Onboard Explora Journeys’ Debut Ship
The Astern Pool & Bar on Deck 4 of Explora I is one of the four pools on the ship. It offers beach club vibes and takeout service from the neighboring Sakura. (Explora Journeys)
Explora Journeys made its debut this August when Explora I set sail from Copenhagen, Denmark to Reykjavik, Iceland. The ship spent summer in Northern Europe before crossing the Atlantic to North America, where it began voyages for the fall and winter. Here, Luxury Travel Advisor got its first look at the new-build ship on a sailing from New York City to Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
The first thing you notice about Explora I is its beautiful design. In some areas, like its outdoor pool decks and the glass-ceilinged Conservatory, it showcases the ocean; in others, like its Lobby Bar, you would believe you’re in a luxury hotel. But that’s Explora Journeys’ intent.
Chris Austin, Explora’s chief sales officer, tells us that Explora Journeys is not aiming to be just another cruise line—that’s why “cruise” is not in its name. It’s also why Explora I was designed to resemble a luxury lifestyle hotel rather than a ship. While the ardent cruiser is certainly a target guest for Explora Journeys, so is the luxury land-lover. From our point of view, the design offers the best of both worlds.
Within the Lobby Bar, which is flanked by the ship’s boutiques—including Piaget, Panerai, Cartier and the first Rolex store at sea, as well as a curated collection of 30 under-the-radar artisans in a space called The Journey—there are no nautical colors or themes and no sight lines to the water. Multiple people on our sailing, including several travel advisors, told us this was their favorite spot onboard. Opposite the bar and its two-story wall of liquor bottles is a staircase taking you up to Deck 5, where you will find one of three Steinway pianos onboard.
On the other hand, there are several outdoor pools and bars, which, due to the October weather in the Northeast, we didn’t get a real opportunity to enjoy, but there is the indoor-outdoor Conservatory, a large, climate-controlled pool deck with a retractable glass roof and floor-to-ceiling windows running the length of the space. Given this was one of the few spaces to enjoy the sun and the water while still being comfortably warm, this was our favorite spot onboard.
Beyond these spaces, there are myriad options for guests to while away their days at sea—whether they are looking for relaxing or energetic entertainment, wellness experiences, insightful and educational programming or simply a place to enjoy a drink poolside.
The Journeys Lounge, which has seating for 210 people, is the largest venue on the ship, which has a capacity of 922 guests. It hosts enrichment activities and cabaret-style entertainment and its configurable seating means it can accommodate a variety of entertainment options. During our sailing, it often hosted a solo musician or band, who performed into the night. Afterwards, the artists were replaced by a DJ who kept the energy up. We also particularly liked that it has its own in-venue bar.
The Astern Lounge additionally hosts entertainment, although in a much smaller venue (and also with its own bar). Guests at the Explora Lounge, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor space with chairs, can enjoy some light entertainment, usually in the form of a pianist on yet another Steinway piano. This is where Afternoon Tea is served and we found it to be a great place to get a little work done outside of our suite.
When it comes to onboard entertainment and experiences, guests can partake in such options as “Release and Unwind,” a stretching class; “An Insight with Photographer Robin Hunter Blake,” where the resident photographer spoke about what inspires him and how to create visual narratives; “Learn to Dance Bachata;” “Ten Steps to Write Your Screenplay” and “Coffee Chat: A Celebration of Diversity, Embracing the LGBTWIA+ Community and Its Allies.” We enjoyed several of these classes, as well as the nightly entertainment, but we are told that some new acts may be coming to Explora Journeys’ onboard experiences.
At The Conservatory, beyond its large, central pool, there are several long Jacuzzis that run along the windows. There are also plenty of loungers and daybeds, both facing the pool and the water, as well as a large video screen at one end of the pool that would be perfect for a movie night under the stars.
There are three other pools onboard, all outdoors. Due to its position low and at the aft of the ship, the infinity-style Astern Pool would be our pick for sailing from port, taking in the views of the wake and destination. In warmer weather, it will have low background music by day and acoustic musicians and DJs by night. The Atoll Pool is a bit smaller and has a handful of daybeds surrounding it. Helios, on the other hand, is the only adults-only section on Explora I.
The ship also has a small but serious casino. There are three tables with the option of four games, alongside 18 slot machines. It isn’t marketed as a major draw, but it is available for people who like to play.
Then there’s the Nautilus Club, a space for children and teens and home to a variety of video games (including all the latest generation systems and VR headsets), tabletop games like pool and foosball, and board games. While many luxury cruise lines are adults-only or adults-oriented, Austin says that Explora Journeys is welcoming of families. Beyond the Nautilus Club, certified instructors can create experiences anywhere onboard for kids to enjoy and can even curate some more teen-friendly options. Explora also offers a range of Destination Experiences that are designed with families with young kids and teenagers in mind. There are 74 connecting suites onboard.
Eating and Drinking
Dining on Explora I, except for one restaurant and several drinks, is all included. Options include Marble & Co., a New York-style steakhouse; Sakura, a Pan-Asian restaurant; the Mediterranean Yacht Club, serving Med-inspired dishes; Fil Rouge, offering French-inspired international cuisine; and The Emporium Marketplace, with roughly a dozen live cooking stations offering a variety of cuisines—from pizza and pasta, stir fry, sushi and a raw bar, to salads and charcuterie, seafood, steaks and burgers.
We had a chance during our sailing to dine at each of the restaurants and our favorite was Sakura. Everything we ordered, including the tender-cooked octopus signature sashimi, crispy duck leg confit, Wagyu beef tataki, Den Miso roasted black cod fillet and pork cheeks confit, were exceptional.
At the Med Yacht Club, we particularly enjoyed the beef carpaccio, the minestrone soup and the Rhodos-style lamb shank kritharaki. Marble & Co., another space where you could forget you were on a ship, offers a selection of cuts dry-aged on site plus other meats and seafood with sides designed for sharing. Be sure to order its signature appetizer of crushed fingerling potatoes and Normandy butter with chives, Calvisius Oscietra caviar and crème fraîche. At Fil Rouge, the Dover sole (prepared tableside) with herb butter and chive potatoes was popular and the souffle for dessert is a must.
Reservations are not required for any of the restaurants but we would recommend doing so.
Located just off The Conservatory is the Emporium Marketplace, open for all three meals. In the morning, guests can expect egg stations, granola, fruit juices, hot dishes, pancakes, waffles and crepes, meats and cheeses and more. Nearby is the Gelateria & Creperie at The Conservatory.
Good to know: Explora I offers 24-hour room service, which we availed of several times during our trip. The menu has a selection of sandwiches, pastas, cheeses and breads, poke and other items. We were really pleased by the speed in which items were delivered—well under the 30 minutes we were told when we called down.
The one restaurant that comes with an additional fee is Anthology, which hosts a rotating selection of Michelin-starred chefs. The first guest chef was Mauro Uliassi, operator of the three Michelin-starred Uliassi in Senigallia. During our sailing—and on all sailings through March 2024 — Emma Bengtsson of the two Michelin-starred Aquavit in New York City led the culinary experience. Prior to our sailing, we joined Explora Journeys executives at the restaurant in New York for a preview of what guests onboard can expect. Chef Bengtsson’s team onboard Explora I serves a high-end take on modern Swedish cuisine, with the highlight being her famous Bird’s Nest dessert. Everyone onboard that we spoke to who dined at Anthology said it was the best dining experience onboard.
Another option is the Cooking School, which offers rotating classes, such as “Timeless French Recipes,” “Pinxtos, Basque’s Delightful Finger Food,” “Omelettes and Quiches” and “Explora Journeys Signature Risotto.” Up to 12 guests can learn in a kitchen setting from one of Explora’s chefs, followed by the chance to eat the food they prepared. This, also, is an add-on.
Beyond the lounges that host entertainment, there is Crema Café, serving a myriad of coffees as well as pastries and finger sandwiches; it’s also typically the only spot open between meals, so it’s usually buzzing throughout the day. Additional spaces include Sky Bar on 14, offering top-deck views and drinks, and Malt Whisky Bar, serving whiskeys from around the world alongside a selection of cigars stored in a humidor. Many in our group were not cigar aficionados nor whiskey-lovers but it became a popular hangout spot. Whether you know what you like or just diving in, a cigar expert and bartending team will be able to help and pair a drink with a smoke.
“Ocean Wellness” is another theme onboard, with several ways to maintain (or improve) your routine while at sea. There are several fitness spaces on Explora I, including the Fitness Centre, offering Technogym treadmills, cable machines and two benches alongside some free weights; the Fitness Studio with Technogym Benches (an all-in-one piece of equipment) for classes; and Open Air Fitness, an outdoor deck with additional pieces of equipment. There’s also a running track and basketball and pickleball courts.
At The Spa, guests will find nine treatment rooms, including a double treatment room and two private spa suites with an outdoor relaxation area, as well as a hair and nail salon, barber, hydrotherapy plunge pool, salt cave with loungers, a steam room and Finnish sauna. While not a very large space, during our visits, we never felt crowded. We enjoyed a rather relaxing massage during our sailing, which had us falling asleep by the end. You can make a reservation before your sailing, but it can be done just as easily once you get onboard.
Suites, Penthouses and Residences
There are four “main” accommodation categories onboard Explora I—Ocean Suites, Ocean Penthouses, Ocean Residences and the Owner’s Residence—with subcategories within each of those except the last. The single Owner’s Residence spans the entire width of the ship at the aft. The 3,014-square-foot Residence has its own entrance and dedicated butler service, living, dining and sleeping areas, a Technogym Bench and Case Kit, and more. It’s also the only accommodation with its own private plunge pool.
Owner’s Residence guests receive round-trip airport and hotel transfers; a complimentary pre- or post-journey hotel night; a complimentary treatment at The Spa; and a private chauffeured car ashore, plus more.
We like that in all Residences but the Cove, the bathrooms have a tub (some with ocean views) and a separate shower, along with a bidet. Residences all also have much larger balconies with their own Jacuzzi. The Cocoon Residence is the largest suite that isn’t the Owner’s Residence; it and the Serenity Residence have panoramic terraces, with a dining table and lounge area.
All suites starting at the Penthouse category have a larger living space and a dining table for four. All Penthouses, as well as the entry-level Ocean Suites, have very large bathrooms with step-in showers with a built-in bench. A walk-in wardrobe also has plenty of space to hang clothes, while a small dresser has additional drawers for storage. Under the bed provides extra space to put any luggage. A vanity has a compartment that holds a Dyson Supersonic hairdryer—something every woman we spoke to loved.
The Ocean Suite Terraces—the suite category we stayed in—are touted as the largest entry-level suites on a ship in Explora’s class. In all, they total 377 square feet, with 301 square feet of indoor space and 75 square feet on the terrace, which offers a daybed and a small table with two chairs. The “bedroom” is separated from the “living room” by a partition that showcases books and other objets d’art. A large HDTV faces the couch but is on a wall-mounted swivel, which can be adjusted to face the bed.
Overall, we were really pleased with the size of our Ocean Suite Terrace, especially in the bathroom.
Good to know: There are 10 accessible rooms for those with mobility issues.
Residence guests have access to a butler, while Suite and Penthouse guests receive a host, who is still able to assist with many things onboard.
Since we were not on board for the full sailing from New York to Quebec City (disembarking in Halifax, Nova Scotia), we only had the chance to experience one port of call: Boston. We partook in the “Taste of Boston: Markets and Culture” destination experience, where a local guide took a group of about 12 to sample many of New England’s top treats, including a lobster roll, New England clam chowder, freshly shucked oysters and some local items from a market, including cider donuts. Other options took guests to Harvard, the famed Freedom Trail, Cape Cod and even to the skies for a helicopter tour.
Beyond the available destination experiences for each port, Explora Journeys can also create customized arrangements that can take guests as far off the beaten path as they wish. Destination experiences are intended to be a slower pace, giving travelers the chance to properly experience the locale.
As for the speed of the voyage itself—we visited four ports (including the embarkation and disembarkation ports) over the course of seven days—we really enjoyed the pace. Perhaps not best for guests looking to check off as many ports as possible on their vacation, the typical approach of being in a port every other day allows you to both enjoy the destinations you’re visiting and the ship you’re sailing on.
Currently, Explora I is operating a series of non-repeating itineraries, giving travelers the chance to book back-to-back sailings without repeating ports. The ship this month is in the Caribbean, sailing out of Bridgetown, Barbados; Miami, FL; San Juan, Puerto Rico; or Cartagena, Colombia. In March 2024, it will begin sailing up the West Coast of Mexico and the United States before heading further west to Hawaii. Explora I will be back in Europe—the Mediterranean, to be exact—by late May 2024. In January 2025 it will be in the Red Sea.
Explora Journeys has two ships under construction with three more on order. Explora II and Explora III will join the fleet in summer 2024 and summer 2026, respectively.