Explora Journeys Sets Sights on Luxury Dominance

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of the cruise division of MSC Group

“Our Yacht Club offering gave us an understanding of our passengers wanting more, and wanting a luxury experience,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of the cruise division of MSC Group. “The Yacht Club is able to offer privacy and luxury in a world of choice,  having a larger ship downstairs.”

It was then a natural progression from MSC’s ship-within-a-ship concept on its megaships to enter the luxury market with Explora Journeys, which grows to two 922-guest ships this year and will have six by 2028.

With smaller luxury ships, Vago said it presents an opportunity to go off the beaten track and call at coastal communities, either alongside or at anchor, that the big ships can’t get to.

Vago, from the company’s office in Geneva, said: “I live in a landlocked country and I madly miss the sea. I have a boat and with my wife, one day, in the middle of August, in the middle of the Mediterranean, at that moment, we understood the Ocean State of Mind, which is in the roots and the principle of creating Explora. We said to ourselves: Why can’t our customers live this moment? That is how Explora was born.”


“Luxury cruising has huge potential,” Vago said, in an interview with Cruise Industry News. “It has the same principle as contemporary cruising: value for money. However, in Europe and to some extent the United States, there is not an understanding of luxury cruising as we intend to do it.

“First of all, you need economies of scale to deliver a very good product in an efficient and cost-effective way.

“Second of all, you need a choice of itineraries. The moment you penetrate the market you need to be able to offer the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia. And you need more ships to give choices to the customers.

“And very importantly, you need the right volumes to start advertising to a new segment of the population.

“If we go to the wider public, cruising means larger ships. Today we have luxury cruising that caters to a typical segment of the market being retired, wealthy North Americans. The itineraries are long. But people with money that are working don’t have 14 days. The idea is that Explora Journeys wants to show the value for money in luxury is there. I can offer you back-to-back itineraries of seven nights, up to 21 nights, without ever going to the same destinations.

“In order for us to offer choices, itineraries and value for money, you need an industrial plan with economies of scale.”

Bigger Ships       

Explora is building relatively bigger luxury ships, coming in at 922 guests and approximately 63,000 tons for Explora I and II.

Vago said luxury wasn’t necessarily small, but about offering authenticity of the experience.

“If a ship is too small., it may only have a couple of restaurants and that is not luxury,” said Vago, noting the Explora ships have various restaurants, room for entertainment venues and quiet public spaces too.

“This also offers us the space to offer larger suites. We have the largest standard size suite in the industry. We have seen the most sales for our Ocean Residences (penthouses). Starting with the third ship, we are adding more larger suites, because there is demand.”

Onboard, Explora may have among the highest food and beverage budgets on a per passenger basis, according to multiple industry sources.

“Yes,” Vago said. “Our food and beverage budget is very important, but it’s also about the quality of the hardware, the hotel experience, the housekeeping and the material used and the set up of the suites; it’s about the little details that make Explora very different.”

Green Vessels

Also driving the growth will be economies of scale to support new technology. Ships five and six will have hydrogen capabilities as the company plans to make hydrogen from LNG using fuel cells. The ships will be able to operate in port at zero emissions.

Vago said he was pushing the industry to be greener and more transparent.

“We have made great steps with NOx and SOx, all the way to having LNG ships. LNG is the cleanest fuel available,” he said, as Explora III and IV will run on LNG.

“There has been great improvements on methane slip. We are implementing new engine technology that will reduce methane slip up to 80 percent.”

Deployment Strategy

In late 2023, Explora shuffled deployment, moving to a 7/14/21 day cruise model.

The Explora I will be redeployed to the Caribbean for the full 2024-25, season, replacing a partial Caribbean and South America program, with a summer 2025 season following in the Mediterranean.

The Explora II will be based in the Western Mediterranean this summer and move to the Caribbean for the winter, heading back to the Mediterranean for the 2025 summer.

While the initial itinerary model had long itineraries, Vago said that very little of the population has the time and money for it.

“The value of a cabin for Explora Journeys versus a five-star hotel is very tangible. I can give that value for money with itineraries where there is easy access for embarkation, and then go off the beaten path for seven nights.

“This is why I had the courage to make the decision to change the itineraries to go to 7/14/21, appealing to those that have the time, but also those who have less time, to go on holidays.”

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine Spring 2024


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