A Boomer And Millennial Board A Virgin Voyages Cruise—Will They Both Enjoy It?

Valiant Lady was designed to please passengers of all ages, so our cruise expert and her niece put that to the ultimate four-day test.

We arrived at Terminal V at Port Miami as Virgin Voyages virgins, ready to board Valiant Lady for a four-night "Fire & Sunset Soiree" cruise. Okay, it wasn't exactly my first time. I'd been aboard Virgin's Scarlet Lady in 2021 for a tour and dinner, so I had a sense of what awaited us. But, as I would quickly discover, that brief nibble barely scratched the surface of life onboard an adults-only ship where Bingo is hosted by a drag queen and a tattoo parlor offers permanent reminders of salty days and R-rated nights.

I am traditionally a cruise marketer's prime demographic—born in the waning days of the Baby Boom, while my niece, Jessica, is a leading-edge Millennial. There's a gap of 26 years between us, and with Jessica now in her 30s, our aunt/niece relationship has in recent years included an annual getaway—three of them aboard cruise ships. But this one would be different because Virgin vowed to turn cruising on its head. Would that promise hold true?

Our introduction to Virgin was the Sailor app, the key to getting onboard and booking dining reservations and shows. Turns out, it was the key to everything, and we never spoke to a guest services person the entire cruise. While not bug-free (it inexplicably went white screen on us several times, requiring us to reboot our iPhones), the app did allow us to reserve dining times for three of our four nights before we even arrived in Miami, but we had to wait until we connected to the ship's Wi-Fi to snag entertainment reservations. 

Several shows had already sold out and it was a hassle to jump back and forth between our dining agenda and the app's entertainment booking tool, so we resorted to old-fashioned pen and paper to figure things out. Here's how our four days as "sailors"—Virgin's preferred term for passengers—aboard the line's second "lady ship" unfolded.

Day 1: Welcome Aboard!

First impressions matter and boarding Valiant Lady was, in Jessica's opinion, "easy." I totally agreed. From the moment we entered Terminal V at our appointed 2:15 p.m. arrival slot until we got to our Sea Terrace cabin, no more than 10 minutes had elapsed. As a veteran of more than 70 cruises, I found this expedited process to be a "hallelujah" moment. That said, we soon learned that this, the ship's first cruise of 2023 after a boisterous New Year's sailing, had only about 900 passengers aboard; Valiant Lady holds 2,700 sailors, so it's little wonder that boarding was a breeze.

We also agreed that Virgin's use of "The Band"—smart, wearable, waterproof technology made from recycled ocean plastic—is a fun and efficient swap for the standard key card used to open your cabin door, register onboard charges, and scan when leaving and re-boarding the ship. We were asked to choose one of four sayings imprinted in red on a small gray oblong disc that's worn on the wrist and secured with nautical-inspired rope (red if you've booked a cabin and black if you've splurged on a suite in the ship's exclusive Rock Star Quarters). I opted for "Seas the Day" (although "Ahoy Sailor!" did tempt me) and Jessica went for the cheeky "Feeling Nauti." 

Her advice for me (and all Boomers with waning dexterity): Wear the band on your non-dominant wrist so you can easily unhook and rehook the anchor clasp and elastic hook (like us, you'll likely want to take it off when sleeping and showering).

An interior view of the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady's Sea Terrace accommodations.
Personal preferences to the room's lighting can be made with the touch of a tablet screen. | Virgin Voyages

With a wave of the band, we entered Sea Terrace stateroom 13070Z. "A" indicates cabins on the ship's port side and "Z" on starboard. Genius! The large red "Z" sign meant I didn't have to squint to read small cabin numbers to decide which way to turn. 

As for the cabin itself, it was standard in size (225-265 sq. ft.) but its crisp, modern design made it feel roomier—especially after the queen bed was separated with one twin mattress turned sideways on a platform, forming an L-shaped daybed-style configuration. I allowed Jessica to take the bed near the sliding balcony door, so I could be closer to the bathroom. I was, after all, the one with the aging Boomer bladder. 

Jessica was thrilled with the airy, nautical-inspired modern décor and I also loved the sleekness (even the open closet with its simple sculptural metal hangers that kept thin straps from slipping off), but I found the mood lighting in shades of red, blue, green, and purple annoying. I don't need my cabin to feel like a nightclub. However, my main complaint was that the TV, air conditioning, shades, and most of the lighting was controlled by a tablet device. While my tech-proficient Millennial niece found it "great to have lights and TV controls on one thing," I felt it was a hassle to have to put on my reading glasses and figure out which symbol to press and which direction to swipe. Alas, I did get the hang of the tablet after a day or two, so there's hope for me, I guess. 

The one thing we could agree on was that the shower with an overhead rain-shower and a handheld nozzle was a winner, even if the bathroom itself felt a bit cramped and the only storage space for toiletries was a shelf beneath the vanity. We also liked the comfy red hammock on the balcony.

Speaking of red, it's my least favorite color and there's absolutely no escaping it on a Virgin ship, where it's the statement color—especially on Scarlet Night (more about that on Day 3). 

An Experimental First Night

After enjoying sail-away cocktails with a view of the glittering Miami skyline from the aft Athletic Club bar on deck 16, Jessica and I opted to dive right into what makes Virgin unique among megaships. All onboard dining is complimentary and there are 20 different options to try. For dinner, we booked The Test Kitchen, a laboratory-like, open-kitchen venue filled with polished aluminum surfaces and retro-modern décor accented by celadon-hued leather bar stools and chairs. Waiters in white lab coats serve a six-course tasting menu with precision and dramatic reveals. 

(Confession: I had dined here before during the Scarlet Lady media preview and knew it was an incredible experience. The question was, would it be equally delicious the second time—and would Jessica think so, too.)

The menu is as simple as can be, just a list of the main ingredient in the six courses: mushroom, egg, scallops, venison or beef, blue cheese, and chocolate. There are also vegetarian options. Not only is each dish uniquely presented and visually beautiful—works of art on a plate—but the "experimental" flavors are actually quite palate-friendly. The experience got an enthusiastic second thumbs up from me. And Jessica? "I loved it," she said. "It was experimental but not over-the-top. There was a normalcy to what we were eating." 

The same thing cannot be said for what came next. While tonight's show in The Manor, one of the two main entertainment venues onboard, was sold out, we knew we could wait in a standby line for the 11:00 p.m. show. Its name? "Never Sleep Alone" and its risqué reputation preceded it. As we waited to enter, I overheard someone say, "Oh, tonight's the sex show." 

Yes, it was Fantasyland, and definitely not for the Disney set. Everyone who entered got a masquerade-style mask and a condom, along with the implied message that mingling post-show was encouraged. But mostly it was an R-rated cabaret-style romp—a comedy act disguised as a human sexuality workshop, with enthusiastic audience participation—led by the dominant and overtly sex-positive "Doctor A." I didn't see anyone walk out, but sailors who consider themselves conservative when it comes to such matters, should definitely avoid this show. Personally, I thought it was a hoot. Jessica's take: "Funny and not all that raunchy." 

PS: Even if "Never Sleep Alone" is not for you, do try to attend something in The Manor because the dazzling mirrored hallway through which you enter is undeniably cool.

Day 2: A Sea Day to Remember

I love sea days because they allow time to explore a ship. It also gave my niece and I a chance to enjoy a leisurely brunch at Razzle Dazzle, where bold black-and-white striped decor darting this way and that meets a mostly healthy menu of vegan and vegetarian options along with a few indulgences labeled as "naughty." I thought the wild mushroom frittata with goat cheese and arugula was delicious, while Jessica enjoyed the Razzle Dazzle breakfast (eggs, potatoes, mushrooms) and a naughty side of smoked bacon. 

Next on our agenda was "Bingo with the Diva." As one might suspect, The Diva was a bouffant-and-sequin-loving drag queen named Tammy, who along with another member of Valiant Lady's "Happenings" team led the audience in the ship's largest entertainment space, The Red Room, through four games of Bingo punctuated by campy poses, raunchy jokes, and the occasional homage to Cher. The more people who play, the bigger the prizes and by the final game, there was a $1,300 payout to a single winner. No, it wasn't me or Jessica, but we both had a good time and lots of laughs. 

After, we peeked into Squid Ink, the onboard tattoo parlor, where a few sailors were adding to their body art, and briefly browsed the onboard shops along High Street, which sell mostly upscale clothing, jewelry, and fragrances. Then we hit The Runway (jogging track) to get in some miles and grabbed a make-your-own salad from The Daily Mix in The Galley (other stations serve tacos, noodles, sushi rolls, and burgers) before changing into our swimsuits and heading to the Aquatic Club pool area on Deck 15. Just be forewarned that the two pools are on the small side for a ship of this size and even with just 900 sailors aboard the four hot tubs were always crowded.

The main thing I noticed during the sea day was that there were no annoying announcements blaring over the speakers. And come to think of it, there was also no cruise director flitting about the public spaces. Instead, sailors aboard Valiant Lady were in the hands of the Happenings cast, 14 uniquely quirky individuals tasked with keeping things lively and entertaining. They include the previously mentioned The Doctor and The Diva, as well as The Gamer, The Foodie, and "Influencers" such as The Glow, The Flare, and The Bounce, who host wacky trivia games and Summer Camp Arts and Crafts classes, lead dodgeball matches and onboard workouts. The On-the-Upswing Bungee Class looked fun but was sold out and the 90s Boy Band Dance Class conflicted with drag Bingo. Bummer.

The Duel Reality dance, tumbling, and balance aboard the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady.
While the performers provide dazzling physical theatrics, the crowd has even more fun participating at Duel Reality. | Virgin Voyages

At 6:30 p.m. we headed back to The Red Room for the first performance of "Duel Reality," a fast-paced and athletic display of dance, tumbling, and balance that riffed heavily on "West Side Story" (even the audience was divided into two sections rooting for either the red or the blue gang). There were elements of pro wrestling and "Bring It On!" until things morphed into a softer, more emotional pas de deux followed by daring rope and seesaw acrobatics. I must admit, I hated the in-your-face conflict of the first 30 minutes but was on the edge of my seat during the athletic prowess that followed. Jessica was a fan of the entire 55-minute show, calling it "energetic, artistic and modern." Then she added, "But once you've seen it, you've seen it."

Day 3: Wandering Through Key West and Scarlet Night

With about eight hours in Key West, Jessica and I opted to explore on our own, visiting The Hemingway Home and Museum with its photos, memorabilia and 57 cats and posing for photos at the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S. before strolling Duval Street with stops to enjoy conch fritters and key lime pie. 

We were back aboard Valiant Lady in time for our sail away and once again ducked into The Red Room for a pre-dinner performance called "The Miss Behave Game Show." How to describe it? A little "Let's Make a Deal" and a bit of "Name That Tune" with a sassy host called Teddy Bear and an impishly daredevil male assistant improbably named Daniella. Virgin went all out on the props, which were 100 percent plain brown cardboard, and as we vied for points Teddy Bear let us know that in this game "points mean nothing!" So, what exactly was the point? Quirky mayhem and raucous belly laughs. But, as Jessica cautioned, "Don't sit up front unless you want to be picked to interact!"

Our next delight was being seated for dinner at The Wake, the elegant steakhouse that takes its name from its awesome wake views—and we had window seats. Art-Deco glamorous, it featured a terrific menu of addictive fresh-baked bread, classic appetizers (wedge salad, clam chowder), and prime cuts (Jessica ordered the filet mignon), plus three "From the Sea" options (I loved the pan-roasted Ora King Salmon). Equally delish: The Wake, a richly decadent chocolate confection and the Meyer Lemon Cheesecake.

A group of performers from Scarlet Night on the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady.
The ship's many events and shows are highlighted by performers going all out. | Virgin Voyages

Time for Scarlet Night. Jessica and I wandered around a ship awash in red—sailors were told to wear at least a "splash of scarlet," and many went all out in sexy red dresses and sequined shirts—as this signature event on every Virgin sailing kicked into gear with pop-up performances and complimentary face bedazzling. The celebration culminated with a midnight Pool Party featuring energetic Lycra-clad dancers leaping and twisting around the edge of the pool until they stomped into it, creating massive splashes that drenched anyone who was too close. 

That was our cue to head to bed. But plenty of Scarlet Night revelers stuck around. "Sailors are not stick-in-the-muds," Jessica observed.

Day 4: A Beach Day on Bimini

Most megaships on Caribbean itineraries call on the cruise line's private island, mainly located in the Bahamas, and while Virgin doesn't boast its own island, it does have Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini. This sprawling, resort-like Bahamian beachfront features rows of chaises and daybeds, private cabanas for rent, several bars, and two restaurants. The ocean water was a bit too chilly for a relaxing dip (and the pool wasn't all that warm either), so we just lazed on a daybed in the January sunshine. It was a great venue, although the limited cuisine (chicken or pumpkin curry, cassava fries, steamed snapper, spicy salads, and rum cake) was disappointing given what we'd enjoyed on the ship. So, as soon as we were back aboard, I headed to Deck 7 for two scoops of creamy, delicious gelato. I'm still blushing as I recall the shop's name: Lick Me Till... Ice Cream.

Segue to Extra Virgin, Valiant Lady's Italian eatery, which served a terrific selection of shared antipasti, appetizers (the calamari and artichokes were lightly fried and deliciously crispy), pastas (the mushroom gnocchi was melt-in-your-mouth yummy) and, if you saved room (we didn't), sea bass or chicken entrees. Jessica did, however, manage to enjoy some gelato while I indulged in the Chestnut Castagnaccio featuring whipped ricotta, apples, and candied pine nuts. Perfecto!

A creative Italian dish from the Extra Virgin dining experience on the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady.
Extra Virgin's creative and delicious dishes made it a top choice for both sailors. | Virgin Voyages

Now that we had tried most of the main eateries, it was time to rank them. Jessica's fave was The Wake, followed by Extra Virgin, Razzle Dazzle, The Test Kitchen, and Pink Agave, with a thumbs up to The Galley. My top experience remained The Test Kitchen, followed by Extra Virgin, The Wake, Razzle Dazzle, and Pink Agave, and I also gave a thumbs up to The Galley.

There was time for one more show, and sadly, our final entertainment experience was our biggest let-down, especially for this Boomer. As we stood in The Red Room with techno music blasting, strobe lights flashing, jumpsuited dancers bounding from stage to floor and illuminated signs that read, "Don't Lick Your Friends Face," I knew that "Untitled DanceShow PartyThing" was not for me. I lasted about 10 minutes. My Millennial niece exited shortly thereafter. "It kind of reminded me of a rave," she said.

In retrospect, I wished I had ignored some of the hyped-up shows and instead settled in at one of the many bar venues to listen to the wide array of music, both live and DJ'd, on offer, especially after hearing the very talented singer Selkii, who has a catalog of more than 1,600 songs and competed on "The Voice" and "South African Idol." Perhaps next time?

Disembarkation: Will We Sail Again?

After the angst of 5:00 a.m. disembarkation day alarms on countless other cruises, I loved, loved, loved that we didn't have to be off the ship until 10:45 a.m.—but would easy boarding and disembarkation be enough to convince me that Virgin should be my new go-to cruise line? 

Not quite. 

While the positives (the incredible food, the excellent and well-priced wines, the innovative design, the friendly crew, the adults-only policy, and the open-minded vibe) definitely outweighed the negatives (deafening club-like entertainment, tech-centric everything, and campy, double-entendre activities that sometimes tried too hard for their own good), this Boomer still prefers the ambience of a small- or medium-sized ship. My overall grade is B+ and I am certainly open to another Virgin sailing, perhaps in the Mediterranean or Greek Isles.

Jessica graded the experience A-. "It definitely felt younger than other cruises," she said. "I think they are hitting a segment of the market that likes to party and drink and be open to different things." 

So, while Virgin Voyages delivers a clever and youthful cruise experience that's high-quality and affordable, making it ideal for Millennials and Gen Xers, I think Boomers in their 60s and 70s need to know that they are welcome but are not necessarily the line's target demographic. 

Unless, like 72-year-old founder Sir Richard Branson, they adore all musical genres (not just ABBA and disco) at all decibel levels and have a desire to cruise like a rock star.