We join Explora Journey’s EXPLORA I on her maiden ocean voyage and form a deep understanding of why discerning travellers would shell out for time on board this super-yacht-like cruise ship that seeks to redefine how cruising is done.
It’s easy to see why both seasoned ocean explorers and those new to ‘cruising’ are drawn to EXPLORA I. As a ship, she is glorious: on the outside, she looks like a superyacht, with her tiered design in sleek blue and white, a far cry from the mega-cruise operators’ gargantuan floating blocks. She also uses innovative, environmentally supportive technology. Then there’s the bit that makes us “aww.” EXPLORA I is ‘dolphin certified’, meaning very minimal underwater noise and waste.
The interior architecture and design, deck upon deck, are best in class, blending elements of Swiss precision, contemporary European artisanal flair and universally exquisite comfort. EXPLORA I’s public spaces are beautiful and considerately appointed.
Our ‘Home at Sea,’ is a Premium Penthouse, which outscales some of the hotel rooms we’ve had the pleasure of staying in. No portholes here, every home has a balcony with floor-to-ceiling windows and a sea view. There are no inside rooms. Our penthouse is generous (at 61sqm / 655sqft) and is considered ‘mid-level’ category accommodation: ‘suites’ are entry-level, then ‘penthouses’, then the ‘residences’ at the top tier. The Residences offer the best size, design, appointment and elegance, with private whirlpool baths on their balconies. All homes are packed full of high-end facilities and amenities: Frette linen and bathrobes, Dyson Airblades, in-room Technogym, signature house ‘Mandala Blue’ toiletries, fresh flowers, a boudoir-style walk-in-wardrobe/dressing room and a shiny Italian marble bathroom. It prompts us to think that no stone is left unturned, or unpolished even. It’s particularly true as our (long-suffering) Cabin Steward picks up after us so fastidiously and frequently, even though we barely see him. We know he sees us though, because whenever we leave and return, they have reset the room immaculately, even if we’re just away for a split second.
There’s an ethos of cultural intelligence throughout the onboard programming on EXPLORA I, with all the as-expected experiences – musical-theatre revues, sunset photography lessons, champagne tastings and top-deck yoga – but also holistic wellness journeys and horizon-expanding enrichment sessions with inspiring speakers. There are unique networking events too for teetotallers, solo travellers and the LGBTQ+ community.
Food and beverages on board EXPLORA I are a dream, with six distinct high-end eateries, 12 lounges and a chef’s table for classes and demonstrations – and that’s all on top of in-room dining. We particularly enjoyed the EATALY style gastro-foodhall Emporium Marketplace with its 18 cooking stations. But every outlet – from the French-inspired Fil Rouge to Nobu-wannabe Sakura, to Scandi-beef touting steakhouse, Marble, to the ‘harbourside’ Med Yacht Club – is an epicurean’s dream.
With a crew/guest ratio of 1.25:1, and a diverse team of nearly 60 different nationalities, service is jovial and more casual than on most cruise ships. Many of the team are making their first working trip on a ship, due to a recruiting strategy resulting in 60 per cent of front-of-house staff coming from luxury landlubber resorts. Hosts (as they’re called) are empowered to engage authentically with guests. Speaking to some of them, we find that they seem happy to be part of the crew. We’re told that Explora Journeys as a company are altruistic when it comes to staff well-being, which is refreshing, considering some of the stories you hear about life below deck.
EXPLORA I is indulgent, there’s no doubt about that. But with each of its ocean journeys comes a blend of relaxation and stimulation that inspires calm and joy in lavish measures, alongside effortless luxury and rewards that are physical, intellectual and spiritual.