Virgin Cruises: Everything You Need To Know About Setting Sail

When it comes to big, international cruise lines, Virgin Voyages is the new kid on the block, and the company seems to like that reputation. Founded in 2014, Virgin Cruises cultivates a youthful, streamlined, come-as-you-are atmosphere. There is no dress code. No children are allowed onboard. Very little about the ship is exclusive or labeled "VIP." Best of all, their cruises are generally more affordable than for other big-name lines.

That logo probably looks familiar if you've ever spent time in a major airport or mall. "Virgin" started as a music distributor in London way back in the 1970s, and the jazzy red sign has lured passersby into Virgin Records stores for decades. The Virgin Group trademark has gradually expanded into other industries as well, including Virgin Hotels, British airline Virgin Atlantic, and even the satellite-launching Virgin Orbit. Cruise ships may have seemed like an inevitable investment, but Virgin has stayed true to its rock-and-roll roots.

Your idea of a cruise may consist of canasta glasses and shuffleboard, but these excursions aim for a hipper demographic. Virgin Voyages are an excuse for adults of all ages to chill out, get fit, eat well, and party hard — and enjoy free WiFi the whole time. Virgin Voyages even messes with the traditional cruising lingo to distance itself from other lines. The vessels are known as "Lady Ships." Passengers are "Sailors." Land-based tours are "Shore Things." Not sure what to expect on your maiden — er, Virgin — voyage? Here are some tips to get you acclimated.

Virgin is for adults only

While there are many great cruise lines to book for your next family vacation, Virgin Voyages is for adults only, which means any parents are required to treat themselves and leave the kids at home. On the one hand, you won't have to watch your language or worry about tripping over toddlers in the corridors. The 18-plus age limit attracts a wide range of people, from teens traveling independently for the first time to music-loving Gen Xers to retirees looking for something a little different. That said, Virgin "Sailors" typically skew younger than passengers on other cruise lines, so you're more likely to run into groups of twenty-somethings eager to get their party on. Entertainment options can be more risqué and freewheeling than on, say, a Disney cruise.

The diverse array of bars is a huge draw for Virgin, and as with many cruises, sailors who are 18 or older are permitted to buy and consume alcoholic drinks while at sea. When you reach the port, the usual national laws apply, which means under-21 teetotaling in the United States. 

These ships are big

As of this writing, Virgin Voyages has a fleet of three "Lady Ships," with a fourth slated for later in 2024. The design of each vessel takes inspiration from the "superyacht" craze, which generally translates as a narrower, sleeker design and bright, modernist decor. Note that these ships are pretty big, even for cruise ships, with 1,404 cabins and suites that can accommodate up to 2,762 Sailors on a single voyage. Add to that total 1,150 crew members, and you've got a pretty bustling ship.

Cruise ships can come in bigger sizes, including the largest-ever Icon of the Seas, but if you don't like crowds or are looking for something more bespoke, consider looking elsewhere. The advantage of a 110,000-ton ship is the impressive range of onboard activities, including pools, bars, restaurants, a casino, a spa, multiple fitness options, and a full bill of live entertainment, so you'll never want for something to do. 

Virgin has sailaways around the globe

Virgin Voyages has grown steadily in the past decade, and the Lady Ships now cover much of the globe, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and a Transatlantic passage. Most Americans will depart from Miami, as this will be the most convenient port to reach by plane, and the Virgin Voyages headquarters are also based in Plantation, Florida, so it's home turf. That said, more ambitious travelers can find sailaways in more far-flung locations, from Athens, Greece, to Sydney, Australia.

Itineraries can last from a few days to two weeks. Many Sailors may enjoy the idea of crossing the Atlantic by ship, and because the Virgin brand was originally founded in the United Kingdom, the seaside British city of Portsmouth is a popular place to start a journey, especially if you're interested in Northern Europe. Virgin Voyages left less of a footprint in Africa and South America, but the company's rapid growth and imminent fourth ship may extend its reach. Stay tuned.

Virgin is pretty affordable

Virgin has earned a reputation for quality and competitive pricing. Cruise lines travel everywhere, and their pricing is also all over the map; you can find bargains that undercut the most generic airport hotel, or you can spend a literal fortune on luxury accommodations and add-ons. Virgin lies somewhere in the middle, with some passengers reporting total pricing of as little as $133 per day.

Virgin also doesn't push extravagant VIP packages on its Sailors, and with rare exceptions — such as Richard's Rooftop — most Sailors receive egalitarian treatment. Almost all dining aboard is included, so you don't have to worry about paying for individual meals. This means you have extra cash to use on Shore Things, merchandise, and other optional treats. One of the most pleasant surprises is that Virgin Voyages will calculate your gratuities into the total price, so you don't have to expect a hefty (and unexpected) bill at the end of your trip. Rest assured that all crew members receive tips. 

You're with the band

It's standard practice for cruises to come with a scannable key card for opening doors and making purchases, but Virgin cleverly markets this item as "The Band." More than just a card or a fob, The Band has a catchy name and even catchier design, like a Space Age version of hippie bracelets. The Band can be worn in lots of different ways, though most people will probably wrap it comfortably around their wrists.

This accessory is your room key, your payment method, and your casino card, all wrapped in one. The Band's best gimmick is its Shake for Champagne delivery; you shake it rigorously, and a bottle of bubbly will be delivered to you. Virgin even has a savvy environment tie-in: The Band is fashioned from recycled plastic waste rescued from the sea. If you're not sure exactly how much six grams of plastic is, imagine cutting a water bottle in half, and that's how much litter you've repurposed.

Virgin doesn't have a luggage limit

Unlike airlines, which may weigh every bag you bring on the plane and measure your suitcase to the inch, cruise lines tend to be much more relaxed about luggage limits. Virgin is no exception: Staff won't cut you off at a precise size or weight, and all they ask is moderation. Because of Virgin's history in the music business, they even encourage you to bring musical instruments, as long as they're portable and can fit through an X-ray machine at the security checkpoint. You can even bring up to two sealed bottles of wine, though beer and spirits are not allowed.

Virgin has the usual list of restricted items, most of which are obvious, such as firearms, wet cell batteries, and Hoverboards. When packing for your next cruise vacation, note that clothing irons are not permitted, along with drones; keep this in mind if you're fantasizing about epic aerial videos of the ship easing into port.

There's a (very important) app

All major cruise lines have their own apps, which can expedite reservations and customize a passenger's experience without involving a crew member or an 800 number. Virgin Voyages describes its app as a kind of virtual concierge, and it becomes useful long before you board the ship. The app will walk you through your itinerary, itemizing every event and option you can expect on a given day. You can reserve your Shore Things excursions through the app, learn about the different dining options aboard, book a spa visit, or order room service. Whether you're looking for a prompt delivery of fresh towels to your cabin or a snorkeling experience four days from now, all you have to do is tap your way through the app.

Pre-brooking can be really helpful, as time can be disorienting on any ocean-bound vacation — just be sure to check the cruise ship calendar before booking a cruise. Cleverly, the Virgin Voyages app can also be a social experience by scanning other sailors' assigned QR codes and connecting them to your account. This allows families and groups to coordinate dining and activities together.

There's a Bar Tab system

Virgin Voyages doesn't have the kind of drinks package you'll find on other cruise lines, but it does have Bar Tab, a credit system that you can pay for in advance. That credit goes by the pseudonym "Sailor Loot," and as you buy premium beverages on your Bar Tab, you earn free drinks later on. This translates to a $10 bonus when you spend $100, $25 when you spend $200, and so on. You can easily set this up on the Virgin Voyages app or through the company's hotline.

The catch is that you have to set up and purchase your Bar Tab account at least 24 hours before you sail. This system isn't necessary to purchase drinks onboard, but if you're the kind of traveler who likes special benefits, make sure your Bar Tab is ready to use by the time you walk up that gangplank. You're also welcome to use this system to buy drinks for other people, so groups may consider pooling their resources.

The ships embrace accessibility

In a perfect world, every deck on every cruise ship would be easy to navigate, no matter how passengers get around. No ship is perfect, but Virgin Voyages seems to take a special interest in accessibility: Wheelchairs can be brought aboard or rented from a partner company, Scootaround, and each ship is outfitted with wheelchair-accessible cabins. Pool lifts help disabled swimmers in and out of the water, and all public venues have accessible seating. Sailors who are deaf or hard of hearing can request a visual alert kit and assistive listening devices in many of the ship's venues, among other useful tools. Sailors who are blind or have other vision challenges will find braille and tactile signage and can ask for a guided tour.

While regular pets aren't permitted aboard, service animals are, and leashed dogs can be brought into most public spaces and eateries. Just remember that animals aren't always permitted on land without special permission from the host country, so it's important to research each port's legal requirements.

You can select a cabin type

In short, you can pick your cabin type, and Virgin will usually assign you a specific unit. Each cabin comes with WiFi, eco-conscious construction, and 24-hour room service. Along the ship's edges, you can select from a Sea Terrace which has a balcony, or a Sea View with a porthole. Interior lodging is cleverly branded as "Insider" cabins, which have no windows at all but can accommodate up to four people. If you're quick to reserve, you may also secure a pair of connecting cabins.

Cabins are all equipped with rain showers, hair dryers, adjustable lighting, and both European and American-style electrical sockets. For travelers in a higher tax bracket, Rockstar Quarters can provide you with up to 2,147 square feet of space, and a variety of Suites may include marble bathrooms and brass highlights. These accommodations are best booked through a Virgin Voyages agent.

There's plenty to eat

You could argue that Virgin Voyages are like giant floating food-halls. The 20-plus dining venues are known as "eateries," and you won't find a single buffet among them. Eateries are designed to feel like sit-down restaurants, many of them casual and diner-style, others upscale and showcasing global cuisines. Some samples: Razzle Dazzle offers elevated pub food in a casual setting, Pink Agave gives the Michelin treatment to classic Mexican fare, and Gunbae (Korean for "bottoms up") serves up gourmet barbecue. Many eateries specialize in shareable plates, perfect for families or groups of friends. The eateries are also packed with plant-based and allergy-sensitive fare.

Reservations aren't required, but you can reserve a table on the Virgin Voyages app and may consider them for culinary hot spots. To make the process as painless as possible, all these eateries are free of charge, and service charges are already included, so you can walk in and out without even thinking about the check.

The merchants are unique

The Virgin brand started as a record store, so it's no surprise that Virgin Voyages would corner the market on retail. This row of luxury stores is known as "High Street," a common British expression for the shopping district. The shops specialize in luxury items, such as up-market fashion, cosmetics, and, yes, music. But you can also find everyday toiletries at The Essentials, and reasonably priced bottles of wine at the onboard liquor store. Virgin merchants are known for consistent pricing, which isn't always the case on cruise ships that use flash sales to draw in customers.

The most "metal" thing you can do on a Virgin Voyages ship is get yourself a tattoo, and the Squid Ink studio is open for business on every Lady Ship. This is a very professional outfit, and many Sailors will like the novelty of getting some artwork done at sea. As a result, you will probably want to reserve your session in advance, and you can expect to pay what many customers would consider premium prices.

The entertainment is world class — and off-beat

Leave it to a company that started as a record shop to drum up epic live performances. Most large cruise ships are respected for their Broadway-caliber shows, which is no small feat in the middle of the ocean. Predictably, Virgin likes to host unusual programming, such as the ship-wide Scarlet Night event, which covers the entire ship in red costumes and lighting, featuring circus performers and live instrumentals. There's also the wildly avant-garde Untitled Dance Show Partything, the immersive theatrical experience Persephone, and a wide range of stage performances in The Red Room. Each night, you'll have fresh opportunities to join a dance party or sing karaoke.

If you don't require throbbing music or explosions of glitter, no problem. There's a very traditional casino and a video arcade stocked with vintage games. And if you need a more holistic alternative to all that rockstar living, you can join a yoga session or group workout in one of the fitness centers.