Review of Explora I: Has Explora Journeys succeeded in redefining luxury cruising?

Explora I Explora Journeys
By Linsey McNeill
07/08/2023
Home » Review of Explora I: Has Explora Journeys succeeded in redefining luxury cruising?

Explora Journeys first ship, Explora I, set sail on her maiden voyage from Copenhagen this week after inviting agents onboard for a preview cruise from Portsmouth to Denmark. Travel Gossip Co-Editor Linsey McNeill joined them to find out if the cruise line has succeeded in its mission to ‘redefine luxury cruising’.

Walking along the plush cream carpet, passed high-end boutiques and into an elegant lobby lounge, with a stunning bar at one end and a marble and glass staircase topped by a Steinway grand piano at the other, you could be in a boutique European hotel. However, wander outside onto one of the effortlessly stylish deck areas with infinity pools, white-curtained cabanas and chaise longues, and you feel like you’re on a private yacht.

Everything, everything about Explora I says understated, sophisticated luxury.

The cabins:

Explora I has 461 cabins consisting of 301 Ocean Terrace Suites, 70 Ocean Grand Terrace Suites, 67 Ocean Penthouses, 22 Ocean Residences and one Owner’s Residence.

I stayed three nights in an entry-level Ocean Terrace, yet even here the attention to detail is phenomenal, from the Dyson hairdryer in the walk-in wardrobe with seated vanity unit (they know their way to a woman’s heart), to the bedside foot-lights that come on automatically when you step out of bed, from the bed dressed in Frette linen to the heated bathroom floor and capacious walk-in shower with rainmaker nozzle.

The room was spacious and included a separate seating area and the balcony was big enough for a table and chairs plus a chaise longue.

Every cabin comes with a welcome bottle of Veuve Clicquot (Explora Journeys Head of Product Jason Gelineau said he couldn’t believe he got approval for that!), plus there’s an Illy coffee machine and tea-making facilities.

The dining on Explora I

Of the six restaurants onboard, five are included in the price.

I had an almost melt-in-your-mouth filet steak at Marble & Co, where I loved the intimate, dark interior, and delicious sushi and wok noodles at the cherry-blossomed festooned pan-Asian restaurant Sakura (top tip for sunny days: grab a bento box and eat it by the pool). The Dover Sole at bright and fresh Med Yacht Club came highly recommended, but sadly mine was badly filleted so every mouthful came with bones, although others in my group said theirs was delicious.

Sakura Restaurant

However, my favourite restaurant on Explora I was the French-inspired Fil Rouge, where every dish was perfection, including a Bluefin tuna tataki starter, a salmon Tournedos main and – oh my days – a dark berry souffle that I will be dreaming of for a long-time to come.

Instead of an all-day buffet restaurant, which is a standard feature on cruise ships, Explora I has the Emporium Marketplace with 18 separate cooking stations, serving up dishes such as sushi, pizza, salads and curries. There is also an all-day cafe, and a gelateria and creperie.

Overall, I thought the dining onboard was incredible, but don’t take my word for it, Dan Radnor, MD of LoveitBookit told me: “The food has been exceptional and beyond what was promised in terms of ingredients, flavours and choice.”

Anthology, which will have rotating Michelin-starred chefs, is the only restaurant that costs extra – €190 a head for the tasting menu or €260 with wine pairing.

Talking of wine, there are 19 different wines included in the cruise fare, which would normally cost around €40 to €90 a bottle. The ship’s wine cellars are well stocked with a variety of other wines that are sold by the bottle, starting from about £45 up to €10k for a particular white Burgundy. All but two of the wines are organic.

Of all the restaurants, only Anthology and Marble & Co must be pre-booked.

The crew:

With a staff to guest ratio of 1:1.25, it’s no surprise that you only have to sit somewhere for a minute or two before a smiling waiter will appear at your elbow, offering, no, insisting, that they bring you a glass of Champagne, afternoon tea, a coffee or aperitif, all included in the fare. Elaine Ross, Head of Luxury & Expedition of Cruise.co.uk told me: “The service is outstanding, staff are everywhere, you don’t need to think.”

The entertainment:

There are no West End-style shows on this ship, instead there is after dinner music in several of the lounges including, the largest, Journeys, which has cabaret-style acts, and the much more intimate Astern Lounge, which has a DJ set in the evenings.

During the daytime, there are enrichment activities, such as cookery classes that include trips to local markets, and wine-tasting sessions, plus there’s an on-board casino.

The outside space

One of the best things about Explora is that it’s small enough for you to feel you’re on the ocean. Lounging on a chaise lounge or an egg chair with the sea just feet below, you could be on the deck of a private yacht.

Explora Journeys has eschewed the concept of a (often noisy/over-crowded) central pool, opting instead for an infinity pool at the front and another pool at rear, plus an adults-only pool in the middle. “This makes it feel much more like a yacht,” said Dan of LoveitBookit.

There’s also a fairly large indoor pool with a retractable roof (which doubles up as a cinema space for the evenings) plus multiple whirlpools.

Spa & fitness on Explora I

Entrance to the spa, which has a hydro-pool, steam room, sauna and a salt cave is included in the fare. There are also 11 treatment rooms, offering body and facial treatments (at extra cost), plus a nail bar and hair salon, which also cost extra.

The gym has equipment from Technogym, and one of the cool features of Explora are the outdoor exercise bikes, plus guests staying in Penthouse suites can have equipment delivered to their rooms.

Has Explora Journeys ‘redefined luxury cruising’?

Overall, I’d say that with this ship Explora Journeys will succeed in attracting a younger demographic than traditional cruises, maybe couples in their 40s and 50s. The (free) fast and reliable wifi will be a big bonus to cash-rich, time-poor clients who want to mix work with pleasure.

However, I’ll let the experts have the final say. Elaine Ross (below), Head of Luxury and Expedition at Cruise.co.uk said: “Explora I is absolutely stunning. Classic but modern. It is up there with the top luxury lines.”

And Dan Radnor of LoveitBookit added: “Explora would suit anyone who can push themselves financially to get to the next level.”

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