Last Fall, we went on a Virgin Voyages Cruise around the Mediterranean. I have to be fair, a lot of it was absolutely heavenly, but a lot of it was a complete disaster! I can’t entirely blame the Virgin Voyages cruise line, because some of the disasters happened before we even set FOOT on the ship, but our experience with them was definitely less than ideal.
This is always every travelers nightmare! I was absolutely paranoid about getting pickpocketed and having our money, credit cards, or passports stolen. Apparently, Barcelona is the pickpocket capitol of Europe! However, I needn’t have worried. The problem started before we ever left home. Apparently, my husband’s passport had accidentally been marked as STOLEN – how, we have no clue as our passport sat safely in a drawer for all of 2020 and 2021, just like most people’s. But in June of 2021, somehow it got marked as stolen.
When did we find this out? After a 2 day travel nightmare to get to Barcelona (more on that in a minute). We are standing there at the airport with an armed guard in a little booth, who spoke no English (we speak very sketchy High School-level Spanish) who was trying to explain to us over Google translate on his phone that my husband’s passport wasn’t valid.
He eventually led us to another room with two other armed guards and where he got on the phone with Interpol while we tried to keep from having hysterics from seeing our much-anticipated trip going up in smoke before our very eyes! Fortunately, they decided that we were much too freaked out to be criminal masterminds and allowed us into the country, but it was easily one of the most terrifying moments of our lives.
We had to repeat this process two more times – in Amsterdam where they informed us that if it had been two weeks later, because of a new law, we would have been stuck in the airport until we could contact the US Embassy for help. Fortunately, they also let us pass, but we were stopped again at the our home airport where they confiscated the offending document. We are still waiting on a replacement so we can travel again.
When it does come to avoiding pickpockets, I found this system to be a lifesaver. I had a clip that attached my phone to a lanyard around my neck so I wouldn’t be tempted to set it down or drop it. The other lanyard was big enough for money, cards, our passports, and I could tuck the phone into the back pocket to keep it from bouncing around so much. I could even tuck it under my shirt or jacket if we were someplace sketchy looking.
Anyone flying these days knows it is a crapshoot even on the best of days, but I think ours turned out to be a literal lifesaver! We had boarded the plane to get to Barcelona. Super excited because it was our first trip to Europe and the ship was sailing on my literal birthday! We’d been planning the trip for months and had carefully worked out the ideal itinerary all the way there and back.
As the plane was doing the taxi down the runway thing, my husband swears he heard a pop from one of the engines. I don’t know exactly what happened, but 5 minutes later, the pilot was bringing us back to the gate.
A little while later, I think I saw the most chilling sight of all – a guy with a step ladder and a flashlight looking into the engine of the plane that was supposed to be already in the air flying us 3,000 miles across an ocean. That is NOT a sight you want to see. And it’s not like they can just produce another jumbo jet on the spot to replace it!
Sure enough, a few hours later, they told us that the problem was not fixable and the flight was cancelled. Frankly, I was relieved. I was not thrilled about flying a plane that was not 100% mechanically sound. But I have to give it to Delta. They were absolute CHAMPS. They provided water, snacks, generous food vouchers, a very fast refund on our missed hotel night in Barcelona, and set us up with a new flight the next day.
Even thought we got the very LAST TWO SEATS on the last plane to Barcelona (they had already boarded half the plane when our name came up), we were just happy to have a seat. We learned that day that a little good humor and politeness will get you 100% further than the people who were screaming and cussing at the poor gate agents. We just went around to the main Delta counter and asked nicely and they fixed us right up!
Finally in Barcelona
Fortunately, I always plan an extra day before a cruise, so we didn’t miss that much. We still got a tour of Sagrada Família as well as a bus tour around the city, and we did a private cooking class. It’s kind of funny because we don’t cook especially, but we always find it a fun activity and a way to socialize with some of the locals.
We got to take a tour of the wonderful open air market off Las Ramblas, which is the main street there, help pick out the fresh fish for the seafood paella while drinking some very potent homemade sangria – made from fruit, several bottles of tequila, rum, and lord only knows what, plus two bottles of Orange Fanta!
Time to Board the Virgin Voyages Cruise Ship
Finally, it was time to get on with the next step in our adventure. We were very excited to be sailing on the Scarlet Lady, a brand new ship on the Virgin Voyages Cruise Line. And the ship was beautiful. Brand new, barely a year old. We are both experienced and enthusiastic cruisers, so we were excited to see what an adults-only cruise was going to be like.
Our itinerary was to go from Barcelona to Marseilles, to Cannes (with a side trip to Monte Carlo), and then on to Sardinia – an island off the coast of Italy, with a final stop at the island of Ibiza. We had chosen this itinerary because on our first trip to Europe, we wanted to see as many different countries and regions as possible, and the ports did not disappoint.
The weather was mostly perfect with just one rainy morning and we enjoyed all the ports with the exception of Marseilles.
Sadly, we had one last disaster – FOOD POISONING. I don’t know if it was the seafood paella, or something he ate on the ship, but the first night, my poor husband was sick as the proverbial dog. Which is massively unpleasant in a very tiny cruise ship cabin with a bathroom so small you can barely turn around in. (It was a window cabin, but definitely the SMALLEST stateroom ever). To be fair though, the man has a very delicate stomach… But we had to miss Marseilles because of it #sad
We managed to fast-talk our way into a restaurant reservation for our first night (before my husband got sick) so I could have a nice dinner for my birthday. I will say that the food we had in all the specialty restaurants was very good. Just hard to come by.
That was one of the very big problems we had on the cruise ship – they had like 9 different specialty restaurants that were free to enjoy, but each one only seated like 75-100 people. And, you have to book each restaurant through their stupid app (that crashes a lot and is hard to use) and even 10 days prior to sailing there were ZERO reservations at any restaurant we wanted to eat at. You could get into the weird, experimental, vegan “test kitchen” – that one always had a few slots, but the steak house, the Korean BBQ, the Mexican place, and all the rest – booked solid.
And they don’t have the traditional main dining rooms or buffets as an alternative. So, you basically had to either go to each restaurant in person and schmooze the maitre ‘d to get a slot, or just show up and hope for the best. Very unsatisfactory. One night, we didn’t get to eat until after 10:00 and we were SO hungry. And it was the Korean BBQ place, so they would just bring out little bits of food with a long wait in between.
And instead of the main dining rooms or the traditional buffet, they basically have a food court. Sushi, salad, burgers, apparently there were tacos – I never saw any, I think some pasta, lots of little pastries, and maybe some sandwiches – exact same options every day. One night I ended up having boring potato soup for dinner because I couldn’t find anything else worth having – on a cruise ship! Who ever heard of that?
They had 3 sodas on tap – Sprite, diet Coke, and Fanta Orange. They ran out of Sprite on day 3, diet Coke on day 4, and ran out of something else halfway through. It was just WEIRD.
Virgin Voyages Cruise lines was BORING and very WEIRD
Speaking of weird. The entertainment was very, very strange, and there wasn’t a whole lot of it. Again, you had to book through the stupid app, which wasn’t reliable or easy to figure out. None of the spaces was large enough to hold more than 150-200 people for a ship of about 2,500, so that was just dumb.
There were a couple of terrible comedians (and I LOVE comedy), a drag show (which was pretty good actually), some kind of a weird Romeo and Juliet thing that was done on poles with acrobats that turned out to be sort of a musical, a Dominatrix sort of sex-themed show that had a lady with a whip that was kind of terrifying – we snuck out of that one pretty quickly.
And some sort of weird dance party/show type of thing that didn’t even have a clear name. I think it was meant to be cutting edge, but it was just weird and not at all entertaining. No piano bar, no late night comedian, no karaoke (which was fine, I hate that!), I don’t remember a disco, but that’s not my thing. Normally, I never ever turn on a TV on a cruise ship, but we watched 7 different movies that week because we were bored out of our gourds. And the public spaces were crammed with people reading or playing board games because there was literally nothing to do all day.
All the normal things you do on a cruise ship during the day – nope! The pools were very tiny with seating for maybe 200 people. A few trivia games with ridiculously HARD questions, so they weren’t much fun. Lots of fitness options for the healthy and fit crowd, which didn’t mesh well with the passenger assortment that I could see. No fashion show, or towel folding, or hairy chest contest, no cruise ship director at all, in fact. It was very DIY as far as keeping yourself entertained.
Surprisingly, very little shopping. The shops were closed most of the time, and it was all very high-end designer stuff and non-inclusive sizing, so I couldn’t have bought anything anyway if I’d cared to drop a few hundred. A tattoo parlor, but again closed most of the time. Even the casino was terrible. You had to load the money via the app again and after asking for help from the staff several times, I finally gave up.
The crew, of course, was marvelous. I’ve never been on a cruise where the crew didn’t just try their hearts out. This line doesn’t do the automatic tipping, which is a nice change, although we always will tip our steward. And it was nice to see a bit more diversity among the crew with some obviously gay and transgender crew members and some plus sized entertainers. That’s refreshing.
Richard Branson, you have really laid an egg with this one. It is really disappointing to plan a wonderful trip like this and overcome so many hurdles to get there and then have such a disappointing experience on the ship.