I recently took a voyage with my husband on Virgin’s first cruise ship Scarlet Lady.
The hype about the dining on the ship intrigued me. I checked out the menus at the different restaurants and made reservations prior to boarding.
Mostly intrigued by the menu at Pink Agave, the Mexican restaurant, I booked a spot there for the first night. I had never seen Cochinita Pibil offered on any cruise ship and definitely had to have that my first night.
In addition, I booked Extra Virgin (Italian), Razzle Dazzle (Veggie Forward), Test Kitchen (Experimental), and The Wake (Steak and Seafood.) Specialty restaurants are included in the cruise fare on Virgin Voyages. Guests are permitted to eat at each restaurant just one time, which isn’t difficult considering there are more specialty restaurants than cruise nights.
During the day, we opted for the more casual options, although some of the specialty restaurants also served brunch or lunch. The casual dining area consists of several different food stations. Scattered about the ship, there are a few other food options, including pizza and ice cream.
Food is so subjective, and I went in with high expectations. Here are my observations:
After boarding the ship, we headed to this venue, the only one we found open for lunch. Sandwiches appealed to us, so we went to that station, appropriately named Hot Off the Press. We selected the sandwiches that we wanted and were told that we had to go sit down and a menu would be brought to us. So, we obediently found a table at the pleasant aft eating area and waited for a server to arrive with a menu. The menu lists all of the offerings at each of the eateries in The Galley. We stuck with the pastrami on rye sandwich, although other dishes from different stations looked interesting. We would save them for another day.
From this first encounter with our server, we sensed that the crew were happy to be back on board. Throughout the cruise, we found the crew to be engaging, excited, and eager to serve Sailors, as Virgin Voyages calls their guests.
When our food came, we split the sandwich as planned and shared the side of fries that we had ordered. Soft drinks are included in the fare, but we ordered margaritas to celebrate our first time on Scarlet Lady.
Our sandwich was okay, but the french fries had been fried in some type of oil that we were not familiar with, having an unpleasant taste. Having shared our sandwich, we accepted the trio of chocolate sweets that were offered. Two were fine, but a third chocolate treat was inedible. The server told us that it was the vegan option.
Having traveled extensively throughout the Yucatan and tasting local foods along the way, we were both looking forward to trying Cochinita Pibil. I knew that I would select this dish since it is one of my favorites in Maya cuisine.
The server suggested I try a corn appetizer dish, which I hesitantly did. I was so pleased that I tried it as it was very tasty. We ordered a Classic Margarita and a margarita with mezcal. The former was too sweet, but the latter was perfect. My husband had the fish, which he enjoyed, despite it having minimal Mexican flair.
When I saw my pibil, my hopes for an authentic taste diminished. Typically, pibil is cooked a long time and falls off into tasty shredded bits, so when I saw cubes of pork, I lowered my expectations and reminded myself that it was their take on Mexican dishes. I tasted very little of the key spice, achiote. Did I mention that the Mezcal margarita was good?
As for the design of Pink Agave, it doesn’t shout Mexican. In fact, I saw few decorative items that suggested a Mexican restaurant. Inside the menu, there was a nice graphic of a Day of the Dead sugar skull. Still, the space was pleasant and comfortable.
Always a meat and potatoes fan, I looked forward to our meal at the steak and seafood restaurant. At the aft of the ship, this dining space offers comfortable seating in a bright and modern space.
After perusing the beef offerings, I selected the filet, since it was the smallest portion offered. The fish-lover selected a dorado fish, very attractively served in a crusted pastry. With great expertise, our server released the fish from its crust and served it.
I could have eaten several tins of the tear-apart rolls that were served.
There are options on the menu for larger, premium, or more exotic cuts of meat or fish. The food was fine, but the most pleasant part of the evening was the interaction with our servers.
The Test Kitchen
Being far more adventurous in the culinary realm than my husband, I was looking forward to trying The Test Kitchen. I wasn’t totally sure of the concept and wrongly thought that the meals on the menu would be something that the chefs decided to try that day. How wrong I was!
The space resembles a lab and the servers wear lab coats. The green accents on the chairs and benches add color to the area. There are a variety of seating options – counter-style seating as at a diner, high chairs like at a bar, booths, and standard tables with chairs. We were seated at the diner chairs, and after a few courses asked to be moved because the chairs were so uncomfortable.
We were presented with a menu that listed six items – Mushroom, Egg, Scallops, Venison/Beef, Blue Cheese, and Chocolate. And when I say list, I mean the menu was simply a list – no descriptions whatsoever.
I ate things that I would never have tried if I had to pay for them, and in this case, I appreciate that the themed restaurants are included. In fact, had I seen photos of some of the dishes, I don’t think that I would have visited The Test Kitchen, even though I do like to try new and different things.
For those who are vegetarians, there is a slightly different menu. And because I am not a seafood person, I was served a gazpacho from the vegetarian menu instead of the scallops. That gazpacho was probably the best part of the meal.
Always game for new things, I kept trying what was put in front of me. In the end, I just felt that I wasted too much time attempting to understand the concept or appreciate the food. Maybe I am too persnickety or too simple in my food preferences.
I heard that the food was excellent and The Test Kitchen seemed to be the place to experience the best. Well, that just wasn’t my experience. Perhaps if I had added one of the beverage pairing packages, I would have appreciated the subtleties of the offerings – or have been too soused to care. Beer, wine, and cocktails are offered for pairing. Instead of a pairing package, I just tried one of the drinks that the server suggested.
The Italian restaurant on board seemed to be one of the more popular, with the The Wake also in the running. After my experience at The Test Kitchen, I really craved what I consider comfort food – a nice pasta dish, and the homemade pasta served at Extra Virgin would be a bonus.
I had a nice slice of hot lasagna on my mind and was somewhat disappointed that it was missing from the menu. Both of us settled on the Pappardelle al Ragu. We enjoyed a charcuterie board, wagyu beef carpaccio, and romaine salad as appetizers. Our server tried to convince us to order a large plate, but we declined.
The high point of the meal was the dessert. The Affogato included a choice of ice cream- we chose the Whiskey Cream and Gianduiotto (hazelnut and chocolate), which has espresso poured over it. It was quite the production and a real treat.
The veggie-forward restaurant was the destination for our last night on Scarlet Lady. Maybe people were busy packing this evening because there were very few other diners here. And maybe there was something we didn’t know about the dress code for this particular restaurant. A younger guy came in wearing colorful spandex pants with no shirt. A server promptly asked him to put something on and he draped something across his chest. That was the most razzly dazzly part of this meal.
Honestly, we tried it out because of the amazing secret steak on the menu; it’s such a secret that everybody knows about it. Is this a ploy just to get Sailors to come here? I, of course, had the secret steak and my husband had the salmon. There is also a naughty menu for those not inclined to stick with non-meat items.
After finishing our acceptable meals, we searched the dessert menu and settled on the Rainbow Churros. Not sure why churros weren’t served in Pink Agave, but who am I to wonder? The churros came served in a Lincoln Log style pattern and just didn’t look aesthetically pleasing.
As mentioned before, with 20-something dining venues available, it was impossible to try every spot during a 5-day cruise. The one evening venue that we missed is the Korean BBQ, Gunbae. We eliminated that immediately, because the last time we did a similar group dining experience on a ship, it involved listening to the spectacular lives, accomplishments, and travels of our amazingly awesome dining companions. These types of dinners can be fun with friends, but we weren’t with friends and we were on this cruise to relax.
Besides the variety of venues in The Galley, there are a few other places to grab something quick. The Pizza Place became a favorite of ours. We ate there twice. The selection of pizzas is limited and there was no option to make a custom pizza, so we selected a pepperoni pizza and enjoyed it out on the deck. If we had wanted to take the pie back to our stateroom, we could have had it boxed and ready to transport. The pizza place also offers some salads, canned beer, and fountain soda.
There are some snacks that can be ordered at The Dock, on the aft deck. We never had a chance to try these. One nice option found in several areas of the ship is the pre-boxed grab-and-go bites. Those included trail mix, salads, sandwiches, and other quick meals to enjoy elsewhere on the vessel.
For sweet treats, Lick Me Till… Ice Cream is right around the corner from the Pizza Place. Several never changing flavors of gelato are offered there.
At the end of the cruise, I wondered if my expectations had been set too high. It was obvious that much thought, time, and effort had gone into creating and planning the variety and unique takes of the dining experiences. The wait staff were always enthusiastic and determined to provide an exceptional dining experience. Perhaps because I likened these separate dining options to specialty dining on other ships, I expected the food to be similar. While thrilled that the offerings were out of the ordinary, I wish that the tastes had been equally extraordinary.