Explora I is the much-anticipated first cruise ship by Explora Journeys that debuted in August 2023. Explora Journeys is the luxury cruise line -- or luxury lifestyle brand -- by the Geneva-based MSC Group, with a further five ships in the pipeline.
The 63,900-gross-ton Explora I is one of the largest luxury vessels at sea, carrying up to 922 guests and with a passenger to crew ratio of 1.25:1. It’s a beautiful vessel with plenty of jaw-dropping spaces onboard, from the two-story Lobby Bar to the wake infinity pool and the single Owner’s Residence suite.
Who is going to enjoy this all-suite ship? Explora I will appeal to travelers who enjoy experiencing luxury resorts around the world -- think Four Seasons, Fairmont, One&Only and Greece’s Sani and Ikos resorts. Well-heeled and well-traveled, perhaps in high-powered or creative senior roles or recently retired, passengers who value their private family downtime, but don’t care much for the formalities of cruising, will likely love Explora I.
Though Explora Journeys is an all-inclusive cruise line, including drinks, including Moet & Chandon Champagne, Wi-Fi, gratuities and shuttles into port, where necessary, it does not extend to covering any shore excursions or airfare. Pricing, however, is pretty much in line with other luxury cruise lines.
Explora I is an easy-to-navigate ship, with suites located on decks 6 to 10 and most public spaces located on decks 11 to 14 (there is no Deck 13) and on decks 4 and 5.
At the top of the ship on Deck 14 is the open-air sports court and outdoor fitness area, allowing passengers to get their fitness fix while enjoying the ocean’s breeze. The ship’s highest bar, Sky Bar, is also located on Deck 14. Below, on Deck 12, are two of the ship’s slim and long hot tubs, towards the aft, while the adults-only Helios Pool & Bar lies at the front. The running track loops Deck 12, and rows of sun loungers and a cluster of cabanas are here, too, making it one of the best spots for sunbathing away from the main pools, with typically fewer younger passengers using this space.
Deck 11 is a vibrant deck centered on the Conservatory Pool & Bar under the cover of a retractable roof. This is where the ship begins to really feel like a luxury resort (though a retractable roof is, of course, a tried-and-trusted cruise ship design and a smart move for when the ship is in cooler climates).
The turquoise-hued pool is flanked by plush padded double loungers that seem to float over the shallow edges of the pool, with two hot tubs facing the ocean. The popular Emporium Marketplace takes up half of Deck 11 and venues including the Chef’s Kitchen, Malt Whisky Bar, Nautilus Club and the Explora Lounge fill the other half. Passengers spend plenty of time on this level, with spaces for dining, drinking, relaxing and enrichment. The majority of Deck 10 is occupied with suites, though it’s also where the Bridge, Ocean Wellness Fitness Center and the Atoll Pool & Bar are located.
Deck 5 is home to the Ocean Wellness Spa at the front and the Astern Pool & Bar at the aft, plus a cluster of the ship’s restaurants, art gallery and guest service amenities. Take the central staircase or elevator down to Deck 4 to arrive in one of the ship’s main focal points: the decadent Lobby Bar. This space is surrounded by luxury boutiques, more restaurants, a small casino and Journeys Lounge, the ship’s largest entertainment space. Passengers can effortlessly dine at Fil Rouge or the Med Yacht Club, enjoy a drink in the Lobby Bar and see a show at Journeys Lounge, all on the same deck.
Spaces flow nicely, while maintaining a feeling of individuality to each venue. Even the art space has the feel of a Soho gallery, a destination for art, rather than a passageway on the ship.
No venue onboard ever felt overcrowded on our sailing. Passengers disperse nicely to the different venues to enjoy drinks or a bite to eat. Emporium Marketplace and, for breakfast, Fil Rouge certainly appeared the busiest dining spots on our sailing, but, again, never overcrowded. From Crema Café to the Astern Pool & Bar, there was always a nice buzz onboard throughout the day, with the ship’s passengers mostly winding down early.
The handful of kids on our sailing tended to gravitate to Nautilus Club or the Conservatory Pool and ate with parents, typically at Emporium Marketplace. With no library onboard, the best options for quiet reading spots are Explora Lounge, Crema Cafe, the Astern Lounge or the sundeck area of Deck 12, under the shade of a cabana.
All 461 cabins on Explora I are suites, all with an outside terrace. Suites mirror public spaces, designed to feel like a boutique hotel or room at a luxury resort, rather than a cruise ship. The line has achieved this not just in the decor – modern and neutral -- but in scale.
Both inside and outside spaces in the ship’s entry-level cabins, Ocean Terrace suites, are among the largest at sea, measuring 377 square feet inside and 75 outside. Next up are Ocean Penthouses, which start at 753 square feet, followed by Ocean Residences, also starting at 753 square feet, but with the addition of butler service. The top suite is the single Owner’s Residence, which features plenty of extra perks and one of the best private terraces around.
Explora Journeys is welcoming of the family market and multi-generational groups, with 82 cabins that connect two suites together. This is a smart move to draw larger families or even groups of friends traveling together.
While there aren’t any cains to avoid, per se, if you experience motion sickness, it’s probably worth requesting a cabin on one of the lower decks in the middle, such as a Deck 6 Ocean Terrace suite.
There are nine dining options on Explora I -- just don’t expect a main dining room or traditional buffet restaurant in the mix. Instead, passengers will find five inclusive specialty restaurants, one extra-fee restaurant, an inclusive in-suite dining menu, a coffee shop for drinks and light snacks and a gelateria and creperie.
The included restaurants cover all bases: Sakura for pan-Asian; Emporium Marketplace for an upmarket food hall-style venue where the majority of dishes are made fresh to order; Marble & Co. Grill, a steakhouse and seafood restaurant; Med Yacht Kitchen for Mediterranean cuisine and Fil Rouge for French-inspired cuisine.
We enjoyed picking up oysters and crab claws in the evening at Emporium Marketplace; exquisite pad Thai Panang beef at Sakura and a show-stealing appetizer at Marble & Co. Grill (order the fingerling potatoes with caviar!).
Anthology is the ship’s tasting menu restaurant. What will likely put some travelers off is the cost (around $200 per person, without wine). The line will partner with a new top chef from the world of fine dining every three months to create the menu. It’s pricy, but foodies with a penchant for visiting some of the world’s best restaurants will likely go for it.
Dining in Emporium Marketplace, Fil Rouge, Marble & Co Grill, Med Yacht Club and Sakura
Use of the fitness center and spa thermal facilities
Coffee, tea and snacks at Crema Cafe
Most daily activities, unless otherwise noted
Unlimited raw bar in the evenings
In suite minibar setup, including a bottle of wine, a bottle of spirits and a welcome bottle of Champagne
Port shuttle service
Dining at Anthology
Personal training sessions
Laundry and pressing services (depending on suite category)
Premium wines, Champagne and spirits
Guests on Explora I enjoy luxury vacations and are typically well-traveled. Some have crossed over from MSC Cruises’ MSC Yacht Club, while others are new-to-cruise. On our sailing, there were families and couples. Couples tended to be over forty, including some same-sex couples.
There are regular meet ups for solo travelers, known as the Solivagant Society. We were impressed by Explora Journeys’ Prism programme, which includes gatherings and activities for the LGBTQIA + passengers with a social event held on the first or second day of every sailing. Towards the end of each sailing, there is also a Prism cocktail party.
Of the 461 suites on Explora I, 10 are wheelchair accessible, located on decks 8, 9 and 10.
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