When Gianluigi Aponte met Rafaela Diamant Pinas, an empire began.
For those of us who love a great romance, you can’t do much better than this. Ship Captain Gianluigi Aponte met a passenger aboard one of his sailings. Her name was Rafaela Diamant Pinas. Just another shipboard romance? Hardly! The Neapolitan sailor and his Swiss bride went on to create the largest privately owned cruise ship company in the world. MSC Cruises consists of 16 cruise ships and plans to expand to 25 ships by 2027. Not bad for a couple who started with a single ship just 52 years ago. Gianluigi and Rafaela’s two children will shepherd the family’s newest venture. Diego Aponte and Alexa Aponte Vago serve as CEO and CFO, respectively, of MSC. The Swiss-Italian family has embarked on the creation of a completely new cruise line called Explora Journeys.
With the launch of EXPLORA I in May of next year, MSC is planting itself firmly in the luxury cruise segment.
The 64,000-ton ship, the first of six, will boast 461 ‘cabins’ which on Explora are called Ocean Suites, Ocean Penthouses, Ocean Residences and Owner’s Residence. The latter comes with over 1600 square feet of indoor space and an outdoor terrace area of over 1300 square feet. Need we say no suite is without its own balcony which on Explora Journeys are called “Sun Terraces.” This is in keeping with what the Aponte family calls “the Ocean State of Mind.” Cruise aficionados will agree with its premise. “The oceans connect you with yourself, people and the places around you. It relaxes you and creates an energy that inspires inner and outer discovery, broadens horizons and triggers new connections.”
Explora’s Ambitious new Culinary and Beverage Options
Aboard the all-inclusive EXPLORA I, there will be 18 distinct venues for exploring the world’s food and drink before setting foot on land. 6 distinctive restaurants and in-suite dining will celebrate 11 culinary experiences. 12 bars will introduce passengers to Explora Journey’s Mixologists. The ship’s Sommeliers will guide guests in selecting regional wines native to where the ship sails. With two exceptions, all of these offerings are included in your fare. (For special occasions, a ne plus ultra list of wines, spirits and liqueurs will include an additional fee).
Exploring the world through food on EXPLORA I
Franck Garanger, Culinary Head of Explora Journey explains, “We see it as a way for our guests to taste it, too, actively discovering new cuisines and experiences. Our team…is set to deliver refined dining experiences that embrace authenticity and sustainability. We ensure each guest leaves with memories of their culinary journey onboard being the finest at sea.” To do so, the six restaurants on board each offer a different spin. What binds them together is their celebration of global cooking talents, provenance of their ingredients, locally sourced as much as possible.
Explora will even bring local chefs aboard to preside over its only extra fee restaurant and Cooking School. Here is the complete rundown.
Anthology is the setting for guest chefs to showcase global cuisine. These chefs reflect Explora’s destinations as does Anthology’s wine lists. In this refined setting, menus will celebrate each chef’s specialties. With indoor seating for 48 and seating al fresco for 22, Anthology requires what Explora calls “an exclusive experience fee.” At press time this was 100 Euros per person.
Similarly, the ocean-front Chef’s Kitchen has an unannounced fee. There, just 12 guests will have professional cooking instructions, regardless of their cooking skill levels. These are often paired with shore visits to local markets and vineyards. Every other restaurant is fee-free. And there’s a great range of culinary traditions to enjoy.
Emporium Marketplace is Explora’s all-day dining option. Fully 18 cooking stations evolve their offerings throughout the day and reflect the world’s great culinary traditions. From pizza to sushi, fresh seafood and grilled, roasted and slow cooked meats, breakfast, lunch and dinner can be enjoyed indoors and out, on your schedule.
Fil Rouge is Explora’s salute to French cuisine. Its name, “Red Thread” in English, acknowledges the role France has taken in so many of the world’s great dishes. With seating for 222, the room still manages to maintain intimacy and encourages leisurely dining. And wait for dessert! There’s an elegant cart to tempt you tableside while sipping superb wines from both Old World and New.
Sakura’s name may be Japanese—it means Cherry Blossom– but this ocean-view restaurant and Sushi Bar has a Pan Asian menu. Choose Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and, of course, Japanese specialties from its expansive menu. Open for both lunch and dinner, it even boasts a Saki sommelier.
Marble & Co. Grill opens for dinner with a classic steakhouse menu and a European accent. Taking its name from the marbling found in the finest beef, it even has its own dry ager and a superb wine list.
Med Yacht Club is a salute to MSC’s home in the Mediterranean. Think sophisticated beachside restaurants in Greece, Spain, Italy, France and North Africa. There’s an emphasis on plant-based, wholesome ingredients and vegetarian items here. And the setting is relaxed and convivial at both lunch and dinner.
Finally, there’s In-Suite Dining 24 hours a day. Guests can choose to dine in their suites or on their ‘sun terraces.’ The menu features an array of cuisines that reflect both what is served in the on-board dining venues and at EXPLORA I’s destinations wherever she sails.
EXPLORA I’s Inaugural Season features 40 itineraries from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean
All photos courtesy Explora Journeys
Ed. Notes: For more information about Explora Journeys cruises and EXPLORA I, please let us know of your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org
Monte Mathews is a New York-based food and travel writer, with a special focus on culinary cruising.
EXPLORA I’s inaugural Mediterranean season runs from end May through June and features an 11-night sailing from Barcelona to Athens calling in St Tropez, Calvi (Corsica), Civitavecchia (Rome), Fiskardo (Kefalonia) and Istanbul or an extended round-trip Barcelona of 25 nights, which also includes Patmos, Bodrum, Kastellorizo, Santorini, Mykonos, Gozo and Ibiza.
EXPLORA I and EXPLORA II feature 461 Oceanfront Suites:
- 1 Owner’s Residence
- 22 Ocean Residences
- 67 Ocean Penthouses
- 371 Ocean Terrace and Ocean Grand Terrace Suites
- 82 suites are multi-generation-friendly connecting suites.