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Are Virgin Cruises Only for Party People? Here’s Our Experience

I had signed up for an all-day activity, a tour of three cities in France by bus in just 8 hours. The tour was standard shore excursion stuff: on the bus, off the bus, herded like cattle, released into the wilds of the French Riviera to graze on croissants and buy “I Love France” t-shirts. 

Back on the ship, feeling simultaneously exhausted yet frazzled from the experience, I hoped an espresso martini would both perk me up and calm me down. 

On Virgin, there aren’t any of those infamous cruise drink packages, where you pay several hundred dollars for unlimited access to standard alcoholic beverages. Instead, you deposit money in a non-refundable account, with added bonuses from Virgin if enough money is deposited. For example, a $300 deposit may receive $50 in bonus money, if that’s the incentive offered on your particular voyage. Each drink is then deducted from your account, encouraging you to drink up all of the money. At least there is a manageable end in sight. 

I chit-chatted with a nice husband-and-wife couple at the bar. They hailed from somewhere in Canada and had been on multiple voyages with various cruise lines in their past adventures. This was their first Virgin cruise, and they absolutely loved the excursion today. Seeing all of the South of France in 8 hours by bus was apparently their idea of a good time. But back on the ship, they said, they were a little bit bored. “There isn’t much going on,” the husband said.

Unlike traditional cruise lines that blast event updates over the ship public address systems, Virgin makes no announcements—at all. It’s part of a “chill vibe,” the phrase for the anti-cruise cruise experience that Virgin wants to cultivate. Passengers can read event listings on the Virgin Voyages app, but that app is deservedly panned for being clunky, confusing, and often glitchy. And with no activities going on in the central areas of the ship, The Canadian couple expressed feeling disconnected with the social scene. That one guy playing guitar in the bar beneath the staircase wasn’t doing much to liven the place up.

I finished my drink and said my goodbyes, and as I walked along, I approached The Red Room, the ship’s theatre (pictured above in a photograph staged by Virgin) where music was booming out of the doors. I peeked inside. A group called Dual Reality was performing an acrobatic parkour-meets-street-dancing interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. As weird as that sounds, the show was lively and fun, and the audience applauded enthusiastically. Oh, so this is where everybody is, I thought. Too bad the Canadians didn’t know.