[ON LOCATION] LAUREL HERMAN
Virgin Voyages’ 2,770-guest Valiant Lady set sail on her maiden voyage from PortMiami last fall, and we were on board to savor the experience during the 6-night itinerary. What we found while cruising from Miami to Central America and Mexico on board this mid-sized, adults-only ship, is that the cruise line truly delivers on its pillars: wellness; culinary; entertainment; and sustainability.
“The ideal size for an incentive group on board Valiant Lady and her sister ships—when they are not a full charter—is between 75 and 150 sailors,” says Kelly Popovski, sr. manager, charter, incentive and onboard sales for Virgin Voyages. Popovski further explains that when it comes to this mid-sized cruise brand “we are almost all-inclusive. Groups will enjoy basic WiFi, gratuities, essential beverages, including sodas, all food, and group fitness classes. With so much included, budgeting is a no-brainer. We are also adults-only, designed for sailors 18+.”
With another two Scarlet-class sister ships coming this year, Virgin Voyages will offer groups destinations around the world, including sailings from Athens and later in 2023, from Melbourne on Resilient Lady. Valiant Lady will be heading back to Europe on her 7-night Med cruises from Barcelona. Meanwhile, winter destinations (December 2023) for Brilliant Lady, which will be docked in San Juan, include Tortola, Pointe-a-Pitre, Bridgetown, Castries, St. John, Oranjestad, Willemstad, Fort-de-France, and Basseterre.
The inspiration behind Virgin Voyages is to offer a boutique vibe, so those cruising on Valiant Lady will find an array of intimate areas as opposed to massive public spaces. Tom McAlpin, Virgin Voyages’ president, says, “Our clients wanted a more intimate experience, and we believe we designed the ship to deliver that.”
Sip, the Champagne lounge where groups can order Moet and caviar, is cozy, elegant and relaxed. Another cool comfy space is The Social Club, for those who want to kick-back, play some board games and air hockey, and feast on diner treats. There’s also The Scene, a quiet nook outfitted with full-length windows and made for reading, relaxing or private gatherings.
The Redemption Spa and wellness area offers an array of activities daily. There’s a full menu of spa services, including a thermal suite featuring salt, steam and sauna rooms (bookable for 3-hour time frames). Additionally, the training center at the Athletic Club features an assortment of equipment complemented by an outdoor training zone, and B-Complex offers yoga, spinning, circuit training and even an upswing bungee class.
When it comes to its dining offerings, Virgin Voyages keeps to its boutique ambiance with restaurants holding only 170 to 210 people. We enjoyed a different restaurant each evening and while all were beautifully and uniquely designed with inimitable experiences, we are calling out two favorites. A must is the elegant Pink Agave, inspired by Mexico City’s food street scene (to die for are the scrumptious chicken tamales). My personal favorite, though, is the lively and convivial Extra Virgin, a modern, sophisticated restaurant where groups can order everything from a charcuterie board to fried calamari and grilled Mediterranean Sea bass. Service? Top-notch, of course.
For comfort food, clients can partake in the fun at Razzle Dazzle. For those seeking an upscale dining venue there’s The Wake, serving steak, seafood and more (open for an elegant brunch as well), while The Galley—with eight+ food stations (no reservations needed). Other choices are Test Kitchen, where wait staff are dressed in lab coats and the chef surprises you with a daily selection; Gunbae, a unique Korean interactive BBQ experience; Pizza Place, where groups can order freshly baked custom pies; and The Dock House, located aft outdoors and perfect for a light Mediterranean lunch.
No matter what time of day, there’s always something on board to entertain groups, from the aforementioned wellness activities, including 80s-inspired workouts, to karaoke, trivia games, live music and dance parties. We particularly loved The Manor, the ship’s 2-story nightclub where groups can enjoy dinner and a show and later drinks in the VIP room that can be booked for 30 or 40 people. The Red Room, the first multiform theater at sea, is where groups can experience everything from dance parties to an ongoing acrobatic show, Duel Reality.
The high-tech Sea Terrace cabin we called home during our sailing featured a balcony and hammock (86 percent of the cabins have balconies), a king bed and all the comforts your attendees would need including a desk area, reading chair, safe, full-length mirror and a small bathroom.
The cabins, boasting a minimalist decor, are high-tech with a tablet to control the lights (mood lighting that adjusts to match the time of day), the entertainment system and the curtains as well as for ordering room service and extra towels and for booking dinner, spa and shore excursions. For groups wanting larger accommodations, there are 78 RockStar Suites. These have a turntable, a selection of vinyls, a full bar, and a lounging area, and all RockStars get exclusive access to a private sundeck, Richard’s Rooftop. Also included in suite status is VIP boarding.
Bridging technology with sustainability, at check-in your clients will receive a smart wristband made of recycled ocean plastic (per band, created in partnership with BIONIC Yarn, this represents the removal of two pounds of marine and coastal plastic). This is your groups’ boarding card, cabin key and virtual wallet—no need to sign anything. Other sustainability actions include banned single-use plastics on board, the latest energy-efficient equipment, and a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Popovski suggests cocktail parties at the Athletic Club or The Dock House. “The spaces are beautiful, have connections and space for a DJ, and the ocean views are endless. There’s also the [aforementioned] The Manor—this space is so versatile, it can be used for meetings, presentations and parties/award ceremonies.”