Every cruise out of Miami on Virgin Voyages will make a spot at Bimini in the Bahamas. One important thing to note is that Bimini is not a private island for Virgin Voyages but offers a private Beach Club that guests on the cruise can enjoy. For me the private island stops are always the highlight of any cruise in the Caribbean. I have been to pretty much all of them too. Disney and Holland America have my favorite private islands but I have also been to NCL's, Princess, and both of Royal Caribbean's. Technically Royal Caribbean's Labadee isn't a private island since it is actually part of Haiti so I was kind of expecting the Beach Club at Bimini to be sort of like that. The big difference is that for Labadee the ship pulls up right to the private beach area so you walk off the ship and you are there. The Beach Club at Bimini is not really walkable from the ship but they do offer a tram all day. It is at least a 15 minute ride and there really aren't sidewalks which is why I say not walkable from the ship. The tram also makes 2 stops along the way at an area where shore excursions will depart from and also a casino. I heard some guests say they were hoping for a small town to explore but all we really saw were resort type areas and some homes. Golf carts were clearly the way most people on the island get around and I heard you could rent one for the day so I guess if you wanted to go off on your own you could.
My main focus was to check out the Beach Club. When you pull up you can tell that most of this is very new - which made me wonder would this have all been ready back in March 2020 when Scarlet Lady was supposed to start. Either way it was a nice welcome area which reminded me of what you might find in an open air lobby of an all inclusive island resort. Right away you see the big pool area and there are plenty of places to sit and get comfy everywhere. The Beach Club kind of reminded me of the way the ship is also designed with lots of smaller areas to enjoy instead of just one huge area. There are lots of cozy sitting areas around the resort but too bad that doesn't apply to the beachfront. To either side of the pool area there are places to grab lunch (which is included) and drinks. Of course there is a swim up bar and there are also some self-serve soda stations as well.
The pool area seemed to have music and stuff going on most of the day and for me that is not what I am looking for on a private beach day so I headed right for the sand! This is where I was let down though. The beach area is not very big and felt very crowded with lounge chairs and umbrellas all on top of each other. Our ship was only about a 1/3 full so I cannot imagine what this beach will be like with a full ship. There was also a roped off area with nicer lounge chairs but that was for Rockstar guests only. There are of course cabanas that you can rent but honestly they didn't seem to offer much for the price.
I prefer a little more space on my beach day so I can really just relax but you won't really find that here (definitely no social distance). The other thing I love to do at the private island stops is to float in the gorgeous turquoise water. Yes the water was that lovely color here but there wasn't a lot of swimming space and the water was a bit rough. There also wasn't an option to rent a float which I am guessing is due to the small area and not really floatable water. Along with no floats there weren't really any water toys either. We usually like to rent a hobie or something like that to go out and play but this beach area really wasn't designed for that. I guess in my head I was thinking the Beach Club at Bimini would have some fun things in the water like maybe some of those large inflatables or something like that so maybe that is something they are still working on. Right now the focus seemed to be more on the pool area for activities.
The one thing Beach Club at Bimini does have that no other cruise ship private stop does is a late night stay which includes bonfires! I was very excited for that as I have always wished the ships would stay late and do a night party type thing on their islands. We spent a couple hours on the beach in the morning and then headed back to the ship to eat and shower and then went back over closer to sunset to enjoy the bonfires and the cooler temperatures. I found I loved the Beach Club much more at this time of day. Most people had left so you could grab a lounge on the beach and relax. They had 3 large metal balls that they used for the fires and they were very cool. They lit them one by one and each lighting came with some music from the Phantom Folktales which I really enjoyed. We hung out for a bit and then headed back to the ship to catch the show. The ship was staying in port until 11:59 pm so it was a really late departure even though I am not really sure how many people even stayed on the beach past 9:00.
I know they cannot change the location of the Beach Club so I don't think there is a lot they can do for the swimming on the beach but maybe other times of the year will offer calmer water. I will be back in January and see what I think then.
Scarlet Lady was supposed to make her US debut back in March 2020 and I was supposed to be on that first voyage so I am glad that finally about 18 months later I got set sail onboard! I think when Virgin Voyages first started advertising there were some mixed messages about who Virgin was really targeting. A lot of people thought they were going after the millennials but I can tell you as someone who is a parent of a millenial I think I enjoyed this ship way more than anyone half my age! There were so many 80s things that I really feel like the target market for this cruise is my generation, the Gen Xers!
There were so many things I loved about this ship! Here are my Top 6 -
#1 - I LOVE that it is ADULT ONLY! I have been on other adult only cruises and there are some I haven't tried yet but generally I tend to be the youngest person on those cruises. There used to be a saying that cruising was for the newlywed or the nearly dead but then came along Disney Cruise Line and some of the other cruise lines realized the family market was a huge untapped one. While it is great that there are now lots of ships filled with things to attract families with kids, there are many of us that really do not enjoy sharing a cruise ship with hundreds of other people's kids. I love that Virgin went adult only but yet added so many things that really let adults feel like a kid again.
Another bonus to adult only right now is that it means everyone onboard is vaccinated. This made for a much more relaxed vibe onboard and things really almost felt like pre-covid times. Where else could you go right now and know that every single person you will come in contact with is vaccinated?
#2 - I Love the way they do Dining! I really am not a fan of always having to eat in a huge dining room every night. Sure some limes have changed it up a bit and got rid of the traditional set dining times and others added some smaller dining locations but those usually come with a fee or can be very hard to get a reservation for. On Virgin there is no main dining room but instead they have a bunch of smaller places to choose from and not a single one will cost you more to go to. There might be a few upcharge items on the menu but those are very few. At first I got worried when I couldn't find many reservation times available but then I realized each day I could make one day of without any problem so I really liked that you can be a bit more spontaneous. They also don't technically have a buffet but let's be real it sort of is a buffet / food court type location. It is called The Galley so if you know boat terms you know that is the kitchen on a boat so it is a good name for this spot. It has a bunch of stations all offering something different to choose from. No reservations needed, just walk in, grab a table and a server will come take your order. We were told that the servers taking orders are a covid thing in place temporarily but my hope is they will get the app upgraded and offer the option to order your food on there. There was a bit of a learning curve when everyone goes to The Galley the first time as all us of seasoned cruisers are just used to walking up to a counter to order our food and take back to a table ourselves so once I realized that wasn't what you did I realized I liked it even more. I also loved that there is an ice cream shop onboard with lots of great flavors and waffle cones and it doesn't cost anything! There is a candy shop (again no extra cost) and you wouldn't believe the line it had everyday! I had to laugh watching all of these adults picking out the candy they wanted from the candy jars - for me that is my life everyday.
#3 I Love the Staterooms! We had a Terrace room which is Virgin's fancy way of saying balcony room. There are so many things I love about the rooms it is hard to pick a favorite but I I think I will have to go with the hammock on the terrace (every terrace room has one). It was my most favorite spot to sit anywhere on the whole ship! The room itself has a lot of very cool features such as when you leave the room goes into eco mode and it automatically turns everything off and shuts the curtains to keep it cool. As soon as you return the curtains will automatically open and the lights will go back to which setting you had them on when you left. Yes I said setting as in there are more than one option for the lights in your room. There is a tablet in each room that controls all kinds of things like the tv and the lights and there are a few preset settings for the lights to set a particular mood. There is one setting called "Get It On" which of course closes the curtains, puts on some pink lights and plays a quick little bit of music to set the mood. I thought it was cute and I liked the pink lighting. I also really enjoyed the 2 carafes of chilled water that were refilled in our room everyday. I try to drink more water but usually when on vacation I forget so this was perfect. I also really liked the shower it has a nice rainshower option and the water pressure was great. I got to tour the Rockstar suites on my agent preview day and you will definitely feel like a Rock Star if you stay on any one of those!
#4 I Love the Entertainment! I always like being in the very aft of the ship when we leave port so as we pulled out of Miami we were back there just taking it all in and then all of a sudden there was someone with a guitar and he started singing a sailor type of song and then a few other random people sitting around chimed in with him. At first I thought what the heck is going on. Are these just some guests wanting to sing a song but then they finished their song and moved to another deck and started again so we figured oh they must be part of this new type of entertainment Virgin has been talking about. We ended up catching a few more of their pop up performances throughout the cruise and the last night there were actually a couple scheduled times where you could be sure to catch them do a few songs. There was a lot of pop up stuff like them and other stuff that you just needed to be in the right place at the right time which was fun. There are also 2 theatre type venues onboard but they are much smaller more intimate than the huge big production show theaters you get on the other ships. I really prefer these smaller spots. We missed a few of the shows but we caught the best one in my opinion which is the headliner show for this cruise called Duel Reality. I had already seen it on my sneak peak day and loved it so was so happy to get to see it again. It is one of those type shows where you end up holding your breath so much during the show that even seeing it again a week later I was still holding my breath and not believing they could do the things they did. It is a can't miss show! There was also a VHS 80s workout that I had assumed was going to be more of a show type thing poking fun at the seating to the oldies but it turned out it was actually a workout! It was a lot of fun though and sadly I realized that sweatin to the oldies now means working out to 80s music. I had flashbacks to highschool PE where the girls usually opted for the Richard Simmons workout instead of playing a sport.
#5 I Love all the Included in your cost items. Virgin includes a lot of things in your basic cruise fare. Like I already mentioned they include all the dining locations onboard - even the ice cream and candy! They also include basic beverages in your cruise cost. If you have been on some of the other lines you know you will shell out $10 a day for a soda package per person! I really am not a big soda drinker but on vacation it is nice to get a cold soda a few times. I also like that they have the self service drink locations open all the time so you can get one whenever you want. Yes I was a little surprised that they were actually self service but I was happy. Adult beverages are not included and they do not offer a drink package which I also actually think is better. The adult beverages are reasonably priced though so for someone like me that might only have 1 or 2 I would prefer cheaper prices vs the cruise lines with the drink packages that jack up the cost of the drinks so those of us paying per drink end up making up for the people who maximize their package. It was so nice to have free wifi! I know not everyone wants to be connected whole on vacation but let's be real we are all so used to being connected all the time that it is just nice to have the option without paying for it and also without having to worry oh no did I log off or am I wasting all my paid minutes. Some people said it was slow but honestly I thought it was just fine for doing things like checking email and popping a few photos onto social media. All fitness classes are included which I thought cool I will try to do some but that didn't happen - unless you count my sweating to the 80s. The couple classes I wanted to try were already full before I could make a reservation. Next cruise I will know to try getting on the ship earlier so I can go right in the app and grab those. I am assuming covid rules might have really limited the number of guests they could allow this cruise so hopefully getting into those will get easier. I saved the best for last - Gratuities are included! It was nice to know you didn't have to worry about either pre-paying or having that charge on your account at the end of the cruise. I was a little worried that service might not be as good since all the crew knew they were already tipped no matter what but I didn't find that at all.
#6 - I Love the Design of the Ship. Even though the ship is what I would call a large ship with the capacity to hold about 2800 guests it never feels like a big ship. The whole design is set up with lots of smaller nooks and comfy spots to hang out that you never feel like you are in some large open area that could be full of a lot of people. Despite the fact that there isn't a lot of signage once you find your way around you realize it was all very easy to get to. One of my favorite places is the very back of the ship on Deck 7 (there are 17 decks total so this is towards the bottom). Deck 7 goes all the way to the back of the ship whereas all the decks above are back a bit so when you are on deck 7 you can see all the way up to the bottom of deck 16 and the big net. The area is called The Dock and it has some comfy spots to sit and just enjoy watching the wake of the ship as we cruise. There is also a real tree back there which I think is a really nice touch. I love when cruise ships have real plants and flowers onboard. You can of course get some snacks or drinks delivered to you while you are enjoying this comfy area. The pop up entertainment even made some stops there.
That is my top 6 and really I could have written more but it has been a busy week and I am already getting this sent out late today. Stay tuned next week I will give some more information on the cruise in general and a few of the things that I didn't love as much.
I know you might think I am crazy to say that an adult only cruise line and the most family friendly cruise line would have anything in common but they do. Here are 5 things I have found already -
#1 Both Disney and Virgin were already big in the Entertainment and Travel industries before going into the Cruise business and they both changed the way people thought about cruising.
#2 Both cruise lines really switched up the way dining is done onboard a cruise. Disney introduced their rotational dining where you get to enjoy the 3 main restaurants and your serving team goes with you to each one. Virgin has done away with main dining rooms and also a buffet (which technically was perfect timing since we have probably seen the end of the buffet as we knew it anyway). Instead Virgin offers over 20 different places you can eat onboard and it will not cost you anything extra.
#3 Both cruise lines brought their entertainment knowledge to their cruise ships. Disney was the first to really bring theatrical shows onboard and Virgin is also doing entertainment with their own Virgin twist. The show I got to see while onboard for the day was nothing like what I had seen on a cruise before and I cannot wait to see what else they are doing.
#4 Both cruise lines include basic beverages like soft drinks in your cruise fare. I know it might sound like a small thing but most cruise lines will charge you extra for a soda. Virgin is also including Wi-Fi and Gratuities in their cruise fare. It would be nice if Disney did the same, especially the wi-fi since that would mean crew could use it too. I found out by talking to a lot of crew lately that it really is the most important thing to be able to talk to family at home.
#5 Both cruise lines had the same President when they started. Tom McAlpin did so many things to make Disney Cruise Line what it is today and now he is doing the same for Virgin. PS - That is Tom in the photo with me above.
Maybe I will find even more similarities while I am cruising - stay tuned for a full report when I get back in a few days!
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