As the cruise industry continues its restart and people begin to think about cruising, the question, “How does Virgin Voyages compare to Royal Caribbean?” will be asked more often. In the last three months I’ve been on three cruises, two on Virgin Voyages and one on Royal Caribbean. Virgin Voyages has promised to turn the cruise industry upside down while Royal Caribbean stays in their own line and dominates it.
For the record, I have always loved Royal Caribbean. Royal has a specific market — multi-generational, something onboard for people of all ages. Virgin Voyages is trying to carve out a niche market of people who are looking for something a little different. I’m a fan of Virgin for all the things they do differently, and for a specific market, they are fantastic. With Virgin being so new, most people who enjoy cruising haven’t sailed them yet so it’s difficult to get good comparisons.
Virgin Voyages vs Royal Caribbean
From a design perspective, Virgin is a modern, sleek, adults only brand and they embrace each of those things. The furniture throughout the ships is modern (and for me, uncomfortable) and as color goes, Scarlet Lady is mostly monochromatic with splashes of color here and there. Everywhere I looked it was gray on gray on gray, which in my opinion is drab.
Even so, the ships venues are beautiful, and the staterooms well thought out. The venues, from restaurants to the theater, karaoke room to the arcade are eye-catching and fun (in some cases risqué). The rooms are modern with plenty of outlets and everything from the tv to the curtains are controlled by in-stateroom tablets. In the Terrace and XL Terrace staterooms the bathrooms are spacious, and the shower is amazing.
Food is highly subjective, so in some cases I thought the food could have been better and some of the restaurants were fantastic. Overall, I thought the food was good and heard others complain about everything and others rave about everything. Like I said. Subjective. On Virgin Voyages, all the restaurants are included in the cost of the cruise, there are no “premium restaurants” and likewise, no main dining room. As long as reservations are available, you can eat anywhere onboard without paying extra — there are “premium items” on each menu that you can choose to pay extra for.
On Virgin there are no drink packages, which I thought was fantastic. Basic beverages are included in the cruise price (coffee, soda, water, etc.) and the pay as you drink alcohol is priced fairly, features premium liquor, and amazing bartenders who make delicious cocktails that are also Instagram worthy.
Related: Virgin Voyages Drink Packages
An adult only cruise is a completely different experience and Virgin Voyages takes full advantage of the flexibility that allows. Adult themed parties and venues and entertainment that might make you blush are all part of the experience.
Perhaps the biggest win for Virgin is that most everything is included in the price of the cruise. WiFi (I upgraded for a small fee both times, but for most it wouldn’t be necessary), basic beverages, pre-paid gratuities, all the restaurants, and group exercise classes are all included. In short, once you’re onboard a Virgin Voyages ship, it is unnecessary to spend additional money for many things that are automatic extra charges for on other cruise lines.
Related: Virgin Voyages First Impressions from the inaugural US sailing on Scarlet Lady
Royal Caribbean makes everything about their ships family friendly with plenty to do for all ages. As you can see in the picture above, the ships are colorful with bold design choices. There is a lot more activity onboard Royal ships, music in the background, and more activities to take part in (or just watch) but you’ll also find plenty of areas to relax with your favorite cocktail or book.
The staterooms vary by ship but are spacious and comfortable. As I write this, I’m on Navigator of the Seas, a recently “Amplified” (modernized) ship and in my standard balcony stateroom the bathroom is more typical of a cruise ship bathroom — small. Small room with small counter area, and a small but still pretty amazing shower.
On Royal ships there is a main dining room and what they call “Windjammer” — which pre-Covid was a buffet with every type of food imaginable — and other stand alone restaurants which are included in the cruise price. There are also premium restaurants including Italian, a traditional steakhouse, and others that require reservations and can either be purchased as part of a “premium dining package” or by charging it to your stateroom account.
The drink packages on Royal Caribbean include a soda package and alcoholic package. The deluxe package (which includes alcohol) isn’t cheap but does offer a good value. It is nice in some ways to not be concerned with whether you want to pay for another drink.
As a family brand, Royal has a great kids and teens program (which looks a little different due to Covid), and many of the ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet have a rock wall, surf simulator, and mini-golf course. Some of the newer ships feature iFly, laser tag, and other high tech activities that are available for a small fee.
All in all, both brands are fantastic at understanding their core market. Both offer a fun and affordable way to experience different ports. Royal currently sails all around the world and Virgin Voyages is introducing new ships over the next couple years that will be sailing to many different ports. When choosing a cruise line, it’s important to consider your expectations and find a cruise line that exceeds them.