By David Barclay | January 11, 2023
Explora Journeys was created to meet the unmet needs of the luxury traveler (both cruisers and non-cruisers). Before initiating the design process for its ships or creation of its travel experience, Explora Journeys hired a management consulting firm to interview 20,000 luxury travelers to understand what was wanted (and missing) in a luxury travel experience. As a former McKinsey consultant, I can appreciate the effort and focus Explora Journeys devoted to build a strong strategic foundation focused on a well-defined consumer experience and I think its upfront investment is clearly shown in the details and nuances of the travel experience it has created.
The Expora Journeys fleet will eventually consist of six sister-ships, EXPLORA I, II, III, IV, V and VI. EXPLORA I will launch later this year and EXPLORA II is set to launch in 2024. As new ships, they are launching with the latest technologies, including state-of-the-art waste management and environmental protection systems. EXPLORA III will usher in a change in the propulsion system, featuring liquefied natural gas (LNG) engines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And EXPLORA V will add hydrogen fuel cells to allow zero emissions while in port.
While I am thrilled for the environmental focus built into these ships, what I’m really excited about is their size. While that may sound like an oxymoron, they are still small ships in the realm of the cruise ship universe. But what I’ve found when cruising is a little extra tonnage opens up a world of extra amenities on board. This means more restaurants, bars, lounges, pools & hot tubs, and onboard entertainment. But the larger size doesn’t mean these ships will feel crowded, guest capacity is still well below that of premium line cruise ships and they offer guest-to-space ratios comparable to what you’d experience on the other luxury cruise lines.
The ship interior design is very sophisticated and European in design. The main lobby bar (shown below) is very different from what you will find on other cruise lines and could easily be mistaken for a 5-star luxury hotel lobby.
While Explora Journeys is trying to differentiate itself from existing lines in many ways, one way is how it refers to areas on board its ships. Staterooms are referred to as Homes at Sea, with the largest and most luxurious called Residences. While some may see this as simple marketing gimmickry, I can appreciate its attempt to alter guests’ perceptions from thinking of the staterooms as floating hotel rooms and instead thinking of them as the guests’ homes for their journey.
Each ship will have 461 Homes at Sea, all with ocean-facing terraces that provide guests with their own private outdoor space. The smallest will start at 377 sq ft, comparable in size to veranda suites on the other ultra-luxury lines. The largest, the Owner’s Residence, is slightly over 3,000 sq ft and will definitely feel like a palatial home at sea for those who are able to book a journey in it.
The ships will boast 9 different dining venues, including Asian, French, Mediterranean, steakhouse, and international options. I can appreciate the variety offered by these larger ships, which means even on longer journeys you won’t have to eat at the same venue multiple times. The ships will also offer 12 indoor & outdoor bars and lounges, offering something unique for every guest’s unique interests and moods. The large number of restaurants and bars means guests will never feel any single venue is overcrowded or be made to wait for a seat.
As one would expect on a luxury ship, the Explora Journeys ships will have a large amount of indoor and outdoor public space. They will have a large fitness area, wellness spa (large thermal area, 11 treatment rooms and 9 beauty studios) and many other outdoor activity areas (including a sports court).
While everyone has their priorities on board a ship, I am always a fan of the pool deck and appreciate ship designs with multiple pools and hot tubs. The Explora ships will have 4 pools (including an indoor pool with retractable roof) and 5 hot tubs, ensuring those who want a little water time or a relaxing soak can find ample room to enjoy themselves.
At the core of the Explora Journeys experience is the focus on the Ocean State of Mind. According to Explora, this phrase means the openness and energy of the sea helping you discover yourself, broaden your horizons, and connect with what matters most in life. Every experience on board an Explora ship is designed to tie into this focus of allowing guests to relax and discover the world around them, while also allowing time to reconnect with themselves. Again I can appreciate that Explora is trying to alter how guests will view a cruise. Rather than viewing the cruise as a way to get from place to place, excursion to excursion, Explora wants guests to look at their journey as a more holistic experience that is seamlessly woven together.
Onboard experiences offer relaxed European luxury. There are no formal nights, a trend that many other luxury cruise lines are slowly moving towards. To ensure guests are well tended to, the ships will have crew-to-guest ratios comparable to other luxury lines and butler service for those who have booked Residences.
Keeping with the theme of its brand, when guests disembark the ship in port, they do not go on excursions, but instead have the option of participating in Destination Experiences. And while many other luxury lines offer standard and premium excursions, Explora Journeys will offer several additional categories. Beyond Boundaries experiences are the over-the-top experiences (think flying in a fighter jet or taking a submarine to the deepest fathoms of the ocean). Tailored Experiences are just that, private experiences tailored for specific guests’ interests. Enchanted Explorations experiences are small group, unique experiences (e.g. Sistine Chapel visit after closing). Boundless Discoveries experiences are the closest to what other cruise lines offer for excursions, but Explora tells us it wants even these to exceed what is offered today by other lines. Explora also offers In-Country Immersions, multi-day overland experiences similar to what other ultra-luxury lines offer.
While Explora Journeys is focused on discerning adult travelers, it has ensured families will also have an incredible experience. Each ship will have 78 connecting suites. During school holiday/break seasons it will offer kids programs/clubs similar to those offered by luxury hotels & resorts. Families accustomed to staying at Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons or One&Only will feel very comfortable taking a vacation with Explora Journeys.
In terms of what’s included in your cruise fare, Explora Journeys has made its experience almost all-inclusive. Dining at all 9 restaurants, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), access to the thermal spa area, fitness & wellbeing programs, gratuity, and high-speed Wi-Fi are included. Guests will only pay extra for their transportation to/from the embarkation/disembarkation ports, any Destination Experiences they take, and spa services.
EXPLORA I’s inaugural journey will begin on July 17, 2023 in Northern Europe. What is unique about the 2023-2024 sailing season for this first ship is that her first year of sailing will look more like a world cruise than what is typical for luxury cruise ships (which are repositioned a few times per year and sail a region for a few months at a time). What is also unique is that no two journeys will repeat the same ports, so every journey in that first year is unique. That also means that guests can combine multiple journeys together without fear of repeating where they have sailed before. After sailing Northern Europe, EXPLORA I will sail to Iceland/Greenland, the US East Coast, the Caribbean, South America, Hawaii, Alaska and finally to Central America before sailing the US East Coast again to Canada.
EXPLORA II’s inaugural season was just announced and will start sailing in the Mediterranean in August 2024, sailing on to the Arabian Peninsula, India, the Seychelles & Maldives, East Africa and South Africa.
The Benefits & Value
Explora Journeys is launching into the luxury cruise space with a very impressive product, but also want to ensure its guests are receiving significant value. It has therefore priced its itineraries to be very competitive with the offers of lines like Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas.
In addition, Explora Journeys offers several other benefits and incentives. Guests can save up to 10% by booking more than 180 days out and paying their fare in full. Single supplements for solo travelers start at only 15% (other lines usually start at 25% and average around 75%). Guests under 18yrs are eligible for up to 50% off published fares. And the Flexible Journeys policy allows guests to amend or move a journey at no extra cost (up to 120-200 days prior to embarkation).
If you would like to be among the first to sail on this new cruise line, reach out to me and let’s chat. I’m sure we can find an itinerary that will be perfect for you.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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