue the water can be — especially when you have plenty of sunshine. And while I planned on heading to the beach later in the day since the ship was in port all day (from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.), staring at the water made me get in gear a little earlier than I planned.
The Beach Club sits on Bimini, just about 60 miles due east of the Port of Miami.
It’s not a private island. Instead, the spot is actual just a private section of the beach on Bimini. The ship actually docks at a pier about a mile or two from the club. To get there, you’ll walk down and catch an open-air shuttle that takes you down the road and drops you off at the front entrance.
I arrived just before 10 a.m. and there were a number of people there, but it was still largely empty. I took a lap to get acquainted with the layout and get a feel for what’s around.
First, much of the décor (except for the swimming pool!) is a bit Bohemian in style and does a decent job of blending in with the surroundings. So if you’re expecting some wild and gaudy destination, that’s simply not the case.
The main centerpiece of the area, though, is the large pool that cuts through the middle of the club, surrounded by loungers and umbrellas. Beyond that are several rows of loungers set up on the beach. There are also all the amenities you would need for a day at the beach, including a spot serving lunch, changing rooms, showers, and restrooms. There are also cabanas for rent starting at $400 for the day.
However, when many cruise lines continue to go bigger with their destinations, including shops, waterparks, for-pay areas, and more, The Beach Club just felt different as I arrived. It’s vibe was definitely much more chilled out. I simply found an open lounger under an umbrella, set down my stuff and made my way to that water I’d been eyeing since breakfast.
The beach here is perfect. Soft sand and a gently sloping sandy bottom that heads out into the water, which was absolutely crystal clear. Surprisingly for how much we’ve all heard about hot oceans this summer, the water was a perfect temperature — slightly cool until you get all the way in and then feels amazing.
Following a quick rinse, I hopped in the pool, which was decidedly warmer than the ocean. Still before noon, there were people starting to filter in and seats around the pool seem to be the first to get snatched up. Actually in the pool, however, there was hardly anyone.
The morning seemed ideal if you’re just wanting to relax. There was chilled music playing, the sound of the waves, a gorgeous beach, and a warm pool. That would definitely change…
After a bit of just relaxing on the beach, lunch was served up. Usually the menu at a private destination is burgers and hot dogs. Here the menu is definitely more adult, including “Banana Leaf Steamed Red Snapper,” “Caribbean Chicken and Coconut Curry” and “Lechon Asado.”
I ordered the Caribbean Chicken and Coconut Curry, but I think I was served something different. It was bright yellow, and to be honest, I didn’t like it. Frankly, I would have preferred a burger!
The side of fruit and the rum cake dessert made up for the meal, but honestly I wouldn’t have minded something a little more traditional. Eating curry at the beach is just a little weird anyway.
After lunch the vibe definitely changes, at least around the pool. Starting at 1 p.m., the DJ cranks up, a team of dancers surrounds one side of the pool, and dozens of pool floats are dropped in.
At least by one half of the pool it goes from chilled out and relaxing to a major party. By that time The Beach Club had also filled in nicely with passengers from the ship so instead of a sleepy and quiet time, the early afternoon definitely had a different buzz.
In all, it’s hard not to like The Beach Club, although a few different food options would be nice. That said, a huge pool, wide stretch of beach, and some of the most beautiful water in the world is hard not to enjoy.
Sin Onboard: Drinks, Gambling, & Fried Food
Back on board with most people off the ship, things were a bit slow, so I took advantage of the time to recover from being in the sun all day to just relax in the room. One thing I also did was book a disembarkation time.
Normally the time you’re supposed to get off the ship is assigned to you based on your luggage. Here, I got a notification through the app that I have to book a time I want to leave. I’m not sure what happens if you don’t (do you have to stay forever?).
Having not eaten much lunch, I was excited about finally booking a reservation at one of the sit-down restaurants — Razzle Dazzle. Before heading to dinner, I took a detour to one of the bars I like most on the ship that’s called Loose Cannon. It’s a theme of a seaside village bar, complete with shiplap siding. I just like it because it’s a spot that’s bright and airy, making it great for an afternoon drink.
What I didn’t realize is that on an empty stomach and not being a huge drinker anyway, the Moscow Mule I ordered hit… hard. Nothing like a strong afternoon buzz to loosen things up. Frankly, I didn’t want to move from my seat but had a reservation that I had to fight to get for the restaurant. I wasn’t going to miss it.
I was able to keep things together, headed Razzle Dazzle, and was absolutely dumbfounded by what I saw. I’ve mentioned that reservations are tough to come by. It’s kept me eating at the larger food hall onboard because there have been no times available. I finally was able to snag this 6:30 spot after trying back on the app several times.
But when I got there, the place was empty. I’m not saying that it simply wasn’t full. I mean there were maybe 3-4 other groups eating in a space that can hold dozens. I have no idea why all the reservations would be unavailable when the actual restaurant is maybe 5% full.
Still feeling that drink, my eyes locked onto one thing on the menu — fried chicken. It’s served with a biscuit, greens, and spicy honey. Let me say that it was damn good fried chicken on its own (especially with the honey). When you add in a stop at the bar earlier, it was a religious experience.
Feeling back to my normal self, I popped in on an evening show about five minutes after it was supposed to have started. To my surprise, the house lights were still on. “Oh good, I didn’t miss anything.”
I grabbed a seat in the back and made sure I had the right time. It’s rare for things on a cruise ship not to start on time. After about 10 minutes I see people start to leave. After 15 minutes, they made an announcement that due to “technical difficulties” the show was canceled.
Well, the theater emptied out into the casino (doesn’t it always?!) so I decided to try my luck. The casino onboard is fairly small but it’s also not that cramped. During the cruise I’ve passed through plenty, and it’s never been slammed but has always had a decent crowd. Finding a table to play or a machine has never been a problem.
So I pop $20 into a slot machine, play it down just a little bit and almost immediately hit a bonus. You know that feeling on the slots when you hit a bonus round and you win $2? Yeah… that didn’t happen.
With free spins pinging away, the machine just kept going. On my $0.40 bet, I ended up winning $46. I’ll take it.
A little more time in the casino (including dropping a buck to get a $1 chip to take home as a souvenir), and I cashed out well ahead of where I started. It’s been a long time since that’s happened.
Around the ship in the evening things were buzzing and there was a great energy. It’s always such a good feeling to be around so many people that are in a great mood and having a fun time.
To cap off the evening I headed to an event called Stargazers, located on the back deck of the ship. There, they dimmed the lights, had everyone get comfortable, put on some relaxing nature sounds and narrated a quiet talk about the history of stargazing.
It was a bit of a bummer because clouds blocked most of the sky, but storms on the horizon put on a lightning show. But the event — despite the name — wasn’t really about spotting stars, which is usually close to impossible due to the lights on the ships. Instead, it was a time to relax and take in the evening. In all, it was a pretty unique activity you don’t see on other ships.
Day 4 is a sea day before returning to Miami.
- While having a drink at Loose Cannon, the jukebox started playing “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. You’d think that song would be banned on a cruise ship.
- There’s something different about the crew on Virgin, and I can’t quite explain it. On a cruise, the crew is always friendly. However, with the Virgin staff, it just comes across as more genuine. They seem to laugh more and there seems to be more camaraderie between the staff members themselves. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it’s a different feeling than normal to me.