Luxury cruise line operator Explora Journeys has declared they will extend their fleet to six. The high-end arm of MSC Cruises is rapidly making a splash in the waters of superior seafaring. Having made their maiden voyage with Explora I in the summer of 2023, the company is rapidly expanding, with the recent announcement that Explora V and Explora VI are confirmed and will be delivered in 2027 and 2028, respectively. Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago explained, “With Explora Journeys, we have created a luxury brand that has been successful at redefining luxury at sea. We are seeing continued growth in the luxury segment, and the investment in these two new ships shows our commitment to continue to grow within this sector as well as to invest in ships of the future”.
Explora V and Explora VI show Explora Journeys making a commitment to innovation and sustainability in an industry that sometimes attracts criticism for shoddy environmental practices. Explora I set out the company’s stall, featuring onboard processes for reduced emissions, shore power connectivity, and underwater noise management systems. The latter can be crucial in causing minimum distress to marine life. In this spirit, there can be few better choices to be the ship’s godmother than Dr. Sylvia Earle, a colossus of marine biology.
Explora III and Explora IV (set to set sail in 2026 and 2027) go one stage further with liquefied natural gas (LNG) engines. LNG is a much cleaner source of energy than oil and cuts down on bilge pollution. Explora V and Explora VI have been commissioned to run on hydrogen. Reuters reports that the fuel is seen as being an important part of the United Nations’ plan for the shipping industry to progress to net zero. In addition to the cutting-edge hydrogen-powered engines, Explora V and Explora VI will be configured to allow battery technology to be rapidly retrofitted when progress in that arena makes it a more viable power source for ocean-going craft.
The new vessels confirm a continuation of Explora’s relationship with Fincantieri. The biggest shipbuilder in Europe and the fourth largest in the world will turn out Explora V and Explora VI from their Monfalcone yard on Italy’s Gulf of Trieste. The first four Explora ships have all come from Fintanieri at a cost of over €2bn (£1.75bn). The new order takes the partnership past €3.5bn (£3.05bn).
The Italians have plenty of prestige in the cruise line arena. Alongside the Explora ships, recent projects have included NCL’s Norwegian Prima. Hailing from the Marghera yard near Venice, she is a 965-foot marvel, boasting over 1600 passenger cabins and capable of holding 5400 people, including crew. The Explora ships will be configured somewhat differently. Explora I and Explora II both feature 461 passenger suites, all fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows. The smallest of suites still measures up at a generous 377 square feet.
CEO Michael Ungerer explained, “Home away from home is a very overused phrase, so we call it ‘homes at sea.'” At a nudge over 800 feet, Explora I is big enough to take on the oceans – she’s enjoyed a spectacular sail from Southampton to New York, traversing the Arctic Circle en route – but nimble enough to sail into the Norwegian fjords, taking in Scottish ports such as Edinburgh and Portree, on the Isle Of Skye on her route north.
Vago is right to be bullish about the outlook for luxury cruising. While the pandemic virtually stopped operations in much of the industry, cruises came roaring back in 2022, with over 20m passengers – including 1.7m from the UK – taking to the high seas. When 2023’s figures are tallied up, it’s expected that this year will have seen over 30 million people taking a cruise. The luxury sector currently numbers around 1m passengers per annum and is forecast to grow by 50% by the end of the decade. As people increasingly prize experiences over simple holidays, watching the Northern Lights before stepping below deck to enjoy steaks from an in-house dry ager and sommelier-sourced wines sounds highly alluring. The future of floating in five-star refinement looks to have a bright horizon.