You’ve been told. First impressions count!
What’s our first impression of Virgin Voyages (PRE-CRUISE)?
We’ve wanted to try Virgin since all the hype started just before the pandemic. We decided to jump on the chance to try the 14-day transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Miami on the Valiant Lady, Virgin Voyages first revenue crossing. (Previous transatlantic voyages have been mostly staff)
Talk about commitment to trying something new! After booking a 14-day transatlantic, I began to wonder how Virgin planned to keep “Sailors” busy for such a long time since they are accustomed to much shorter cruises full of events and activities. This concern led me to buy multiple “bar tabs” and other ridiculous things like the Splash Of Romance package in hopes that if I get bored, I’ll at least have a bar to sit at and some random things to keep me entertained.
Enter my first impressions of Virgin Voyages.
I can say at this point, leading up to embarkation, I’m hoping that Virgin has hired better staff to steer their ships and maintain their onboard systems than they have for land-based customer service and app developers for their phone apps.
If not, please rescue us in the middle of the Atlantic!
Starting with the cruise booking process
The online booking process is relatively straightforward, that is when the buttons work on the website. I found it odd that you can’t select a cabin during the booking process, but have since learned that by working with a travel agent or calling Virgin to book a cruise, room selection may be possible.
Then the fun part comes when you download Virgin Voyages app
The app looks slick until you try to find your reservation that you’ve just spent many thousands of dollars on. If it’s not crashing, it’s not able to find a reservation. After a few days of fiddling with the app, I was able to register my cruise and start to review the activities. There were none. My worst fear seems to be coming true on this.
After waiting until closer to the departure date, and being notified that the restaurant booking system is open for reservations, I tried along with my travel companions to book tables. It was nearly impossible. Only one day showed availability for a few of the restaurants. As time passed, randomly other days showed up where bookings and reservations were possible. So we collectively decided (Me and 3 travel companions) to just wait it out and see if we could book while on the ship. Allegedly this isn’t a problem.
What IS a problem is that they generally allow only one booking per restaurant per cruise. Doing the math, 14 days with limited restaurants, left me wondering if we were going to be banished to the food hall for meals after exhausting the 1 time per restaurant reservation rule.
So I decided to ask Virgin about this policy of reservation limitations.
Live chat & customer service
I fired up the live chat and got a semi-friendly person on the other end assuring me that we can book what we want once on board. Feeling relieved, I asked about the plans to entertain people for 14 days since this isn’t in their regular programming. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty to do” was the response.
I’m thinking at this point that having those multiple bar tabs may actually come in handy.
So after concluding that “there will be plenty to do” and “not to worry about reservations” I was thinking how I should just let it go, as it’s a vacation.
But I couldn’t just let it go.
Buying “Bar Tabs” & “Land Things”
Deciding to purchase multiple bar tabs from within the phone app, I started the application and tried to find where to purchase “bar tabs” along with a promotion being offered (for every $300 purchase, $100 was given as a bonus). Unable to do this in the app, I decided to make these purchases with a laptop (I can’t emphasize how bad the app really is!)
A day later, I went and checked the phone app to see if the 3 bar tabs of $300 each + the offered bonus of $100 per bar tab were correctly applied to the account. It wasn’t. I wasn’t surprised. I was frustrated, however. I showed 3 x $300 purchases for a bar tab 2 x $100 bonus bar tabs, my Splash of Romance package ($200), and $50 of “sailor loot” due to a group booking. But missing was one of the $100 promotional bonus bar tab offers.
The reality is, $100 is not much in the grand scheme of spending thousands on a cruise, but I started to think that the image of having a carefree vacation floating across the planet in a luxury ship would be overshadowed by my OCD in an attempt to account for my drinks and making sure I got what I paid for. This is where I wonder to myself, why Virgin doesn’t offer any drink package. Of course, I get why. They wrap the lack of beverage packages up in a tidy marketing blurb about how research shows that their demographic doesn’t want to just drink all day and buy beverage packages. Regardless, I just know that I’ve shelled out $900 for $1200 worth of drinks on a 14-day voyage, and I’m going to want to make sure I get my money’s worth.
I go back to the handy website and try to do a live chat.
(at this point, I didn’t even bother too book shore excursions due to the frustration and inability to get help from Virgin)
Chatting with a Virgin Voyages agent is just not going to happen.
(unless you are very lucky)
Three times, I fired up the chat and was in position 30-something. I wait as I see the numbers tick down and finally after 2 hours, I’m in position 2. Then the magic happens! “DISCONNECTED, NO AGENT AVAILABLE”.
So by my calculations, I’ve wasted nearly 7 hours waiting for someone to confirm that I’ve been credited for bar tab purchases correctly.
After several attempts and a few emails, I finally received cryptic messages about how they’ve manually applied all of my credits to a “special” account, that I cannot see. Even after I try to confirm specifically what is credited to the account, I’m again told “not to worry!”
So, I’m back to accounting for each glass of wine I have over 14 days to make sure this all works out because I will worry.
The Level Upgrade offer
I was excited to get an offer to upgrade the cabin type during the 14-day crossing. So I put in healthy bids for everything from a central sea terrace up to every suite that was available. (Currently, I’m booked in a standard balcony aka Sea Terrace). For a couple of hundred dollars, a more premium location balcony cabin was available to bid on as well as about 8 various “rockstar” suites with varying layouts and sizes. After a bit of research, I just decided to bid on everything that was available except the $13,000 upgrade to the largest suite on the ship. My thinking is that an extra $1200-$2000 per cabin for such a long journey wasn’t unreasonable. Though that nearly doubles the cost of the cabin itself ($2200 paid for this experimental journey)
Now 3 days until the ship departs, there’s been no update on whether or not the bid(s) have been accepted.
Conclusion so far
I think it’s fair to say that I’m being somewhat harsh. However, this is supposed to be a vacation, an experience, a memorable event. So far, I’m left feeling underwhelmed, frustrated, and really hoping the hype of the on board experience balances out the painful pre-cruise customer service.
I think Virgin is on to something here. I think Richard Branson is on to something here. The experience and “Product” is unique and I want to see them succeed! I want an all-adult alternative to the screaming children and buffet mishaps on other cruise lines. So I’m rooting for Virgin Voyages and I want them to figure this out, but you’d think that being essentially closed for 2 years during a pandemic, they could have sorted out a lot of issues with their app, processes, etc. It’s borderline inexcusable and I wonder how long people will be forgiving of the “new kid on the block” with their quirks and dysfunction.
I’m excited to be trying Virgin Voyages and would love to share the actual experience. If you want to see how this goes, let me know by subscribing to our Virgin 14-day cruise letter.