Enjoy the perfect long weekender on Virgin Voyage’s Valiant Lady

Jumping on a boat for a few days might not be the first thing most people think of when they plan their holidays – and the turbulent past few years for the industry look like they will take a while to resolve too – but a new kind of cruise could be the start of a renaissance in travel.

Appealing to a younger market, styled in the distinctive livery famous for all things associated with Sir Richard Branson and capturing the energetic spirit of the best elements of oceanic adventures, Virgin Voyages have come up with a concept on their newly launched Valiant Lady vessel that seems to be tailor-made for those of us who haven’t really considered a cruise before.

I’ve travelled a lot in the last decade, and even managed to sneak in a fair few trips navigating the choppy waters of passenger locator forms and international Covid traffic light systems this year, but going on a cruise abroad was a new experience for me. On the agenda was a short trip to Bruges in Belgium, departing from Portsmouth on Friday evening and returning early on Monday morning. As you can see, the first selling point is the timing which means that with a bit of careful planning you can get to spend three nights on board the majestic new Valiant Lady without taking any time off. I arrived at the port mid-afternoon, sent off a few last minute emails and was ready to enjoy the amenities at my disposal by the time I logged off for the week. It’s a smart option for anyone looking to avoid airport queues and wasted travel times, but why else should you choose a cruise over a flight, road trip or even a train journey?

The answer, as many experienced cruise enthusiasts will have you know, is the ship itself. A floating hotel with hundreds of guests that gets you from point to point has some obvious benefits when you really think about it. Everything is in one place, from restaurants and bars to theatres and game rooms. There’s usually a mall on most larger ships and several unexpected extras on the Valiant Lady such as a tattoo parlour and barber shop. Head up to the upper decks and you’ll find pools, sun loungers and hot tubs waiting for you. This all sounds great, and certainly something I can imagine my parents enjoying when they fully retire, but why would I – a spritely Gen X-er (sort of) – want to do this self-contained experience?


Why a Virgin Voyages cruise is perfect for the next generation vacation

If you’ve thought cruising is the domain of retirees and families looking for an all-inclusive getaway, then you’re not alone. That’s the impression the industry has deliberately put out there, but Virgin are approaching things differently. The three day trip to Bruges, for example, is ideal for anyone looking to have a quick break without taking any time off work. A recent survey showed that more than 90% of travellers were actually keen to try a cruise and 80% thought the idea of an adults only holiday was appealing. With an established brand like Virgin you also get a layer of confidence that might otherwise be lacking.

The first vessel in the fleet, Scarlet Lady, launched in 2021 from Portsmouth and we were back in the southern English port for the departure of the Valiant Lady. From May, Valiant Lady will operate from her new homeport in Barcelona offering late night and overnight stays in the likes of Málaga, Palma de Mallorca, the Canary Islands, Lisbon, Belgium and Ibiza. As you can see from the list of destinations, this is a line-up that has wide appeal and the potential for the perfect break for those looking to party like they’ve missed out on two years of fun.

My own thoughts are that once you get over the mental hurdle of taking a cruise, then there is a lot to be said for the joys of taking this type of holiday. Bruges, as delightful as it is, probably doesn’t warrant a dedicated trip to experience it as a destination, but how else can you enjoy some time in the stunning medieval surroundings as immortalized in the famous film ‘In Bruges’?


A long weekender to Zeebrugee

The port of Zeebrugge is a district of Bruges. It’s one of the main stops for the delivery of motor vehicles in the world, and as such it has become something of a vibrant hub for commercial interests. You can see most of this from the Valiant Lady when it docks, a short journey that we did overnight. Arriving very early on Saturday morning, we had the option of staying onboard but instead opted for a day trip to the centre of Bruges. You can book a fully guided tour or make your own way around, so we took the shuttle bus out and with a little bit of research in our pockets, we hit the town on our own. As long as we made our last pick on the shuttle bus (which ran back and forth from the ship) we would be able to do whatever we wanted. This open itinerary is exactly what I want from a visit to a new destination, but of course others might want to have the full guided experience.

On the short ride we learnt a little more about the city and how it was connected by a series of man made canals. These look beautiful and almost made me wish we had fully gone our own way and taken a taxi instead of the bus. You will also see a vast network of cycle routes, and this too lends itself to leisurely discovery (perhaps on another trip that includes visits to The Netherlands and picturesque Belgian towns like Ghent too).

We were only here for a few hours, however, so as much as I wanted to stop we had to keep moving. Once we arrived in Bruges, we were given a pick-up point and time to return and sent on our merry way. The narrow streets are easy to navigate thanks to the domineering spires and towers that act as great waypoints. You’ll find plenty of shops selling all the local favourites but you have to try the waffles, fries and beer when in Bruges. Apparently the food trucks offer a great selection of all of the best dishes, although you might want a more formal setting for the mussels course!

It was a great sign of things to come for the rest of the year when we were able to walk through the streets without face masks or the need to produce covid passes. We already had these as part of the requirement of getting on the ship in the first place – and you will also need a negative test too – but on the continent it seems like some countries have followed the example of the UK and lifted most restrictions in time for the warmer months.


Enjoying the Valiant Lady

We had a fun day in Bruges, but we also had a lot lined up for the rest of the trip on the Valiant Lady. On the first night we tried a delicious Korean BBQ restaurant and booked a show too. Food is plentiful at all hours of the day and night, and you can go from buffet style dishes for a quick bite or book a proper dining experience for a more relaxing meal. Be sure to explore every nook of the ship as we almost missed a fantastic American style diner on our first loop around the 16 decks on offer.

The cabins are well-proportioned and offer a great view if you opt for any of the rooms with a balcony. You can safely open the doors all night and listen to the sound of the sea which makes a change from the heavy traffic sounds you get in most cities. This is enhanced if you head up to any of the outdoor spaces on the top deck where you can really smell the salt in the air and feel the rush of the wind around you.

There are pools and sun loungers to soak up the best of the weather during the day, and if you get an invite to the exclusive areas near the front of the ship you can also take a dip in a hot tub. I might have spent a few too many hours in one of those on the final day…

Do make sure you book in advance for the entertainment shows as well via the Virgin Voyages app. As with many cruises, the cast from one production tend to appear in others, but the sheer athleticism on display in every show we enjoyed was breathtaking. I was pleased with myself for not falling over when I stood up and here were several gymnasts hurling themselves through the air without a safety net. These shows are aimed at a crowd that will appreciate a more energetic form of performance, so you won’t really get the big musical numbers you get on other ships. The trade off is a more party-orientated feel to everything and in particular the big end of cruise extravaganza where passengers were asked to don scarlet attire and enjoy themselves. Not only did this round off a wonderful voyage but it also felt like a great way to get back to travel after the covid years of the past.

Virgin Voyages are launching a series of new cruises in the coming months. Cabins can be booked directly and the latest deals can be found here.

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