Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Review

I’m going to write this review in a different manner than most other cruise reviews I’ve written in the past, but it certainly wasn’t a typical cruise either. I’m not going to lie, I read very mixed reviews of what cruising with Virgin Voyages would be like. This is the first adults-only cruise line of it’s type. But did it live up to the hype?

Checking in at the port for my Virgin Voyage Cruise on the Scarlet Lady

I was so excited to have been invited to try out the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady out of Miami from December 10th to 15th, 2021 on the Mayan Sol itinerary (stops on this cruise included Costa Maya, Mexico and Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini in the Bahamas). I have been following along with Virgin Voyages since they were first announced as a cruise line and on Scarlet Lady’s build journey, which is the first “Lady Ship” with Virgin Voyages. Virgin Voyages is a very unique concept of a cruise line and sailing with them, this was very apparent. I will say that there are some aspects of the ship I didn’t like, however for the most part I personally loved sailing with them.

The Virgin Voyages App

Once you’re confirmed onboard on a sailing, you should download the Virgin Voyages app. Through this app you will have access to your check in before you cruise, make dining reservations and also use it extensively on the cruise. I did have some glitches with the app during the check in process and actually couldn’t finish one of the check in stages, even though I had submitted all the documents it asked for. This did not effect my check in at the pier, check in there only took about ten minutes. Once you are connected to the ship’s wifi once at the pier however, I highly suggest making all your onboard reservations right away, especially if you’re interested in any of the entertainment and fitness classes. Most of them sold out within a couple hours of being on the ship. With dining reservations, they only allow you to select one restaurant per night per sailing through the app. That being said, I wanted to eat at Extra Virgin again and was accommodated as a walk in with no problems. The app was apparently very glitchy onboard for some people. I personally didn’t have too many issues, most of my issues were before I arrived at the pier.

The Virgin Voyages Band – Your Cruise Key Card

Virgin Voyages uses a band, bracelet style with a fob, key card. It was very comfortable to wear throughout the cruise. The Band by Virgin Voyages is your ship card and with it you open your cabin door, make purchases onboard and use it to check in and out when going ashore. If you are living in certain countries, particularly Canada and the USA, you should receive your Band and luggage tags at your home before departing for your cruise. However mine for some reason were never sent out and I was able to get one at the pier when checking in. The band is also one of the many sustainability elements that Virgin Voyages has with their cruise line. It was designed and made from ocean plastics. Each band is produced from about 6 grams of marine and coastal plastics. In total, through this sustainability initiative more than two pounds of plastic from marine and coastal environments will be removed with every sailor who sails with Virgin Voyages. This means that they are hoping to remove 2.2 million pounds of marine plastics from our oceans over the next 5 years with sailors on the Scarlet Lady alone! I’m actually really excited about all the different sustainability elements that they have onboard, including no single use plastics on the ship and they’ve been striving to be completely carbon neutral since day one.

The Band is your key card onboard Virgin Voyages

Boarding the Ship

Virgin Voyages own terminal at Miami is still under construction when my sailing took place, so we departed from Terminal C. I took a Lyft from my hotel (The Berkeley Park Hotel by M Gallery, click here to read my South Beach Miami Travel Guide) and costed about $20 USD with tip. When I arrived at the port, a porter took my luggage and wrote my cabin number on a luggage tag for me. My check in time was 11:45am, so I found the sign for 11:45am and waited for about five minutes. They did allow us to go in right at 11:45am, once inside you go through a security check, then to register for testing. There were QR codes to try to pre-register, however they gave us the code as we we allowed in and my cell signal I had was not the best. I was able to switch to the port’s wifi and it seemed to work better through there and was able to finish the registration just in time to be called up to the counter. After registering for the test, you go over to the next line for the actual covid test. As we were the first group to go in, it was very quick. Once you’ve been tested, you’re given a band to signify you’ve been tested. Then I headed upstairs for check in. At check in, they confirmed my vaccination records (at the time of my sailing you had to be fully vaccinated to cruise), passport and gave me a band as mine never arrived in the mail prior to my cruise. I also received a card with my cabin number on it and some tips about boarding the Scarlet Lady.

By the time I walked over to the “sitting area”, I had my negative results and received glorious “Boarding Card 1” and went into the next waiting area. Here they did have a water station with juice and iced tea.

Unfortunately Virgin Voyages does have a later check out time for “sailors”, so the ship embarkation time doesn’t start until 2:00pm, which I personally am not a fan of. I do think that this could be changed to 12:00pm as guests are required to leave the ship by 10:30am. I’m not sure why they have such a gap in turnaround times. My tip here would be to make sure you have a portable battery as there were extremely limited spaces where you could charge your phone if needed and none in the sitting areas. Masks were required to be worn in the cruise ship terminal at all times. Boarding Card 1 was called at 2:05pm and I was in my Sea Terrace cabin 12014Z at 2:16pm. So very quick to get on the ship once your boarding card number is called. I did like that my room was ready the moment I stepped on the ship. Once onboard, wearing masks during my cruise was totally optional.

My Sea Terrace Cabin – 12014Z

I loved my “Sea Terrace Cabin”, a fancy name for a balcony cabin. It’s not large, but they made good use of the space in my opinion. I did film a full Sea Terrace cabin tour as part of my first episode in my Scarlet Lady cruise series on YouTube, click here to watch. The Sea Terrace has a closet area with a closed in shelving area. In here you will find two lifejackets, a safe (which was large enough for my MacBook Air and all my camera gear), a hairdryer and some pool/beach towels. In “cozy” bathroom there are two sets of hand towels and smaller face clothes that have “makeup” on them (which I thought were cute), a metal cubby, which is great for hot tools such as flat irons or curling irons, a well lit mirror, however not really much space for your amenities. The shower had an amazing rainfall shower and a wand, the bathroom amenities were by Red Flower and had a lovely spa scent. The shower wasn’t huge, but was adequate for me and had a glass door (I hate shower curtains on cruises lol). The actual room itself was a comfortable size for me as I was travelling on the Scarlet Lady solo, I could see how with two people it would be a bit crowded. The bed looked amazing and was comfortable as a couch, however for me it was not that comfortable as a bed. I did change it into the couch format on the following sea day to see how the room looked, it does give you a lot more space in the room and I did end up even having a nap on it when it was setup as a couch that afternoon. You can request the bed to be made up as a couch each morning should you choose on the tablet in your stateroom.

My Bed Setup as a Couch in my Sea Terrace on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

The tablet has a charging dock on the desk, where you’ll find a ship map (very useful for the first day or so as there are no maps around the ship or in the app). With the tablet you can control pretty well everything in your room including the lights, temperature, curtains and the tv. I was really impressed by the tv series and movie selection onboard and did watch a couple James Bond movies this cruise (this was the first cruise ever that I’ve spent time in my cabin watching a movie), it really was a comfortable space to relax in I felt. The tablet also has “moods” that you can set and this is where when you first arrive, you play the safety video from. It was probably the most entertaining safety video I’ve seen on a cruise ship and kind of reminded me of some fun airline safety videos I’ve seen in the past. Also at the desk area, you’ll find complementary water (I always had one jug of sparkling and still water) and this is refreshed as many times as you need it to be. Having something as simple as water included in your cabin is huge and something I really appreciated. I actually hope that other cruise lines follow suit. It’s a huge step towards being more sustainable. I also liked the fact that my goal was to drink at least four of the glass jars of water per day in addition to water I drank at meal times. You simply can order more through the tablet (along with extra towels, ice or cabin maintenance issues). They also had water bottle refilling stations throughout the ship, which again was so amazing. There is also a mini fridge, which I used to store my two bottles of “Rose Prosecco” that I brought onboard. Yes, you are allowed to bring two, 750ml bottles of wine onboard with you with no corkage fees. The balcony curtains are automated by either the tablet or the switch on the wall, the sheer curtains are manual. The balcony or “Sea Terrace” had two metal chairs (which were not comfortable), a side table and a hammock. I loved the hammock on the balcony on the Scarlet Lady. It was so comfortable to lay out on and enjoy. I actually read a book for a couple hours on one of the sea days out on the hammock and really took full advantage of it. The Hammocks are another sustainability aspect to the Virgin Voyages cruise ships. The hammocks are a sustainability project by Virgin Voyages with Yellow Leaf Hammocks, which is a social enterprise that fosters women’s empowerment and community transformation in rural Thailand. My cabin also had a chair by the window and a “c-table”. My cabin was also the last “Sea Terrace” before the “Cheeky Corner Suite” and it did connect with that cabin. I was very happy that there was very minimal noise transfer as sometimes a connecting cabin can be quite noisy. Overall, except for the actual bed itself (it was just too firm for me), I really liked my Sea Terrace cabin on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady.

Sea Terrace on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

Dining on the Scarlet Lady

Virgin Voyages touts that their ships have twenty plus places to eat onboard their ships and they are all included in your cruise fare. Some of the restaurants do have some items on the menus that are upcharges, however you will find these very clearly listed. I did try to sample something at as many places as I could, however it was basically impossible on my five night Mayan Sol sailing to do this. The restaurants I ate at were The Wake, Razzle Dazzle, Extra Virgin and Pink Agave. I also ate at The Galley (Virgin Voyages “Food Court”, buffet substitute), The Dock House, The Pizza Place and “Lick Me Til Ice Cream”. I unfortunately had a reservation for The Test Kitchen, however due to my food allergies I was recommended against it as they couldn’t accommodate me easily, which I was totally fine with. I also decided against “Gunbae” which was the Korean BBQ restaurant as they would have sat me at a table with at least four strangers. I personally wasn’t comfortable with this as I was being extra careful due to the pandemic, so I skipped Gunbae this cruise as well. I will say that the food onboard the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady was probably the best I’ve experienced on a “contemporary cruise line (Celebrity, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, etc)”. Further to that, some of the meals I had were better than some food I’ve had in specialty restaurants on other cruise lines. If you are a foodie, you will be in foodie heaven sailing on Virgin Voyages. One of my cruise travel tips is I typically ask for small portions. In many of the restaurants they were happy to accommodate this or they assured me that certain things I was ordering were already smaller portion sized. Even the food at the Bimini Beach Club was really good (I’ll go through that down further in the blog). Let’s go through each dining experience separately:

The Wake

I had dinner here at The Wake once and also tried The Wake for breakfast and lunch. The Wake, named for it’s location over looking the wake at the aft of the ship, was definitely one of my favourite restaurants onboard the Scarlet Lady. I ate at The Wake for dinner the first night. I had the Clam Chowder to start as an appetizer, my main was the Filet Minion cooked to a perfect “medium rare”, served with roasted garlic and the sides I chose were the twice baked potatoes and the asparagus. I personally loved my dinner meal and I prefer my food not overly salted as I don’t eat a lot of salt at home. I have read reviews that some felt the food was bland, however I thought everything was seasoned perfectly to my personal taste. I did also try the bread and it was so good. For dessert I had the Meyer Lemon Cheesecake which was presented beautifully. It was light and fluffy in texture and tasted amazing.

Dinner Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Clam Chowder with Bread
Dessert Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

The following morning I did try The Wake for breakfast at 8:00am, however the menu says “Brunch”, which can be confusing for some when it comes to opening hours. I ordered the Poached Shrimp to start which was again presented so well (tasted great as well) followed by a half portion of “The Wake” Eggs Benedict and the Brioche French Toast. The service was a bit of a miss in the morning, I didn’t receive a refill on my coffee once my meal was finished, the staff never came by afterwards again. I will say that I did experience a couple serves lapses on my sailing, however I knew that the ship was experiencing some crew turnover at this point as crew contracts were ending. It never really effected me in a true negative way, however there just were a couple little things that were noticeable and I just wanted to be honest in my review.

Brunch Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Brunch Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

I ate at The Wake for lunch the day of Costa Maya and again had the Poached Shrimp as a starter and had the Hangar Steak as my lunch main. The Wake serves a Lunch menu that starts at 12:00pm. They did make a slight error in my order and gave me more fries than salad, I had asked for the other way around, more salad than fries. The service again lacked here as it took quite awhile to be checked in on after finishing my meal, in fact, I wasn’t, I actually walked out. So I didn’t order any brunch/lunch desserts here, even though I really wanted to try the “Crepe Cake”. Guess I’ll have to cruise Virgin Voyages again.

Lunch Menu at The Wake on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

Extra Virgin

Extra Virgin on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady is… you guessed it… Italian cuisine. Extra Virgin is probably my absolute favourite restaurant onboard Virgin Voyages. I actually ate here twice for dinner during my cruise. My first meal at Extra Virgin was on “Day 2” of my cruise.

Dinner Menu at Extra Virgin on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

I started with the Crispy Artichoke and the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio. Both appetizers were great, but the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio was amazing. This was my favourite dish I ate on the Scarlet Lady. The flavours were amazing. I then tried the Affettati Misti (which was a chef’s choice charcuterie board). I did have to make a few adjustments due to allergies, but they accommodated me and it was still delicious with the selections I was given. For my “pasta course” I had a small portion of the Potato Gnocchi served with Mushrooms and a Truffle Butter Sauce. I love truffles so this was again, another favourite dish. All the breads and pastas are made onboard daily and the gnocchi were pillows of perfection. For my main course I had the Porcini-Rubbed New York Strip cooked medium rare, which was served with Calabrian Chili Butter, Farro and Sautéed Escarole. I actually tucked into it before taking a photo or video as it looked so good and I was thoroughly enjoying my meal. For dessert I had the Ricotta Bomboloni and a small Affogato with a Whiskey Crema Gelato and of course topped with espresso. They also served me a shot of Lemoncello as a complementary aperitif.

Dessert Menu at Extra Virgin on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

My second meal here was the last night onboard. As I didn’t have a reservation, I was seated at a “communal high top” table at the rear of the restaurant. The table thankfully wasn’t packed, however there were some issues with the “checks” and I did have two bar drinks appear on my onboard account that were not mine. If I were to do this again, I would have waited for a proper table to myself again to avoid the issues with orders and the drinks. I again had the Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, and this time the Braised Mini Meatballs to start and for my mains I had two small portions of pasta. The Potato Gnocchi again and this time tried the Bucatini Carbonara. I also had the Ricotta Bomboloni again for dessert as it was so good.

Razzle Dazzle

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you will have no problems whatsoever eating onboard Virgin Voyages. In fact I had several vegan and vegetarian dishes onboard this sailing and loved every one I tried. Razzle Dazzle is the plant forward based restaurant onboard. Anything on the menu that has fish or meat in it is considered on the “naughty list”.

I ate here at Razzle Dazzle on the Scarlet Lady twice, once for lunch/brunch and once for dinner. My first meal was lunch on day two. I started off with a Smoked Cheddar Jalapeño Croissant, which was so yummy, followed by the amazing Mushroom “Tartare” which was a flavour bomb and vegan! For lunch I did try the Fried Chicken Sandwich from the “naughty list” which had a Beet Aioli and a “Black Bun”, I had it with a green salad and a side of their “Smoked Bacon” which is served in a cup. The bacon is so good, it has a sweetness to it and it’s so crispy. The chicken sandwich actually wasn’t my favourite dish, but it wasn’t terrible. I just found it to be a bit dry personally. I finished off my lunch with dessert with the “Razzle Cake” which was again, delicious and one of my favourite desserts I tried onboard.

Breakfast and Lunch Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Breakfast and Lunch Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Breakfast and Lunch Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Breakfast and Lunch Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

I ate dinner here at Razzle Dazzle as we departed Costa Maya, so on day three. It is a different menu than what is served for breakfast and lunch. I again had the Mushroom “Tartare”, again which was vegan and the Melon Salad to start. For my main I had the Heirloom Squash Ravioli served with mountain huckleberries and arugula (due to allergies, I asked for the chestnuts to be removed which they were able to do). This was so good and I actually kicked myself I asked for a smaller portion. My dessert tonight was the Rainbow Churros which was served with Ube ice cream (yes, sweet potato ice cream) and a strawberry caramel sauce. Move over Disneyland churros… These churros were good and the ice cream was really good, definitely not what I expected sweet potato ice cream to taste like! Overall, all my meals at Razzle Dazzle on the Scarlet Lady was really enjoyable.

Drinks Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at Razzle Dazzle on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

Pink Agave

Pink Agave on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady is a Mexican inspired restaurant. When it came to the restaurants on the Scarlet Lady, Pink Agave was unfortunately my least favourite of the ones I tried. It was more so the actual vibe of the restaurant I didn’t like and where I was sat. I travel alone, and prefer to be sat in a corner or somewhere less conspicuous. Here I was sat at a weird table location in a very busy area. Anyways, it put me in a situation that it just wasn’t comfortable for me personally. The food however was good.

Dinner Menu at Pink Agave on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at Pink Agave on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady
Dinner Menu at Pink Agave on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady

For starters I did have the Guacamole and the Esquites which is Grilled Corn with a Spicy Aioli and Lime. I also ordered from the “Medium Plates” the Enchilada de Pollo which are two small enchiladas which I would actually say is more of a small plate. Plates here are served more “family style”, so if you are eating alone, make sure to order smaller portions. For my main course I had the Cochinita Pibil which is Achiote Marinated Smoke Pork with a Sour Orange Habanero Pico de Gallo. It’s also served with flour tortillas to eat them as tacos. It was really good! For dessert I had the “Chocolate Tacos” served with a cherry sauce. Again, the food at Pink Agave is great, I just didn’t like where I was seated for dinner and made my experience uncomfortable.

The Galley

I ate here several times throughout my cruise as it was very easy and convenient for coffee and light breakfasts/quick snacks as my cabin was a few decks below at the aft. I’d also have to walk right by it to go up to The Perch for my morning yoga and mindfulness classes, so on the way back down to my cabin I’d grab a cup of coffee or two. I did try a few of the eateries here including “Let’s Taco About It”, “The Bento Baby”, “The Sweet Spot”, “Hot Off The Press” and the “Burger Bar”. They also have a “Quickeze” grab and go, which has salads, wraps and my personal favourite were the charcuterie to go boxes. I had a couple of these up on my balcony while enjoying some Prosecco in the hammock. 

The Pizza Place

A cute, trendy place to grab a pizza for lunch or late night after hitting the Manor night club. There is seating here indoors and out on the promenade deck. There is also a cute, Instagramable place to sit inside with the saying “You Wanna Pizza Me?” on the wall. I tried the “Pretty Fly For A White Pie” which was mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, roasted garlic and oregano. It was really good. The only thing I wish is that they also served some Italian salads like a caprese salad here. The pizza was really good and was a perfect size for a snack. You can also take your pizza to go! 

The Dock House

Located on Deck 7 at the aft of the ship, The Dock House was one of my favourite places to relax. If you’re lucky enough to find a place to sit out here, it’s a great place to relax and take in the views, especially while sailing on a sea day. Here they serve mezze and tapas style Mediterranean plates. My favourite dishes here were the Grilled Shrimp, the Hangar Steak, Grilled Polenta, the Watermelon Salad and the Beetroot Hummus. Depending how the ship is situated, it can be hard to find a seat in the shade and also the outdoor area can get quite busy in the afternoon.

The indoor area of The Dock House was really relaxing and had a great vibe. They typically had live music here in the evenings. 

Lick Me Till Ice Cream

Most gelato shops on other cruise lines are an additional cost. The fact this place was included was a huge plus in my books. They have a few different flavours of waffle cones to choose from including regular, red velvet (my favourite) and salted blue corn. My favourite gelato flavours were the “Brown Butter Financier, Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Malted Milkshake”. 

Room Service

There is also room service available called “Ship Eats” for a delivery charge of $5 USD. Apparently if you order an alcoholic drink with your meal they waive the delivery fee. I personally didn’t order the Ship Eats room service. I did bring some items and snacks back to my room such as Pizza from the Pizza Place in a to go box and charcuterie from the grab and go sections throughout the ship. 

Fitness Classes on the Scarlet Lady

I have to be honest, this was actually the first cruise that I left lighter than I boarded. My goal was to take advantage of all the different fitness and wellness activities that I could. The gym onboard the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady was the best gym I’ve ever seen onboard a cruise ship.

Not to mention that all the group fitness classes onboard are included with your cruise fare on Virgin Voyages. Again, something that is an additional cost on most other cruise lines. I did a Sunrise Yoga session each morning up on The Perch, usually followed by either a guided meditation or breathing class. I also tried out a Barre class, a 80’s VHS workout class in The Manor night club one afternoon and a “Bungee” class. One of the Yoga classes (the last one in Miami) was held indoors due to rain.

There were so many other classes to choose from including HIIT classes, boxing, spinning, TRX and rolling. You could also hire a personal trainer at an additional cost for one on one training sessions or classes. The wellness aspect alone has me sold on Virgin Voyages from now on. I loved it and didn’t feel as guilty sampling all the food I did eat on this sailing.

Pools on the Scarlet Lady

This is where I hope future Lady Ships do get an upgrade. The pool area onboard the Scarlet Lady in my opinion is small. I personally like to do laps in a pool. In this pool it is impossible to actually swim, it’s more of a “hangout” spot. The other surprise to me was the circular pool with an “x” in it, I was expecting it to be hot, it was not. It was really a cool “chill out” pool with jets. The two hot tubs here didn’t have jets, which I found extremely strange as that’s why I like to enjoy a hot tub, the jets on my back. The only two hot tubs that had jets that were accessible to regular sailors (not counting Richard’s Rooftop, you need to be a VIP or Rock Star to access) was up on Deck 16 at the aft of the ship. Again, the pool and whirlpool situation on the Scarlet Lady is really quite disappointing and good luck trying to use them on a sea day.

Adults Only “By Design”

This is actually a huge draw for me towards Virgin Voyages as a cruise line. I typically travel solo. I don’t have kids and sometimes get very annoyed on cruises when I come across certain types of families onboard ships. I’ve eaten in restaurants where the children are throwing food on the floor in the main dining room and the parents sit there and do nothing. I’ve been enjoying what is supposed to be an “adults only” pool or area on a cruise ship when a family strolls in and allows their kids to run wild. I’m not against kids. However I’m against parents that allow their children to behave badly and get away with it. For me, Virgin Voyages is an answer and a viable option. It was so nice to not hear screaming children in a dining room or not be splashed by the pool by kids jumping into water when they aren’t supposed to be. Believe me, I don’t hate kids haha. But the adults only concept of Virgin Voyages was a breath of fresh air. That being said, in some ways it brought you back to being a kid. The free and included arcade (again usually an additional charge on other cruise lines) was amazing and brought me back to some of my childhood games and I didn’t have to feel bad about harassing an 8 year old that it was my turn. At the Social Club they had games available usually every afternoon into the evenings. Yes there’s the chess, Life, Candy Land and other traditional board games available, but also Cards Against Humanity and other options typically not seen on other family friendly cruise lines. Social Club also had sweet treats, boozy milkshakes, cake pops, red licorice and gummy bears. The staff are also super friendly and I’m so happy that Virgin Voyages is such an inclusive cruise line. Typically on cruise lines staff have to hide tattoos by wearing long sleeved uniforms or with band-aids, etc, they are not allowed piercings other than one in each ear, regular hair colours and the most important one is around body types. Yes, most other cruise lines will only hire certain bods types aka people who are thin! It’s actually a form of discrimination, but also not to “offend” cruise ship guests who are very conservative. Because Virgin Voyages hires people of all types, the staff’s unique personalities come through and it makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Again, because of some thought process that we have become accustomed to as a society, “you probably couldn’t get away with that on a family friendly ship”. Insert eye roll here. Again, I’m glad to see the inclusivity onboard Virgin Voyages and it makes me so happy to see the progress that they are making in this regard. I will also say that the music that was played around the ship, if there was explicit lyrics, it was played or said. Again, keeping to the adults only vibe. Which brings me to the entertainment onboard…

Entertainment on the Scarlet Lady

Again one of the things that had extremely mixed reviews onboard the Scarlet Lady was the entertainment. Honestly, I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the entertainment and really enjoyed the shows I saw. The very first night was obviously the “Sail Away” Party, which on our sailing complementary sparkling wine was free flowing for an hour and a half! Yes, free sparkling wine. The band playing during the sail away party was AMAZING, playing covers of Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Brown and other great songs which I had an awesome time dancing and singing along to the music while the sun set over the Miami skyline.

Later that evening I watched the “Untitled Dance Party Show Thing” (yes, it’s really called that). It actually set the tone of the cruise in my opinion. The host of the show was a “talking cat” on the video screens, who kept reiterating “don’t be an asshole”. Fitting for how you should act on a cruise lol. It was a very random show (like very random), but I loved it. From watching the dance troop perform very contemporary dances to getting involved with the Electric Slide, the Macarena and even the Hokey Pokey. I was laughing so hard at times my, abs hurt. There’s a few other surprises, but needless to say it’s not your typical cruise entertainment and I can see why some people wouldn’t like it.

Later that evening, they even hosted a “Pajama Party” out on Deck 16, I did skip this as I was just too tired. The other show I watched was “Dual Reality” in The Red Room. This show brought acrobatics to a very interesting modern take on Romeo and Juliet. This show is VERY impressive and highly suggest watching it onboard. This is probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship and that says a lot.

There was another show called “Never Sleep Alone” which I didn’t get to see it as my dinner ran late that evening. Scarlet Night was another very random evening. Unfortunately on our cruise, the night they hosted Scarlet Night it was very windy out on the pool deck, so it didn’t progress that far and was held mostly indoors. It went from a dance performance party, to a photo booth, to being roped into playing “Charades for Champagne”. I did start to feel a bit uncomfortable as it was packed inside (absolutely no social distancing) once everyone had finished dinner and no one was wearing a mask except for the crew, so I headed back to my cabin and called it a night.

Around the ship there was lots of live entertainment in various venues including “pop up entertainers” that would do pop up, roaming shows around the ship. These entertainers also performed at the “Bonfire” at the Bimini Beach Club. They had various game shows that were ice cream based, bingo and trivia. So there was usually always something happening entertainment wise. 

Daily Activities and Things To Do Onboard The Scarlet Lady

Again, Virgin Voyages is not your typical cruise line. Your room steward doesn’t deliver the next day’s schedule to your stateroom in the evening. You will find the entire cruise’s schedule in the app, on a few of the TV screens around the ship or you can pick up a printed copy at Sailor Services. I enjoyed some of the makeup classes held at the “Makeup Porthole” which is the first MAC and currently the only MAC store at sea. Around the ship, you’ll find many places to take Instagram worthy photos inducing the entrance to the Manor, up on Deck 17 at the “Save Water, Drink Champagne” sign, the large net at the back of the ship on Deck 16 and other areas around the ship. There were plenty of things to do if you wanted to be busy, but there were also gaps in the programming. I’m not sure if this is a current pandemic issue or if it’s just what Virgin intended. There is a casino onboard, however I didn’t visit it as casinos aren’t my jam. As a solo traveller, there is no “solo traveller meet up” or any other meet ups for that matter. So you really have to be comfortable sticking to yourself or being social at the bars and clubs. Thinking about getting a tattoo? Squid Ink is the first and only tattoo parlour at sea! Yup, there is a tattoo shop on Virgin Voyages Lady Ships! Believe me I was thinking of getting one, but perhaps next time. 

Lots of places to take some great photos for Instagram.

Redemption Spa and the Thermal Suite

I’ll be honest, I typically always buy a thermal pass when I’m sailing on a ship. I love these relaxed spaces, however the thermal suite on Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady confused me. I did the tour on the first day to “sus” it out. The Redemption Spa Thermal Suite costs $70 USD per person per day, however included with some suite categories. Is it worth it? Not in my opinion. The sauna, steam rooms and salt room are all great. However the “heated marble slabs” are heated to a very low temperature and I found it to be very uncomfortable to lay on as they weren’t contoured to fit your spine’s curve. Also, the lack of a hydrotherapy pool with jets and again only ONE tiny hot tub that would barely fit two people (again no jets), was really disappointing to see. Something that needs to be addressed on future ships in their designs and even possibly a future refit onboard the Scarlet Lady. 

Sailor Services

Here on Deck 5 is basically Guest Services but renamed. They are very helpful and I did have an issue on my last morning when I saw that there was a couple drinks charged to my account that were not mine. You can chat with Sailor Services through the app which makes things very easy. Again this is actually a cruise tip of mine, always check your onboard account, sometimes there can be errors and it’s always easier to deal with these things onboard than after your cruise when you get home. Typically I like to review my account on the last evening which I did, however this error showed up after I had went to sleep on the last evening. I’ll also mention that the shops are only open for about half an hour on the last night (if your last stop is Bimini Beach Club before Miami) for only about 30 mins. So if you did buy something and had an issue or want to buy something, I’d highly suggest doing that on your second to last day.

Cruise Stops on our Voyage

On my sailing we had two sea days and stops in Costa Maya, Mexico and Bimini, Bahamas. I didn’t do any of Virgin Voyages “Shore Things” (what they call their shore excursions) as I wanted to really experience the Scarlet Lady as this was just a five night sailing.

Costa Maya. Mexico

It is a fair walk to Costa Maya from where the ships dock. I was glad I left the ship just after 9:00am, when our ship was cleared as it wasn’t too hot yet. On the way into Costa Maya I took some photos of the ship and I saw a very curious Brown Boobie.

Costa Maya is a very touristic port area. Once you enter, you will see a “Costa Maya” sign and the shore excursions meeting area to the right. If you continue to the left and enter the building, you will find a “duty free shop” and the entrance to the resort area. Here you will find the typical “cruise shops” such as jewelry stores, sunlight colour changing clothing, a pharmacy and many other tourist shops. There are some really nice places to relax here at Costa Maya, however to enjoy a beach chair you do need to buy a drink. That being said, the pools here are free to enjoy and you don’t need to purchase a drink to use the pools, just the chairs and cabanas. I will also say we had two other Royal Caribbean ships in port with us, so later in the day it was very busy in port.

Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini

This was a highlight for me. I LOVED Virgin Voyages Beach Club at Bimini. There is an included shuttle that makes a couple stops at Resorts World at Bimini, obviously also including the Beach Club. I left the ship as soon as we had the all clear, around 9:30am. It was great as I had first pick of seats and could take some photos and videos of the Beach Club with little to no people in them.

I very easily secured myself a clamshell double lounger on “the quiet side”, where the pool bar was. The party pool was the north pool where the DJ booth was. This pool at one point was full of floats, for the ultimate floaty party.

The beach here was gorgeous. Unfortunately the swings were in disrepair during our sailing, but I can see how they were getting battered by the waves. Other than that, The Beach Club at Bimini was pristine and it was a vibe.

The food served for lunch and the late afternoon snacks were delicious. I loved the Lechon Asado, Caribbean Chicken with Coconut Curry, side of Rice and Beans and the Watermelon and Jicama Salad. There was also a West Indian Pumpkin Curry that was also good, however I preferred the other two dishes. All the plates were small so you could easily try all the different dishes if you wanted. For dessert the Rum Cake with Guava Sauce was heaven.

The included internet at the beach club worked great and even faster than some places on the ship (yes you get free wifi at their beach club when sailing with Virgin Voyages). The “basic bevvies” are also available at the beach club and are self service. At night, be sure to watch the sunset and take in the bonfires. They light up these huge metal globes with flames inside and really neat.

Later in the afternoon they have some different snacks including Crispy Cassava, Roasted Squash and Coconut Hummus and Tamarind Glazed Ribs. I swear you will not go hungry on a Virgin Voyages cruise.

The sunset on the beach here at The Bimini Beach Club was so beautiful. I can’t wait to cruise Virgin Voyages again one day in the Caribbean to visit Bimini Beach Club again in the future!

The Big Question: Is Virgin Voyages for Me?

Hopefully by now you can start to understand if Virgin Voyages is or isn’t for you. My experience was very different from others on the same sailing and even others I spoke with on the sailing before me. I think it depends on what you like to do on a cruise or what’s important to you. If you are more of a “conservative person” Virgin Voyages might not be for you. They promote that they are rebellious luxury and I think that is the best way to describe them. The food is really good. Like I said, probably better than most cruise lines I’ve tried thus far. 

What’s Included on Virgin Voyages?

Obviously your stateroom cabin category you booked, crew gratuities, “basic bevvies” (sodas, coffee, tea, some juices, still and sparkling water), unlimited group fitness classes, basic wifi (you could upgrade on the first day for $10 USD per day to be able to stream videos, I did upgrade for one day/24 hours for $15 USD to be able to do my PCR LAMP test to get back into Canada as I wanted to make sure I had a stable connection, I still FaceTimed with my Grandmother on the basic internet) and all your meals at over 20+ eateries. 

Disembarkation – Leaving the Scarlet Lady

It’s always a sad day when you have to leave a ship. The day before you leave the ship, you’ll be able to select what time you would like to get off the ship, up to a departure time of 10:30am. I was able to select a 10:15am departure time in the app. That being said, if you wanted to leave at whatever time, it seemed you could as long as you were out of your stateroom by your booked time and off the ship by 10:30am. I had breakfast in The Galley and relaxed. It did seem that most people had departed the ship by around 9:00am. If you did want your luggage taken off the ship for you, you needed to have your luggage outside your door by 10:00pm the night before and still have your original luggage tags on them. If you needed new luggage tags, be sure to visit Sailor Services before 9:00pm as there was quite a line. To leave the ship it’s very quick and easy, you scan your band and walk down the gangway. You then pick up your luggage and clear US customs and leave the terminal. Disembarkation took about twenty minutes from leaving the Scarlet Lady to ordering my Lyft back to the Miami International Airport.

In Conclusion

What I really enjoyed about the Virgin Voyages cruise was that you can make it what you want it to be and it’s 100% adults only. It can be party party or super chill and wellness focused. It’s like a “choose your own adventure” but for adults. 

Will I sail on Virgin Voyages again? Heck yes! I actually loved the cruise overall. While I do hope that they make changes to the mattresses on the beds, I will sail on Virgin Voyages again in a heartbeat. I loved the food, the crew and the wellness aspects onboard. I’m personally looking at a Mediterranean itinerary with Virgin Voyages on the Valiant Lady in the Summer of 2023. 

As a luxury travel advisor my clients typically receive added benefits when booking vacations, hotel stays and cruises through me. I’d love to work with you as your travel advisor, click here to contact me for more information.

Here’s my YouTube video featuring Day 1 – Boarding the Scarlet Lady:

Here’s my YouTube video on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady featuring Day 2 – Day at Sea:

Here’s my YouTube video on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady featuring Day 3 – Costa Maya, Mexico:

Here’s my YouTube video on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady featuring Day 4 – Day at Sea:

(Coming Soon – January 30th, 2022)

Here’s my YouTube video on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady featuring Day 5 – Bimini Beach Club:

(Coming Soon – February 6th, 2022)

Here’s my YouTube video on the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady featuring Day 6 – Leaving the Ship & My Cruise Recap

(Coming Soon – February 13th, 2022)

36 Hours in Miami’s South Beach – Miami Travel Guide

I’m so excited to be on my next adventure to Miami to board the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady. I’ve never been to Miami before (I know, shocking), so I was really looking forward to exploring this city.

Ocean Drive in Miami has some amazing Art Deco architecture

Day 1/2 – Travel Day to Miami

My flight out of Vancouver with Air Canada was the red eye, therefore I landed the next morning into to Toronto during a bit of a snowstorm. Because of this, I always recommend my clients to book a longer connection, especially in the winter as you never know what the weather can bring. On landing we did slide a bit as the runway was pretty well snow covered. Once through USA customs pre-clearance, I headed to the Plaza Premium Lounge in the US departures area for breakfast. I was actually surprised by how busy the lounge was, but there aren’t many lounges open right now, I guess still due to the pandemic. About an hour later it was time to head to my gate to board my flight to Miami.

After some delays with de-icing the plane, I finally landed at Miami International Airport around 2:00pm. Most of us had to check our carry on baggage as the plane we flew on was quite small and no one’s bags would fit up in the overhead compartment. Once I collected my bag, I exited the airport and used Lyft to get to my hotel, The Berkeley Park Hotel by M Gallery, which is part of Accor. My Lyft ride took about 25 minutes from the Miami Airport to the hotel as the traffic was pretty good and we had no delays.

I stayed at the Berkeley Park Hotel by M Gallery, which has been recently opened

Once checked in, I headed to my room which was a “Classic Queen Room”. It was very well appointed with a very comfortable queen bed, a Keurig coffee maker, mini fridge, bathroom amenities and a lovely welcome note and a bottle of Champagne from the hotel’s general manager.

Classic Queen Room at the Berkeley Park Hotel MGallery
I loved the rainfall shower in my room. The bathroom amenities citrus scent was very refreshing.

The Berkeley Park Hotel is located only a couple blocks from Miami Beach on 20th Street and they do provide you with beach chairs, towel and umbrellas if you do want to have a beach day. They also have an amazing rooftop pool area that I used a couple times during my stay. It was a great little oasis in the city.

Rooftop pool at the Berkeley Park Hotel

I was so exhausted from my travel day to get to Miami, that I decided to have a relaxing evening and wake up early in the morning to explore.

South Beach

The following morning I woke up quite early around 5:00am, as I had such an early night to try to catch up on some much needed sleep. I headed out just after sunrise for a walk just before 7:00am. I absolutely loved walking around Miami’s South Beach area. I walked down Collins Ave to the heart of South Beach. Ocean Drive was a short fifteen minute walk from my hotel. I love architecture, so seeing all the perfectly kept Art Deco buildings was a highlight for me. As I walked along Ocean Drive, I saw landmarks such as Gianni Versace’s former mansion which is now a restaurant.

Miami’s Ocean Drive
Ocean Drive in Miami is known as the Art Deco District
Gianni Versace’s former mansion now turned into a restaurant.

I’m actually a bit sad I only had one full day here. I’d love to come back, check out some of the other areas of Miami and see Miami’s South Beach at night when all the neon lights are lit up.

I stopped in at “Bacon Bitch” for breakfast. It’s a pretty interesting place and it’s a vibe for sure. They greet you with “Hey Bitch!” as you walk in haha. I ordered one of their “Main Bitches” which was a “Queens” croissant sandwich. Unfortunately I forgot to film it, however the breakfast sandwiches they offer are really good, definitely check this place out.

I then started to walk back towards my hotel stopping in at a Starbucks to buy a “Florida” Starbucks Mug. I then walked along Miami Beach to see all the different and uniquely coloured lifeguard stations.

It’s a great walk and I highly suggest walking Miami Beach in the morning when it’s not too hot and there are less people on the beach.

Miami Beach is known for it’s colourful lifeguard stations
Another lifeguard station on Miami Beach

It was a bit early for the bustle of Esplanade Way, so I continued back towards my hotel, stopping in at Rosetta Bakery on Collins Ave as I had already walked off my earlier breakfast. The food here was really good. I had a sandwich and a cake for dinner from here last night and returned for a Nutella filled croissant today.

Esplanade Way
I highly recommend Rosetta Bakery on Collins Ave.

1 Hotel South Beach

I had an appointment with the sales manager at 1 Hotel South Beach, to check it out for future client stays, for this blog and YouTube. I really admire what 1 Hotels stand for as a brand in the ways of sustainability.

They don’t have cut florals in the lobby or the hotel rooms, but living terrariums and living walls.

1 Hotel South Beach has many sustainability initiatives including: reclaimed wood from a pair that was damaged in a hurricane, compressed paper hangers in the room made from “love notes”, “homework” and “maps”, the room keys are made of wood, the bathroom amenities are by Bamford Wellness, and the “Do Not Disturb” signs on the doors are made from cardboard from deliveries to the 1 Hotel.

This art installation of a whale was made solely of garbage that was washed up on the ocean shores:

The lobby at 1 Hotel South Beach
Lobby bar at 1 Hotel South Beach

The hotel also offers a great fitness and wellness program onsite. Anatomy is their 12,000 square foot gym. There are seven restaurants, including Plnthouse which is plant based and Watr at 1 Rooftop which is obviously on the rooftop, has amazing views of Miami Beach and is a Peruvian-Japanese inspired menu. The rooftop pool is amazing and is reserved for adults only.

Rooftop Pool at 1 Hotel South Beach which is adults only.

Also, the 1 Hotel South Beach offers a free Audi electric drop-off car service for guests to use within a three mile (about five kilometres) area. I was able to view a few categories of rooms here.

They also offer suites with full kitchens which you’ll find in their “Home Collection”.

I show you room tours of 1 Hotel South Beach’s Ocean Front One Bedroom Suite with Balcony, followed by a Junior Suite King with Balcony, a One Bedroom Home Ocean View with Balcony and a Two Bedroom Ocean View Penthouse with Balcony. Check out the YouTube video at the end of this travel guide to Miami or click here to watch.

A piece that was hosted here at 1 Hotel South Beach for Art Basel

After my site inspection, I headed back to my hotel and got changed into my swimsuit. I relaxed at my hotel’s rooftop pool for an hour or so, then headed out for another walk around South Beach. This time I headed towards Lincoln Ave, which is a pedestrianized shopping street. 

It was then time to grab an early dinner, so I walked over to a highly recommended taco place called Bodega Taqueria y Tequila. The tacos here were probably the best I’ve ever had, no joke. I ordered the “Clasico” tacos, a “Al Pastor” taco and a “Carne Asada” taco. It’s a very unassuming place, and I really like the laid back vibe. The mostly inappropriate sign apparently changes every month or so. Your order you food from an Airstream trailer inside this low key eatery. There is a speakeasy or night club of sorts in the back, however it wasn’t open when I was there.

Bodega Taqueria y Tequila
Bodega Taqueria y Tequila Menu – Dec 2021

Right around the corner from Bodega is Yardbird, another restaurant I really wanted to check out but unfortunately didn’t have time this trip. Yardbird was started here in Miami Beach and is a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant concept. It is the brainchild of 50 Eggs Hospitality Group founder, John Kunkel. There have been Yardbird chefs who have made appearances on Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and other Food Network shows. I’ll be making a reservation here more in advance next time I visit Miami.

I then headed back to my hotel, The Berkeley Park Hotel by MGallery, making a pit stop at Trader Joes for some wine for my cruise tomorrow. With Virgin Voyages, we can take two bottles of wine or Champagne onboard per cabin. to take in the sunset from the rooftop pool. The pool hours are quite decent, it’s open from 8:00am to 11:00pm at the time of my stay. With the “resort fee” you pay, you do have a beach chair, towel and umbrella “kit” that they can lend you to take out to Miami Beach for the day. 

I did call it an earlier night again, I’m so excited to be boarding my cruise and you can read my cruise review of the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady by clicking here.

In Conclusion

I loved Miami’s South Beach area and had no where enough time to really dive into everything I wanted to check out this trip. I can’t wait to plan my next adventure here and will be planning to spend more time exploring the other areas of Miami and diving deeper into more of the South Beach are of Miami.

As a luxury travel advisor my clients typically receive added benefits when booking vacations, hotel stays and cruises through me. I’d love to work with you as your travel advisor, click here to contact me for more information.

Here’s my YouTube video featuring my 36 Hours Exploring Miami’s South Beach:

Whale Watching in Vancouver with Prince of Whales

If you ever find yourself visiting Vancouver, Canada, I really recommend to do a whale watching tour.

A whale watching tour a great way to see the city of Vancouver from the water, explore the waters and the marine life just off the coast. Prince of Whales Whale Watching apparently has a 95% success rate in seeing whales on your tour and even offer a “Sighting Guarantee”. This means if for some reason you don’t see whales on your tour, you’ll be able to keep going back until you do!

Orca Whales surfacing during our whale watching tour with Prince of Whales Whale Watching

Check In:

I experienced this whale watching tour during the pandemic, which strict Covid protocols were put into place and enforced. I felt very safe and even took my 85 year old Grandmother along with me. You are currently required to wear masks for the entire duration of the tour (even if you are outside on the decks). Social distancing is also maintained onboard.

It is strongly recommended that you arrive and check in for your whale watching tour at least 30 minutes prior to your tour time. This is to make sure that you are present for the initial briefing and sign the release form if you weren’t able to online beforehand.

Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures in Vancouver is located on beautiful Granville Island. I highly suggest making a day trip out of your stay on Granville Island, either grabbing some snacks and exploring the Granville Public Market before or after your whale watching tour. We made sure we grabbed some Lee’s Donuts for the trip!

Make sure you grab some snacks at the world famous Granville Island Public Market

The Equipment:

Prince of Whales Whale Watching tours in Vancouver use catamarans that seat 95 people, however they are equipped with many more seats than that for optimal comfort for indoor and outdoor viewing. During the pandemic they are not running at full capacity and are currently running at only half capacity, around 50 guests maximum. On our tour there were only 37 people.

Onboard Experience:

Onboard Prince of Whales catamaran ships, you’ll find a comfortable indoor seating area (some seats have tables which is perfect to enjoy your picnic lunch or snacks) with a snack bar (they were serving complementary tea, coffee, hot chocolate and bottled water) and plenty of outdoor seating areas, including right on the bow (at the front of the ship). They also provided sea life colouring pages and crayons for kids I noticed, which was a great touch to keep kids occupied as we sailed out to where the whales were reported to have been seen. There were also two, very clean bathrooms onboard available for use. Make sure you check out my YouTube video for images of the ship and the onboard experience!

On our whale watching tour we had four naturalists and a photographer who were very knowledgeable. Guides made their rounds to everyone and had personal chats about what we were on the search for during our tour. They also had lots of different visuals to explain what we were looking for, how to identify whales, a map of our area to point out our location and did a great job educating all ages on our local marine life here in the Vancouver area. They even had a map that they were updating live with what we had seen and the locations we saw them in the Straight of Georgia which is also known as the Salish Sea.

The guides also had some stories of how some of the whales got their names, I’ll never forget how “Stanley” got his. Let’s hope one day he returns to the Burrard Inlet to give the Canucks a shot at winning the Stanley Cup haha! The guides take photos of the whales and use markings on their tails and backs to identify which whales we are viewing with their catalog of images.

Overall Whale Watching Tour Experience:

Both my Grandmother and I had an amazing time. We saw two pods of Orca Whales, Harbour Seals and Stellar Sea Lions. The first pod we were able to get very close as they surfaced near the ship, the captain turned off the engines and it was just amazing to see them and hear their breath as they surfaced. The second pod or Killer Whales we saw were living up to their name. They were on the hunt. They were actively thrashing around, jumping out of the water and aggressively diving.

“Stanley” a popular male Killer Whale
Orca Whales are very social creatures, here are two with their noses out of the sea and one on its side with the fin showing
Such a great day, viewing the Orcas with the snow capped North Shore mountains in the distance

I highly suggest this whale watching tour if you’re visiting Vancouver as a day tour before or after your Alaska cruise, or even if you’re a local looking to do something special.

Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures also has a location in Victoria, so if you’re visiting Victoria on a cruise you can book a whale watching tour there as well.

If you’re interested in seeing the experience, I created a YouTube video (going to be released on Sunday, May 30th) on my whale watching experience with Prince of Whales.

Disclaimer: I did receive this experience as a gift from Prince of Whales Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures in partnership with Tourism Vancouver. I was not required to write a blog post, YouTube video, social media posts or give a positive review in return. This is my own positive experience that I wanted to highlight. As always, all thoughts, opinions and images are my own. I only team up with products and brands that I love and think you’ll like as well! Thanks so much for supporting the brands that support Wanderlust Journey.

Cruising 101: Getting the Most Out of Your Cruise Vacation

If you haven’t read my last blog post (or listened to my podcast episode) on planning your perfect cruise, I give some tips and insights on booking and selecting which cruise is best for you. In today’s blog, now that you’re all booked, I’m going to go through getting ready for your upcoming cruise, travelling on your cruise and some of my personal tips and tricks for getting the most out of your cruise vacation.

Checking in for your cruise

Usually once final payment is made you can do your cruise check in approximately 60-90 days prior to departure depending on the cruise line. If you work with a travel agent, this is a service that we can help our clients with, and what I typically do for my clients on their behalf. Check in is completed through the cruise line’s website. The information that needs to be provided to the cruise line is; your emergency contact details of someone not travelling with you or your party, credit card details to setup your onboard account (however you can sometimes setup a cash account when arriving to the port or on-board the ship), and full passport details of each traveller (you’ll also sometimes need visa information for countries you will be visiting depending on the cruise and cruise line).

If you have a cabin assignment, you’ll be able to print all your boarding passes and luggage tags right away, if you booked a guarantee cabin, usually you will have to log onto your account about a week prior to departure and check to see if they’ve given you your cabin assignment at that time.

**Pro Tip: Don’t attach your cruise luggage tag until you leave for the port. I attach my luggage tags to my luggage at the hotel right before I leave for the port, the front desk at your hotel can normally let you borrow a stapler or tape as you check out. I also print an extra tag for my carry on. This way I can see my cabin number easily on my handle of my carry on instead of fishing through papers.

Packing for your cruise

When packing for your cruise there are always a few things to keep in mind. Does your ship have a dress code for the dining rooms at night? Are there “gala nights” onboard, if so, how many? Do you know what your “wine allowance” is per guest or stateroom? What type of electrical outlets are in the staterooms? These are questions that a travel agent who is a cruise specialist can help answer for you. Most ships have somewhat of a dress code at night for the dining rooms or the specialty dining restaurants. This can range from “country club casual” to shirt and blazer for men, to no jeans or shorts. For women, again no jeans or shorts, however pants or skirts with a top and cocktail attire is acceptable on most. For shoes, on most cruise lines, flip flops are a no-no at night, some cruise lines even frown upon runners and require proper dress shoes, etc. This also comes to making sure you are booking the right cruise line for you. If you want something more casual, there are options out there for you. I regards to “gala nights” most cruise ships have two formal nights on a seven day cruise. Whilst it is becoming less popular, it’s not a requirement to wear formal wear on most ships on these nights. It is a time where most people get photos done, especially with the Captain. If you have status with a cruise line, normally if they throw a cocktail party with the Captain and Senior Officers, it’s usually on a “gala night”.

Wine allowances, so most cruise ships do allow you to bring wine onboard, however some do charge a “corkage fee” to bring your own bottles onboard. You can then consume your own wine either in your stateroom or in any of the restaurants. Some cruise lines allow you to bring one or two bottles or more per stateroom or per guest at no charge to enjoy in your stateroom, but they will charge a corkage fee if you bring your own bottle to the restaurants. If this is something that is important to you, your travel agent will be able to advise what your wine allowances are for the cruise you booked.

Electrical outlets, so most ocean cruise ships have a mix of North American and European style outlets in each stateroom. Some cabins now also have USB plugs near the beds to charge phones or I use those to plug in my Saje Aroma Roam travel diffuser.

There are some things that are a no-no to pack, if they scan your luggage and find these items in your bags, you will most likely have to go down to the “naughty room” and collect your bags without the confiscated items. Some of the most popular items that are not allowed onboard are irons (for clothes, hair straightens are okay), alcohol (wine or champagne needs to be in your carry on when you board the ship), weapons of any kind, drones (some cruise lines are okay with them or if you have special permission, again double check this as it depending on the cruise line), food products (no meats, fruits or vegetables; if you need a certain milk for your coffee, etc, it’s always better if we put in a special services request to have this available onboard or carry this on in your carry on it a sealed unopened original container), bottles of water or pop (yes some cruise lines do not allow this), candles/incense (or anything else that creates an open flame), baby monitors, radios, extension cords (those can cause fires onboard ships, also don’t leave anything plugged in when you leave your stateroom, if anything is left plugged in, expect that your room steward will unplug items if they see it), illegal drugs and CBD oils (yes I got asked this question once by a client, the answer is no) and scissors (travel size or a small pair are ok, just not a full size pair of scissors). Your travel specialist will be able to provide you with this list based on the cruise line you’ve booked with if you need this information.

Cruise Apps

Most cruise lines have their own apps nowadays. I am personally starting to really like the apps that they have. You can usually open them on the ship, connect to the ship’s wifi, it’s free to use (only using the app will work, if you want to use social media or internet you do still have to buy an internet package onboard). I like the apps because I can keep on top of my onboard account, manage my specialty dining reservations, see all the daily activities and even manage spa or entertainment reservations, again all depending on the cruise line. By managing your onboard account this way you’re not going to experience and “sticker shock” at the end of your cruise when you receive you bill, this will also give you time to dispute any charges as there is limited amount open on the day of disembarkation.

Arriving to your cruise

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been in this industry long enough to see a fair share of people not take my advice and fly in the day of their cruise just to be delayed and miss their ship. I always recommend to my clients to fly in the day before. Was even flying in the day before my Pacific Coastal cruise, even through it was a short flight from Vancouver to San Diego. I don’t trust that if the plane goes mechanical or any other delays including weather, I want to feel safe knowing that I will get there in time. Just another reason why it’s also a very good idea to have travel insurance.

One of the most asked questions I get is “what time should I arrive to the port to board my ship?”. That’s really down to personal choice. I like to arrive to the port as early as I can, usually by 10:00am. Most ships open check in counters by 10:30am and you can normally start boarding the ship by 11:00am to 11:30am. If you have status with the cruise line you sail with, there are sometimes “lounges” you can take advantage of and enjoy your wait. When you arrive at the port, there will be a place to drop your larger luggage, then walk inside to wait for the check in counters. Have your boarding pass and ID (passport, etc) ready as sometimes there will be a security check before you get to the check in counters. At the check in desks (this does depend on the cruise line, this is more for larger cruise lines, some of the smaller ships and on some river cruise ships you actually will check in onboard) you’ll be asked for your boarding pass, ID (passport, etc) and your credit card that you registered for your onboard account. They will either take a photo of you, or scan your passport and use that photo. You will be given your cruise card at this time.

Your cruise card is everything. This is your credit card, ID and cabin door key all in one. Be sure to keep your card safe, if you do lose it, go to guest services immediately and report it missing. Also get guest services to print your onboard account to make sure no one used your key card to make unauthorized purchases. Some people do use lanyards to wear their cruise card around their neck, make sure guest services punches the card for you, or buy a lanyard that you can insert the card into so it doesn’t become damaged.

Once onboard

I usually head to the guest services desk first and pick up a “daily”. What is a “daily” you ask? This is the daily schedule of all the activities onboard. Once I’ve grabbed on of those I head to the dining room that is open for lunch.

**Pro Tip: Most cruises will have a sit down dining option open for lunch. It’s usually much quieter than trying to fight for space up in the buffet.

Once I’ve ordered lunch, I then plan my “strategy” for the rest of the day using the “daily” I picked up.

**Pro Tip: You might have your carry on for a couple hours before you have access to your room, also, you might not get your checked luggage until after sail away. I usually keep a swim suit and a few other items in my carry on just in case it’s a beautiful day and I want to go for a swim. After lunch, I normally drop my carry on and bag into my cabin. They will make an announcement once rooms are ready, this can be right when you board or usually sometime by 2:00pm.

Once I’ve checked into my cabin and sanitized it, I put my passport into the safe along with any of my valuables that can fit in it (MacBook, jewelry, wallet (again your cruise card is your currency onboard, so you don’t need to walk around with it), etc). Then it’s off to explore.

I normally explore a ship from the bottom decks to the top. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, it’s amazing how many steps you’ll walk exploring a ship. When exploring, this is when I’m going to refer back to my personal strategy I’ve highlighted in my “daily”, there are usually some great “taster” events happening onboard during the time of boarding to Muster Drill and into the early evening. Again this is going to depend on what is important to you and what types of activities you might be interested in. If you’re a family cruising together, this is a great time to check out the kid’s clubs onboard, fill out any necessary forms and sign them up for activities. I myself check out the spa and thermal suites onboard if I haven’t purchased a spa pass ahead of time and attend the “spa raffle”. I’ve won gift certificates for free treatments and products before, like the saying goes, you have to be in it, to win it, so I usually attend that event onboard.

Since I’ve been cruising solo a bit recently, I also make note of any Solo Travellers Meetups onboard as well, usually the first meetup is before dinner hour on the day of embarkation. Sometimes it’s nice to meet other solo travellers for a dinner or a drink, or just to recognize people in the hallways for a quick chat how each other’s vacation has been going.

**Pro Tip: Make sure to look carefully at a map of the ship or check out cruisecritic.com and search the ship you are sailing on for “lesser known” areas of the ship. You would be surprised that there can be out of the way places to relax that most people don’t find because they stick to the main decks. 

Muster Drill

I actually get slightly entertained when it’s someone’s first muster drill, to see the reactions on people’s faces (or the multitude of quick hands over the ears) to experience the emergency alarm is interesting and amusing. I want to reiterate, do not miss the emergency safety drill. It’s mandatory and please pay attention. This is not the time to chat with your group or play on your phone. In the “daily” you will see where to find your muster station. Your muster station is printed on your cruise card. It is also found located on the back door of your stateroom. Some cruise lines require that you bring your lifejackets from your cabin to the drill, others do not require this. Please read the daily for instructions on what you need to bring to your drill.

Once you arrive at your muster station, you need to check in with your cruise card or with your cabin number to the crew member in charge of your station. Make sure to arrive on time to your muster station (5-10 minutes before the drill is set to begin is good). You will hear the emergency alarms of the ship go off. They will then go through the safety requirements and information over the ship’s speaker systems. If you are late or do not check in, you will be required to make up the muster drill at another time. Again, this is a very important emergency drill, please pay attention to the instructions and even if you’ve done numerous drills in the past, please respect that others around you might not have. 

Sail Away

One of my favourite parts of starting my cruise vacation. There are so many options for sail away and depending on which port you are leaving from there might be different advantages. For instance, if you’re sailing out of Vancouver, head to the top deck of the cruise ship on a sunny day for beautiful views of Vancouver, the North Shore mountains and of course sailing under the Lions Gate Bridge. Are you sailing out of Venice? If you have a balcony on the port side (the left side of the ship), you’ll have amazing views of Piazza San Marco whilst cruising out of Venice. There is usually a sail away party somewhere on deck, with live music to get the cruise started right. I make sure I pop a bottle of Champagne or Prosecco and toast to a wonderful and safe adventure ahead! Be sure to check the cruise “daily” for all the sail away events and locations.

Cabins/Staterooms Onboard

Whilst cabins and staterooms onboard are a bit more “compact” than a standard hotel room, the storage nooks and crannies are plentiful. One of the most asked questions I get from clients is “where can I store my luggage?”. There is usually always room to store suitcases under the bed, you can typically store at least two to three medium sized ones here. What is included in your cabin/stateroom also varies depending on cruise ship line, stateroom category and ship. If not having a coffee maker in your room is a deal breaker for you, make sure that you book the correct category or cruise line (some cruise lines only balconies and higher categories have coffee makers in the staterooms, some don’t offer coffee makers in the room but do offer room service included, other cruise lines don’t have coffee makers in any of the rooms).

Most cruise ships also have a small refrigerator in the room. I usually ask my room steward to clear out the mini bar (if it’s not included of course haha) so I have room to refrigerate my own wines, etc. For some people a refrigerator is necessary to keep medications cold, so I do make sure if this is a requirement that there is a fridge in the room, or we can request this through the cruise line’s special services department.

As I mentioned already previously, there are quite a few electrical outlets available typically in your stateroom. I bring a European adapter so I can utilize all the plugs in my cabin, especially if I’m travelling with a friend, that way no one is fighting over an outlet. I do also bring my hair tools, as they have North American style plugs onboard I can make sure my hair is styled without worrying I’m going to blow up my device.

There are tons of other tips and tricks you can find online, some cabin walls are metal, so if you want more storage I know a few avid cruisers who travel with magnetic hooks to have extra hooks in the room, however I’ve never had a problem with storage, even if I end up sharing a stateroom with someone.

You can expect your room to be tidied a couple times per day, once usually mid-morning, the last time for turn down service during dinner hours (delivery of your daily and any important notes for the next day will normally be placed on your bed or on the desk during turn down), it’s a rule of thumb to not have your do not disturb light/sign on unless you are in the room. If they see that you constantly have your do not disturb sign up they will leave a note for you to contact guest services. 

Dining

Once onboard you can head to the dining reservations desk and make any dining reservations you might want to make or need to change. Most cruise lines now do dining reservations ahead of time online, however there are some that you need to make them once onboard or if you need to amend any within seven days prior to your cruise departure. Most cruise lines will not accept dining reservations for the main dining rooms, it is either set time (chosen or assigned when you book certain cruise lines) or “freestyle” (open seating), where you will be seated as you show up for dinner.

Some cruise lines are now using a system similar to restaurants where you check in and are given a buzzer for when your table is ready if there is a wait (doesn’t mean you can walk to the other side of the ship haha).

When it comes to room service, this also depends on the cruise line. Some do not charge and will even serve you your meal course-by-course, some have a set service fee and finally some have a la carte pricing. Your cruise professional can advise you ahead of time what room service fees your cruise has if any. 

Shore Excursions and Leaving the Ship

The reason I wanted to cover this is the expectations of getting on and off the ship for shore excursions depending on the cruise line you’re sailing on. No matter what size of ship you’re sailing on, this time of embarkation and disembarkation I’ve learned to pack my patience. If you’re tendering, which means taking a boat from the ship to the shore, be sure to grab your tender tickets the moment they are available for distribution (some people on larger cruise ships have learned this the hard way). Then be prepared to wait until your number/colour is called (not near the exits either).

That being said, really make sure you have a buffer time for shore excursions you’ve booked on your own or through a third party. Shore excursions booked through the ship will have priority, so make sure you have a good buffer time and be sure to leave the ship with enough time to meet up with your excursions.

Also, when you depart the ship you need to bring your cruise card with you. You will be scanned as you leave and when you return so they know who is missing if you miss the “all aboard” call. “All aboard” is typically 30 minutes before sail away, so make sure you plan accordingly. You don’t want to be one of those people running after the ship at the port (yes, I have seen this) or taking that selfie with the ship sailing away without you in the background.

Most ports will also not allowed any food or beverages off the ship (so don’t try to take that Starbucks latte to go off the ship or you’ll be forced to knock it back or leave it behind). Water is allowed, however please be mindful when refilling your water bottle in the buffet area, use a glass to fill then pour the water into your bottle, don’t refill your bottle directly under the spout.

Also, you don’t need to take your passport off the ship in every country (double check this before you depart the ship for the day), I have my Canadian driver’s license and a photocopy of my passport photo page. If for some reason you miss the ship and do not board on time, a senior officer will check your safe in your stateroom and leave your passport behind with port officials so you can make your own way to catch up to the ship. Some cruises they will actually hold your passport anyways during check in, this is so that if the officials need to see your passport you aren’t called down to the Purser’s Office at 5:30am to present your passport to immigration.

When you return from your day exploring the port, have your cruise card ready. When you arrive back at the cruise terminal you will sometime have to go through a security check point before getting to the ship. Once scanned and onboard, typically there is another security scan done (again, make sure you didn’t buy any prohibited items, or if you purchased alcohol you’ll have to declare it for them to store it for you or pay the corkage fee (if them impose one) to enjoy it onboard). 

Medical Services Onboard

Yes cruise ships do have medical centres onboard. The cost to use these services however are very steep, make sure to use them only in emergency and make sure to give them your travel insurance information. Usually this is added to your onboard account as they rarely direct bill to insurance.

**Pro Tip: If you do find yourself sea sick, guest services do have a supply of sea sickness tablets that they usually provide at no charge.

You can also find some over the counter pharmacy products in the gift shop (ibuprofen, cough medicine, allergy tablets, etc) however the gift shops are set to specific hours and are not open while in port due to laws and restrictions.

Just a bit further on health, especially with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Norwalk Virus, be sure to wash your hands frequently. There are so many antibacterial hand gel dispensers throughout ships, we wouldn’t have problems is everyone was diligent enough to use them. I also bring hand sanitizer into the dining room and use it after touching menus. In my stateroom, I also wipe down surfaces, door handles, remote controls, telephones, etc with Lysol antibacterial wipes.

In conclusion these are just a few tips and tricks of how to get the most of your cruise and scenarios you might encounter. When you book a cruise through myself, I do offer a service to go over any questions my clients have one on one and give tips based on the ship/cruise line they are sailing on, especially if it’s a ship I’ve sailed on myself. I also do have reviews of my cruises on my blog and will continue to write these ship reviews going forward. 

As I am a travel agent who specializes in cruising, I’d love to help you plan your next cruise vacation. Please contact me for a free cruise vacation consultation via my website or by sending me a direct message on Instagram.

Until next time, safe travels and happy cruising!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

My Travel Guide to Santorini, Greece

Santorini is one of my all time favourite destinations to visit. I absolutely LOVE this island. I love it so much, I’ve already travelled here twice in the course of just over a year. It’s more than just romantic, it feels like another world. The sunsets here are incredible, and the charming towns that line the clifftops are beyond beautiful.

You can get to the Cyclades island of Santorini a few ways. Located in the Aegean Sea, most people visit Santorini for the day via cruise ship. You can also fly in (airport code JTR) and even arrive by ferry from Athens (or from many of the other Greek Islands) for longer stays.

If you’re visiting by cruise ship, you will have to tender (your cruise ship anchors out in the caldera and you are ferried onto the bottom of the cliff of Thira (Fira). You will then have a few choices. You can take a gondola/cable car to the top of the cliff side, a boat to Oia (sounds like EE YA), walk up the stairs or ride a donkey up. I’m going to be very honest, please, please, please do not ride the donkeys up the hill. They are overworked, working in very hot conditions and getting injured. Conde Nast Traveller wrote an article on the donkeys of Santorini that you can find here. Please keep in mind being a socially responsible traveller, especially when it comes to animal welfare. The cable car up is €6 per person, per direction, so €12 per person round trip. I recently did the boat to Oia option on my last trip, taking a boat from where the cruise ship tenders drop off. This option was €15 per person which includes the boat to Oia, bus ride up the hill into Oia and then the bus ride back to Thira.

Getting Around Santorini:

If you decide to check out Thira first, once at the top of the hill, you can’t help but take in the magnificent views. This island is just beautiful everywhere. Thira is one of the main towns on Santorini. It’s where you will find the main bus terminal (public bus system run by KTEL). A bus ticket to most areas on the island is around a €1.80 to €2.50 per direction, honestly it’s a great deal and the public buses are coach style buses. A bus from Thira to Oia will cost you €1.80 per direction.

Here’s how to get to the bus station from the cable car (red dot is the cable car, yellow dot is the bus depot, it’s about a 10 minute walk):

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Taxis on Santorini are limited and can be expensive. Renting a car, motorbike and/or ATV is the other option most visitors opt for. Rough costs for this depend on the depot and rental company used.

Things to see and do:

There are so many things to see and experience on Santorini. It’s a place to take in the beauty, relax and unwind. I’ve broke down some of the top sights and things to do based on each town.

Oia – Probably the most iconic town that tourists flock to. Here in Oia, my favourite thing to do is just to wander the streets and enjoy the sights. I love photographing the whitewashed homes, clinging to the cliffside. It’s just an incredible view. If you’re here for the day, visit early in the morning before the cruise ship crowds descend on this small village. Once 11:00am rolls around it can be very busy here as it is such a popular destination. Crowds don’t dissipate until later in the afternoon depending on the cruise ship schedules. Sunsets are absolutely amazing, however Oia can still feel quite busy if there is still a ship in port. There are several restaurants that have stunning sunset views, where you can order a bottle of prosecco or champagne and enjoy the experience. Oia is a tourist town, however there are a few locals shops here offering some beautiful unique products and gifts (don’t miss the Atlantis Books Store and a store called Nama). Oia to me it’s one of those places to explore, take amazing photos, grab a seat at a restaurant, enjoy a glass of wine with some amazing Greek food and ponder life while taking in the view over the caldera.

Thira – Thira is a place that most tourists arrive, it’s where the cable car brings thousands of tourists almost everyday in the busy season. There are a few local shops here, however it can also be a great starting point to exploring the island of Santorini. Santorini has some amazing wineries and breweries. One wine tour in particular is with Santorini Wine Adventures, they offer a great half day tour visiting three local wineries on Santorini learning about how the volcanic earth here help creates some great wines.

Red Beach (Akrotiri) – One of the most scenic beaches on Santorini, within walking distance from the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, a site not to miss. The site is covered and  enclosed to protect the discovered and very well preserved ruins from the Minoan Bronze Age. Red Beach itself can be a bit tricky to get onto depending on the level of erosion, but it’s a beautiful and unique beach.

Where to eat on Santorini:

Oia – My favourite place to eat in Oia is Lotza Restaurant. The food here is fresh, home cooked and just delicious. It’s a very quaint restaurant with amazing views overlooking the caldera.

Other restaurant options in Oia are Karma and 1800, for something sweet try Lolita’s Gelato on a hot day and Melenio Cafe for an amazing dessert.

Thira – Located a short walk from the Thira cable car, Volkan On The Rocks serves up amazing locally sourced food, their very own wines and beer called Volkan Beer.

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Other restaurant options in Thira are Fanari and Theoni’s Kitchen.

Whatever you see and experience on Santorini, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful island to discover and is full of history. Santorini is one of my favourite places I’ve ever travelled to and has a very special place in my heart.

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If you have any questions about travelling to Santorini, leave me a message!

Until next time, happy travels!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

My Travel Guide to Venice, Italy

I heard a quote once about Venice:  “Visiting Venice is like eating a box of chocolate liqueurs in one go…” (author unknown).

Now it might not be just like that… It depends if eating an entire box of chocolates makes you sick or not lol. But I do understand the decadence the author might have been referring to…

Venice is luxuriously self-indulgent.

I envy any true Venetian who calls this incredible city “home”. The art scene in Venice rivals any museum, the city itself you could argue is an open-air museum and art gallery on display for the world to admire. Venice captured my heart.

Where to Stay:

Venice is expensive. I’ll be honest though, spend the money, it’s worth it. Some of the hotels you can stay in here are incredible, impeccably pristine and are an experience in themselves. Venice is not as large of an area as you may think. The alleyways and crowds can make getting from point “A” to point “B” a little longer than usual, but wandering the streets of Venice is part of the romance of this place.

Hotel Ca’ d’Oro – 3 Star – Located near the Cannaregio area of Venice, this 3 star property is great value. It’s about 15-20 minutes walk from Piazza San Marco, 7-10 minute walk from the famous Rialto Bridge and Market. Hotel Ca’ d’Oro is clean comfortable and reasonably easy to get to by Vaporetto (nearest station is within 5 minutes).

Santa Chiara Hotel – 4 Star – I booked this hotel solely on location on the way back from my cruise. It’s across the street from the People Mover to the Cruise Ship Terminals and across the bridge from the train station. It’s one of the only hotels on Venice that you can physically drive to. The buses to and from the airport also depart and arrive right behind the hotel, as well as several different vaporetto stops, so for location and ease it’s amazing. The service of the staff and rooms are amazing as well. I booked a Deluxe Canal View room and it didn’t disappoint. It’s been recently renovated, the rooms are very well appointed and a deluxe breakfast buffet was also included.

Hotel Danieli – 5 Star – This hotel is a Venice classic. Featured in so many films, once you stay here, you’ll understand why it’s a must. Part of the Starwood hotel brand, Hotel Danieli has the most perfect of locations, located mere steps from St. Marks Square and the Doge’s Palace. The restaurant here is incredible and overlooks the Grand Canal.

Other hotels to note: The Gritti Palace, Hilton Molino Stucky, JW Marriott Venice and The Westin Europa & Regina.

Where to Eat:

When you visit to visit Venice, “foodie town” is probably not what you are thinking. Sure Venice probably is in the place you want to have certain Italian foods if it’s your only stop in this amazing country, however Venice has amazing gastronomical offerings available to it’s visitors. Venetians have a very different way of living, but they’re definitely doing it right. Typical Venetian breakfast would be your cappuccino and cornetto (as with most of Italy). Lunch could be a slice of pizza at a local bakery, a Panini or even a calzone from one of the small bakeries you’ll find along one of the winding pathways. Remember, any good restaurant doesn’t need to have waiters outside trying to get you to sit down to eat with a “free glass of wine” or a “tourist menu”, all the good places are already busy.

Venice is known for its seafood and still to this day there is a fish market at the Rialto Market every Monday, definitely something to check out. Most cantinas and restaurants send their chefs every day to get local produce, fish and other daily finds for amazing daily creations and specials.

But early evening/late afternoon, is strictly for cicchetti. Cicchetti is similar to tapas, it’s a variety of small bites that you enjoy with a glass of house wine or as Venetians call it “umbra”, which literally translates as a glass of “shade”. Usually when ordering cicchetti, you can have an entire meal with a couple glasses of wine for under €20 per person. For dinner Venice boasts some of Italy’s best restaurants. In Venice you can find several Michelin star restaurants, and several restaurants that cater to the locals which in my opinion are just good. 

The local drink of choice, that depends where you go. As mentioned, house wines in Venice are amazing whether you choose white or red. However with Venice’s location to the DOC and DOCG areas (regionally protected wines) means the prosecco here is super fresh, crisp and reasonable. Check out Al Prosecco to try some amazing local prosecco by the glass in this hip wine bar setting. Also, Venice is the birth place of the real Bellini. Make sure you try this very refreshing cocktail at least once. I enjoyed mine whilst watching people go by near Piazza San Marco.

Some of my favourite restaurants in Venice include Ristorante Wildner which is located on the Grand Canal near San Marcos Piazza, walk along past Hotel Danieli near the San Zaccaria vaporetto stops, you’ll find this amazing restaurant. They had a delicious 3 course meal for €25 including a starter, main and dessert. For Michelin star dining, try Il Ridotto behind Hotel Danieli in a small piazza. I tried their tasting menu and it was INCREDIBLE! They also own a trattoria right across in the piazza, called Aciugheta. I had a pizza, Aperol Spritz and a few glasses of wine here for lunch after trying Il Ridotto for dinner one night. Good atmosphere and great selection of local wines. For cicchetti, favourite of many locals would be Cantina do Spade near Rialto, and Al Timon in Cannareggio.

What to see:

Venice is one of those magical places where you want to get up early to take advantage of the true local life or what’s left there of. Venice at sunrise overlooking the Grand Canal is one the most beautiful moments that I’ve ever experienced. Simply wandering the alleyways of Venice (and getting lost) is something that you definitely need to do. Taking in the sights, the smells, the atmosphere and truly the soul of this place. Sometimes that’s the great part of travelling. While wandering the streets of Venice I turned the corner and came across a gentleman playing the violin on the steps of a church. I stood there, for a few minutes, peering through an archway, whilst the locals went about their daily life. Again, one of those moments I was so happy to have come across. It can be easy to get lost in Venice, however follow the signs to the nearest popular points of interest (yellow signs on most buildings pointing the way down alleys to Rialto, San Marco, and other popular areas of Venice).

For museums, Doge’s Palace, St. Marks Basilica and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum were my favourites. I also wandered the area around the Accademia which is near where the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located.

I also did trips over to Murano, Burano and Torcello. You can do a guided half day tour, which I did, however I revisited all the islands myself with vaporettos (the ferry system in Venice). Torcello holds most of the history of Venice, as this was the first of the islands in the lagoon that was inhabited when Treviso was invaded (more on Treviso in another post soon). Burano, is know for its beautiful lace making and colourful houses. It’s a stunning fishing village that you want to visit in the early morning or early evening once all the tour groups have left. Murano is the island of world renown glass. True Murano glass is still made here on this island and crafted by amazing artisans. I did purchase a few pieces, just be sure that you are buying from a reputable shop as some do sell glass from China.

Another thing to do whilst in Venice is to try to take in a performance at the opera (or at least try to do a tour of the opera house). It’s one of those things that truly gives you a glimpse of life into Venice’s luxurious and opulent past.

If you’re looking for a great local tour option, check out Urban Adventures. They offer some great small group tour options in Venice. I love Urban Adventures as they are typically food based tours and are also run by in the know locals, so you get a true taste of what local life is like in the place where you take a tour with them. They take you places that not many tourists go, so it’s very well worth it!

How to Get Around:

So as you may know their are no cars on Venice proper.

So getting around involves walking or taking water transport of some sort. There are multiple water transport options. To and from the airport you have the Alilaguna ferries. Around Venice and to the other islands, you have the vaporetto system (run by ACTV), which is very similar to city buses just on water. You can also hire private boats (water taxis) to take you from point A to point B in VIP style. Water taxis are by far the most expensive way to get around Venice when it comes to transport.

Finally, you then have the very touristic water transportation of gondolas. A gondola ride can cost you upwards of €80 for an hour and is not typical a mode of transportation anymore, but really just a tour of the canals. It’s still a beautiful way to enjoy Venice’s past and see the city from a different angle.

I did do a lot of walking around Venice, but found it very nice to use the vaporetto system. I would highly suggest buying the pass for as many days is you feel you need it, as it is a better rate, however you can buy a 24 hour pass (also a pass with the bus transfer to and from the airport). You do need to validate the pass before you get onto the vaporetto, you will see a validation machine, which you just hold the RFID embedded pass in front of until it goes green and beeps. If you failed to validate your vaporetto pass (ACTV pass), you can be fined. The passes are good for all ferries and vaporettos with ACTV, so day trips to the other islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and Lido are all included.

Honestly I LOVED Venice. Italy to me as a country feels like home, but Venice even more so. My Great Grandfather is from the Veneto area, so I feel a connection to Venice. I can’t wait to come back here.

I know over-tourism is a problem, the “No Grandi Navi” (No Large Ships) debate is still strong, however after visiting, it seems the vaporettos and water taxis create more of a wake and waves than the large ships. Cruise ships at that speed really create no wake, but it’s a big debate. Where I think the true problem lies is the large amount of cruise ship passengers and tour groups that just visit Venice for the day only. I can see the frustration, I myself got frustrated with one tour group in an alleyway, I guided an elderly “nonna” past them whilst they took up the entire space, not being considerate to the passers by. These passengers also don’t necessarily support the true local businesses. The true locals who own restaurants, artisan shops and stores are being left out to the street vendors who hawk products made in China where they buy a magnet or a tacky tourist bag with “Venezia” written across it. I know this is a whole other conversation, but I think it comes down to being a conscious traveller. We do our best to support local at home, we need to strive to do this abroad as well.

I hope you are able to visit Venice for more than a day, it’s truly an amazing, romantic and unique city.

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you! Please contact me if you’d like more recommendations.

Happy travels!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

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Coming Soon – Cruise Port Guides

I was going to write and post a few reviews of my past couple cruises (cruised Alaska in September and just recently returned from another Mediterranean cruise in October), instead I want to write something different.

The one thing that I found a bit of trouble with in doing my own research was finding updated information on cruise port information, what to do and see without taking a tour off the ship. Experience local living as much as possible and see things on my own.

So I’ll be putting together some cruise port guides over the next few weeks of some of the port cities and towns I’ve visited and information I found helpful in getting the most out of my visit.

Stay tuned!