Finally after a long wait, Nikki and I, and two friends, were off on a Virgin Voyages cruise, departing from Barcelona and cruising the Med.
My first top tip is to try and spend a couple of nights in this magnificent city pre-cruise to really get you in the mood, so that when you arrive at the terminal amongst all those other travellers that have just flown in, you can’t help but feel pretty cool.
My second top tip is as soon as you arrive at the port terminal, go onto the ships WiFi and book your entertainment and any classes for the week. It really doesn’t take long and helps avoid disappointment.
The staff are incredibly efficient and in no time we were on deck 7, sipping fizz at The Dock, a mezze lounge that is out in the open. In fact, we stayed there a few hours before even considering finding our cabins and luggage.
So after the happy hour, between 6 and 7, we realised that we must get ready for our first night's meal at Gunbae, a Korean BBQ dining experience. And what an experience! The food is cooked in front of you and it is entertainment all the way. We enjoyed it so much, we went again later in the voyage. Finally, much later than intended, we returned to our cabins for a good night’s sleep.
Next morning we pulled back the curtains and stepped onto the balcony and there was Marseille with passengers already boarding a courtesy bus to see the city. We decided on a leisurely breakfast at the galley, choosing healthy options of salmon and avocado. There are so many alternatives available that you would never need to eat the same meal twice and I can assure you we didn’t.
Now I must admit to our shame, we didn’t leave the ship on that day because having partied hard in Barcelona and the first night on board, we felt the pool and sun loungers might be a better choice.
Top Tip: A cruise is all about doing what you want, when you want and with whom you want. So select events with that in mind. We did this and it really worked for us.
Amazingly on that first night, having met people who knew people, all four of us were invited up to the VIP private party to visit the sailors (that’s what all guests are called) staying in Rock Star Suites. We spent a happy hour drinking quality Champagne with a lively group of Americans. They were good company and we met up on numerous occasions around the ship, which added to the friendly vibe that Valiant Lady seeks to create.
Top Tip: Find rich Americans and let them give you Champagne and allow you to play with their Gibson guitars!
Having left Marseille during the night, we sailed throughout the day. In the morning, we were just off shore at Cannes. What a place to be with the film festival in full swing.
Virgin laid on a very efficient tender link from ship to shore which ran all day and into the early hours so you could visit as long and as often as you wanted. We loved Cannes and spent hours watching and looking. We even found time to take a promenade train tour.
Now at this point, I could carry on writing about visits and meals and events in chronological order as in a diary but so much happened each day, it would make this blog longer than War and Peace. So I will now attempt to give you a flavour of all that a Virgin Voyage can offer. Are you ready, sailors? Here goes...
Top Tip: Immerse yourself in all that interests you from the packed programme overseen by the excellent crew.
I enjoyed the 250m running track on the top deck. It takes you around the funnels. Nikki loved the bungee exercise in the gym as well as VHS retro 80s dance class and the boy band 90s dancing on the basketball court. It wasn’t all exercise because the cocktail-making in the test kitchen was hilarious, informative and very alcoholic.
In the evenings, we watched amazing shows all with incredibly talented artists. The Broadway standard performance of a modern interpretation based on Romeo and Juliet was breath-taking. The dance night, again performed by talented crew members, and the cabaret show were also great fun. Not to be missed was the thought-provoking and very funny performance of Never Sleep Alone.
Now of course one had to eat whilst on board and every meal, every snack and every nibble was first rate.
Razzle Dazzle on deck 5 brings vegetarian food to life. (But do ask about the secret menu!)
Pink Agave also on deck 5 elevates Mexican food to another level.
The Wake on deck 6, so named because it is at the aft, offers stunning steak and seafood.
The Test Kitchen also on deck 6 was a wonderful experience combining a restaurant and laboratory infused menu.
For those moments that you don’t want a full menu experience, get yourself a pizza on deck 7 or an ice cream at Lick Me Till I Scream.
And even by the pool, bowls of food are available, and at the dock there is a great mezze option.
There are also bars everywhere and we especially enjoyed SIP, the Champagne lounge.
I told you I could go on forever about how good the hospitality is throughout the ship and that’s only a small sample.
Top Tip: If a crew member comes up to you and invites you to a secret event, do not turn it down. It happened to us twice and we were not disappointed!
Our voyage visited Marseille, Cannes, Sardinia and Ibiza.
In Sardinia, we docked so coaches were provided to take us to the city centre. We decided to hire a taxi to see some of the sights on the island.
Top Tip: Don’t bother to hire a taxi as in the time available not much of interest can be seen. So stay in Olbia and soak up the atmosphere, all be it rather touristy.
Ibiza on the other hand is everything and more. We spent hours wandering the old town, the shopping areas and the bars and vowed to return at a future date to explore more.
Now, when you visit Ibiza you must go clubbing (you really are never too old) and although a little long in the tooth, we ventured out at 11pm to take the short taxi to Amnesia.
The venue, music and clubbers were everything I imagined and when we left at 3:30am, people were still arriving. Back on board at 4am and it was still possible to have some food in The Galley. Good old Valiant Lady - always there when you need her.
Top Tip: Research your club before visiting as there is a wide range of entry fees and standards of facilities as well as proximity to the port.
One of the places I haven’t mentioned yet is the pool on deck 15. It is a great facility with plenty of sunbeds, towels, food and drink. But it is at its best on the evening of the pool party.
Many of the crew attend and really work the crowd into a frenzy before encouraging the sailors to leap into the pool fully clothed and dance the night away. Nikki being shy and retiring was one of the first in and she loved it.
The voyage was soon at an end and disembarking was rather subdued as it was like leaving a friend you had only just got to know.
Top Tip: Book another Virgin Voyage as soon as possible!