There’s a palpable crackle in the air as we approach Station Pier ahead of our Virgin Voyages cruise out of Melbourne. It’s mere moments before 1:30pm and priority embarkation is about to begin for a select group of passengers, including myself, thanks to a status match to Deep Blue Extras.

(Other passengers that make the cut include those booked in Rockstar and Mega Rockstar Quarters – the suites – plus those who spring for a ‘Splash of Romance’ package, currently around US$200 with other perks).

Many are sailing with Virgin Voyages for the first time, and we’re all itching to find out, ‘Is the hype real?’ For the uninitiated, Virgin Voyages is an adults-only cruise line – currently on its maiden Australian season – that promises to do things differently.

Firstly, no kids. All the ship spaces and activities are firmly designed for the young at heart. You won’t find buffets here, either. Instead, six signature restaurants and dozens of eateries are included in the fare – as are soft drinks, basic Wi-Fi and onboard entertainment. And as I later confirm, the hype is, indeed, real.

Priority boarding comes with one important perk – first dibs at a range of onboard activities that can only be booked via the app once you’re on the ship. It pays to be prepared. We know what shows and fitness classes we want to do, so it’s simple to lock them in. We manage to snag spots in the popular bungee and spin classes, which later book out.

As we peel away from the pier, free-flowing sparkling wine appears on the pool deck as the Happenings Cast (a diverse group of performers and entertainers onboard) introduce themselves and kick-starts the party. It’s time to hit the high seas.

Casual Dining

I won’t lie – the Michelin-star-inspired restaurant concept on Virgin Voyages is probably what I’ve been looking forward to the most. So our first stop is the food.

The Dock on Deck 7 is my favourite casual eating spot on the whole ship – those grilled prawns and octopus skewers from the mezze cart are oh-so-satisfying. It’s perfect for our pre-sailing lunch as we wait for the other passengers (some 2,500 – it’s almost a full sailing) to board.

If something more casual catches your mood, The Galley on Deck 15 is the place to be. Arranged like a food court, your options range from healthy to indulgent and everything in between.

The Daily Mix tosses together fresh salads to order. But over a few days, I can’t resist trying a freshly grilled burger at Burger Bar, mini fish tacos at Let’s Taco Bout It, and my go-to express breakfast – a bowl of ramen from Noodle Around.

You can’t say Virgin Voyages doesn’t feed you. Further options include Ship Eats (room service for a nominal fee, waived if you order a chargeable item), The Pizza Place (cooking up to 2am), and Lick Me Till Ice Scream.

Signature Dining

Most of the six full-service restaurants are solely open for dinner, but two – Razzle Dazzle and The Wake – also do brunch. Even on a five-night cruise, we manage to dine at each restaurant at least once.

Asking me which restaurants I like the most is akin to asking me to pick my favourite niece or nephew. They’re genuinely all worthy of praise. Oh, but if I really had to, it would be Gunbae, Extra Virgin and The Wake.

So what’s hot?

Gunbae is a social experience, so expect to share a table with others if there are spare seats. Over a free shot of soju, the effervescent Mae leads us through a challenging drinking game (I happen to win it and pocket the remaining soju as a prize). Both the appetiser and main grilled dishes are excellent.

The Italian kitchen at Extra Virgin hits the high notes. We start with the Roman-style fried artichoke, calamari and moreish beef carpaccio (I order a second serving as it’s so good).

The pasta dishes are all so tasty – look for the carbonara and the gnocchi, which is our server’s strong recommendation after we don’t order it, initially. And is there a better parting gift than a complimentary shot of limoncello?

For the fanciest dining experience, make a beeline for The Wake – the steakhouse. We visit for lunch and my only regret is not booking it for dinner, where there is a wider menu.

The clam chowder is a must-try, and if you like your steak, go for the filet mignon. Dessert isn’t an afterthought either, with a strawberry crêpe cake receiving compliments all around.

Whilst not my favourite overall, The Test Kitchen is worth visiting for dinner. Operating like a six-course degustation. each dish is themed around a base ingredient. My highlights of ‘Menu 1’ are the mushroom and scallop courses. They’re the perfect combination of visual appeal and flavour.

Pink Agave is another firm favourite of sailors, offering fare with a Mexican twist, such as tuna aguachile and roasted duck with mole and yam paste. Order multiple servings of guacamole if you’re sharing – it’s that good.

Finally, Razzle Dazzle has a vegetarian and vegan focus, but there’s still a tantalising selection of ‘naughty’ options that we indulge in. If I can offer one criticism, it’s that the quality of brunch pales compared to dinner.

I quite enjoy the chicken wings, pork belly, lamb shank and pastrami-style steak. (Tip: chat to your server about the not-so-secret menu if you like burgers and blue cheese…)

Service is incredible across all the eateries. Everyone we speak to seems happy to be on board and goes out of their way to make food recommendations we might like.

Relax + Unwind

Our home away from home

The Sea Terrace is the third room category (after the Insider and Sea View rooms). Yet, these balcony staterooms are the most common type of cabins onboard. It’s also the default cabin if you redeem Velocity Points for an Access Key, as I do to book this cruise.

It’s a modern, refreshing design that shows off fancy mod-cons such as auto-opening curtains and mood lighting. An in-room tablet controls all these functions, plus the air-conditioning and the TV.

I find there’s enough space for two once we’ve unpacked our bags. Storage isn’t an issue, with a spacious wardrobe and a few drawers at our disposal. The bathroom is a bit squishy, but at least there’s a separate rainfall shower cubicle.

My friends, who book into an XL Sea Terrace with cash, have a similar cabin layout but are blessed with a bathroom over double the size and a separate toilet cubicle.

The iconic red hammocks are truly a delight to relax in. Nearly every balcony sports one, and it’s great for both sitting and stretching out fully.

Boost your Velocity Points balance with this card offer.

Visiting the Thermal Spa

With some onboard credit (Sailor Loot) to burn through, we tee up a visit to the Thermal Spa. It currently costs US$51 on port days and US$70 on sea days per person for a 3-hour pass. Certainly not cheap, but it’s a relaxing way to let off some steam…

Speaking of which, the facilities include a sauna, steam room, mud room, salt room and multiple plunge pools. A visit to the cold plunge after the sauna is bracing, but I actually feel very invigorated.

Play + Fun

Schedules packed to the brim

My wife and I initially approach this cruise as a relaxing one. We fail miserably, and I blame Virgin Voyages. The app is packed full of activities that we want to do. (We also have two full days in Hobart, so we’re not always on board).

On the sea days, we try two paid classes. ‘Plate, Snap, Eat’ (US$35pp) is a workshop where ‘The Foodie’ – one of the Happenings cast members – walks us through various dishes’ different ingredients and flavour profiles before we plate it up and learn food photography tricks. Another is ‘Painting and Boozy Bevvies’ with ‘The Artist’ (also US$35pp).

Like the spa, these prices are quite steep when converted to Australian dollars. I don’t think I would have done both classes without the credit. But they’re very fun, and to be fair, the price includes bottomless sparkling wine (with a non-alcoholic version available).

Some mornings, we work out with the free pre-booked bungee and spin classes which are very entertaining. We also keep ourselves busy with plenty of other free options, including Latin Dance 101 and the PJ Party on night one.

But you don’t have to keep adding to the schedule to fill the day. At any given point during the day, you’ll find people relaxing by the pool or playing board games at The Social Club on Deck 7.

Scarlet Night & the shows

I must say it; Virgin Voyages knows how to put on a show. I’m not just talking about the theatre. The Virgin brand flair is most evident on Scarlet Night, where the whole ship undergoes a transformation before a thumping pool party.

I do enjoy more traditional theatre shows, but you won’t find any of that here. Onboard entertainment takes on an edgy tone with shows such as Around The World with the Diva (a fun 80-minute romp with the ship’s drag queen), Lola’s Library (a literary cabaret in three acts), and the signature show, Persephone.

Shake for Champagne

Have spare bar credit? One of Sir Richard Branson’s cheeky creative endeavours is ‘Shake for Champagne’. A golden wave of bubbles appears with a simple shake of the app. Tap a few more times, and a crew member is dispatched to you with a bottle of Moët & Chandon.

The genius part about this feature is you don’t specify where you are – the app and your wristband can somehow figure out your approximate location. I test it out and it’s pretty seamless, taking about 10 minutes for the bubbles to find us.

Do note the price has recently increased from US$95 to US$105 onboard, making it even more of an expensive treat. But the ‘Splash of Romance’ package (US$200) includes a free ‘Shake for Champagne’, and two Thermal Spa passes (along with priority boarding and other perks), making it an excellent-value bundle.

Deep Blue Extras perks

Finally, I want to touch on the perks that really elevated my voyage experience. Deep Blue Extras is a collection of benefits usually earned from sailing on Virgin Voyages twice within a certain period. But earlier in 2023, those with eligible status – including Virgin Australia – were invited to match.

Unfortunately, the status match program is now closed. But I know many of you did the match and have since sailed or will sail soon. Let me tell you – it makes such a big difference.

I’ve touched on priority boarding many times now. It’s so handy to be able to get on at 1:30pm to enjoy a leisurely lunch and finalise your bookings.

Then there’s the $10/day coffee credit, which I religiously use for my daily shot, plus a second hot beverage for my wife or one of my friends on the house. Of course, I really appreciate (and promptly drink through) the complimentary US$100 bar credit as well.

Free Premium Wi-Fi is another underrated perk. My friends initially only have the standard (free) Wi-Fi, which works well enough, but stutters at times. (They later bite the bullet and upgrade for around US$30 daily). Meanwhile, I remain seamlessly connected even while out on the open ocean.

Deep Blue Extras also comes with one complimentary laundry service. It’s usually US$30 for a bag. But to be fair, it’s a huge bag and a great way to do a load of laundry without paying per-piece pricing.

Lastly, we’re invited to a private sail-away party in Hobart with live music, free-flowing sparkling wines and selected cocktails. What a way to cruise.

Our verdict

Apart from a short cruise with my family as a child, I’ve never done a proper ocean liner cruise before. So even though I haven’t had any experience with other lines, I still feel like I’d rather cruise with Virgin Voyages again. (The loyalty perks don’t hurt, either.)

I really enjoy the experience – particular highlights being the friendly and engaging staff, the modern ship spaces and the excellent dining onboard. The main downside, I find, is that the pricing in USD means some of the add-ons will empty your wallet a bit faster. And for a ship so reliant on technology, the app crashes often enough that it’s mentioned as a punchline in one of the onboard shows!

That aside, the days blur as we dart around the decks like kids in a candy shop, discovering all the ship spaces and plotting where we’ll spend some time later. I’ll be honest – five nights isn’t quite enough.

Virgin Voyages Hobart
Land, ahoy! The port of Hobart looks pretty.

Also read: Virgin Voyages Resilient Lady media ship tour →

All photography by Brandon Loo, who travelled to Melbourne and cruised at his own expense with Velocity Points. He was provided US$500 in Sailor Loot to use onboard, courtesy of Virgin Voyages.

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Virgin Voyages offers a fun twist on cruising was last modified: February 20th, 2024 by Brandon Loo