Seas The Day: 7 Surprising Things I Learnt During My First Cruise

One editor’s experience of heading to the high seas for a week-long voyage.

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There is a scene in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life where Lorelai tells her daughter Rory: “I’m just stressed out and kind of feeling my mortality lately.” In a bid to convey the seriousness of the situation, she reveals that she has even found herself wondering what it might be like to take a cruise. “And then I broke a hip,” she jokes, referencing their shared view that cruises are for those who are, ahem, approaching their final destinations. Horrified, Rory exclaims: “You are not going on a cruise!” And they leave the matter there.

I must admit, I had somewhat of a similar reaction when I was first approached about going on a cruise. I’d never experienced one before and it just wasn’t a holiday I imagined myself enjoying as a 31-year-old. I’ve always been put off by the idea of having to abide by a strict sailing schedule. I think holidays should be about exploring the unknown and embracing adventure. Plus, I’ve always equated cruises with serious cases of cabin fever. But Virgin Voyages’ offer of a jaunt on their “Valiant Lady” ship intrigued me. These adult-only trips were said to be aimed at and catered for a younger crowd, with a reimagined outlook on what cruises offer. So I signed up for The Irresistible Med package, a seven-night trip which started in Barcelona, taking passengers — or sailors, as you are called when “at sea” — to Toulon, Marina di Carrara, and Ajaccio before landing in Ibiza for an overnight stay.

Overall, my cruise experience was rather different to how I imagined. Below, I break down the most surprising things I discovered during my trip.

“Room With A View” Takes On A New Meaning

When I arrived on the ship, I was greeted by the animated staff, who were dancing to Rihanna as they welcomed guests aboard. Eager to check out my room situation — and avoid any awkward dancing — I headed to my Sea Terrace abode. The room came with a balcony, which I soon came to think of as my sunset-viewing haven. Now, these balconies have a red hammock on them, which are perfect for a posed Instagram photo, but not so ideal for actually sitting in. (Something I wished someone had warned me about beforehand.) Sitting isn’t the problem, actually, it’s trying to get out of them, but I’ll save you that story. The rooms are sleek, equipped with mood lighting and a flatscreen packed full of movies. The “roomy rainshower” isn’t as “roomy” as I had hoped (it reminded me of the ensuite I had in my dorm room at uni) but it served its purpose.

Food Glorious Food — & No Underwhelming Buffets In Sight

I’d always equated cruises with standing in line for the buffet, but that couldn’t be further from the experience I had when exploring the rest of the ship. Namely, because there are no self-service buffets on the Valiant Lady. Instead, there’s a food deck — called The Galley — with various stations, all manned by staff, and reservations-only restaurants located around the ship. Sailors can book themselves a spot at the restaurant of their choice via the all-important app. My highlights were a pasta-laden dinner at the Italian eatery Extra Virgin and the rainbow churros I devoured at Razzle Dazzle. I was also a frequent visitor of The Pizza Place during the day. As is often the case with cruises, the Valiant Lady is a no-cash zone. Not something you need to worry about when it comes to eating, as all food is included in the price of the trip, as are most soft drinks. However, when it comes to alcohol — or fancy barista coffee, as I discovered early into my stay — sailors need to use their room key, which comes in the form of a techy wrist band, and have the drinks charged to their accounts.

Courtesy of Olivia-Anne Cleary

The Antidote To Cabin Fever

During the day, you’ll find many sailors taking advantage of the glistening pool and sun decks. There’s also a mini basketball court and a running space outside. My personal favourite spot on the ship had to be Richard’s Rooftop, named after Virgin boss Richard Branson. A wraparound bar surrounded by daybeds and hot tubs, all offering uninterrupted views of the Mediterranean sea, it truly feels like a holiday of its own. However, on par with its exclusive nature, the space is typically only available to sailors staying in the pricey suites and “Rockstar Quarters.”

Virgin Voyages

There’s No Need To Go “Out Out” At Night

When it comes to nightlife, there’s a whole host of bars to choose from, along with theatrical performances and shows for guests to enjoy. I attended an acrobatic reimagining of Romeo & Juliet one evening, which more than held my attention. There was also a “sex therapy” show, hosted by a “sexologist/doctor.” Audience members were given the choice of wearing the masquerade masks provided and asked not to film the goings-on, as to allow everyone to enjoy their night with a degree of anonymity. As expected, I saw several people filming segments of the show, which include the “doctor” giving out sex advice, before inviting people on stage to take part in intimacy exercises. I willed myself to become invisible during the audience participation segments, and it seemed to work, as I wasn’t called upon. Toward the end of the show, “TGIF” appeared on the screen. “It’s not even a Friday!” I thought to myself, naively. However, when the “doctor” got the audience to chant “Thank God I’m F*ckable,” I came to realise there’s more than one use for the popular acronym. Those looking for a more traditional night out can head to The Manor nightclub, which is known as one of the ship’s Instagram spots due to its sparkling light-adorned entrance tunnel.

Courtesy of Olivia-Anne Cleary

Exploring Your Location, Location, Location

Although the cruise came with its own unique entertainment, I found myself itching to stretch my legs beyond the parameters of the ship, so I eagerly disembarked to explore the land when I could. You can plan your own adventures — providing you make sure you’re back in time for when the ship leaves — or you can book (for varying additional prices) an excursion, or “Shore Things,” as Virgin calls them. I did just that, enjoying the “Highlights of Florence and Pisa” package. The day ended with a trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where I spent a barely respectable amount of time taking a picture of myself holding up the tower. It’s harder than it looks, I promise you, but I got there in the end. I enjoyed my days out, but I did find it restrictive that I always had to have one eye on the clock to make sure I left myself plenty of time to get back to the ship before the departure. It did encroach on the adventure aspect that I crave during holidays. However, I spoke to many people who liked having their schedules mapped out for them entirely, and others who admitted to never leaving the ship at all, so it really comes down to preference.

This Is What We Came For

You can imagine my delight when the last stop of the trip included an overnight stay at the dock in Ibiza. Unbeknownst to me, the final destination of a cruise tends to be the crown jewel of the trip, so I was eager to see if Ibiza lived up to the hype. Excited to check out the much discussed nightlife, I headed to Ushuaïa’s outdoor nightclub to check out Calvin Harris’ residency, which turned out to be a great set. When that was over, I headed across the street to Hï Ibiza, where Idris Elba and David Guetta had their own DJ booths. Opting for a change of pace the next day, I wandered around the sights of Old Town Ibiza, which boasts incredible gelato stands, eclectic shops, and stunning views of the marina — for those willing to climb up to the old cathedral, that is. I did just that, and didn’t regret it. Although I do wish I’d worn more sunblock, but such is life under the scorching sun.

Age Really Is Just A Number On The High Seas

Cruises have typically been associated with two sets of people — retirees and families with children. But Virgin’s adults-only experiences are something altogether different. I met a group of 20-something Americans, who were eager to explore Europe, and that same night I was introduced to a 60-something retired American couple, who spend much of their time travelling the world by cruise ships. It was refreshing to see people of all ages interacting, sharing life stories, and swapping contact details with the hope of staying in touch after the ship docked.

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