Michael Ungerer is the CEO of new cruise brand Explora Journeys
Family-owned shipping business MSC Group’s luxury cruise brand Explora Journeys will debut its maiden vessel, Explora I, in Civitavecchia near Rome, Italy, in July 2023.
Explora I was developed in partnership with renowned superyacht and luxury hospitality designers and is being built at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone yard in Italy. It will “blend elegant Swiss precision with modern European craftsmanship” to redefine the concept of luxury travel and empower guests to achieve an “ocean state of mind”. Highlights onboard the 14-deck vessel will include 461 oceanview suites and residences, multiple indoor and outdoor lounges and bars, six restaurants, four swimming pools, and a spa and fitness facilities.
“Explora I is in the final stages of outfitting, the shipboard team has been hired and everything is coming together for the big reveal on 8 July in advance of the maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, on 17 July,” says Michael Ungerer, CEO of Explora Journeys.
The company has geared up in readiness for Explora I’s inaugural season. “The shoreside team has grown to 130 professionals – half in Geneva and the other half dispersed around the world to give us global coverage in every time zone and language from the West Coast of the USA to Australia,” says Ungerer. “It’s been a giant puzzle but we’re putting the final pieces in place now. The big pieces like the culinary experience, ocean wellness programme, entertainment and the enrichment through our itineraries are all in place.”
Now it’s about finesse, delivering the promised hyper-luxury finish that passengers will expect.
Explora Journeys is also making progress with the other newbuilds in what will eventually become a six-ship fleet. In February 2023, it hosted a coin ceremony for Explora II, which is being constructed at Fincantieri’s Sestri Ponente shipyard and is expected to start service in August 2024.
In a bold move typical of the forward-thinking MSC Group, Explora Journeys opted to dramatically change tactics with Explora III and Explora IV. The brand is significantly redesigning and extending the vessels to accommodate LNG engines, which will also create space for additional suites and larger public areas. They are set to debut in 2026 and 2027, respectively.
“When we ordered the first set of four ships, LNG fuel was not available at scale for worldwide deployment, but we had time to rethink during the pandemic,” says Ungerer. “We decided to halt the planning for Explora III and Explora IV so we could come up with a more sustainable solution. At the same time, the group was in discussion with Shell about our global LNG supply. Consequently, we added 19 metres to both ships to accommodate LNG and improve their sustainability performance.”
Explora V and Explora VI will also feature a new generation of LNG engines that will tackle the issue of methane slip, as well as host of other industry-first environmental solutions. They will include a containment system for liquid hydrogen that will enable the cruise line to use the fuel in future. If hydrogen is available, it will be used to power a six-megawatt fuel cell that will run hotel operations while the vessels are in port, allowing them to switch off their engines and eliminate emissions.
“We’re working on plans to install a hydrogen proton-exchange membrane fuel cell and we’re aiming to fit the latest main engines to resolve the methane slip issue,” says Ungerer.
Given that Explora Journeys has such a polished identity, outside observers would assume that the project to launch the brand and build the first ships has been smooth sailing throughout. And they would be largely correct. “Fortunately, we haven’t had many challenges to overcome, largely because we have found the right people,” says Ungerer. “We’ve hand-picked the very best team and everyone has found it appealing to launch the new brand of a respected family-owned and operated business.
“This has been a passion project from the outset, one that will tick every box for discerning next-generation luxury travellers. Explora Journeys was born in Switzerland, the epicentre of luxury hospitality.”
Explora Journeys is launching its first vessel at a time when demand for luxury cruises on small ships is high and the number of competitors entering the market is growing. While some operators may be phased by the thought of an increasingly saturated market, Ungerer is confident that every brand will find its own nuanced niche.
“Even with all the new brands entering the market, there’s room for everyone and together we’ll make it better,” he says.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.