When is a cruise not a cruise? When it’s an “ocean experience.” So says Explora Journeys, the new luxury brand launched by the parent company of mainstream European cruise company MSC Cruises in August 2023. With its first ship, 922-guest Explora I, the company seeks to differentiate itself from other luxury cruise lines by appealing directly to a new-to-cruise clientele (median age 53) that typically vacations at land-based luxury resorts and books via travel advisors who specialize in high-end experiences.
Explora I is, however, a cruise ship — a very posh and beautiful one designed with a European sensibility in the sleek style of a megayacht. Does it have the look and feel of a hotel or resort? In many ways, yes. The ship’s layout is quite spacious and its two-level lobby, with its multiple sofa groupings and sleek marble bar backed by a towering display case, resembles a high-end boutique hotel that could be in New York, London, or Milan. The fact that there’s no main dining room but rather six smaller restaurants also veers away from standard cruise formats (although more and more vessels in the premium and luxury cruise ship categories are doing the same). But where you may notice the “not a cruise” credo the most is in the guests Explora I aims to attract, many of whom have never been at sea before.