MSC Group’s new ultra-luxury cruise brand Explora Journeys is unlikely to sail to the Oceania region for another 4 years, the company’s CEO has indicated.
The first of Explora Journeys’ vessels, EXPLORA I, is scheduled to launch in late May 2023. The second sister-ship EXPLORA II is earmarked to begin operating the following year. EXPLORA III and EXPLORA IV – both fitted with LNG engines, will be delivered in 2026 and 2027. It’s the arrival of EXPLORA III that will likely provide the opportunity for the brand to expand into new regions with its initial two vessels.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas last month, Michael Ungerer, CEO of Explora Journeys said Australia would “eventually” be added to the list of destinations his ships will explore. And the reason for the prolonged launch Down Under relates to access to liquified natural gas (LNG).
Explaining the reasoning, Ungerer said when Explora Journeys initially ordered the first four ships in the fleet in early 2018, LNG wasn’t an option for worldwide deployments.
“With small ships going worldwide you could not depend on LNG as a source of power. But as things have evolved since then we took another look,” Ungerer said, outlining discussions were held with Shell and other big energy suppliers, and realising “maybe we can work it out that in certain ports around we the world, we can actually access LNG, so we stopped the forward planning.”
Those discussions lead to the expansion of EXPLORA III and IV to accommodate the LNG tanks and liquid hydrogen fuel cells.
Ungerer said that with the number of LNG-capable ports around the world likely to be limited it will take a phased approach to design itineraries “in order to be autonomous for two or three weeks at a time”.
He told LATTE Australia and New Zealand journeys are “definitely” on the horizon. “Certainly, for sure, once we have a fleet.”
Ungerer indicated EXPLORA III and IV would be more inclined to be positioned closer to Europe and the US when they debut – due to LNG resources – freeing up the option for I or II to likely explore Australasian waters.
At this stage, Explora Journeys has released only the first 1.5 years of journeys on EXPLORA I through the Mediterranean, UK & Ireland, Northern Europe, Iceland and Greenland, Canada and New England, Caribbean, South America, Pacific Coast and Hawaii, and the most recent program expansion, to Alaska.
The most popular itineraries are those through Northern Europe, along the Norwegian coastline, Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland and across to Canada and New York. Explora’s Hawaii roundtrip itinerary from Vancouver, sold as two legs outbound and inbound, has also been favoured, alongside Alaska.
“For Alaska we’re not doing a seven-day roundtrip, starting and finishing on the weekend like everybody else,” he said. “We’re offering a slower and deeper 10- or 11-days to avoid those congested ports, and taking guests more off the beaten path. Places that only small ships can access.”
The next program, LATTE can exclusively reveal, to be released by Explora Journeys will be the inaugural season of EXPLORA II, set to be unveiled in the coming weeks. Soon after, the remainder of EXPLORA I‘s second year of operation, beyond Alaska, will be released.
A true World Cruise will also be achievable as Explora Journeys’ fleet swells. Ungerer said that current itineraries have been designed as ‘open jaw’, meaning it is possible to combine back-to-back sailings and create a half-world cruise. He said that there has also been demand for Grand Journeys which have been created, the longest being 55-days.
On the subject of market demand, Ungerer said the US accounted for the “biggest chunk” of Explora Journeys’ business so far, and there is the expectation that North America (US and Canada) will account for 50% of global sales, and the other 50% coming from Europe and the rest of the world.
Lead image: Explora Journeys’ CEO Michael Ungerer and Chief Sales Officer, Chris Austin, at Virtuoso Travel Week 2022.