I’m looking at suite life from a more traditional room, including a hammock rocking chair on the balcony and a king-size TV running on the same iPad-like device that can handle eternal things like turning on the lights and drawing the curtains.
Dinner is at Gumbae, a Korean-style table grill restaurant where shrimp and meat are thrown wildly. It’s barely over when we’re ushered into the hangar-like Red Room, a flamboyant dance crew mingling with the guests to create a semi-spontaneous performance that gets everyone involved.
Day 2 – Toulon, a drag performer and a fantastic rooftop bar
The Irresistible Medi route means we will be in Toulon at sunrise, the spirit of the South of France without the Côte d’Azur.
I relax knowing that free growth and guided meditation are too soon for me and go for breakfast in the sun at the Galley, Virgin’s perpetual buffet with plenty of gas stations (and waiters). You can start the day with a full English, a delicate mix of fruit and muesli, udon noodles, tacos or sandwiches filled with smoked salmon. The morning is spent walking through the city.
The afternoon includes an idyllic walk to the 16th-century Royal Tower and a narrow path that winds up and down the rocky headland of Pointe de Pipady and half a dozen small beaches.
At 5 p.m. I’m at Richard’s Rooftop, a fancy bar with big round white beds where beautiful people usually sit back and drink must have, which is free for RockStar guests for an hour every day.
Unlike most cruise ships where specialty restaurants are paid, all Virgin restaurants are free and themed. It’s Italian extra virgin tonight, with lots of sunny starters followed by main courses that are a world away from regular pasta.
Another big differentiator of Virgin is entertainment. Tonight is Diva, a leggy performer who sings, dances and berates the crowd with homosexual abandon, somewhere between a Parisian burlesque and a working men’s club.
After that it is different again, when the American bluesman trio Slam Allen plays on On The Rocks.
Day 3 Marina di Carrara in Italy, Vaudevillian sexologist and Razzle Dazzle
It is morning and we are about to dock in Italy, a small port, Marina di Carrara, south of Genoa, where only a few cruise ships arrive. The dock is cluttered with containers and forklifts, but on the other side of the fence, the beach stretches far away, while the Apuan Alps, whose rich marble looks like snow, rise from behind the lushness of the well-planted pines.
Slow-flow, open-heart yoga isn’t as old as meditation, but it would still be tricky, so I’ll have breakfast before heading to the farm for a cooking class. We can see the Leaning Tower of Pisa leaning against the distant heat haze before arriving at the idyllic spot, and some of the buildings – notably the former stables with their vaulted tiled roofs – date back to the 13th century. We don’t learn anything we don’t already know, but it’s fun to help cut sun-ripened tomatoes for our pasta lunch, which we eat with cheerful friends on the porch overlooking the fields. Local wine, dessert wine and limoncello are ready and we have to get back on the bus.
Dinner is at Razzle Dazzle, a stylish café with bright colors and angular lines. It is largely vegetarian; who would have thought that Cauliflower with Vadouvan Curry Sauce, Pistachios, Sesame Seeds and Pomegranate could be so tempting.
Tonight’s show is never Sleep alone, busty vaudevillian sex therapist Dr. A clean bob, big glasses, form-fitting skirt that draws audiences onto the stage for trivia and sometimes questionable stunts accompanied by a rock band.
Day 4 Ajaccio (Corsica), Pink Agave and Duel Reality
We land in the heart of Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica, walk through the new beach hall, even if olives, fresh garlic, sausage and cheese do not really act as souvenirs.
The town is where Napoleon was born, and just around the corner is the house where he spent his early years, now the fascinatingly obscure Bonaparte Family Museum.
A sweet potato and chickpea burger outside the ship’s Dock House café, then – leaving the Posture Alignment Workshop – it’s a seafront stroll past the marina to a small beach for a quick swim and nap.
Tonight we tried Pink Agave, a dark and sophisticated restaurant that advertises itself as Mexican but leans towards clever dishes with guacamole, chipotle and other sauces like sea bass.
Just in time to rush to Duel Reality, possibly the best show you’ll ever see on a cruise ship. A group of gymnasts/circus artists recreate the love and gang romance of West Side Story using climbing poles, trapeze bars, trampolines and more, in a death-defying high-flying battle, girls and boys fall inches from the floor before rolling away.
Day 5 Cagliari, Sardinia, Champagne happy hour and The Wake
Its eight o’clock and already 24 degrees when we arrive in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, with a medieval old town on a hill that looks more African than Mediterranean. We take a leisurely walk to the top of the hill and back down. We’ll visit St. Mary’s Cathedral with its ornate marble interior, admire the remains of the Roman amphitheater, and admire views of the Valiant Lady and the plains and mountains beyond. .
After returning to the ship, we can only prepare for the pre-dinner Champagne happy hour at The Wake, which has windows at the rear of the ship. Perhaps the classiest and most conventional of all the restaurants, I have a delicious clam chowder followed by a perfect New York strip.
This is also Red Night, where guests are asked to wear red to celebrate. Since I don’t own red clothes, I fail massively in the fashion stakes, but I still join the crowd around the pool.
There’s loud music, a dance performance – and then guests participate in dozens of dances in the shallow water of the pool. I’m wearing nice pants, so I miss those too. Feeling too exhausted for the final Grand Slam, we end the day with a nightcap at the Dock House.
Day 6 Sea day, Diva Bingo, evening walk in Ibiza
One day at sea and we sit back and enjoy it. A pleasant breakfast in the outdoor kitchen before getting to know the ship. Aft of the main pool is an unseen area with sun loungers and sofas, while along the deck is a collection of shaded gazebos available for hire. This is also a sports area with a caged basketball court, fitness equipment found in the parks and even table football.
I catch an early morning bingo session hosted by Diva, take a quick break at specialty shop The Grounds, then hit the gym, probably the biggest and best at sea, the glass-walled walls curving around the back of the ship.
At seven o’clock we return to The Wake, driving towards Ibiza. I take a free shuttle bus to the heart of Ibiza town and take a nighttime stroll past dozens of lively bars and restaurants, delighting the visitors who flock to the seaside.
Day 7 Chiringuito Blue Beach, cooking test
It’s a sunny day in Ibiza. We take a trip to the Chiringuito Blue beach club, where we settle down on sunbeds just a few meters from the sea at the seaside resort of Santa Eulalia del Ríu. Lots of splashing in the surf before lunch at an alfresco restaurant – a plate of razor clams – before a tree-lined stroll down the Ríu, the only river in the Balearic Islands.
Dinner at Proefkeuken, a multi-course tasting menu, here a piece of salmon, there lamb bread with carrots and asparagus in aubergine cream, with wine.