On Explora Journeys’ Explora I there are no dining, but rather culinary, experiences. There simply is no other ship that compares when it comes to diversity of flavors, cuisines, and flare. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t.
It is about the highest quality ingredients being prepared with the utmost care; made not for unnecessarily complex presentations, but rather to highlight and accentuate flavors in a creative and attractive manner.
On cruise ships (Explora has “journeys”, not “cruises”) there is usually one signature restaurant. On Explora I there is almost a competition among the guests about which of the five main venues is the best. For me, there is no “best”; only delightful decisions to be made each evening.
In fact, one start-up issue onboard is how to handle reservations. Should there be a limitation on how many reservations you can make in a couple of the venues, should that last the journey or just the first days…or if there should even be a reservation system. Alas, that is not because one venue is more in demand, but rather all of them are! (Yes, you will be able to dine in all of them. No worries about being foreclosed!)
Add to that the truly unique and actually fun Emporium Marketplace for more informal dining and, well, it just brings a smile to everyone’s faces and grumblings…only in the guests’ stomachs.
Time to “dig in”. (Sorry, I am controlling the Dad jokes to the best of my ability!) Before I delve into each restaurant, I do have to mention Explora Journeys does a lousy job at one thing: Letting the guests know and then appreciate that there are literally World Class chefs onboard this ship. They are not great cruise ship chefs, but great chefs. I have no idea how Explora Journeys enticed them , but there are things that just aren’t worthy of questioning!(I’m going with freedom and money, but I can’t confirm that.)
Chef Franck Garanger is the head of culinary for Explora Journeys. Chef Franck is an incredibly talented, but also loveable, man who is out and about mingling with guests when onboard, but also making sure his culinary visions are not simply followed, but embraced. While he previously was the fleet corporate chef at Silversea before eventually becoming the culinary director for Oceania, Explora Journeys has allowed him – as with others – to cast aside the normal cruise constraints and develop not merely menus, but multiple culinary experiences such as you would find in some of the world’s finest resorts and restaurants.
A concept I did not fully appreciate until I was onboard is Anthology; virtually a Michelin-star restaurant onboard Explora I. This restaurant is hosted by various chefs from Michelin-star restaurants from around the world. And, NO, I am not talking about a branded restaurant with a chef’s name attached to it!
For example, for the first weeks, Three Michelin-star Chef Mauro Uliassi designed the menu based upon the same menu he offers at his restaurant and then has one of his chefs from the restaurant – not merely trained in his restaurant – in the galley onboard creating what is an extraordinary culinary experience. Eventually, another chef (I am not allowed to tell you!) will then take over Anthology with another vision. There will be no complaints about static or boring menus, oversized portions, or cuisines that aren’t of interest.
Anthology is the only extra-cost dining experience and the price, truth be told, is steep at 190 Euros per person. Plus, you have a choice of either the wine pairing or a premium bottle of wine, also at an additional cost. NOTE: This is the only venue where the wonderful complimentary wines are not offered. Why? Because this is intended to be a culinary experience; not just another dinner.
There is no question that spending $600 or more for two people will be beyond the reach of many and others will feel there isn’t sufficient value. And, let’s face it, the cuisine and variety around the ship neither makes this a necessary experience nor have you feeling like you were left out. (In fact, Anthology is discretely located in a corner so you won’t even see it if you aren’t looking for it.)
But, oh, for those that can and do, it is a fantastic evening. And one that I enjoyed once and am going back again to do it again!
Note that in this iteration of Anthology – it will be different with each guest chef – the focus is on fish. The main course is the only item you choose, but that is Beef fillet in Proscuitto fat, potato cream, and smoked paprika, or Seabass with roasted mango, morel mushrooms, butter sauce (my choice!), or Smoked Tofu and Roasted Apricot.
Speaking of Pasta: All of the pasta onboard Explora I is made fresh. Absolutely no dried pasta is used.
And then there is the Enrichment Culinary Journey headed by Chef Jean-Louis Dumonet, awarded Maître Cuisinier de France – as has Chef Franck – and President of the American & Canadian Chapter Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, which is one of the highest honors a chef can receive in France. Chef Jean-Louis has worked at some of the finest restaurants and clubs. He is assisted by his charming – and incredibly fun – wife, Karen, along with his sous chef, Christina… who quietly makes much of the behind-the-scenes of the Enrichment Culinary Journeys happen…with a somewhat devilish smile that quickly disarms anyone even thinking of stressing out during this fun experience.
I participated, with my clients onboard, in the “Mussels 6-Ways” experience. It was not only a fun time, lots was learned, and lots of mussels were eaten!
Not to be forgotten is Chef Christophe Berg, who has an illustrious career creating and implementing plant-based cuisine.
Now for some of the other restaurant culinary experiences! As I mentioned it is hard to put them into an order because each one is a favorite.
Mediterranean Yacht Club is open for lunch and dinner with different menus. Obviously, the cuisine is focused on its name but is – as is the area – quite diverse.
Sakura is a Pan-Asian culinary experience that is also open for lunch and dinner, but as of this writing requires reservations for dinner. (There is no added cost, though.) The decor ranges from eye-popping to calming – and does so seamlessly. And an open galley is there for your entertainment…if you so desire. Amazing.
While lunch is definitely Japanese-forward (including bento boxes), dinner is more diverse.
There is a limited sake menu. You are offered hot or cold sake unless you inquire. Wines are also available.
Speaking of Wines – and taking a break from the food p*rn – the complimentary wines are nothing short of exceptional. Explora Journeys is a European line (still can’t say “cruise”) and its complimentary wine list seriously reflects an international approach. Italian, French, Spanish, Argentinian, German, etc. are all extremely well chosen – and probably from vintners you have never heard of. Clearly, the wine selections were made with great thought. However, if you require oaky California chardonnay – which I think is a crime – or huge Cabernets, you may find yourself either being frustrated or, more likely, kicking yourself for not trying these wines earlier in life! (And, so far, not a single “Let me see if I can get that from another bar or restaurant”. And I am talking about even in the Emporium.)
The Emporium Marketplace, is simply impossible to take a photograph of the experience.
The variety and presentation of so many cuisines, all freshly made – and most right in front of you, is truly mindblowing and the presentations are visually appealing and separated into different areas (pasta, grill, pizza, fish, salads, etc….Yes, I said et cetera!). (NOTE: All dishes are behind glass and served to you; saving you from those who pick through or touch offerings.)
My biggest issue is that I try to cut back to small breakfasts and skip lunch so that I don’t gain too much weight, so I more or less simply wander through Emporium with amazement rather than enjoy the offerings. My friends, however, rave!
Marble & Co. identifies as a steakhouse, but it truly is much more. (It is the second restaurant that as of now requires reservations, but again is at no extra cost.) I love the decor which harkens back to the feel of a New York City speakeasy. (It is one of the only venues that doesn’t have an amazing view of the sea.) And, ironically, it doesn’t serve American, but rather European, beef. Not to worry the various countries’ offerings are delicious.
From a delicious Lobster Roll, to tableside service of Halibut, to a Caviar and Potato dish to die for…or possibly the best pork I have ever eaten (other than my own barbecue…I mean, c’mon! lol) and superlative french fries, Marble & Co. nails it.
And, of course, a properly decanted Chateauneuf-du-Pape!
Fil Rouge is the closest restaurant to what you expect to find on a cruise ship (which this is not!). It is a beautiful space open for breakfast and dinner.
The design is elegant, but not stuffy and you have a choice of oceanviews or a more intimate setting. Brilliant!
I found the service to be not quite as polished as the other venues. My fish soup was the same as offered in the Med Yacht Club, but instructions on what the additional ingredients were and how to add them wasn’t given. Similarly, the souffle (which was fine, but not outstanding) was delivered with a wonderful passionfruit sauce, but it was neither explained nor added to the souffle.
These are small correctable things, but with the cuisine and service levels so high around the ship, these misses stood out. And, of course, it confirms that when I say something is “that good” it really is!
Crema Cafe is the place to go for espresso, cappuccinos, and the sort. The cafe has a very Italian vibe in this larger, but still somehow cozy space. Besides great coffee, the service is wonderful. You can queue up if you like, but there really is no need.
Explora I’s Crema Cafe
There are a number of low, but comfortable, tables for two and four – that are well-spaced- so it makes for a great gathering spot while still being intimate. (And I love the ceiling!)
One thing I would like Explora Journeys to improve is the pastry and lite bites.
No luxury experience would be complete without a proper High Tea. Explora Journeys provides an outstanding one. The teas are truly exceptional. Don’t take it from me, but the guests who believe tea is essential for life.
And tea is served properly…down to your teapot only being filled with exactly one cup’s worth of hot water.
The other thing I enjoy is that tea towers and buffets are not a thing. When all that deliciousness is put in front of you, you are going to eat it all. Here, a more refined – and reasonable – cart with selections is wheeled over to you.
That said second portions of tea and cakes are not discouraged!
On the other end of the spectrum is the Gelateria & Creperie. Located in The Conservatory, this is the place for gelato, ice cream, sorbet, crepes, and Belgian waffles.
As I mentioned in an early article, it is clear the Aponte family desired specific things for their superyacht, and the size of Explora I was required to hold all of them. Now, just take a moment and ask yourself, “If Explora I has all of these culinary venues, how many entertainment, enrichment, bar, pool, fitness, oh yes, and suites did they also desire and are included with Explora I?
There is so much more to discuss about this ship while at the same time assuring you that while this is not a small expedition ship, it is neither a large ship nor one packed with guests.
For me, its size, design, and offerings make it one of the best overall luxury journey experiences…and not only a sea.