We recently completed the Barcelona to Miami transatlantic cruise on the beautiful Valiant Lady and have been asked many questions about the experience. We thought it would be a great opportunity to document what to expect for a transatlantic cruise with Virgin Voyages.
Embarkation in Barcelona
The embarkation of the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady in Barcelona for the transatlantic crossing was about as smooth as could be expected! From dropping the luggage off to being in line to check in, it was about 25 minutes. There are 2 separate lines, one to do a bag drop and then lining up to be let into check-in lines by group time.
After arriving in line, it moved quickly with quite a few agents.
We had a 2 p.m. arrival time and were having wine by 2:45 on the ship. By far the most efficient boarding process this year!
Even better, Virgin Voyages has chosen to dock their ship at the first slip in the Barcelona port which is highly unusual.
If you’ve departed from Barcelona in the past, you’ll know that usually, you have to go over a long bridge to get to the ships, whereas the Valiant Lady was parked so close to town you could drop your bags off and still wander the city for most of the day if you wanted to. I hope they continue to do this, as it’s a huge bonus for people who need to check out of a hotel and can’t quite board the ship yet. (After 2023 announcements of cruise ship changes in Barcelona, this may no longer happen).
The MANY hours spent with Sailor Services
Unfortunately, with our travel group, there were a number of issues that kept us going back to Sailor Services repeatedly throughout the first day. This ranged from wristbands not working to charges & credits not being applied correctly to the account(s). This takes a little of the first-day vacation fun away from the experience.
Sadly, a week after departure, there are still unresolved issues that require repeated visits to Sailor Services. If the issues had been addressed on the first day (or two), it would have not left an indefinite bad taste in our collective mouths about the first week of our transatlantic cruise.
A great sail-away party
The famous sail-away party featuring bottomless champagne for an hour +/- set the vibe for the entire journey, with a huge number of passengers showing up on deck 15 for the excitement. The experience was a great way to get introduced to the enthusiasm of the passengers and the entertainment staff (Happenings Crew) that hosted the party. The entertainment staff did a great job engaging with people and really getting the trip started off with the right level of excitement.
What to expect on a 14-day transatlantic cruise with Virgin Voyages
Transatlantic cruises are unique in so many ways and each cruise line offers so many different ways to keep passengers occupied at sea. These cruises usually appeal to specific types of travelers who really enjoy sea days. This voyage is effectively a back-to-back cruise (a full week of ports then a full week of sea days) which makes it tough for those people who really aren’t excited by sea days.
Talking to passengers on the ship, there’s a nearly 50/50 divide between those who love the sea days and those who are missing the ports and being able to get off the ship for some variety.
The first 7 days are very much like a typical Mediterranean Cruise with several ports and overnight in Malaga. The only unusual port that wouldn’t normally be on a Med cruise is Funchal, Madeira (Portugal) – which is a must-see if you choose to do this transatlantic cruise with Virgin Voyages. (Note that this will be in the reverse for the Miami to Barcelona transatlantic on any Virgin Voyages ship – where the front end will be sea days and the back end will be the Med)
The second week is all open ocean (it’s actually 8 days) with nothing but eating, relaxing, activities, and pool time.
Virgin Voyages has surprisingly come up with plenty of creative ways to keep people busy during sea days with activities that aren’t limited to nighttime parties. (See the posted daily programs for an idea of what to expect). The ship has done a lot to prepare for the days at sea including art classes, trivia, gaming competitions, foodie classes, tastings, a few lectures, some movies, and of course the evening entertainment and parties. While Virgin Voyages ships are primarily designed for cruises that are a week or less, it’s impressive that they’ve managed to come up with a packed schedule of events that don’t only involve drinking, overeating, and lying by the pool. Having been on many transatlantic cruises with other lines, this was a really nice & pleasant surprise.
14-day transatlantic cruise itinerary – Virgin Voyages
Here’s an example of what Virgin Voyages has put together for their 14-day transatlantic cruise. This includes all of the daily programs divided into two weeks.
Week 1 of the Virgin Voyages transatlantic Cruise
Use the zoom, expand, or full-screen controls to see all schedule/program pages.
Week 2 of the Virgin Voyages transatlantic Cruise
Use the zoom, expand, or full-screen controls to see all of the daily program pages.
The Passengers (Sailors)
As with most transatlantic crossings, the demographics on the Valiant Lady 14-day transatlantic cruise trend a little older. Observing the overall type of passenger on board, it’s clear that it’s not the target demographic for the “vibe” that Virgin Voyages is trying to create. It’s slightly older which isn’t surprising given the time required for a vacation of this type and expenses not normally associated with a Virgin Voyages cruise (international travel and hotels).
There are still plenty of younger people on the ship, it’s just obvious they are not the massive majority you might expect for a shorter Caribbean cruise. There’s also a bit less of a party vibe than would be expected on a typical Virgin Voyages cruise. Most fellow passengers (sailors) we’ve spoken with who did this transatlantic cruise are either between jobs or are digital nomads who can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Regardless of the age of the passengers, everyone was having a great time and participating in every event!
A lack of diversity among passengers is also obvious. While the cruise line prides itself on diversity among staff and customers, this cruise is decidedly less diverse but seemingly no less open-minded. Everyone knows what the Virgin brand is creating and no one is surprised by the high number of gay couples, outrageous costumes, speedos, or topless sunbathing. It’s important to know that just because the age of guests is a little older than expected, they’re having just as much fun mingling with all types of other people.
The Internet Quality on the Valiant Lady Transatlantic
In the Med, the internet quality on the Valiant Lady was shockingly bad. The ship relies on Starlink for its satellite, and it’s my understanding that Starlink doesn’t have as strong of a signal in some Mediterranean areas (and the ships using Starlink rely on land relays when possible). The service was unusable (completely) for a couple of days before entering into the open ocean creating a sense of panic among both staff and passengers.
However, contrary to common logic, the service actually got exponentially better after The Valiant Lady entered the open ocean. There are some caveats, however.
Some services, mainly file sharing and Apple features (sending videos and pics through messages, news, etc.) seem to be disabled or throttled. However, for WhatsApp users, these features are working just fine.
The speed is impressive and everyone we’re traveling with is able to get work done, make calls (tested with Skype and Phone.Com), and use messaging services (other than those mentioned above).
Questions Asked So Far (ask more below!)
Did you run out of anything? Certain foods, alcohol?
At the beginning of the cruise, there were so many things missing from bars and some items missing from restaurants. This isn’t a function of the transatlantic as much as it seems to have been poor planning and logistics issues by Virgin Voyages. There were plenty of complaints and by day 4, with a stop in Malaga, many missing items had started to show up in the bars and restaurants. But by day 10 – there are some things starting to go noticeably absent from some areas, mostly certain brands of liquor & beer. There was never food that ran out other than the seafood tower in The Wake! Let’s face it, thank god they weren’t serving “fresh” seafood by day 10 of a cruise! 🙂
The real noticeable items missing were the variety of beers. The “Draught House” … was more like… a sad corner with 3 choices. Then there were 2. By the end of the cruise, there were none.
What was the average age of the people on the transatlantic cruise?
There was a huge variety of ages on board, but if I had to guess based on what I saw I’d say the trend is toward the mid to late 50s. But I met plenty of people in their early 30’s and 40’s. There were fewer younger people than I’d normally expect on a Virgin Voyages cruise, and I can only guess that this is because of the duration of the cruise and origination making it more challenging for younger people who are employed to get this much time off.
How many times can you book a restaurant on a transatlantic cruise? Normally you can eat at each restaurant once per cruise I believe
This was also our concern. To be honest, our biggest concern! We had read a lot about how Virgin Voyages limited the number of times you could eat at any given restaurant during a typical cruise. However, thankfully we were able to book what we wanted, and multiple times over the 14 days, with no restrictions due to the length of the cruise. Officially Virgin Voyages states that you can book 3 times per restaurant on 6+ day voyages, but we managed to book what we wanted when we wanted with no questions asked.
Do any of the restaurants on Virgin Voyages change the menu for long cruises or transatlantic cruises?
Unfortunately, there were no changes in menus other than at the Test Kitchen which has two menus depending on the day you dine. But this is not because of the length of the cruise, it’s typical for the Test Kitchen Menu.
Do they have drag queen brunch?
Unfortunately, they did not have the famous drag queen brunch on the transatlantic cruise. Disappointing. I’m not sure if this is a function of the cruise itself or if it’s something that is being done away with in general.
Did you have a hard time getting reservations for anything? Was EVERYTHING booked as soon as you boarded the ship or could you book an exercise class later?
Our travel companions were really big into the classes and by the time we were on board, most had booked up. They were able to drop in a few classes during voyages where some people had not shown up. I think the company should have planned better and had more classes and trainers onboard during this length of a cruise.
Did you get bored?!
We’ve done a lot of crossings but only one this long. The first week having multiple port days, there was no worry about getting bored and everyone was content. However, by day three of the open ocean, you could tell that people were getting a little bored. It wasn’t as much of a lack of activities as it was passengers being bored with the food options. It’s hard to imagine, given the amazing food that Virgin Voyages has created, but it’s still the same places and the same menus every day. I don’t think anyone from Virgin knew what to expect and they certainly are new at providing entertainment outside of their normal program. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t plan for any sort of classes or “enrichment” activities like other lines that do crossings (Queen Mary 2 has a huge schedule of interesting things to keep people occupied). They did have a lecture that was in multiple parts from one of the early employees of Virgin, but that was about it. Unfortunately, it felt like a missed opportunity to provide some amazing lectures or programs given the long time at sea and the amazing spaces on the ships that would have accommodated lectures.
As for getting bored, many passengers, including myself started taking part in activities that they normally wouldn’t do, which was fun to witness. Whether it was karaoke, trivia, Macramé classes, or games, people really were going out of their comfort zone halfway through the voyage. It was apparent that this kept people from going bored out of their minds, and most really ended up enjoying it, myself included.
The key is on this type of cruise is to seek out the random, the social gatherings, etc, and just try new things. There’s plenty to keep people from getting bored as long as you want to participate!
If you get bored, try going to each level of the ship and figure out the puzzles. They’re different everywhere and it’s actually good fun.
Are there any extra offerings or experiences onboard that are not normally offered on the shorter cruises?
There are! As mentioned above. There were tons of social activities that aren’t typical given the port-heavy itineraries that Virgin has with their cruises. Art classes, Macramé, group projects, social gatherings, trivia, etc. And while some of these activities may be available on some itineraries, there was more of everything.
For anyone who’s a fan of trivia, it’s totally worth doing as often as possible! It’s GOOD trivia. HARD trivia! The prizes are a round of drinks for the team that wins, so it’s HIGH YIELD trivia! 🙂 We won 6 times and the bar tab for our group winning was no less than $120 each time, so that’s a nice bonus.
What is the weather like on the 14-day Transatlantic voyage?
I’ve done 12 Transatlantic cruises with various cruise lines and on every one the weather is a little different. However, the time of year and the route have a lot to do with what you can expect. Coming out of Barcelona headed to Miami in October, the weather is pretty perfect. Aside from a bit of rough seas leaving the Mediterranean, the sailing was smooth with mostly warm days and a lot of sun!
After all the T/A trips, I’d say that this route and time of year is by far my favorite and generally has good weather (but who can predict it, right?!)
Do you have a comment?
Did we miss something? Have you had a different experience? Did we get it wrong?