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Valiant Lady was always going to have a hard time following Virgin Voyages’ first ship, Scarlet Lady, but the crew (from more than 80 nations) has nailed it: the ship’s fantastic. True, it’s an identical layout to Scarlet Lady, but Valiant Lady is comfortable in its own skin with a new cast of outrageous entertainers and gorgeous destinations. While Scarlet Lady is permanently in the Caribbean after its summer 2021 staycation cruises off the English coast, Valiant Lady is expected to sail the Mediterranean every summer and the Caribbean every winter. Virgin’s third ship, Resilient Lady, launches in July 2022 and will sail around the Greek islands all summer, while Brilliant Lady has no launch date or destination yet.
Like all Virgin Voyages ships, Valiant Lady is for adults only and thanks to Covid it’s also restricted to triple vaccinated passengers for the moment. You also have to take a Covid test within 72 hours of boarding the ship and be able to show a certificate to prove a negative result when you check in at the cruise terminal. On board you can wear a mask if you want, although few do, and while some staff wear masks most don’t. There are lots of opportunities to clean your hands, particularly before meals or when getting back on board after excursions, but there’s no daily temperature check or pre-disembarkment test.
What’s it like onboard?
It’s exciting. From the mind-blowing choice at breakfast in The Galley food hall (it’s not a buffet) to the risqué shows in The Manor (a night club inspired by Richard Branson’s first music studio) Valiant Lady is non-stop fun. And if you don’t want that it can be non-stop lounging around in the sun, eating (there are more than 20 places from full-on restaurants to cafes and bar snacks) and listening to some pretty mellow live music in the central Roundabout area – the place most cruise ships call the atrium.
There’s also a lot of space to get away from other people if you don’t want to sit around the Aquatic Club (or pool). Sun loungers, cabanas and double sun beds are tucked away all over the place on the pool deck as well as the two sports decks above it.
The WOW factor
The food and entertainment get my vote – as they did on Scarlet Lady. The choice is outstanding and the quality is excellent.
Even though I’ve already seen Duel Reality – a high-risk acrobatic show without the sequins and shiny leotards – the death-defying antics made me gasp and I still can’t believe they can walk up poles and fly through the air without ropes, let alone a safety net. New for Valiant Lady is The Diva, a long-legged drag queen with a dry sense of humour and brilliant line in inoffensive put-downs. And there are some excellent vocal acts – in particular the Slam Allen Blues Band.
Virgin Voyages likes to do things differently and part of its “cruise that’s not a cruise” mentality is to make believe you’re on your own private yacht. This means cabins are called cabins, not staterooms, unless you’re in a suite and these are called RockStar Quarters. There are 78 RockStar Quarters equipped with electric guitars, a record player (or turntable if you must be modern) your choice of records (vinyl), a well-stocked cocktail cabinet and your own RockStar Agent (concierge).
There are also two Massive Suites that, as the name implies, are absolutely huge – the size of a flat – and all the suites have great big balconies with outdoor sofas and hot tubs as well as loungers. Suite guests also have access to the gorgeous Richard’s Rooftop, an outdoor lounge at the front of deck 16 with dreamy white lounger beds and seats plus a dedicated bar with a proper rock star ambiance.
As for the 1,330 cabins, the inside cabins are just as spacious as outside cabins, which are mostly balcony Sea Terrace cabins but some are simply sea-view cabins. The great thing about them is that the king-size beds can be transformed into large sofas by your cabin steward every morning and back into a bed at night – although you have to remember to ask for the morning switcheroo.
Sea Terraces have easily enough wardrobe and cupboard space for two people, especially as the ship goes to warm destinations so you don’t need bulky clothes, but you may have to fight over the hangers. There are only about 10. The bathroom is similarly good but not over-extravagant. So there’s a choice of overhead rain shower and handheld shower that are both very powerful – but only just enough room inside the cubicle. It also has shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in large dispensers fixed to the shower wall and nice soap for the hand basin – but there’s no body cream or extras such as make-up remover pads. Virgin would argue that this is to avoid waste and they get full marks for having no single- use plastic, a recycling bin in every cabin and beakers of water that are refilled every day.
Cabins also have TV screens on the wall and a fancy tablet to choose between TV news and sports channels or dozens of films, plus information about the ship and excursions. The only downside is that the free wifi can be intermittent, so sometimes you can’t get the TV to work. Solo cabins and others with bunkbeds for three or four people are also available.
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Where to begin with the choice of dining? It’s all good and it’s mostly free – you just have to book into the six speciality restaurants for evening meals unless you’re lucky and they’ve got space for walk-ins. These restaurants replace the main dining room concept that you find on most cruise ships and all seat about 200. My favourite is The Wake, serving steak and seafood with views of the sea over the back of the ship.
Extra Virgin is a little more casual but stylish and has a fabulous Italian menu with lots of sharing plates as well as main courses. The Test Kitchen is a very clever laboratory-style room and the menu is just a list of ingredients so you don’t know what you’re eating until you try it (or the waiter explains it). Razzle Dazzle is for vegans and vegetarians and the plant-based Impossible Burger gets rave reviews – but you can still opt for steak on the “naughty” menu. Gunbae is a Korean barbecue madhouse where waiters encourage you to join in drinking games while they cook prawns, fish, meat and vegetable on a grill in the middle of your table. And Pink Agave is a Mexican restaurant designed by Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio, so it’s super cool and has the biggest tequila collection at sea. I’m not sure the food is as Mexican as most people would like, though.
Elsewhere you can get made-to-order pizza at The Pizza Place, Mediterranean tapas-style bites at The Dock House (which has the best outside bar on the ship), pastries and cakes at the champagne lounge Sip and two Grounds Club cafes – although the speciality tea and coffee here costs from $3.
Famously this no-cruise cruise line has also banned buffets but The Galley on deck 15 next to the Aquatic Club (pool) is a close approximation. You’re supposed to sit down and order from a waiter, using a menu you scan from a QT code on a table mat but there are also boxes of food that you can just pick up from the sushi bar with bento boxes and pre-packed boxes of breakfast cereal or sandwiches – so there’s a bit of confusion. But you can’t complain about the choice: a dedicated bakery and pastry shop, panini shop, burger grill, taco shack, noodle bar, soup and salad stand and that sushi bar.
The Galley also has a 24-hour American Diner serving all-day breakfast so you’ll never go hungry, but one of the calmest spots for lunch is the Sun Club Café, hidden away on deck 16 where you can get bowls of rice with tuna or salmon. There’s also free ice cream at Lick Me ‘Til Ice Cream, room service for $5 and champagne afternoon tea or coffee with cake for $35 at the Sip Lounge.
Valiant Lady is a medium-sized ship and can get into some of the smaller ports not always on a mainstream Mediterranean itinerary, so most days you can get off and wander the streets of places like Toulon in France, Cagliari in Sardinia or the Spanish island of Ibiza.
After three or four hours exploring you can return to the ship to lounge around or sign up for the free exercise classes, such as HIIT and the remarkable Bungee Class. You could even try boxing at The Athletic Club, where there’s a mini boxing ring, outdoor gym equipment a running track and basketball court. Or you can just use the gym, and gaze out to sea as you run, cycle or cross-train.
The Redemption Spa has a thermal suite with hydrotherapy pool, mud room, steam room, salt room, plunge pools and quartz beds plus treatments – although these are pretty expensive.
Excursions are available at every port, mostly for foodies or people who want an adventure, so you can help make lunch in Tuscan farmhouses, go cycling, kayaking or snorkeling. But make sure you’re not just paying for a very expensive coach transfer to somewhere you could get to by just walking, taking a taxi or a bus.
There are no abridged West End shows and thankfully no pointless singing and dancing revues without any storyline but there is non-stop entertainment at night in several different venues and some fun events during the day.
The Red Room is a very clever venue with seating that can be arranged like any normal theatre, cleared completely for parties or set against two walls with a central space for performances such as Duel Reality – the fantastic acrobatic show by circus company The 7 Fingers.
The Manor nightclub hosts resident sexologist Dr A’s Never Sleep Alone show, which is a comedy but a bit scary if you hate audience participation. Not that you have to go on stage if you don’t want to, but it can be a bit cringe-making watching other people bare their souls (nothing else, thank goodness).
Cocktails & Revelry with The Diva – the drag queen show – is funnier and even if you don’t like bingo you should go and watch Bingo With The Diva if it’s on during a sea day. Hilarious. Party nights include the DanceShowPartyThing – a joyous dance show in the Red Room which is standing room only and you’re encouraged to join in.
Then there’s the Scarlet Night Pool Party where you can join the ship’s dancers in the pool (there’s a paddling area) and just have some fun.
If none of that turns you on then you’re probably not going to want to have a tattoo at Squid Ink, either, and you wouldn’t be alone. Although some brave sailors opt for an inky souvenir of their Virgin Voyage, most just peer through the discreet screen around tattoo studio and murmer “hope the sea stays calm”.
Valiant Lady sails from Barcelona until October 2022 with three seven-night itineraries then transfers to Miami until May 2023 for Western and Eastern Caribbean itineraries.
Its Mediterranean cruises are all returns from Barcelona with an overnight in Ibiza and the 7-night French Daze & Ibiza Nights also has an overnight in Monte Carlo.
The Irresistible Med, return from Barcelona, calling at Toulon, Marina di Carrara, Ajaccio, Cagliari and Ibiza, departing August 7 2022, from £2,629.10 per cabin, cruise only (virginvoyages.com).
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