Cruise Curious: Our Product Director’s Review

Scott Dunn Product Director Simon Lynch delves into the details of his first small-ship cruise experience with Explora Journeys.

16 April 2024

Cruise Curious Review

Are you ‘cruise curious’? Discover if Explora Journeys is right for you

Simon Lynch, Product Director for Scott Dunn, recently embarked on his first ocean cruise, on a trip with Explora Journeys from Barbados to Miami. If you find yourself feeling “cruise curious” and considering a trip on the high seas, read on to find out more on Simon’s experience of small ship cruising.

As the product director for Scott Dunn, I am fortunate enough to have travelled extensively experiencing the wonderful destinations, hotels and experiences we offer. I think I am on 80 countries now and love the variety, the memories and the sense of discovery travel brings. I have never been on a cruise and never felt the need. Truth be told, seeing squadrons of passengers being decanted off the large cruise ships into smallish places like Dubrovnik has never enamored me to cruising. However, it’s fair to say, in recent years, I’ve become intrigued by the idea of small-ship cruising and have wondered whether it would be right for me and for Scott Dunn guests. So, I decided to take a closer look.

Enter Explora Journeys, the new luxury cruising entrant bringing a fresh approach to cruising focused on exploration, sustainability, space and service. Their inaugural vessel the EXPLORA I set sail in 2023 and is already building up a following of ‘cruise curious’ guests. These are typically travellers who gravitate to a more relaxed and flexible approach when on holiday. They expect a level of choice some cruise companies don’t offer, together with the highest standards when it comes to service, food and accommodation. Explora Journeys feel their offering is tailored to these clients and are eager to introduce them to their way of enjoying what they call an ‘ocean state of mind’.

  • Exterior view of EXPLORA I
  • Interior view of EXPLORA I suite

Setting sail with Explora Journeys

The cruise terminal in Barbados where we boarded conjures up anything but an ocean state of mind, it’s chaotic and not the welcoming environment I think our hosts were hoping for. However, once aboard, a smiling host was there, arm outstretched with some bubbles and that particular state of mind was quickly dispelled.

My first impression upon boarding was a sense of genuine space. The ship has it in abundance, whether by the pools, in the array of lounges and bars or in the suites themselves. I was given the opportunity to tour the ship and every category was large when compared to the competition and wouldn’t look out of place in a city hotel in New York or Paris. I stayed in a Premier Penthouse (for reference there are suites, Penthouses and Residences onboard), which sits around the junior suite level for comparison with a hotel. Hugely spacious with a great day bed on the terrace, an ample sized sitting room with sofa, Technogym equipment, and a separate dressing room space off the bedroom complete with Dyson hairdryer. The palette was neutral, contemporary, and muted. Champagne was on ice as standard on arrival and your mini bar is stocked to your choice from a generous list of wines and spirits. All complementary.

All inclusive on the waves

And this brings me onto an important side point for the cruise curious. Luxury cruising is sensational value. Meals, alcohol, including champagne and spirits, room service and tips are all included in the trip price with Explora Journeys. Overall, it brings the total per day rate of the holiday right down. This hugely simplifies things, eliminates any need to concern yourself with the costs of additional expenses and there’s no chatter about ‘onboard credit’ or suchlike which some cruise companies go in for. I could really see the benefit of this, and it does add an extra layer of relaxation to proceedings. Use of the enormous spa is included as well, but private treatments are chargeable.

Port to port: Exploring further onshore

One area Explora Journeys does charge for is the experiences onshore. They do this to allow their guests to customise their itinerary and activities based on their own interests rather than a preset list of tours that are included in the price. This meant that the choice of some of the excursions was more adventurous and active than I expected. I went for the zip lining. A morning whizzing through forest treetops down the hillsides of St Kitts. Great fun. One note here would be the group sizes of some of these trips were small, so getting things arranged early would be advisable. Explora Journeys are keen for their guests to use their app, but I found this to be quite clunky and an area that needs some focus.

  • Simon Lynch ziplining
  • St Kitts sign

Ocean State of Mind: Life on board

With this being a small ship, I enjoyed gathering in the bar area each evening before dinner and getting to know my fellow travellers. The general feeling aboard is relaxed, stylish and contemporary – very design led. The guests were younger than I was expecting, 40-60 in age roughly, and a very broad range of nationalities – again not your typical cruise experience. Considering how new the ship is I was also struck how many guests were already repeaters. EXPLORA I was clearly making a good impression.

Dining onboard is a real highlight. Sakura, the Japanese and Asian style restaurant is sublime. So much so we went back three times – we loved it that much. Marble & Co the steakhouse was also a hit. The French and Mediterranean restaurants equalled anything I’ve experienced when staying at some of our luxury properties. The choice of wines included was excellent and catered to most tastes. I’d have liked there to be a better range of non-alcoholic beers which I’ve started drinking, but you can’t have everything. I also become somewhat partial to breakfast in bed each morning, which my host arranged with genuine care and attention. A really nice touch at no extra charge.

  • Sushi on a plate
  • Exterior view of EXPLORA I

So, are you cruise curious and wondering if Explora Journeys is for you? On the whole, I would have to say yes. If you like and are familiar with the Six Senses, Aman or One & Only hotel brands, then I would say you would be able to make comparisons with the offering aboard. It’s luxurious, but relaxed, with intuitive service throughout. I’d describe the experience as refined, generous and set apart from other cruise liners. It’s remarkable value and the destination offering is excellent. EXPLORA II joins the fleet this summer with further ships arriving over the coming few years. I suppose the biggest accolade is that for someone who has never ocean cruised before, I have already rebooked to sail again in September. Well done Explora Journeys.

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