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  • Writer's pictureDavid Natale

"Explora Journey Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Surprising" Part I / The Ship Experience

Updated: Mar 8

What You Need to Know Before You Go




In my last blog I told you about the new Explora Journey I and confessed that we really enjoyed our sailing. Today I want to share the things we loved, the things we will avoid in the future, and why this last cruise ranked at the very top of my over 150 cruises.




Pre-Cruise Registration App & Boarding


Sometimes you can just tell that something is going to be great just from the first interaction. As a travel agent, I can say that booking an Explora trip is SUPER easy and I very much like the guest emails sent to clients, the way information is organized, and the ability to see what tours (called Experiences on Explora) are on offer.


Their Explora app also has an easy to use registration process that turns the actual boarding process into a breeze and our favourable impression began during the check-in procedure in Miami.


Uploading the passports into the app was as easy as taking a photo... and after a few other questions about our arrival and departure flights and entering a method of payments for our on board charges everything was set.


Explora had sent us printable luggage tags which we had attached to the handles of our bags so that upon arrival the porters simply checked our names off the list and assured us that anything we left with them would be brought to our suites shortly.


We then proceeded thru security (which took just a few moments) and headed up the escalator to a waiting area that had a table of welcome danishes, hot coffee, juices, water and soft drinks. We were asked to sit in a small waiting area and told that we would be called when one of the check-in tables was free.


We waited at the most, 5 minutes or so before being called and an agent reviewed our info, took our photos for the onboard security, and handed us our key cards.


The entire process from the time we got out of our taxi to having a welcome glass of champagne and juice was about 10 minutes total. We were quite impressed and were in high spirits as we entered the ship for the first time.




Discovering the Explora I / Embarkation


From the start I have to say, Explora I is one of the most beautiful ships I have ever been on and with over 150 cruises on both the seas and rivers, that is saying something. The ship has an incredible design, a gorgeous and gentle colour palette, and the touches of art throughout (including the light fixtures themselves) make for an elegant, yet not ostentatious vessel.


Entrance to the ship was onto Deck 5, directly into the elegant Crema Cafe, one of the central lounges which was always staffed by a team of baristas ready to increase your caffeine intake with a beautifully made cappuccino, espresso, coffee or even a cold brew from the tap (with a shot of something stronger, too) while fattening you up with a selection of chocolate, cookies, cakes or sandwiches. After all, this is a Swiss-Italian company so of course there is a fantastic place to imbibe the bean.


Creme Cafe also looks out over the Lobby Bar of Deck 4, so there is a nice flow of decks as well as styles of hangouts.



This is also a perfect time to explain that Explora rates include an onboard All-Inclusive system so that every bar, every restaurant, and every cafe is basically Willy Wonka for adults and you can imbibe and enjoy without worry of being hit with a huge bar bill at the end of the cruise.


It should also be said, that the included onboard wines, champagnes, and spirits were similar to what you would find on Silver Sea, Crystal, and Seabourn and discussions among guests ranged from happy and impressed to a few grumpy "we're never happy with anything" types who IMHO complained just to hear themselves speak.


The welcome champagne in the cabin was Veuve Clicquot, but I believe they just changed to Mercier. Moet was served everywhere at the bars and restaurants. Naturally there was also an extensive wine list of non-included bottles, but I found the prices to be rather high and had no problem drinking what was on offer.


So let's descend the stairs into the open and inviting Lobby Bar with its 2 story atrium, lined by shops, and with a beautiful piano perched at the top of the stairs filling both areas with gentle music.


Bars & Lounges on Explora

One of the concepts that we loved about Explora became hilariously clear near the end of Week 2 when we were STILL finding bars and sitting areas that we had not yet seen.


"Decentralized" seems to be the word that best describes the concept towards restaurants, bars, and lounges and rather than a few large venues that you expect to find on a ship of this size, we enjoyed making new discoveries and making mental notes to "come back to this bar" later.


In the end, we counted 12 different lounges and bars both indoor and outdoor, each exquisitely designed with both comfort, beauty, and a consistent Swiss-Italian European flair.



It may sound funny to say this, as it is a ship after all, but water seemed to be a central focus of design, with either onboard water features as a focal and aesthetic anchor, or lounges situated with huge floor to ceiling windows that brought the outside in as much as possible.


Even the hot tubs were on the side of the ship, facing outwards, to create infinity views... and the four pools located at various points throughout the ship were beautifully intigrated.



One thing we noticed.. there was AMPLE space to lie at every pool, along with 64 private deck cabanas. Whether you were in the main Conservatory pool on Deck 11 with its retractable roof (with a gelato and crepe bar on one side and a full bar on the other), the back Atoll pool on Deck 10, the Helios Adults Only pool on Deck 12 forward, or the popular Astern Lounge with its infinity wading pool, there was plenty of seating, attentive pool attendants and bar service, and areas to go for peace and quiet.


One issue that people were talking about on our sailing were the lack of shade areas, yet we learned that am earlier conceived umbrella system was being reworked as the initial one was not stable enough. With that said, there were plenty of places to go to be in the shade, just not always directly at poolside. So.. lesson in "you can't have everything".




Restaurants


I will dedicate an entire blog post to the food alone, but something we loved from the very start was the complete lack of a central dining room. Instead you had multiple dining venues, each with its own theme, and a central Market Square on Deck 11 which offered a variety of options, all of them delicious.


We loved that dining on Explora was a low-key and relaxed affair throughout their 9 dining venues and it was more like going to a favourite restaurant or club rather than some loud, large main dining area. We commented many times on how quiet it was and how open. We never felt crammed and it was nice not to hear silverware clanging or the murmur of a large open dining room as we ate.


Something we want to note is that there is a dinner reservation area on Deck 5 at the top of the stairs. It is very easy to find and we recommend going there immediately upon boarding to ensure that you can book your spot at the two reservation required restaurants: Marble and Sakura, as well as if you want to sign up for Anthology (the Chef's Table experience) or the Test Kitchen. No other dining venues require a reservation and everyone is guaranteed at least 1 visit to the two included specialty restaurants.


SAKURA was hands down our favourite. This Japanese fusion restaurant was consistently excellent with creative dishes, nice sized portions so that you could try many, and excellent service, this is one of two restaurants that requires a reservation which you can make immediately upon boarding on Deck 5.


Sakura is open for dinner nightly, and on some sailings it is also open for lunch, so ask upon your arrival. If there is space, you may dine here more than once as we did each week we were on board.



Our next favourite restaurant was the Deck 11 Marketplace Emporium which was a collection of mini stations where food was cooked to order. Selections ranged from home made pasta (which we saw them making in the morning) to grilled lobster to fresh soups and so much more. We were astounded at the quality of this casual restaurant and we appreciated that it was the one place you could go in the evening in shorts if you wanted (it was a Caribbean cruise) whereas the other restaurants requested casual chic (pants for men).


Thierry is a huge sushi fan so he quite enjoyed the sushi bar, which had a nice selection of hand rolled sushi, made fresh before you.


We did eat most of our breakfasts and lunch in the Marketplace, but it must also be said that a la Carte breakfast & lunch could be had in one of the two open seating restaurants Le Fils Rouge or the Mediterranean Yacht Club.


Le Fils Rouge is a French themed restaurant which was elegantly appointed and relaxed, with a nice menu and a Soufflé to die for and as the name indicates, MYC is a Med themed eatery offering tapas and the typical offerings you would expect to find in Spain & Italy.



MARBLE & CO is the other reservation required specialty restaurant on board and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Explora does include the specialty dining as part of the regular cruise fare and like Sakura, you can dine here more than once if there is space. The restaurant has multiple rooms so you truly have an intimate steak house experience.


Like the other restaurants, the menu is not overly extensive, but there is a large enough selection to please every taste. I really loved the caviar appetizer, as well as the crab, pork bellies, and the lobster & veal special.


I am getting hungry again just thinking about it.



Explora did offer night time entertainment in the main Journey's lounge and we really enjoyed guest entertainer Terrell Edwards. He was a masterful story teller and singer and had folks up and dancing as he sang his way thru the decades.


There was also jazz, karaoke, quiz nights and even football on offer in the Deck 5 Astern Lounge, but honestly, we were always so tired after dinner that we would go back to our suite to enjoy a movie on the large screen TV. We told ourselves that we would make it to one of the Movies Under the Stars nights at the Conservatory pool... but that will have to wait for our next trip.


We wouldn't say that Explora offered a LOT to do during the day. They have guest lecturer's and a few hands on classes (like how to take better pictures on your cell phone) or fitness activities, but we didn't attend that many. Overall, there was enough to do, but my impression was that high maintenance, we need organized activities all day long will be left wanting, but the pace of our trip was very port intensive.




Next Up in Part 2 ... Food, Suites, and some of the special stuff we liked (High Tea!)

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