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The Eastern Caribbean on our First Virgin Voyages Cruise

Shelly and I booked our first cruise on Virgin Voyages for January 28, 2023 through February 5, 2023. VV is a relatively new cruise line and we're excited to try it and get away from the cold, winter weather. We're booked on the Valiant Lady which hosts over 2700 passengers. Our cruise will take us to the Eastern Caribbean, starting in Miami, and porting in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, San Juan, Puerto Rico, St, Croix, and Bimini Beach, and Virgin private island. We've been to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic but never Puerto Plata, so we're anxious to visit its beaches. We've been to San Juan a number of times, so we're thinking we'll just walk into Old San Juan and browse the shops and architecture. We've never been to St. Croix, so we plan to head to a beach and soak up the warmth of the sun.

 

We always depart at least a day before the cruise embarkation to provide a buffer in case there are any flight delays. Since we've visited Miami before, we left home one day early, January 27, and arrived at our hotel near the Port of Miami without delay. The flight was quick and both Dulles and Miami airports were "easy peasy" getting in and out.

 

We walked across the street to the Bayside Marketplace and had lunch at La Canita, a Cuban restaurant. Shelly had a Cuban sandwich, which was very tasty, and I had the La Canita burger, which was equally good. We then walked the marketplace for a bit and headed back to our hotel.

Ken at La Canita Cuban restaurant
Shelly at La Canita Cuban restaurant

We head to the cruise port around 12:30pm tomorrow and board the ship at 1:30pm. Our adventure is underway!

Embarkation and First Night

We started our Virgin Voyages cruise today. We left the hotel around 1:00pm and taxi'd to terminal V at the Port of Miami. We entered the 1:30pm check-in line and made our way to the check-in kiosk where we showed our passports and received our bracelets. The bracelets, which are used instead of a sea pass card, have a key fob that is used to wirelessly access our cabin and make onboard purchases. It's great because we don't have to keep track of a card. The check-in process was fast and smooth, and the crew was very friendly and helpful. We boarded the Valiant Lady and went to our cabin.

Here's a photo of the bracelet.

Wrist with Virgin Voyages bracelet
Our Cabin

We were in cabin 8326Z forward. It was a Sea Terrace XL, about 30% larger than a regular Sea Terrace cabin. It's bright, modern, and spacious. The bed, which can be folded into a couch, is comfortable, but not luxuriously so.  There is a tabletop that can be used for a desk, a refrigerator, TV, and several stools to sit on. There are no chairs. There is a closet to hang clothes, with drawers and "cubbies" for additional clothes. We had a large suitcase and a carry-on, and both fit in the closet. The bathroom is bright, clean, and modern, and has a fairly large shower stall.

Our cabin on Valiant Lady

The balcony spans the width of the cabin, and has two chairs, a table, and a comfortable hammock. I sat in the hammock as we watched other cruise ships leave port, and I know I'll be using it a lot.

There are light switches on the walls and we have an iPad that also controls the lights, and is used as the TV remote. There are US and European type electrical outlets and USB ports on either side of the bed.

My overall impression of the cabin is I like it, two thumbs up. It's not as large as cabins we had on Silversea or Atlas Ocean Voyages, but probably comparable to Celebrity for the price.

Lunch

We were hungry and went to the Galley on deck 15. The Galley has about 8 restaurant kiosks, like a food court, including sushi, salads, burgers, tacos, noodles, and sandwiches. I think it was designed for walk-up service, but with COVID, a server takes your order at your table and serves you. I had a tasty burger and fries and Shelly had a Greek salad and a bowl of noodles, which she said were OK. The servers were super friendly, which turns out to be common throughout the ship.  While we ate, we used the app to make reservations for dinner and shows.  I recommend you do this as soon as you get on board so you don't miss out.

Getting Acclimated - The Layout of the Ship

We then went to deck 17 and walked each deck to get acclimated. Deck 17 has a running track and yoga space. Deck 16 has an athletic club, chaise lounges, a cafe, and a number of cabanas to enjoy the views of the ocean. Deck 15 has two small pools, a bar, chaise lounges, cabanas, a gym, and the Galley. Decks 8 through 14 are cabins. Deck 7 has a number of restaurants and bars, a coffee shop, and an ice cream shop. Deck 6 has a theater, a nightclub, retail shops, and bars and restaurants. And deck 5 has guest services, restaurants, and a spa.

Unlike many other cruise ships, there is not a main dining venue where you sit at a large table with other couples. The restaurants hosts solo travelers, couples, and groups, and you have your own table, just like a restaurant at home. We made reservations for 4 restaurants, including the Italian Extra Virgin, the Mexican Pink Agave, a steak place named The Wake, and a Korean BBQ named Gunbae.

While the meals at the restaurants are included with the cost of the cruise, drinks, specialty coffees, are additional costs. We bought a $300 drink package that included an additional $50. Every time you buy something, the server scans your bracelet key fob. The Virgin app has a wallet that shows your tab.

The capacity of the ship is about 2700 guests and 1100 crew, but we asked and there were only about 800 guests onboard for this cruise. So there will be no problem getting reservations for dining or shows.

We went to deck 15 for the sail-away party at 6:00pm and free champagne was flowing. We were introduced to the cruise host and Happenings team. We relaxed in chaise lounges as we set sail and left Miami.

Sailaway party on pool deck
Our First Dinner at Extra Virgin

Extra Virgin is an Italian restaurant, and one of 6 main restaurants.  Our reservation was at 6:45pm and we were seated at our table for two. We enjoyed delicious calamari and braised meatballs for appetizers. Then we shared a portion of fettuccine bolognese, followed by sea bass and a NY strip steak. The sea bass was just OK, but the fettuccine and steak were delicious. Our server, Harris, was excellent. In fact, the entire restaurant crew were extremely professional and friendly. An excellent experience.

The "Never Sleep Alone" Show at the Manor Nightclub

I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this show. From what we heard, it's a frank session on sexuality and sex, with audience participation on stage. An acclaimed sex therapist, Dr. A, hosts, and dispenses a unique brand of interactive and playful advice. The description of the show states that you can be a voyeur and sit at back tables, or be prepared to actively participate at tables near the stage. Shelly was hell-bent on sitting near the stage, so I went along with it. The tables had different colored masks and condoms with the label, "Never Sleep Alone". What did I just get myself into?!?


A band started playing and Dr. A took the stage to a pretty raucous crowd. She actually sang too, and has a good voice. She calmed me when she said it's a safe environment and no one has to do or say anything they are uncomfortable with. She introduced the program and how it is intended to make people more comfortable with sex and sexuality, and broaden horizons.


Both Shelly and I ended up on stage individually in role-playing games with other audience members. It was actually kind of fun, and was quite fun to watch. Everyone was trying to entertain and be funny. For our participation, we each received golden condoms that got us into an after-show introduction with Dr. A. The show was fast-paced, harmless, and great fun, and although I can't say I learned anything, I am glad I watched and participated. By the way, Dr. A told us to turn off our cell phones under penalty of having them taken away (everyone respected this) so there were no videos of photos of the show, except for below.

Shelly with Never Sleep Alone show condom
Shelly and Ken with Never Sleep Alone show condoms
Never Sleep Alone cast and audience members
The Pajama Party at the Manor Nightclub

At 11:00pm we went back to the Manor Nightclub on deck 6 for the pajama party. We had a drink and danced some, and left around 11:45pm. It was time to turn in for the night. Tomorrow is a day at sea and more experiences await!

The Rest of our Experience

The days blend together on a cruise, so rather than go day-by-day, I am just going to post experiences we had with photos and videos.  As I mentioned before, I liked the cabin, and it had a hammock hanging just outside the door.  It was quite comfortable, and it felt like I was being hugged.  We didn't sit on the balcony as much as I thought we would, but when we did it was very comfortable!

Ken in the hammock on balcony
The Restaurants and Dinners

As I mentioned, there are 6 main restaurants on the Valiant Lady.  I already wrote about Extra Virgin.  The second one we ate at was The Wake, which specializes in steak.  Not sure if I mentioned that the entire ship and all restaurants are very casual.  T-shirts and shorts are quite fine here.  I love that I didn't have to pack dress pants and jackets!  Shelly and I shared a white fish (I forget which kind) that was tasty (the restaurant manager filleted the fish in front of us, which was kind of cool), and each got a medium-rare fillet.  The fillets were cooked to our liking, but actually kind of bland.  We were so surprised.  But we had an enjoyable dinner

Razzle-Dazzle is a vegetarian restaurant but has a few meals available for carnivores.  Shelly ordered gazpacho and a mushroom dish.  Both were delicious.  She had fried chicken as an entrée and I had the pretzel pork schnitzel.  Both were really good.  We also shared cheesy potato tots which were fabulous.    

Pink Agave is a Mexican restaurant that also specializes in steak.  For appetizers we had Esquites grilled corn, guacamole, roasted chicken, and grilled shrimp.  All were very good.  We had the ribeye for our entrée which was delicious.  We had a wonderful experience.

Gunbae is a Korean BBQ.  This is the only restaurant where we sat at a table with another couple.  There is room for 6 people around a grill where the chef prepares the food for you.  We had a variety of food, and liked most of it.  It would have been a lot of fun if we were with a couple of fun people.  The couple we were with were on the first cruise, had not tried much of anything, and were a bit of downers.  They actually wished there was an Olive Garden on board!  To each is own, I guess.  We rushed out of there before dessert was served.  I'd like to try Gunbae again.

The Test Kitchen is a restaurant where they experiment with food and preparations.  We had smoked salmon and shrimp, along with 4 or 5 appetizers.  It was a bit too experimental for us, but others we spoke to loved it.  So I recommend trying it out.  

Salty Trivia at the Loose Cannon Bar

We were sitting at a bar called the Loose Cannon (which became one of our favorite hang-outs) and they had trivia called Salty Trivia.  We met John from Boston, Brandon and Cindy from Chicago, and Camilla and Kyle from the Florida Keys.  We formed a team for trivia named "The Panty Snatchers" (it's too long of an explanation).  There were 5 or 6 teams of about 6 people per team.  We won the grand prize, which was a free drink for everyone on the team!  

Ken, Shelly, Camila and Kyle
Camila at horse race
Shelly and our trivia group

I have to say that the bartenders and servers at the Loose Cannon were exceptional.  We met Papi, the senior bartender, and Milo, Edy, and Matea the first day.  Then we met Sheryl the server who was an absolute delight.  We kept going back there because the crew was so friendly and personable.  Here's a photo of Sheryl and Shelly at the Scarlet Moon Party.

Shelly and our server Sheryl at the Scarlet Night party

We met Jen and Eddie at the Never Sleeps Alone show the first night, and saw them frequently during the cruise.  They were from Houston, and really nice.

Shelly, Eddie and Jen
Eddie, Jen, Shelly, a dancer

Lastly we met Tara Jean Popowich (TJ) who is a professional dancer and choreographer, and won the Canadian show, "So You Think You Can Dance" a few year back.  She was on board to assist the new dancers with dances for a show called "Dual Reality".  She was very sweet.

Shelly and Tara Jean Popowich
Shelly and Tara Jean Popowich
The Happenings Crew and Special Tours

There is not a single cruise director on board for running the entertainment.  Instead there are a dozen or so crew members called the Happenings that keep the guests invigorated and lively.  Each had an area of expertise.  Cameron the Artist managed all the art projects, Nate the Balance was in the gym regularly helping guests with equipment and running exercise programs, and Eli the Gamer ran the trivia contests and other contests in the game area.  They were all wonderful, especially Ashley the Charmer who did tarot card and astrology readings and generally took care of everybody.  She was really special and helped make this cruise fabulous.  

Ashley took about 15 of us on a special tour of the crew bar (where the crew get to hang out and have a few drinks) and did a wonderfully entertaining overview of the astrological signs and the types of people they represent.  Shelly, being a Cancer, is a "boss bitch" and extravert.  I, being a Capricorn, am also a "boss bitch" but an introvert.  

Here's a photo of Ashley with Shelly after her tarot card reading.

Shelly and Ashley from the Happenings crew
Shelly and Ashley from the Happenings crew

Cameron the Artist did a fun activity that included the auctioning off, and painting and decorating of 6 wooden horse heads that were "raced" on the last day.  The winner got 90% of the auction pot which amounted to about $875.  Our trivia pals Camilla and Kyle won one auction, painted their horse head, and competed.  Here's a couple photos and videos of the race.

The Horse Race
One of the horses in the Horse Race
Passing our Sister Ship, the Scarlet Lady, on her way to San Juan

The sister ship to the Valiant Lady, the Scarlet Lady, passed us on her way to San Juan.  The two ships sounded their horns in friendly hellos.  It was pretty cool.

Hanging Out at the Dock House and Seeing a Rainbow

The Dock House is an outdoor bar and quiet relaxation area in the aft of the ship.  We hung out there quite a bit and enjoyed the sunshine and daybeds.  One day it rained a bit and we saw a beautiful rainbow.  Here's some photos and another one with Sheryl the server and Papi the Senior Bartender.  Great people.

Ken, our server Sheryl, and Shelly
Our bartender, Papi
A rainbow off the stern of the ship
A rainbow off the stern of the ship
The Scarlet Moon Party

The ship celebrates the Scarlet Moon on every cruise, and ours was a major party!  It starts with everyone wearing red for the evening.  At 8:00pm, Cameron the Artist told us about the myth of the Scarlet Moon.  The party started at 9:00pm with the Happening crew and entertainers from the shows dazzling us with dance and song.  The party moved to the pool at 10:30pm and crew danced and sang at the edge of the pool.  Then people started jumping in the pool.  There was one guy who wore a red thong that showed us what the Scarlet Moon was all about!

Ken and Shelly in red
The Shows - Naughty, Bawdy and Fun

Virgin Voyages is an adult-only cruise, so the shows tended to be adult-oriented.  I already mentioned the "Never Sleep Alone" show hosted by sex therapist Dr. A.  We saw several others including "Bingo with the Diva", "The Misbehave Show", and "Dual Reality". 

 

"Bingo with the Diva" is located in the Red Room and hosted by the Diva, a drag-queen and one of the Happenings crew.  We bought the primary Bingo game sheets which were $45, and some additional sheets for $10.  We sat in the front row, and the Red Room was pretty filled with enthusiastic gamers.  I believe there were 5 games, each with different types of Bingo required.  The Diva provided the bulk of the entertainment, singing a couple songs, offering jokes and generally kept the audience involved and entertained.  A second Happenings crew member managed the Bingo machine and called the numbers.  Pots ranged from $250ish to $800+.  I generally have no interest in Bingo, but this show was entertaining and fast-paced.  So I recommend attending this show, and be open to some adult entertaining as well as Bingo.

"The Misbehave Show" is difficult to explain.  Once again, we sat in the front row, and were presented with a stage full of cardboard signs, with odd statements, like "Nobody Cares", "It Doesn't Matter" and "Nothing is as it seems to be".  There must have been 50 cardboard boxes and signs.  The flamboyant host, Ted E. Bear, came out on stage and divided the audience into two teams.  Co-host, Danny, created a scoreboard with team names.  Ted E. Bear hosted 10 or so games, such as name the song after hearing a snippet.  Another was placing the actors name with the characters name they played on the TV show, "Friends".  Ted awarded points based on no system or rules, because, "It Doesn't Matter".  I was chosen to go up to a cardboard sign that had a black circle and the statement, "Press the red button" under it.  Ted said the press the red button, which didn't exist, but I pressed the black circle on the sign anyway.  I don't remember if we got points for this.  The audience was quite wild, and the show was oddly entertaining.  Ted sang a few songs, and Danny danced and did some acrobatics on a rope.  The show ended with the audience throwing balloon-balls at each other. I recommend seeing the show, and keep in mind, that "It Doesn't Matter" and "Nobody Cares".   

Ken and the cast of It Doesn't Matter show

Make reservations for "Dual Reality" as soon as you get on board.  It's a Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story theme with a Cirque du Soleil presentation.  When you enter the Red Room theater, you are assigned to either the red or blue team, and given red or blue wristbands.  We were blue, and sat on the blue side of the stage.  The show opened with performers wearing either red of blue battled it out on stage with acrobatic dancing (the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story).  Romeo on the red team sees Juliet on the blue team, and they fall in love immediately.  Different acrobatic sets are introduced, including poles, hoops, and a see-saw, and the performers do some incredible acrobatic exhibitions and competitions.  Spoiler alert!  The red and blue teams eventually learn that feuding is not right, and they remove their colored wristbands and throw them on the floor.  The audience follows suit and does the same, throwing their wristbands on the stage.  Unlike the Shakespeare play and West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet end up together, happily ever after.  The show had lots of audience participation, was fast-paced, and the performers were great.  Go see this show!

The Ports-of-Call

We've been to the Bahamas and Caribbean many times, and done all the rainforest, snorkeling, swimming with the dolphins and stingrays, etc. excursions.  So we did not plan any excursions for the islands we visited.  But we did get off the ship at each port.

The first port was Taino Bay, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.  We decided to go to the all-inclusive Sunscape Resort and spend the day with a day pass.  Bad idea.  It was $70 roundtrip via taxi, and the resort was tired and worn.  We spent a few hours sitting at the pool in the beautiful sunshine, then headed back to the ship.  As we walked back to the ship, we saw a nice pool area at Taino Bay.  The next time we're here, we'll just spend time at the pool.  

We then made it to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We got off the ship and walked through Old San Juan to the Castillo San Cristobal, a fort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  From there, we followed the ocean and walked to a bar that had beautiful views.  We had a couple drinks, then walked to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort on the opposite side of Old San Juan.  Then we walked to a tapas and wine restaurant and had a couple, delicious tapas items and drinks.  Then we walked back to the ship and spent time at the pool.  The weather and day were glorious!

Shely outside San Juan Puerto Rico fort
Ken at a bar overlooking the Atlantic ocean
Overlooking the Atlantic ocean
Overlooking the Atlantic ocean
A fort in San Juan Puerto Rico
View of a cemetary near fort in San Juan
A cat on a monument
Our ship, the Valiant Lady

St. Croix was the next stop, and we decided we were going to walk to Rainbow Beach, about one mile from the port.  There's a bar/restaurant that sits bout 10' from the water, so we found a table with great views, and had a few drinks and some calamari.  The beach is short and fairly narrow, and you need to rent chairs and umbrellas if you want to sit in comfort.  We just wanted the atmosphere for a few hours.  We walked back to the ship and enjoyed the pool for the rest of the afternoon.  

Shelly on the dock at St. Croix
View of the Valiant Lady from St. Croix
Ken and Shelly at a restaurant in St. Croix
View of the beach on St. Croix

Our last port-of-call was supposed to be the Beach Club at Bimini, but the weather prevented docking, so we went to Grand Turk.  We got off the ship and walked to the pool near the Margaritaville Bar and Restaurant.  It's a very nice pool area with lots of chaise lounges and umbrellas, all free of charge.  We spent a couple hours soaking up the sun, then headed back to the ship.  

The Valiant Lady from Grand Turk
The pool at Margaritaville on Grand Turk
The pool at Margaritaville on Grand Turk
Final Thoughts

Shelly and I had a fantastic Virgin Voyages cruise on the Valiant Lady.  The ship has lots to offer, the crew was fabulous, the food was very good, the shows were entertaining, the cabin was nice and comfortable, and there was a good balance of sea days and ports on the itinerary.  We've been on about 16 cruises, including Silversea, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Royal Caribbean, Celestyal, Norwegian, and Carnival.  Virgin Voyages is my second favorite cruise line behind Silversea.  The casual atmosphere, the friendly crew, the restaurants, the various places on the ship for relaxing, and the overall entertainment and activity offerings made it a top-notch cruise.  What I especially liked about the atmosphere was that VV accepts the crew as they are.  Many cruise lines won't let their crew display tattoos, piercings, or facial hair.  Not so with VV.  The crew was who they were and relaxed, and I think this allowed them to be friendlier and more personable.  We'll probably book another VV cruise for next January or February.  I loved it.  

Shelly and Ken on the Valiant Lady
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