Explora Journeys targets the slow traveller
Hot the heels of announcing its grand ocean debut this summer, Explora Journeys unveiled itinerary details of its second vessel, Explora II, at ILTM Cannes last month. Michael Ungerer, Chief Executive Officer, Explora Journeys, was on hand to tell our readers more about the new vessel.
Explora Journeys is the luxury-lifestyle brand of the MSC Group and one of a few cruise brands to be launched in decades. Ungerer tells us: “We see ourselves more as a hospitality and travel brand rather than a traditional cruise liner. We provide journeys for the discerning and next generation luxury traveller.
“The concept of Explora Journeys was built on feedback from our customers, clients and future guests about what they perceive to be the biggest luxuries. Turns out, time and space top the list. Guests want to go slower, form deep and authentic connections along the way, discover new things, but in a very personalised, individual manner. At the basis of all this is mindful decision-making and a sense of personal legacy and purpose, in terms of sustainability.”
At the heart of the brand and as the name suggests is the concept of exploration. “Exploration for us is synonymous with discovery and connection. We want our guests to be exhilarated and not exhausted. Our journeys are designed for the traveller who wants to stay longer, leave later and travel deeper.
“Our journeys will allow people to reconnect with themselves, whist connecting with the people they meet, their surroundings and the local communities.
“The ocean is the ultimate connector – there’s nothing quite like arriving into a destination on a cruise ship,” Ungerer tells us.
EXPLORA I will start her journey on July 17 this year, making its debut with a 15-night inaugural journey from Southampton to Northern Europe calling at 12 ports across four countries, meandering through fjords and the Arctic Circle.
EXPLORA II, setting sail in August of next year (2024), will visit the Mediterranean Sea, then head to the Middle East with the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, then head to India, followed by the Indian Ocean, then down to Africa, marking the first time the luxury lifestyle brand will sail in these regions.
Featuring 25 journeys and 14 extended journeys between August 2024 and end of April 2025, the itineraries will include 82 unique ports across 26 countries. At each stop, guests will have opportunities to discover the local nature and culture through exclusive activities, whilst exploring exotic ‘bucket list’ destinations and delving into the locations through sustainable and tailored experiences.
“There are 461 suites featuring some of the most spacious cabins at sea from 35 sqm up to almost 300 sqm – all with private terraces, all oceanfront. The upper categories also have their own whirlpools and there are a lot of open spaces, four different indoor and outdoor pools, private cabanas. It is very spacious, but very intimately so.
“There are 18 restaurants, bars and lounges, not unlike what you will find here in Cannes – with a European vibe that is never quite boring, but also never arrogant.
“There’s a large wellness facility of over 1,000 square metres.
“The retail concept, which we will announce in some detail this year, will feature brands that you’ve never seen in any luxury shopping mall or airport retail – all curated in accordance with our ‘Ocean State of Mind’ mantra.”
Committed to its pledge to the environment, Explora Journeys will continue to utilise the latest in environmental-supporting technologies. Comparably to the first ship of the fleet, EXPLORA II features the latest selective catalytic reduction technology, enables a 90 per cent reduction in nitrogen emissions, is RINA DOLPHIN certified and has been built with ship to shore power capabilities to avoid CO2 emissions while at berth.
Explora Journeys is constantly innovating and adapting to alternative energy solutions as they become available. Aiming to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the brand recently announced that EXPLORA III and EXPLORA IV will feature LNG engines, whilst EXPLORA V and EXPLORA VI will feature not only an LNG engine, but will be hydrogen powered with industry-first features.
The ships will have new generation technologies on board and tackle the methane slip issue effectively, including a containment system for liquid hydrogen that will enable them to use promising low-carbon fuel. The Hydrogen fuel will power a six-megawatt fuel cell to produce emissions-free power for the hotel operation and allow the vessels for zero emissions operations while in port.
These innovations will bring Explora Journeys’ investment in its fleet of six ships to €3.5 billion.
Of course, there are brands that have cruise vessels out there, Ungerer tells us, but they are not the competition, says the industry veteran with 30 years of senior management experience in cruising as well as in luxury hospitality. “It’s the land-based resort brands like the Belmond’s and Amman’s that we look at. The cruise segment is so small that there’s no point in competing against each other. It’s actually about getting a bigger piece of the total traveller pie. This is especially applicable in emerging cruise markets like the Middle East.
“What we offer at Explora Journeys is a modern interpretation of what Middle Eastern travellers are accustomed to when they travel. So, in that sense, I believe we will be very appealing to that clientele.
“What remains to be seen is whether Middle Easterners will take a cruise journey from their own home ports or whether they would prefer fly-cruising - definitely Mediterranean itineraries are high on their agenda.”
A great resource to learn about the new brand and its itineraries is the Explora Travel Advisor with access to marketing collaterals, training and booking capabilities. Susanne Kochen is Explora Journeys Head of Sales for Northern Europe and emerging markets and the go-to contact for Middle East advisors, he tells us.
Ungerer has been with Explora Journeys right from the inception of the brand. He tells us a bit about his journey leading up to Explora Journeys. “I come from a family business background but I’ve worked most of my professional life for large multinationals and publicly listed companies, so this, for me, is like coming back full circle.
“I’ve always been very fortunate to be able to create brands and create products - I’ve done several of these throughout my career. However, doing this within a family setting with this long-term commitment – this really ticks off all my boxes.“We started out with a white piece of paper, an empty slate, as we set out to build Explora Journeys and the journey so far has just been incredible,” Ungerer tells us.
EXPLORA II’s newly unveiled journeys
Scheduled to set sail in August 2024, EXPLORA II will first traverse the Mediterranean reaching ports in Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Croatia, where guests will immerse themselves in the ancient history of each country, enjoy their traditional and signature culinary flavours, and soak up the surrounding art, colours and architecture.
An incredible array of activities awaits EXPLORA II’s guests who will be able to visit some of the most beautiful cities and islands in the Mediterranean such as the eternal city of Rome, Sicily, Menorca – the gastronomy capital of 2022 – to then reach the Eastern Mediterranean with the islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Kalamata and Corfu, lands of mythical gods, architecture, food and ancient culture.
After exploring the magnificence of Israel, EXPLORA II will pass through the Suez Canal and allow its guests to enjoy the beauties of Egypt, the pharaohs’ land, with its heritage, time-honoured traditions, immense desert and vibrant oases. The ship will then sail onto the Arabian Peninsula towards Saudi Arabia, cruising the coastline of the Red Sea and visiting the world-heritage sights of Al Ula and Hegra. EXPLORA II then sails to the Arabian Gulf to visit the innovative, new and vibrant cities such as Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, known for their tall skyscrapers contrasting old palaces and beautiful mosques.
EXPLORA II will then reach the coast of India where guests can explore everything from the steamy evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, a primordial lost world of thundering waterfalls and emerald tea plantations, that climb from the beaches of Goa to the Kerala hinterland beyond Kochi, and on to the insatiable energy of Mumbai. In this land, tradition and modernity unite in a wide range of colours and the natural and man-made environments coexist in harmony to inspire imagination.The voyage of discovery will continue to the islands of the Indian Ocean including Seychelles and Maldives to then reach the natural sanctuaries of Africa with stops in Mozambique, Tanzania, Madagascar, Kenya, Mauritius and South Africa.