Direct Travel's very own Stephen Smith shares his experience onboard EXPLORA I.
I was honored to be invited to sail with Explora Journeys on the inaugural voyage of Explora I, their first of six planned ships. We were sailing from Copenhagen to Reykjavik and stopping in the Shetland Islands and the Orkneys. All places I had never been – certainly an extra bonus!
While my wife would typically accompany me on these sorts of events, our family schedule dictated that she could not join me – so instead I shared the experience with my 13-year-old son – which turned out to be a great opportunity to see Explora I from a family perspective – more on that later.
Instead of walking you through our itinerary day by day, I am going to highlight how the “experience” measured up against the lofty expectations that Explora Journeys set as they approached the launch of Explora I.
For those of you unfamiliar with Explora Journeys, they entered the cruise market as an experience that was not typical to (or of?) cruising. Instead, they projected the perception that they would be more akin to a luxury resort or a home at sea. They use vocabulary that reflects this difference, whether it be the reference to a Suite or Residence, not a Cabin; or Destination Experiences instead of Shore Excursions; or hosts instead of Crew, and so on.
To be honest, amidst all of this, I wondered whether a cruise would still be a cruise, and if this was all just an attempt to differentiate themselves from their competition.
Well, in a sense that is exactly what they were doing. However, once on board, I quickly discovered that everything they were portraying was very much being delivered. When we first walked on the ship, the lobby bar looked like it belonged in a luxury hotel or resort. As we walked around, I got a sense that there was a flow to the ship that was hard to describe at first. After spending a week on board, it became evident that the layout of the ship was somewhere in between a ship that is wide open and feels “busy” all the time and a ship that is very closed in and feels small and congested. Very similar to a luxury hotel, the location of the various venues and amenities felt natural. There was always enough space for people to congregate but it never felt like there were too many people in any venue. I can best describe it as always feeling comfortable and at home in my surroundings.
Additionally, with each of the restaurants, you never felt like you were on a ship (unless looking out some of the floor-to-ceiling windows) – you felt like you were in a restaurant in a hotel or resort.
Which brings me to the food. I knew there would be a focus on the food, but I must give credit to Franck Garanger, their executive chef who oversaw the entire culinary experience on board, and it truly is an experience. From Pan Asian cuisine in Sakura with cherry blossoms adorning the ceiling to the Med Yacht Club and Marble & Co., the menus were creative, the food was outstanding, and the venues were intimate yet spacious. We were also lucky enough to experience Anthology – a very creative approach to creating a new experience for guests who sail multiple times with Explora Journeys.
Anthology features a world-renowned guest chef who creates a unique menu – and the first was Mauro Uliasi, who owns a 3 Michelin Star restaurant on the Adriatic Coast of Italy, and he created a seven-course meal (plus 3 dessert courses) that was likely the best culinary experience I have ever had. Truly amazing. What makes this so unique is that approximately every 3 months they will feature a new chef with an entirely new menu. There is a cost to dine here (the only restaurant with a cost) but it is well worth it given the level of chefs they are featuring.
I indicated earlier that my 13-year-old son joined me on Explora I and that I would share more about his experience.
First, let me share that he has been on many cruises – far more than your average teenager – and so he was able to compare this experience to other cruises.
If he was writing this, he would tell you that he had a fantastic time on board.
He knew that we were on a maiden voyage and that not everything would be perfect, and I wanted him to try everything and let me know what he thought. Here is a rundown:
It was great to have a sports court including basketball and pickleball (we played!) – while we didn’t use it a lot, if there were other teens on board, he would probably have spent a lot of time there – and the same goes for the Nautilus Club. He did visit that a few times and said it was incredible – it had a pool table, a foosball table, a gaming console, VR headsets and games to play, and more. He also really enjoyed the whirlpools and chilling out by the pool in the Conservatory.
He said the food was the best food he has had on a cruise – including some of the dishes he tried at Anthology that he had never eaten before!
My thoughts on Explora Journeys for families is that if you travel at a time when there are likely to be other teens/children, they will have lots to do – and they will have a great time – after all, it is very much like a luxury resort. If you travel without them having peers, they need to be able to self-entertain.
There is so much more to share but I will save that for a future write-up. Until then, Explora Journeys should be on your radar as a great option for both cruisers and non-cruisers – and for families looking for an upscale experience.
Explora Journeys, a vibrant, cosmopolitan, European luxury, lifestyle brand is redefining ocean travel for a new generation of discerning travelers. With the first of six luxury ships scheduled to set sail in 2023, remarkable itineraries will blend renowned destinations with lesser-traveled ports for a journey that celebrates discovery. Explora Journeys will introduce a unique all-inclusive luxury travel experience for those who want to explore differently.
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