Explora I—the first of six (currently) planned ships for the new Explora Journeys—made its first arrival to New York City earlier this month, where its naming ceremony was held. The ceremony was conducted by its Godmother, Dr. Sylvia Earle, marine biologist and oceanographer, at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. In attendance were executives from Explora Journeys, as well as its parent company, MSC Group, plus stakeholders, travel advisors and network executives, and media.
Following the ceremony, the ship departed on a sailing from New York to Québec City, Québec, Canada with stops in Boston, MA, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Luxury Travel Advisor was onboard for the ceremony and subsequent sailing and is back with this sneak preview:
Designed Like a Hotel, Not a Cruise Ship
If it weren't for the gentle rolling under your feet caused by the swells of the ocean, you might have no idea you're on a cruise ship—and that's the point, if you ask Explora executives.
Especially from the ship's central Lobby Bar—located on Deck 4, just off one gangway option and a deck below another—you might get the feeling you're in a luxury hotel, not on a cruise ship. Part of that is achieved through the decor (and noticable lack of nautical themes or colors) but the feeling is completed by the lack of direct views to the water from the space. Off to each side of the Lobby Bar (which also pulls its name from a hotel) are a variety of boutiques, including the first Rolex store on any ship. Even better: The store has a number of timepieces available on site to purchase.
Other shops include Piaget and "The Journey," which houses lesser-known brands that, according to Explora officials, need to be more known by travelers. Some of these included Save the Duck and AAKS.
Just upstairs from the Lobby Bar is one of three Steinway pianos onboard (with the other two located in the forward Explora Lounge and the Journeys Lounge, where nightly entertainment is hosted).
Within other areas, including the New York-styled steakhouse Marble & Co. Grill, you also could forget you were on a ship.
That said, the ship has plenty of outdoor spaces, including the Astern Pool & Bar, Atoll Pool & Bar and the entirely of Decks 12 and 14, home to a running track, the Helios Pool & Bar (which is adults-only), the Sky Bar on 14, outdoor fitness machines and the sports court, including a basketball and pickleball court. In The Conservatory on Deck 11, a retractable glass ceiling opens and closes based on the weather, which, combined with its floor-to-ceiling window, offers plenty of opportunity to take in the views.
Dining and Entertainment
Dining on Explora I, with the exception of one restaurant and several bottles of wine and liquors, is all included. These options are the aforementioned Marble & Co.; a Pan-Asian restaurant, Sakura; the Mediterranean Yacht Club, serving Med-inspired dishes; Fil Rouge, offering French-inspired international cuisine; and The Emporium Marketplace, with roughly a dozen live cooking stations offering a variety of cuisines—from pizza and pasta, to stir fry, sushi and a raw bar, salads and charcuterie, seafood, steaks and burgers and more.
During our sailing we had the chance to dine at each of the restaurants and our favorite was Sakura. (That said, we traveled with a group of media and everyone had a different favorite restaurant, which was pretty cool to hear.) Everything we ordered at Sakura, including the tender-cooked octopus signature sashimi, crispy duck leg confit, Wagyu beef tataki, Den Miso roasted black cod fillet and pork cheeks confit, were exceptional.
At the Med Yacht Club, we particularly enjoyed the beef carpaccio (which had probably the most tender slices of beef we've ever had), the minestrone soup and the Rhodos-style lamb shank kritharaki.
Good to know: Explora I offers 24-hour room service, which we availed of several times during our trip. The menu has a selection of sandwiches, pastas, cheeses and breads, poke and some other items. We were really pleased (and surprised) by the speed in which items were delivered—well under the 30 minutes we were told when we called down.
The one restaurant that comes with an additional fee is Anthology, which plays host to a rotating selection of Michelin-starred chefs. The first guest chef was Mauro Uliassi, operator of the three Michelin-starred Uliassi in Senigallia. During our sailing—and on all sailings through March 2024—will be a take on Emma Bengtsson's menu at Aquavit in New York City. While we did not dine here on our sailing, we did join Explora Journeys executives at the restaurant in New York for a preview of what guests onboard can expect. Chef Bengtsson's team onboard Explora I serves a high-end take on modern Swedish cuisine, with the highlight being her famous Bird's Nest dessert. Everyone onboard that we spoke to who dined at Anthology said it was the best dining experience onboard.
Another option is the Cooking School, which offers several rotating classes—such as "Timeless French Recipes," "Pinxtos, Basque's Delightful Finger Food," "Omelettes and Quiches" and "Explora Journeys Signature Risotto." Up to 12 guests can learn in a kitchen setting from one of Explora's chefs, followed by the chance to eat the food they prepared.
On the entertainment side, the Journeys Lounge is the main host to events. Each night, the space—which has seating that can be reconfigured for a variety of performances—typically hosted a musician, whether a solo artist or band, who performed into the night. Afterwards, they were replaced by a DJ who kept the energy up. What we really liked about the space is there was a full bar located within the lounge.
The Astern Lounge also hosted some entertainment, although in a much smaller venue (and also with its own bar). During our sailing, most often this area played host to speakers.
There are several ways to maintain your well-being while onboard. The Spa is the first option: There are nine treatment rooms, including a double treatment room and two private spa suites with an outdoor relaxation area, as well as a hair and nail salon, barber, hydrotherapy plunge pool, salt cave with loungers, a steam room and Finnish sauna. While not a very large space, during our visits, we never felt crowded. We enjoyed a rather relaxing massage during our sailing, which had us falling asleep by the end.
Several spaces onboard are available for fitness exercises. The Fitness Center has several treadmills, a variety of machines to hit most major muscle groups, and a couple of adjustable benches and dumbbells. A Fitness Studi offers several Technogym Benches, which has a selection of free weights and attaches cables to offer an all-in-one workout equipment. Guests can sign up for group classes here. Similarly, group classes are available at the Open Air Fitness space, which is equipped with Cycling kits, Technogym Benches, rowing machines and more. We can imagine this would be a great place for a workout in warmer weather.
A running track and sports court complete the wellness facilities.
Other Public Spaces
Guests at the Explora Lounge, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor space with chairs, can also be privy to entertainment, usually in the form of a pianist on one of three Steinways onboard. This venue is also where guests can enjoy Afternoon Tea, along with other light meals and snacks. We found it to be a great place to get a little work done outside of our suite thanks to the many tables available, as well as the natural light.
Since our sailing was from New York to Canada in October, the outdoor pools were not in much (any) use, so we didn't get to see the spaces in action. That said, thr Astern Pool & Bar on Deck 4 seems like the place to be while the ship is in transit. The infinity-style pool on the very back of the ship offers the perfect spot to watch the wake. Good to know: Outdoor dining from Sakura is available via bento boxes here. The Atoll Pool & Bar on deck 10 has a smaller pool with built-in loungers. The forward-facing Helios Pool & Bar on Deck 12 is the only exclusive space on board, as children are not allowed.
The Conservatory, home to the climate-controlled pool with a retractable glass roof, was one of the main spots to be during days at sea. Pretty cool: A large video screen at one end of the pool can be used for movie screenings under the stars. This pool is located directly off The Emporium Marketplace and houses the Gelateria, which also serves crepes and Belgian waffles.
Crema Cafe, located just above the Lobby Bar, alongside one of the gangways, was another popular spot during the day. Here, guests can order a myriad of coffees, along with some pastries and finger sandwiches. It was also the only dining venue open between meals, so if you get a little hungry around 4 o'clock, be sure to swing by.
A unique feature onboard is the Malt Whisky Bar, which—as its name suggests—offers a selection of international whiskeys. That said, the highlight here is the walk-in humidor housing a variety of cigars, as well as a dedicated indoor smoking area. A cigar expert is on hand to help you find the right cigar to pair with your whiskey.
For children, there is the Nautilus Club, home to a variety of video games (including all the latest generation systems and VR headseats), tabletop games like pool and foosball, and boardgames. Certified instructors will supervise kids as they play, or take them around ship to explore in an educational manner. Why this is important: While some luxury cruise lines are adults-only, the many that aren't are still seen as such. While Explora Journeys isn't marketing itself as a family cruise, executives tell us they are "welcoming" of families and want to ensure that kids have a place onboard.
There are four "main" suite categories onboard Explora I: Ocean Suites, Ocean Penthouses, Ocean Residences and the Owner's Residence. Within some of those are further options, such as the Ocean Terrace Suite and the Ocean Grand Terrace Suite; the standard, Deluxe, Premier and Grand Penthouses; or the Cove, Retreat, Serenity and Cocoon Residences. There is just one Owner's Residence, which spans the entire width of the ship at the aft. It has its own entrance and dedicated butler service, living, dining and sleeping area, a Technogym Bench and Technogym Case Kit, and its own private plunge pool. We like that in all but the Cove Residences (the entry Residence suite), the bathrooms have a tub (some with ocean views) and a separate shower, along with a bidet. Residences all also have much larger balconies with their own Jacuzzi.
The Cocoon Residence is the largest suite that isn't the Owner's Residence; it has a panoramic terrace, with a dining table and lounge area. The Serenity Residence is similar but it's bedroom location offers two sliding glass doors with direct access to the terrace; we really liked how much scenery this brought into the room.
All suites starting at the Penthouse category have a larger living space and a dining table for four. All of the Penthouses, as well as the entry-level Ocean Suites, have very large bathrooms with step-in showers with a built-in bench. A walk-in wardrobe also has plenty of space to hang clothes, while a small dresser has additional drawers for storage. A vanity has a compartment that holds a Dyson Supersonic TM hairdryer—something every woman we spoke to loved.
The Ocean Suite Terraces themselves—the suite category we stayed in—is touted as the largest entry-level suite on a ship in Explora's class. In all, they total 377 square feet, with 301 square feet of indoor space and 75 square feet on the terrace, which offers a daybed and a small table with two chairs. The "bedroom" is separated from the "living room" by a partition that showcases books and other objets d'art. A large HDTV faces the couch but is on a wall-mounted swivel, which can be adjusted to face the bed, which we really liked. Under the bed also provides plenty of additional storage should you need.
Good to know: There are a large number of connecting rooms for families, as well as 10 accessible rooms for those with mobility issues.
Tip: Stay tuned for our full report from our sailing in an upcoming issue of Luxury Travel Advisor.