Virgin’s goal was to flip the cruise ship dining experience on its head. I will say that they have done that, but I am not sure that it acheived the goal of presenting better food than one would experience on a premium cruise line. I say “Premium Cruise Line” because that is where Virgin has positioned itself. They are priced above contemporary lines Like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, and have some of the inclusions that the Premium Lines have at the same or similar price point. So lets dive into what our dining experience was each night on Scarlett Lady.
Before the cruise, guests must go into the Virgin Voyages app and book dinner dining for the cruise. With 6 included dinner venues and a 5 night cruise, we had to forgo one venue. “The Test Kitchen” was the one that least appealed to my husband, so that was the one we skipped.
Gunbae – Korean BBQ
A somewhat innovative idea to put Korean BBQ on a cruise ship, though the Japanese cousins Teppan Yaki and Hot Rock Cooking have been a staples on several cruise lines for years now. Those venues on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are paid venues and the since all dining venues on Virgin are included, the Gunbea was included. Before guests cruise they must go into the Virgin Voyages app and book dining for the cruise. Guests are seated in groups of at least 6 with one BBQ cooker in the middle. The Virgin twist on the experience is that the waitress gave us all shots of Korean Saki and instruct us on playing the 3-6-9 drinking game. Kind of like “Buzz” that we used to play as teens with a bottle of “Strawberry Hill”. 1-2-Clap-4-5-Clap-7-8-Clap-10-11-12-Clap-14-15-Clap-17-18-Clap…etc. It was a fun way to pass the time while we were waiting for our food. Food was good, especially the little nuggets of fried chicken.
It wasn’t perfect though, we ordered wine off the menu by the glass and they didn’t have what we ordered, so we had to do the ole “Well then bring us what you do have” which unfortunately became a recurring theme through out the cruise. We had to wait for about 35 minutes before they came to take our dinner order. However once the food was brought it was very good. Other “Virgin Weirdness” the uniforms worn by the dining crew in this venue looked like road construction uniforms.
Our next night we enjoyed the “Vegan” forward menu at Razzle Dazzle. They had vegan options at almost every venue, but this venue had the most choices. Though obviously from what we ordered, it is not all vegan here. I had the mushroom tartar which was OK, and butternut squash ravioli which was very tasty. My husband had the Pork Schnitzel from the “Naughty List” and the loaded tater tot, both of which liked very much. There was also a side of grilled peppers which were just kind-of weird. Dessert was a decadent chocolate and coffee cake. This food was fine, but something that would come close to the main dining experience on a premium line.
The wake was probably my favorite dining venue on Virgin. It is a classic steak and seafood restaurant, offering classic steak and seafood dishes. When Virgin says that they don’t have any cover charges at their restaurants, they are correct, and most items are included, however the Seafood Tower and the Tomahawk steak did have an up-charge. So even though most food was included, you still could spend over $200 in this venue if you ordered the extra cost items and a nice bottle of wine. We actually ate twice here in one day. Once for Brunch when I had the Clam Chowder, beautifully presented with arranged clams and the chowder pored in at the table. I also enjoyed a shrimp salad and a citrus and greens salad. For dinner, I started off with the blue cheese wedge salad. I had to send it back and request it without eggs. I don’t like hard boiled eggs on my salad and the menu did not included eggs in the description. I had the filet and my husband had the strip steak. Both were cooked to perfection and served with a side of roasted garlic that was delicious. The strip steak, while good, was very thin and not like what you would get from an American steakhouse. Since you eat with your eyes first, it was a bit of let down for my husband.
Some folks near to us ordered the seafood tower, at an extra cost, and I want to say it was around $85. Lots of seafood goodies like you would get at a land based fine steak house that offers the tower. This was an elevated dining experience, that I would say would be on par with a premium cruise line specialty dining experience.
I love Italian food and that made this venue the most anticipated of the trip. We did really enjoy the dining experience here. I ordered the romaine and frieze salad, which was only romaine. The meat ball appetizer was delicious and the meat and cheese board was so good that we forgot to take pictures of it until it was almost gone. They served amazing light and air focaccia. Both of our past dishes were also savory and delicious. The pasta was obviously fresh made. I had the pasta with clam sauce and Steve had the carbonara. Then we also got some gnocchi to share. So much food we skipped dessert for sure.
On our last night of the cruise we dined at Pink Agave, the upscale Mexican eatery. Service was good here and the food was very tasty. I have to admit that I am remiss in that I only took photos of the light bites we had early on including enchiladas, grilled shrimp, potatoes and guacamole with chips. We very much enjoyed this meal. Steve had a steak for his main coarse (not pictured) that he said was the best steak of his entire cruise. Service was good and overall this was a good dining experience.
The Galley was the one venue that I had anticipated the most, but unfortunately it was the one that most disappointed me. The idea of quick service venues that are not a buffet was intriguing. However, it was the execution in this venue that most disappointed me. There seemed to be no way of letting the wait staff know that you were ready to order. Consequently, I had to flag someone down to take my order. This took as long as 10 minutes for breakfast one morning. Then that same morning it took another 35 minutes for my food – an open face salmon toast and cheese and tomato panini – to be delivered. I thought this might have been a one-off, but it happened at least two more times during the cruise. This was not quick service.
Coffee service was lacking if you wanted decaf. They had the decaf in two small carafes for the entire group of people who might be dining in the venue. It was not hot and often empty. Full caffeine coffee was readily available, from two different stations. Almond milk was by special request and you had to wait for someone to go get it for you. Soft drinks were also free and self-serve. I did like the self-service wine and beer vending machines. I just had to scan my wrist band and select the wine and beer that I wanted. My favorite dish in this venue was the spicy ramen soup. I think I had that dish three times during the 5 Night cruise. Virgin really needs to work on the execution of this venue to make it work efficiently for all guests. When the ship is sailing 100% this venue could be a nightmare if they don’t find a more efficient way of taking orders and delivering the food.
The Dock offered light bites and one evening, when we had a later dinner reservation, I ordered a couple of their small dishes. We had the Pizza for lunch, and I was disappointed in the number of choices they had for made to order pizza. The menu was really limited. My favorite pizza is a loaded veggie pizza and they really only had a couple of vegetables. Despite the limited options, the pizza was very tasty. On the plus side, if you are a vegan, you can order a pizza with vegan cheese. The ice cream venue with the adult name “lick me till I scream”, offered a good selection of ice cream and other frozen creamy dessert.