When talking to people that have done cruise holidays, you often find one of their top things to talk about is their food experience. However, from my experience, it can often feel like an afterthought if you are gluten-free; that’s why it’s so fantastic that Virgin Voyages gluten-free dining is one of the best experiences at sea.
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When it comes to Virgin Voyages, they are no different on this; the only thing is they have taken the cruise ship dining rule book and torn it up.
So what have Virgin done that can be so different that they have torn up the rule book, I hear you say……..
Like many other cruises, Virgin Voyages is a full-board experience. However, that’s where the similarities in the food concept end. Virgin Voyages has over 20 eateries to explore and discover, making it the perfect cruise for someone like me who loves my food.
Especially seeing I also need to eat Gluten Free, Virgin Voyages make it so easy and enjoyable. I’ve never been made to feel like an inconvenience to the crew or had to spend my voyage having Food FOMO!!
The most significant difference for those who are gluten-free and have experienced a main dining room on other cruise ships is not having to order your meal the night before, having to guess what ill want to eat in 24 hours after just finishing my current meal!)
How does dining work on Virgin Voyages?
So let’s start by talking logistics – when it comes to evening meals at the 6 main eateries onboard, you use the Virgin Voyages app to book a time slot. So 6pm is the first seating, with availability up to 10pm.
On average, it takes about an hour to eat your meal. So when planning your evenings, make sure you factor in the time you want to eat and how long it may take to ensure you can attend the evening activities and entertainment.
The most popular window is between 7:30-8:30, so if you usually dine around that time, make sure you plan ahead and book as soon as possible.
How does Virgin Voyages Gluten-Free dining work?
First, your server will always check for any allergies on the table when you are seated. The menu is clearly marked if any items are 100% not available Gluten Free; the remaining items are usually available with a minor substitution.
If there is something you really fancy, ask the server if it’s possible to have it and they will go and check with the Chef. This has improved so much within the first few years of Virgin sailing, with more and more alternatives becoming available as Chef’s bed into the menus.
I have to say, overall, Virgin Voyages has been the best cruise line for my allergy I have experienced. There has been a lot of thought put into the menus to ensure they can be easily tweaked or made 100% gluten-free, offering more choice than any other cruise line. To this day, after 4 voyages and over 20 nights onboard, I’ve yet to have any allergy reaction.
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The Six Main Eateries
Let’s start with the evening dining experience, as this is the most significant difference from other lines. You have 6 main restaurants to choose from for your evening meals…. and these are speciality level restaurants included in your cruise fare.
So let’s take a look at them one by one.
Pink Agave – Deck 5 AFT
My personal favourite, Pink Agave is an elevated Mexican dining experience. I love this restaurant because 90% of the menu is Gluten Free; it also has my favourite decor/atmosphere of the restaurants on the ship. One of my favourite dishes on the menu is the corn nibs. I know cron nibs, something so simple, but once you try them, you will understand! You can also arrive early and have a drink at its beautiful Bar.
The Test Kitchen – Deck 6 AFT
This restaurant will be like Marmite with sailors. You will either love it or hate it!
I love it, and there’s currently no other cruise ship where you get this food/theatre experience where you would not have to pay a surcharge. I highly recommend everyone try this 6-course dining experience, and when you do, pick the drink pairing.
You get to enjoy a pairing of wine, beer, cocktails or non-alcoholic cocktails for each of your courses, it’s a gastro journey, and I love it. The pairing is an extra cost of $25/$35, depending on which you choose.
Sadly some courses aren’t available gluten-free. However, the crew explained that to me and offered an alternative course for me when that was the case. So it was clear they had their bases covered for people with allergies, and I always felt like I had the main experience, not a secondary option.
Extra Virgin – Deck 6 AFT
You will love this Italian at sea, with fresh handmade pasta. One of my favourite dishes is the Wagyu Starter, the memory of this as I wrote this made me smile and my mouth water!
Again for those who are dining Gluten-free, this restaurant fully caters for you with fresh gluten-free pasta. When it comes to pasta dishes, you can have them either as a main or a side. So you can quickly end up having a 4 course or more meal here without realising!
Razzle Dazzle – Deck 5 AFT
This is a Vegetarian forward restaurant; don’t let that put you off. You should definitely try it out as the food is delicious, and even if you aren’t happy about the idea of a no-meat meal, they also have a naughty side to the menu with meat options.
The menu has clearly been designed for those with allergies, as there’s very little on the menu that isn’t available gluten-free short of a few substitutions.
This restaurant also has a great little bar at the back available any time, so a perfect place for pre/after drinks!
You can also come here for breakfast and Brunch, so make sure you have plans to visit to try that menu also.
The Wake – Deck 7 AFT
This is a more traditional menu of steak/seafood, and I do like this restaurant as the steak is beautiful. However, it is the most lacking when it comes to Gluten Free options if you want more than the main steak and a limited number of sides.
There are limited options for starters or gluten-free side dishes on the menu. If you are used to having limited options, you may not notice, but when the other dining locations have such a fantastic range of choices, the lack of choice at the Wake stands out.
Hopefully, with feedback, this will change as the menu evolves! However, the Brunch here as Gluten Free is fantastic, with more options available and bottomless mimosas always going down well.
Gunbae – Deck 15 AFT
This is a lively group dining experience, with a strong chance you will be seated with other guests to make up a table in a Korean Style BBQ dining experience.
Every meal begins with a drinking game, and Soju gets the meal, and the atmosphere started; things can get loud quickly.
One thing to note, to ensure there is no cross-contamination, gluten-free food is barbequed on a different grill, so you sometimes will have to wait for the crew to grill food for you whilst others are enjoying their food. It can make you feel a bit disjointed from the rest of the table as they enjoy each course from the central BBQ, and you have to wait for your food.
What’s Breakfast and Dinner like onboard Virgin Voyages?
Breakfast/Lunch and Dinner – Galley – Deck 15 AFT –
I love this place as it’s set up as a food hall with different vendors. Most of the food is made to order to reduce food waste, but it also allowed Virgin to elevate its fast-casual dining options.
Around The Galley you will find:-
During breakfast, you can find bento-style fruit boxes and sushi bento boxes during the day. Nothing comes with breadcrumbs, and gluten-free soy sauce is available; this is a perfect grab-and-go option as the food is pre-prepared and easy to take to the nearby pool deck or back to your cabin.
Sadly nothing here is gluten-free, but you can get ramen from this location.
The Daily Mix
This is the place to head if you like a salad for lunch. You can make your own salad and choose your dressing. During breakfast, it is a Bagel Bar, where you make your own bagel, and yes, they have Gluten Free bagels; however, it’s not listed on the menu; just ask the crew for them.
Here you will find soft Gluten free tacos with different fillings. The nachos are also gluten-free, but portions are more snack size.
Hot off The Press
This sandwich bar offers pressed and toasted sandwich options, all available on gluten-free bread.
Dinner & Dash –
24 hours cooked breakfast, with made-to-order omelettes, British and American style bacon, and everything you need for a hearty breakfast. It’s perfect at 4am after you’ve left The Manor, which happens more than I’m willing to admit.
There’s also a rumour that tatter tots are available here, but we’ve yet to have them on our four voyages…
The Burger Bar
Says what it does on the tin; here, you will find burgers for breakfast, dinner and lunch. Gluten-free bread and buns are available.
This is the bread bar and bakery; sadly not a lot for us gluten free here, but they do make some beautiful creations.
They have some fantastic cake options throughout the day, including a range of gluten-free options. The caramel macron is fantastic. If you find the choice small or limited, make the crew aware that you are gluten-free, and they will let Chef know to make something extra the next day.
For breakfast, this is where you will get fresh fruit, yoghurts and oats from.
Frozen lollies/ice pops, open from lunchtime onwards.
Grab & Go
There are fridges located near the entrance that offers quick food to go. The food changes through the day, so there’s always something new, and allergens are clearly marked. They also have fresh fruit like apples etc. You can also find one of these on Deck 7 aft as you come in/out from the Dock.
Grounds Club Too
The place to head for your caffeine fix. Drip coffee is included in your cruise fare, but Grounds Club is where you will find speciality coffee and teas. If you need a pick-me-up shot of alcohol, ask for a Café Corretto, the perfect way to start your day!
I know you’re saying to yourselves, he said over 20 eateries, where are the rest, so here we go….
Sun Club Cafe – Deck 16 FORWARD
This eatery is a little hidden, with very limited hours in the early afternoon, but you can get Poke bowls here. These can be made gluten-free. Just ask.
Lick Me’ Til Ice Cream – Deck 7 MID –
This place is an Ice Cream lover’s heaven. You can choose from 5 different flavour cones and a rotating selection of ice cream flavours. You can have 2 scoops of the same or 2 different flavours. Cones aren’t gluten-free, but they have cups available.
Pizza Place – Deck 7 MID
This is my favourite pizza place at sea (it used to be Disney Cruise Line). You can choose one from the menu or create your own pizza. The gluten-free pizza base is the best on any ship by far.
Just be aware if you are dancing in The Manor and feel hungry, Pizza Place closes at 1.30am, so you will need to be there by 1.15, and there may be a long line as it is popular with sailors to take back to the cabin!!
The Grounds Club – Deck 7 MID
Similar to the one in The Galley, this slightly larger location also serves a range of Speciality Coffee and Teas. In addition, it has a fantastic range of complementary pastries, muffins and cookies.
Drinks here are at an additional cost. Included drip coffee is available from The Galley.
Sadly, I’ve not found any gluten-free cake or cookies here. That being said, the social is only 20 steps away.
Social Club – Deck 7 MID/AFT
This area is the closest to a sports bar, where you will find Air Hockey and board games. It also serves hot dogs, chicken wings and a fantastic-looking Pretzel. You can have a hot dog without the bun; nothing else is gluten-free from the main Bar.
However, the sweet counter does have a range of Gluten Free options. The Brownie and Peanut Brittle are my favourites, and I stock up on a few to take back to our cabin for a snack! You can also get a range of Speciality Milkshakes, both spiked or not, for an extra charge.
The Dock and Dock House – Deck 7 AFT –
Located at the rear of the ship, these two venues share a drink and food menu.
The Dock is an outdoor venue that offers beautiful daybeds to relax and unwind in the sun. Alternatively, The Dockhouse is located inside and has the added benefit of coming with air conditioning.
Both spaces are lovely to relax, socialise and unwind in and, from time to time, will offer live music and quizzes/games run by The Happenings Crew.
The menu here has a range of mezze-style small plates, which you can order anytime from the nearby crew. There’s a lovely range of cold or hot items, with my favourite dish being the Watermelon salad, it’s so tasty and refreshing, it’s so simple, it’s perfect!
Almost every item here is gluten-free, often being as simple as to come without the pita bread.
All the above food is included in your cruise fare, and there are very few upcharges for food onboard Virgin Voyages. Each of the main eateries will have a handful of items you can splurge on if you would like, but it’s in no way necessary. An example would be the tomahawk steak on The Wakes menu.
Virgin Voyages is by far the best gluten-free experience I’ve had on a cruise ship. The menus are both exciting and inclusive. In addition, the crew know the menus well and can suggest alternatives or substitutions quickly and easily.
If you are a regular cruiser and worry about being gluten-free, have no fear, the food on Virgin is the best we’ve had at sea, including us gluten-free folks.