Finally, some better pricing: Start-up cruise line Virgin Voyages cuts rates for early sailings

Editor’s Note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

There’s good news this week for cruisers eager to try Virgin Voyages, the new, Richard Branson-backed cruise line that’s scheduled to debut in October: Pricing is coming down.

Virgin Voyages in recent days has been marketing an “up to 30% off” sale on inaugural season trips that includes discounted cabins and extra onboard credit, to boot.

The deal isn’t quite as good as it sounds. We’ve poked around the line’s online inventory today, and we don’t see a lot of cabins that appear to be 30% less expensive than they were when we last looked. The “up to 30% off” phrase clearly is a bit of a tease. But we definitely are seeing some lower pricing as compared to earlier this year.

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Two November “Fire and Sunset” sailings out of Miami to Key West, Florida, and Bimini in the Bahamas start at $650 per person. That’s below the $750 starting price that was common when we were writing about these trips earlier this year.

(Screen shot from
(Screen shot from on June 27)

Five-night “Mayan Sol” voyages out of Miami to Costa Maya, Mexico, and Bimini in November and December now start at $750, also lower than prevailing rates for the same trips earlier this year.

In addition, passengers booking interior and oceanview cabins for the sailings — the least expensive categories — will get $150 per cabin in onboard credit. That effectively knocks down the per person cost by another $75.

Passengers staying in balcony cabins and suites will get a $300 and $500 per cabin credit, respectively, as part of the offer.

The onboard credit portion of the deal only is available through June 30 — just three days from now.

Even with the markdowns and the credits, the rates at Virgin Voyages remain high compared to similar four- and five-night Bahamas and Caribbean sailings offered by such cruise brands as Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Norwegian currently is offering five-night voyages to the Bahamas out of Miami in November from $279 per person — less than half the starting rate of similar trips at Virgin Voyages.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles 

That said, Virgin Voyages is positioning itself as a more inclusive line than Norwegian and some other rival brands. Its fares always include dining at specialty restaurants, basic beverages, Wi-Fi access, group fitness classes and, perhaps most notably, gratuities and service charges.

Passengers in most cabins on Norwegian ships will pay a $77.50 per person service charge for a five-night cruise, and it normally charges for specialty restaurant dining and Wi-Fi. Still, a current promotion at Norwegian is bringing free drinks, Wi-Fi and credits for excursions and specialty dining, blurring the distinction between Norwegian and Virgin Voyages a bit on inclusiveness.

Virgin Voyages initially was scheduled to begin sailings from Miami in March. But the maiden voyage of the line’s first ship, Scarlet Lady, has been postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. The vessel is now scheduled to sail its first voyage from Miami on Oct. 16.

Related: Virgin Voyages explores idea of COVID tests for passengers 

(Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)
(Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

In pushing back its debut to October, Virgin Voyages said the start-up would be a “soft opening” during which onboard protocols on Scarlet Lady would be adjusted due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The line said the official naming ceremony and maiden voyage for Scarlet Lady would be postponed until early 2021.

Virgin Voyages has been promising to shake things up in the cruise world with the arrival of Scarlet Lady. Able to carry 2,770 passengers at double occupancy and 17 decks high, the vessel is designed to cater to a hipster crowd with everything from a tattoo parlor to drag queen brunches and a colorful karaoke lounge. To ensure a proper party vibe, it’s also a kid-free travel zone, with a minimum age to sail of 18.

Virgin is going after travelers who might think themselves too cool to cruise. To that end, the ship has no buffets, no dress codes and no big Broadway-style theater shows. For entertainment, expect interactive dance parties, DJ sets and “microplays” instead, plus late-night games of dodge ball. Suites have a rock-star theme.

Planning a cruise for when sailings resume? These stories can help: 

Featured image courtesy of Virgin Voyages

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