Onboard Explora Journeys’ first ‘floating luxury hotel’

Editor Hamish Kilburn was onboard Explora 1 as it made its first journey with passengers from Portsmouth to Copenhagen. Here are his thoughts on the whole luxury ‘suites at sea’ concept…

Interior design scheme that is contemporary in Med Yacht Club restaurant onboard Explora 1

Somewhere in the North Sea, lost within a wilderness of vast, deep water that stretches out as far as the eye can see, Explora 1 carves through the waves and breaks new ground in maritime history. The new luxury brand, which sails as the first ship in the Explora Journeys portfolio, is MSC Group’s latest answer to the future of luxury at sea. It is also, arguably, the closest one could get to a luxury hotel on water.

In order to mark the milestone, Explora Journeys welcomed its first guests onboard to experience its ‘ocean state of mind’ – and I was privileged to join travel industry experts on a two-day trip from Portsmouth, England to Copenhagen, Denmark. In just 48 hours, I was determined to understand how cruise ships can become, or at least feel more like, luxury hotels. And it seems, with the hotel-style concept of Explora Journeys being deeply rooted in creating one-off experiences – on as well as off the ship – it really does understand design’s role in the future of hospitality.

Explora 1 interior design scheme with large porthole windows and modern interior design

Image credit: Explora Journeys

Explora by name, explore by nature. The brand has been conceived to celebrate the movement of travel. Using the ocean as its predominant influence, and its only constant ‘sense on place’, the brand pledges to connect its guests to themselves, other people and breath-taking locations around the world.

Designed to cater – if not exceed – modern traveller demands, Explora 1 is the first of a whole fleet of ships that will emerge, built by Fincantieri in Italy. The brand has announced that it will launch five new ships between now and 2028.

What’s onboard?

The 248-metre vessel that is Explora 1, weighing in at 69, 900 tons, features 461 suites (all of which face outwards onto a balcony), 18 bars and restaurants (all designed to look and feel different), a spa and three outdoor pools, as well as a casino, art gallery and a gym. The ship, as well as the five others that have been proposed, were and will be.

Render of a pool inside Explora 1 ship

Image credit: Explora Journeys

Environmentally, which is rightly where the focus on the cruise travel industry currently docks, the ship is an architectural feat and sets an example for other brands to follow, with various innovative solutions onboard. Some that stand out as being exceptionally conscious include the ship being Rina Dolphin certified for reduced underwater noise, while featuring smart heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems. It also sails with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system, which is a fancy way of saying it has an high quality active emissions control technology system that reduces tailpipe emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) down to near-zero levels.

The arrival experience

With Explora 1 billed as ‘the next generation of luxury’ since construction began in 2021, arriving on the ship is, in all honestly, a surprisingly underwhelming experience – but that is also its charm. With the new definition of ‘luxury’ emerging and the demographic of luxury travellers ever-evolving, there is a loud demand for hospitality spaces to feel more understated; considered design schemes that feel blended together and paired with the occasional pop of personality.

A grand contemporary lobby bar onboard Explora 1

Image credit: Explora Journeys

Once onboard, the first ‘statement area’ guests will experience is the lobby bar, which stands in the middle of the various boutiques. While understated, the bar radiates a luxury aesthetic that is complete with studded low-level sofas, textured surfaces and playful lighting.

Throughout the ship, the design feels soft. By the lifts, for example, the floor features a simple, circular pattern that effortlessly reflects the same aesthetic language as the lighting above.

The F&B spaces

Where Explora 1 excels – in both design and hospitality – is in its F&B offering. Among the 18 various options for guests to choose from, design highlights for me included Sakura, which shelters an Asian design scheme relevant to the culinary experience that it offers. The interiors, dominated by reds and pinks, are symbolic to its name that translates to cherry blossom, a symbol of regeneration and optimism in Japanese culture. The theme, echoed both on the plate and on the walls (and ceiling), becomes that much more powerful with the backdrop of the ocean.

A Japanese-inspired interior scheme in restaurant on cruise ship

Image credit: Explora Journeys

Other F&B highlights include the French-inspired Fil Rouge, Marble & Co. Grill, which serves up a redefined European steakhouse experience and Med Yacht Club, which celebrates the flavours of the Mediterranean.

Suites at sea

Taking ‘suite life’ to a new level, Explora Journeys designed what is comfortably being described as hotel rooms at sea thanks to their distint luxury feel. To achieve this, the brand worked with the likes of design firms NenMar and De Jorio Luxury and Yachts. The clever collaboration between the two firms has resulted in a design scheme that feels warmly relaxing – expect soft boundaries created with artefacts – yet they are also seamlessly practical with quality goods and brand partnerships.

A luxury, muted design scheme inside terrace suite on Explora 1

Image credit: Explora Journeys

Not only is the bed sumptuously comfortable – I melted into mine each night – but the in-between nooks of the suite, such as the walk-in wardrobe and vanity area, have been carefully considered to work with guests’ needs. Here, guests will discover, what they will not take for granted, a Dyson drawer, as well as plenty of wardrobe space.

A large suite inside Explora 1 cruise ship

Image credit: Explora Journeys

The colour scheme of cream and white feels elevated, and the clever integrated lighting system paired with carefully placed spotlights gives the whole suite a flattering glow any time of day (and night) – from a design perspective, it is as close as I think any ship could get to being a hotel suite on the water.

Given the practical considerations and regulations that need to be implemented and adhered to when designing an interior scheme on a ship, creating a cruise ship that has multiple volumes throughout is a near-on impossible task. As I prepare to disembark on my mini adventure – while walking through the ship one last time – I can appreciate the design approach that is deliberately layered using emotion in design to give each space its own meaning as well as identity. With this, I leave Explora 1 rejuvenised and refreshed having experienced a travel experience unlike any other.

Main image credit: Explora Journeys