Explora Journeys launched last year and has truly set the standard for the finest cuisine at sea. Training Supervisor Grace shares her experiences dining on an Explora Journeys cruise aboard the first ship to join the fleet, EXPLORA I.
We boarded around lunchtime, so we headed straight to the Emporium Marketplace for a quick casual bite to eat. Wow! What a venue. There is nothing like a traditional cruise ship buffet, and this one offered everything from salads to fresh pizza and pasta, seafood, rotisserie chicken, spiced lentil and chickpea curry, sushi, burgers, and freshly baked bread – the list was endless. Everything is served to your plate, which makes perfect sense. Seated on perfectly set tables, your wine waiter will take your drink order and replenish it frequently. Occasionally one course just isn’t enough, so after my roast beef and sautéed potatoes, I wandered over to find something else, once I came back to my table it had been cleared, wiped down and perfectly reset. The guest-to-host ratio stands out in the Emporium Marketplace, staff have the time to deliver an exceptional level of service.
On the ship there isn’t a main dining room, there are five restaurants, four of which are complimentary. The first evening we were invited to Fil Rouge, a French-inspired restaurant; at first, I thought this was going to be my favourite as the decor was light and airy, with elegant touches of wall art and accent seating. Both the food and service were impeccable, with a great variety of options on the menu. I liked the size of the restaurant, it was cosy and elegant, very different to what I’ve been in before on cruise ships where you can’t hear yourself think let alone have a conversation with your dining companion. Your elbows don’t touch the person next to you as the seating is widely spaced out giving you a feeling of intimacy and luxury.
We ordered room service for breakfast, and I was tempted by the vast choice that was on offer. Once again, this was complimentary and between us, we had poached eggs and bacon with a selection of bread and pastries. Luckily for us, the weather in Invergordon was bright and sunny so it was just perfection to be able to sit out overlooking the Highlands whilst enjoying the delicious breakfast freshly delivered to our suite. It was so good that we had the same breakfast on our balcony for the rest of the cruise, just in a different location each day. We also ordered room service for dinner one evening, we’d been on the Isle of Skye for the day and spent some time relaxing in the spa so were in a relaxed mood and were happy to enjoy something light in our suite.
Café Crema is a coffee lounge onboard, which offers a selection of pastries for breakfast, then sandwiches and cakes from lunchtime onwards. We enjoyed coffee and cake one day instead of lunch. I had a mozzarella panini freshly toasted with a pastel de nata for dessert.
Another of the restaurants which we tried on board EXPLORA I was Med Yacht Club. Again, I was in awe of the simple yet effective décor, it felt like I was eating in a restaurant in a marina somewhere along the Mediterranean coast. Low ceilings and intimate cosy tables made for a wonderful experience. We had a selection of tapas to start and I chose the Tortellini for the main, Fran had the beef fillet which was cooked to perfection. The wine waiters were always on hand to top up your glass and made excellent recommendations for pairing wine with your chosen dish. Nothing was ever too much trouble, and the waiters were excellent in every restaurant we visited.
Whilst on that subject, every single ‘host’ not crew member was a pleasure to talk to. They had the time to stop and chat with you, they made you feel welcome and always asked how your day was going. I loved that they were never rushed off their feet, but instead were calm and engaging.
After spending time on board an Explora Journeys cruise, I completely understand the company’s motto, ‘An Ocean State of Mind’. More often than not when I come back from either a cruise or a land-based holiday, I feel like I need another holiday to get over it. Explora Journeys is in a different league and I think it’s all down to the hosts on board: no chaos, no rush, no queues, just the most wonderful relaxing experience I’ve ever had.