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What It’s Really Like on Explora Journeys

After launching their first ship in August 2023, Explora Journeys is a new luxury cruise line that promises to be more of a boutique resort at sea than a traditional cruise experience. As a member of the MSC Family of Brands, creating Explora Journeys was done as a passion of the Aponte Family to bring boutique resort-style travel to the ocean.

 


Mom and I with Explora I in the background

Explora Journeys seeks to help you find your Ocean State of Mind, which sounds good on paper, but I needed to truly understand the statement before setting out on my first Journey.

 

Keep reading if you’re an experienced luxury cruiser debating booking your first Explora Journey or a new luxury cruiser, weighing whether the price tag is worth it. We’ll explore the ship, suites, food, and more. 

 

The Aponte family set out to create a yacht-like experience to visit bespoke destinations often overlooked by other cruise lines. Explora Journey launched the first of six ships, Explora I, in August 2023. Explora I is 63,900 gross tons, 814 feet long, and one of the largest luxury vessels at sea. 

 

Explora I can carry up to 922 guests with a host-to-passenger ratio of 1:1.25. While Explora I can carry 922 guests, Explora Journeys plans to sail with about 75% of capacity. If Explora continues to plan to sail with lower capacity for the long term, the host-to-passenger ratio will be even closer to 1:1 and one of the lowest ratios in the luxury cruise industry. 

 

The Lobby Bar on Explora I
Lobby Bar

Explora I will be followed by her sister ship, Explora II, in 2024, and ships III, IV, V, and VI by the decade's end. While rapid, this expansion will allow Explora Journeys to offer journeys around the globe throughout the year. 

 

Explora Journeys has designed its ships to feel more like an ultra-luxury resort on land than a cruise experience. The lobby bar is the focal point on deck four, providing seating for catching up with your traveling companions or new friends you’ve met. A cosmopolitan vibe is felt throughout the ship, and plenty of seating is in the bars, pools, and other spaces.


The four pools and five hot tubs are spread out across the ship so that you can easily find a spot in the water or on deck to relax as the ship cruises at 18 knots between ports of call. For those cold-weather sailings, the Conservatory is an indoor pool with a retractable roof, so you can relax on deck without needing blankets.


My outdoor favorite is the Atoll Pool and Bar on Deck 10 Aft. This saltwater pool provides plenty of seating around the pool deck, and the bar is just a few steps away. A trait shared across every space on the ship, a bar is never more than a few steps away.


Atoll Pool on Explora I
Atoll Pool

If you’re new to luxury cruises, one crucial difference compared to contemporary or premium cruise lines is the more all-inclusive experience. The higher per-night cost means that there are fewer things that you will need to spend money on once you’re on the ship than with other options. On Explora Journeys, your journey fare includes your suite, all gratuities, just about all the alcohol you can drink, specialty dining (which I’ll go into more detail shortly), thermal suite access, and incredibly fast wi-fi.


It's possible to have an incredible experience without spending a single Euro onboard. But if you were to indulge, you could shop in the onboard stores, try your luck in the casino, purchase bottles of wine at dinner, indulge from the highest shelf of liquor, have spa treatments, have destination experiences (aka shore excursions), have dinner in Anthology, or take a Chef’s Kitchen cooking class.


Suite Overviews

 

Explora Journey offers an all-suite experience onboard Explora I with 371 Ocean Terrace Suites, 67 Ocean Penthouses, 22 Ocean Residences, and 1 Owner Suite. Attention to the small details sets the suites onboard Explora I apart from other vacation options with included 24-hour room service, an in-room minibar, an in-room espresso machine, heated marble bathroom floors, sizable walk-in closets, soft close drawers, non-slip hanger bars, a Dyson Hairdryer, and mattresses that were explicitly designed for Explora Journeys.




The Ocean Terrace Suites are identical, with the OT1, OT2, and OT3 classifications being the location on the ship. There are 70 Grand Ocean Terrace Suites, which have the same internal layout as the other Ocean Terrace Suites but include an extended terrace. Speaking of the terraces, each one includes a lounger, two chairs, and a table for alfresco dining on your terrace.

 

Moving up to the Ocean Penthouses, you’ll gain more square footage in your suite and terrace. There are three Ocean Penthouse layouts, so letting your Rainbow Getaways travel advisor know what’s important for your suite is key to making sure we suggest the best option for your vacation.

 

The highest suite categories are the Residences. Each residence includes an upgraded espresso machine, a full dining room, a private hot tub on the terrace, and marble-clad bathrooms the size of cabins on other ships. The largest of the Ocean Residences has a terrace that more than doubles the internal square footage.

 


The largest suite, the Owner's Residence, stretches across the ship on Deck 8 from port to starboard, includes a terrace that spans the full width of the ship and has a private infinity pool. Inside the Owners Residence you’ll find a full dining room, a butler pantry with a small oven for your dedicated butler to serve your food at the perfect temperature, a private steam room, and every small detail taken care of for you on your journey.

 

Upon entering your suite, you’ll be greeted by a bottle of champagne on ice and small bites to start your Journey. Those staying in an Ocean or Owner’s Residence will be welcomed with a bottle of Dom Pérignon, though after your first bottle, it will be replaced with a standard bottle of bubbles.

 

Food 


Explora Journeys has set out to redefine what luxury dining means at sea. The brand has done away with the stuffy main dining room and buffet; instead, Explora Journeys has introduced four inclusive specialty restaurants. These four dining rooms include Marble & Co. Grill, Sakura, Med Yacht Club, and Fil Rouge.



Having grown up in Nebraska, I’ve been hard-pressed to find a cruise line with a great steak. Marble & Co. Grill is hands down the best steak I’ve had at sea. The steaks are dry-aged onboard and grilled to perfection. The Crushed Fingerling Potatoes and Normandy Butter are divine, and the signature brownie is the perfect way to end a decadent meal.


Open for lunch and dinner, Sakura is an immersive Pan-Asian dining experience with fresh sushi, wok-of-the-day bowls, and other creative dishes. Sakura quickly became my favorite spot to grab lunch, and the bento boxes were the perfect treat while lounging next to the Astern Pool.


Med Yacht Club celebrates the flavors of the Mediterranean and US Northeast. The restaurant encourages you to share with a wide selection of tapas and appetizers. Sharing your appetizer is perfect to leave plenty of space for the main entrees. 



Fil Rouge features French inspired international cuisine, in a relaxed atmosphere. Sharing half the width of Deck 4 with Med Yacht Club, these two would be the closest Explora has for a main dining room. Though, far from the traditional main dining room, both restaurants serve Michelin star quality food that is made to order. Each night, Fil Rouge serves a soufflé of the day, making it a popular destination to have dessert after dinner in another restaurant.



Throughout the Journey, I was consistently impressed by the consistency that each dish was served. I choose to have lunch and dinner in Med Yacht Club on a few occasions during my Journey, often ordering one of my favorite appetizers, the Croquetas. Each time the plate was presented it not only looked identical to the first time, but each bite tasted the same. This level of consistency for food prep takes a master level chef to lead their kitchen brigade.


Beyond the four main dining rooms, there are several other options to find food. The Emporium Marketplace is made-to-order quick service style all-day dining restaurant, complimentary 24-hour in-suite dining (room service), the Gelateria & Creperie at the Conservatory, and the pinnacle of dining experiences - Anthology. 


Fresh Waffle for Dessert
Fresh Waffle for Dessert

Of all the dining options, only Anthology carries an additional experience fee. This fee is paying the Michelin Starred Chef to come onboard and serve a multi-course meal. While completely optional, Anthology should not be skipped. The opportunity to experience the culinary expertise of the Chef is such a memorable experience that you’ll want to return to Explora Journeys to participate in tastings by future chefs. 



My favorite onboard experience was the Chef’s Kitchen. The Chef’s Kitchen is a small group experience with a chef who walks you through how to make a signature dish of the day. In our case, the chef taught us to make pea and pumpkin risottos. While there is an experience fee for this class, it’s well worth it, and you get to take home the recipes and chef kitchen swag.


Entertainment 


Explora Journeys clearly leveraged the Aponte Family’s experience in designing a new luxury resort at sea. There are many things that Explora does very well, and I’d be willing to argue that are best in class. As a new experience, Explora still has a few things to work through that will ultimately make the experience even better than it is today. 


Singer onboard Explora I
Onboard entertainment is full of live performances

The first of which is the evening entertainment. During the day, especially on sea days, the focus is on relaxing and finding your Ocean State of Mind. Each pool supposedly had its own style of music playing in the background, however, on my journey, most parts of the outdoor space was silent. This worked well when I wanted to nap next to the Astern Pool, but I would have appreciated the Atoll Pool having some background music while hanging out with new friends.


As the sun started to set, the restaurants opened around 6 PM and took reservations until 9:30 PM. For those that are early eaters, this leaves several hours before bed time to enjoy the evening entertainment. Explora has a heavy focus on live music, strategically placed in different venues to encourage travelers to discover more of the ship. 



A few dancers on the dance floor to live music on Explora I
It just takes a few to break the ice, then the floor is full


My criticism is that I wanted more entertainment. The performances are stacked in a way that you can usually move from venue to venue to watch just about all of them in an evening. The Journey’s Lounge on deck four, was home to the headline show each evening, which was two performances of the same set with a 20 minute break between the two shows. I would have loved to see this be two separate sets to give more of the incredible talent that was on the ship. 


After the 10 PM show, the DJ would quickly transform the Journey’s Lounge into a disco. As is the case with all other cruises, the success of the disco is heavily dependent on the travelers who stay up late. Most nights, the lounge would quickly empty with just a handful staying to drink, chat, and dance a short while. This was further exacerbated by the hosts starting to pick up the table lamps, which from someone just coming in makes the area look like it’s closing soon. 


A few of the evenings, Explora hosted a silent movie in the Conservatory using the headsets traditionally used for silent discos. If you’re new to cruising or all-inclusive vacations, silent discos are one of the hottest events with venues often running out of headsets. I was surprised that Explora did only one silent disco, on the last night of the journey. I would have loved to see a few more opportunities to dance in my own world with the new friends I made on board.


Opportunities - destination experiences, onboard shopping


As a new cruise line, Explora Journeys has knocked just about every element of being on a luxury ship out of the park. The two biggest opportunities that I would love to see Explora improve on are destination experiences (shore excursions) and the onboard shopping. 


piles of beach towels on Explora I
There are always plenty of beach towels to take ashore.

The destination experience catalog is basic by most standards and needs to be more flushed out. While this is easily overcome by working with Rainbow Getaways and our network of partners that provide shore excursions, for those that are looking for cruise line sponsored events the options are unimpressive overall.


Like most new cruise lines, onboard shopping is an area that needs to be refined to fit those that are actually sailing. Explora Journeys and the Aponte family focus on bringing boutique items from around the world into the Journey Shops. Most, if not all, items are handmade and come from companies that strive to do good. The shops skew for women with a very small selection of items that would be used by men.


I love swag from the brands that I love cruising with and wanted to pick up a hat, jacket, or some other way to show off my affection for the new brand. But, Explora Journeys had just a few branded wearables, of which were not my personal style. While speaking to the crew, the brand is aware that they need more branded merchandise and they’re hoping to have more options available over the next several months.

 

Final thoughts about Explora Journeys


Explora Journeys has created something incredible. The company has launched a brand new ultra-luxury resort at sea to compete not just against the Ritz-Carltons and other 5-star properties around the world, but with Seabourn and other ultra luxury cruise lines. Taking on two major industries takes dedication, vision, and the ability to listen to guests. 


The experience that awaits you onboard Explora Journeys has been carefully created because the leadership listens to feedback from guests and travel professionals. The brand is dedicated to consistent improvement and making sure that when you step onboard you will find your Ocean State of Mind. 


Relaxing on my suite terrace

Explora Journeys is not perfect for everyone, but it is a great option for those who want something more than a routine land vacation or who want to explore more of the world. As a new luxury brand, now is a great time to book your first Explora Journey. The all-inclusive pricing is some of the most attractive that I’ve seen for ultra-luxury brands, but as the company grows and more discover it, these prices will start to disappear. 


If you’ve made it this far and you’re wondering if Explora Journeys is right for you, check out my Ultimate LGBTQ+ Guide to Luxury Cruises. In the guide, I explore all the major luxury cruise brands to give you an overview of what kind of experience each one provides. 


When you’re ready to start planning your Explora Journey or other luxury cruise experience, Rainbow Getaways is here to help you have a seamless and stress free experience. We’ll take care of all the vacation planning so you can focus on your family and other commitments. Click this link to schedule a complimentary discovery call to share what you’d like to do for your next vacation.

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