(11 a.m. ET) -- The coin ceremony for Explora II, the second of up to six ships planned by the MSC Group for its luxury cruise brand Explora Journeys took place in Genoa, Italy, today.
Construction of the 922-passenger ship began in October 2021 at Fincantieri’s Castellammare di Stabia yard in Naples, Italy where the ship's keel was laid in May 2022.
Explora II -- a sister to Explora I, which launches in Southampton, U.K. this July, will enter service in August 2024.
"Explora Journeys is the future of luxury cruising," said Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises. "We are setting new standards for the entire industry and new levels of luxury."
Michael Ungerer, CEO, Explora Journeys, said, "The event today is another major step forward on our mission to redefine ocean travel for today's discerning luxury travellers.
"Explora II -- and her sister ship Explora I -- will blend renowned destinations seen through a different lens and unique off-the-beaten-path ports, offering the next generation of luxury travellers highly curated, transformative and immersive experiences."
Explora Journeys is positioning itself alongside luxury hotel chains -- such as Belmond, Aman, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons (the last three, coincidentally, have all either entered or will enter the cruise market with luxury yachts), rather than other cruise lines, said CEO Michael Ungerer.
Speaking to Cruise Critic ahead of the time-honored ceremony, which sees commemorative coins placed inside a ship, Ungerer opened a brochure to show interiors of the first of six vessels in the Explora fleet and said:
"The number one most frequently asked question when people see this image is they ask 'what hotel is that?'. This is how we position ourselves. We are a luxury hospitality brand that happens to be on a ship and brings all the advantages of not being stationary so you can go and see different places."
Part of the MSC Cruises Group, Ungerer said that Explora Journeys was a standalone line to MSC Cruises and will have a completely different identity.
"It is a separate company, a separate brand and a completely separate product," he explained. "MSC Cruises is in the contemporary space, the MSC Yacht Club (the exclusive ship-within-a-ship complex on MSC ships) is premium and then there is ultra-luxury Explora Journeys, although luxury is a very subjective word and means different things to different people, but needs to be a point of reference."
Indeed, there are many words that you won't see mentioned in connection with Explora Journeys, including passengers, cabins, shore excursions and even the word cruise. Instead, there are guests, homes at sea, destination experiences and ocean journeys. This is all part of the line's strategy to overcome any preconceptions about cruising and Explora is also looking to attract people who say they would never go on a mainstream cruise.
Speaking about the target market Ungerer said: "We are looking at the 97 percent of luxury travellers that have never considered a ship before. Our overall target is the international market, but due the size of the U.S. half of our bookings are from the U.S. and the other half is from Europe."
Explora boasts some of the largest suites at sea. The 461 ocean facing cabins range in size from 377 square feet in the Ocean Terraces Suites category to 3,014 square feet for the Owner's Residence.
"What is regarded as the biggest luxury for travellers is time and space," added Ungerer. "As well as the very large suites with private verandas there is a lot of individually curated space throughout the ship. There are no big open areas such as large dining rooms or theatres."
He said Explora was setting out to be different by being "distinct and distinguished", with shore experiences including flying in a fighter jet and going out on tours led by explorers and luminaries who had never previously been associated with any cruise line brands.
"There is a clientele that is craving authenticity and we will be providing an individual bespoke service for small groups with an underlining sense of mindfulness and sustainability. These people don't say 'if I pay this much, what do I get for my money?' but 'how do I feel, how does it leave me after and what are the benefits?' and that is what we are looking at."
Ungerer, whose background includes roles with Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line, said he was thrilled to be working with an all-new brand.
"Three and a half years ago I started out with a blank piece of white paper and now we are seeing everything coming together and it is hugely exiting," he concluded.