For years this space has been dominated by the big four luxury players - Crystal, Regent, Silversea and Seabourn - whose roots all date back to the late eighties and early nineties. The arrival of Ritz-Carlton has been delayed through the coronavirus outbreak, and the water slightly muddied by the growth of luxury expedition companies such as Ponant and Scenic.
Now we have the new Explora Journeys brand, created by the huge Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company. Whilst MSC Cruises has dabbled in the luxury market for some years with the 'ship within a ship' concept that is MSC Yacht Club, now they are ready to commit wholeheartedly with a completely new management team sourced from other luxury and luxury cruise brands, and the steel for the first ship was cut a few weeks ago at the Fincantieri yard in Italy.
The first of four luxury ships will set sail in 2023, with the remaining ships ready in 2024, 2025 and 2026, and will feature 461 oceanfront suites and residences with floor-to-ceiling windows and private terraces. Suites will start at an impressive 376 square feet for entry level accommodation, so whichever category you choose, you are going to enjoy plenty of private space.
Fourteen passenger decks will provide ample indoor public space, whilst generous outdoor decks will boast more than 27,000 square feet with 64 private cabanas and three outdoor pools. A fourth pool, with a retractable glass roof, will allow swimming and poolside relaxation in any weather.
An attractive guest to crew ratio of 1.25 to 1 highlights the planned focus on service, and the benefits that can result from that including flexible dining in a huge choice of restaurants - nine are planned, with a variety of cuisines and, of course, top quality wholesale ingredients sustainably sourced.
Whilst full details are not yet available, the indication is that everything will be included in the fare (although whether that will extend, Regent style, to shore excursions, is yet to be revealed). As you would expect from an MSC ship, wellness is important, with a spacious indoor/outdoor spa and fitness area with treatment rooms, state-of-the-art fitness equipment and and space for group workout classes and personal training. Bespoke wellness experiences in each destination are also planned.
MSC has taken an admirable lead in the development and implementation of new technology, planning adaptable technology in the drive for a net zero future and a total commitment to recycling. The design incorporates provision for battery storage allowing future hybrid power generation, as well as the latest selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology, enabling a reduction of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 90%. Ship-to-shore power capabilities (cold ironing) will avoid CO2 emissions while in port, assuming the port has the appropriate technology.
Watch this space for more information about global itineraries which will start at 7 nights and feature 'non-conventional arrival and departure times combined with overnight stays'. This suggests interesting plans for shore time, which would also be indicated by the expertise of the individuals recruited to look after this part of the programme. Bookings will open in autumn 2021 so watch this space for more information shortly.