With the May 2023 launch date just around the corner (in shipbuilding terms) it was wonderful to see the shining white ship, now structurally complete, reaching this milestone and about to move on to the fit-out stage. At a ceremony held at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone it was clear just how proud all those involved are.
The short two-day event had started the previous day in Trieste. The Explora Journeys team, many of them meeting each other in person for the first time, hosted an exclusive selection of UK and European trade and press. Trieste is a beautiful city, and we learnt more about the Austrian-influenced architecture during an enjoyable walking tour which ended at the Caffé San Marco, the interior of which is unchanged since its opening in 1914, made available exclusively for our group.
This excursion was designed to demonstrate the type of small group shore experience that Explora Journeys are planning to offer. The tours available will come in five distinct categories, all capped at 20-25 guests. Experiences range from cliff diving in Ibiza to classic car drives and private yacht experiences, with an element of behind the scenes and exclusive access thrown in.
This theme continued into the evening with a private dinner hosted at the beautiful Castello di Duino, which included the impressive spectacle of vertical dancers performing high on the walls of the castle tower. The rest of the evening was accompanied by an outstanding pianist who was happy to take requests, all to personalise the experience for us. It was also here that it was announced that Captain Serena Melani would be taking the helm of Explora I, moving from Regent Seven Seas Cruises where she captained Splendor.
At the shipyard we had our first glimpse of Explora I which, at 64,000 grt and a capacity of 922 guests, didn't appear as large as I had expected. The event was hosted by Pierfrancesco Vago, the Executive Chairman, Cruise Division of MSC Group and part of the Aponte-Vago family that privately owns MSC, along with representatives from Fincantieri and the Mayor of Monfalcone.
During the speeches prior to float-out it was clear how privileged those involved in the project felt. The four Explora Journeys vessels represent an investment in excess of €2bn, all helping to fuel the economic powerhouse that is Fincantieri, which contributes an incredible 2% to Italy's GDP. The strong relationship between the yard and line was clear, having been forged in their builds for MSC. The announcement that the third and fourth ships in the fleet will be LNG powered was also a demonstration of their intentions to reduce their environmental impact and adapt to future requirements.
The ability to pull on this relationship is a key strength for Explora Journeys, and the pride from MSC and the passion in the project from the Aponte-Vago family is key to understanding this line. Their aim is to create the world's best luxury lifestyle brand, and attention has been lavished on small details.
The ship's exterior colours, inspired by the family's private yacht, have been carefully considered for over a year, weighing up colour and finish with cost. The two huge dark blue (almost black) test patches painted on the gleaming white hull showed the final look, along with the strong red stripe at the waterline. Complementing both will be a bespoke shimmering gold for the name and the MSC motif proudly emblazoned on the bow.
The interiors have also been thoughtfully composed. Mock-ups of an Ocean Terrace, the lead-in accommodation grade, and a Cove Residence had been created, allowing us to walk through a corridor and into the spacious rooms. The interior space of the Ocean Terrace (28sqm/301sq ft) was plush, with a generous walk-in shower and dressing area/walk-in wardrobe. The outside terraces (balconies to you and I) were large at between 7-11sqm and will have day sofas for lounging rather than sunbeds, as well as chairs and a table comfortably large enough for dinning.
The Residence was a wonderful size with room for dining with friends, a lounge area and separate bedroom. On the terrace was a large private whirlpool, a lovely touch. Both were modern and stylish with a sense of character beyond that displayed in the neutral, sometime bland tones that are the fashion at the moment.
What was made clear throughout the event was, overwhelmingly, that this is a passion project, designed to deliver the type of holiday the Aponte-Vago family would take themselves, and as the most successful family in shipping you can be assured that this is going to be a very high bar.