Courtesy of Explora Journeys
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Courtesy of Explora Journeys
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Courtesy of Explora Journeys
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Explora Journeys

Our Review
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger

Can you create a luxury cruise line and not call the product you offer a cruise? You can if you are the billionaire Aponte family, the founders of MSC, the world’s largest ocean shipping company, and MSC Cruises, the fast-growing mainstream cruise line known for its family-friendly mega-ships. They are doing just that with Explora Journeys, the Geneva, Switzerland-based “lifestyle travel brand” launched in August 2023 that offers luxury “ocean experiences” designed to appeal to affluent travelers who have never taken a cruise — although fans of luxury cruising are more than welcome, too.

Onboard Explora I, the 922-guest ship designed with the look and feel of a sleek megayacht, Guests (don’t call them passengers) are invited to journey to an “Ocean State of Mind.” Welcoming them and ensuring they enjoy their time onboard are the ship’s Hosts (not crew). There are nine “Culinary Experiences” but no Main Dining Room aboard Explora I and the vessel’s gleaming lobby is designed to resemble that of a high-end boutique hotel. Even the nightly shows have a new name — Evening Experiences — and nontraditional formats.

Has Explora Journeys succeeded in reinventing the luxury cruise? It’s a bit too soon to know if semantics alone can lure large numbers of “new-to-cruise” travelers away from vacationing at land-based luxury resorts. But the brand has certainly created a sophisticated setting for affluent travelers to try something new: a beautifully designed ship offering a cultured ambiance, excellent dining options, an extensive wellness program, and some of the poshest and most mindfully curated shopping experiences at sea. But a journey aboard Explora I is still a cruise, after all, with a captive audience looking to be pampered and entertained as they sail to incredible destinations. 

Explora Journeys certainly seems confident that its novel approach to ocean travel is a winning one. Explora II is set to debut in August 2024 and ships III to VI are on order with Italian ship builder Fincantieri for delivery from 2025 to 2028.

What We Love

The Finest Details: Everything Explora Journeys has created as part of the guest experience aboard Explora I has been carefully crafted to appeal to discerning luxury travelers. The vessel’s interior design features gleaming marble and crystal, but done in a neutral palette of chocolate brown, pale champagne, brushed gold, dark gray, and black that feels sophisticated, not flashy. Sleek armless chairs and sofas seem lifted from a contemporary Italian showroom; the only caveat is that some seating has an unusually low profile, which can make it tough for guests with mobility issues. The Journey boutique features 30 brands of clothing, accessories, jewelry, and fragrances, mostly chosen for their unique backstory or mission statement, and retail spaces are also dedicated to Cartier and Rolex, the latter’s first shop at sea. 

The Suites, Penthouses, and Residences: All of Explora I’s 461 ocean-facing accommodations are spacious and beautifully designed. The smallest, known as Ocean Terrace Suites, measures 377 square feet, and the largest, the Owner’s Residence, is 1,668 square feet with a 1,345-square-foot terrace. All feature details that are both practical and indulgent. Guests can expect to enjoy a welcome bottle of Champagne, a stocked mini-fridge, an espresso machine, motion-activated bedside lighting underfoot, wireless recharging on the bedside table, an easy-to-access safe, a handy glass-topped drawer in the walk-in closet that’s perfect for smaller items that tend to get misplaced, and a vanity with a Dyson blow dryer. Bed linens and towels, which are extra-large and fluffy, are by Frette and the Italian-sourced Mandala Blue toiletries, custom-created for Explora Journeys, smell divine.

Non-Repeating Itineraries: Explora Journeys offers sailings that generally don’t repeat the same ports week after week as Explora I cruises the globe, moving from Europe to North America to the Caribbean and Central America, the Pacific Coast and Hawaii, and even the Arabian Peninsula and India. Because the ship tends to visit different ports on each sailing, it’s possible to book back-to-back journeys and not repeat a port. Explora I also visits a number of off-the-beaten-path ports. In Europe, for example, these include lesser-visited Greek Isles such as Patmos and Skopelos and smaller Croatian ports such as Zadar and Rovinj.

Best Known For

Curated Onboard Experiences: Perhaps the most non-traditional aspect of a voyage aboard Explora I is the lineup of onboard “activities, events and rituals,” designed for a discerning traveler. Guests can expect morning Sundial Salutations and afternoon Meditation and Sound Baths in the Fitness Studio as well as guest lecturer presentations on everything from “Sharing Your Artistic Viewpoint” to “Get Creative With the iPhone Camera App” in the Journeys Lounge. There’s also a Chef’s Kitchen for immersive cooking classes (for an extra fee). Explora I features three handcrafted Steinway Spirio grand pianos and there’s a focus on classical and mid-20th-century music with performances by “Resident Artistes.” Guests also don’t have to walk through the casino if they prefer not to. On Explora I, this intimate space with two blackjack tables, one roulette table, and 18 slots is tucked away on Deck 4 and accessible via a glass door.

Michelin-Starred Guest Chefs: Among Explora I’s six restaurants is Anthology, a space dedicated to presenting unique multicourse, wine-paired experiences created by a rotating roster of Michelin-starred guest chefs from around the globe. Three Michelin-starred Chef Mauro Uliassi, whose eponymous restaurant is on the coast in Italy in Senigallia, was first to offer a seafood-centric tasting menu in Anthology. He was followed by Chef Emma Bengtsson, who has earned two Michelin stars as Executive Chef of New York City’s renowned Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit. An “exclusive experience fee” of 190 euros per person, plus 75 euros per person for wine pairings, applies.

Who It's Best For

Affluent Travelers Seeking a Ship That’s Sophisticated But Not Stuffy: The kind of guest who will feel most at home aboard Explora Journeys’ ships should enjoy a European sensibility, elevated amenities, and global cuisine — and appreciate that it’s all offered without pretension. Service is attentive but not overbearing, the culinary program is excellent but guests can dine in neat casual attire since there’s no dress code, and there are always at least three dining options for both breakfast and lunch (plus all-day in-suite dining). The ship is definitely best-suited to those who prefer a low-key vibe, although Explora I does welcome families with children as Penthouses and Residences accommodate up to two adults and two kids and adjoining suites are available. 

People Who Love Unhurried Sea Days: Explora Journeys tends to include more sea days in its itineraries than some other luxury cruise lines — all part of inspiring an “Ocean State of Mind.”

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

That “Ocean State of Mind” Doesn’t Come Cheap: Journeys aboard Explora I begin at about $4,000 per person for a seven-night Caribbean voyage and $5,200 for seven nights in the Mediterranean. That includes all dining (with the exception of Anthology restaurant), onboard beverages (sodas, cocktails, distilled spirits, and a choice of 19 different wines by the glass), speedy Wi-Fi, and gratuities. Shore excursions, however, cost extra, and prices in the Ocean Wellness Spa are on the high side, especially since the onboard currency is euros.

Evenings Can be Sedate: Cruisers who are used to splashy shows and lively sets by a ship’s house band covering popular hits from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s might find themselves missing the groove most evenings aboard Explora I. While guest performers do liven things up every few nights, the standard offerings — relaxing classical piano music by a “Resident Artiste,” or performances by a singing duo — can feel repetitive. Even the “Evening Experiences,” which begin at 9:30 p.m. and last around 90 minutes, are less engaging than on other luxury cruise lines. Explora Journeys’ entertainment still seems to be finding its sea legs. Once it does, however, it’s likely guests will be just as impressed as they are by the curated dining, cosseting suites, and chic public spaces.

Donna Heiderstadt
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger
Cruise Expert