Explora offers its passengers refined luxury cruising

'An ocean state of mind'

Castanet welcomes our new travel columnist Joy McGinnis, whose 30-plus years of customizing personalized travel itineraries for her clients and her own love of travel give her a perfect insider take on travel trends and enables her to offer helpful hints to aid you with your travel aspirations.

It’s an undisputed fact the travel industry was hard hit during the pandemic years.

The cruise sector withstood harsh criticism and devastating losses that many believed would be insurmountable. I’m happy to report the cruise industry is once again the fastest growing sector with a burgeoning resurgence of demand from travellers old and new.

There have been significant changes to both the technology, design and marketing of many of the suppliers. Gone are the days of trying to appeal to all consumers. Nowadays, niche marketing is the way of the seas. There truly are ships to appeal to each sector of the travel community—mega “destination” ships, boasting vast arrays of activities, restaurants and entertainment right down to luxurious and intimate small ship experiences embodying the finest cuisine and unique itineraries.

New to the market and exquisitely designed with a specific consumer in mind, Explora Journeys is the shining star of the MSC Group.

An “ocean state of mind” is the mantra of this business module with a staff dedicated to allowing their guests to reconnect with what matters most while on vacation. It’s ship, Explora, has 461 staterooms, all with oceanfront terraces and ranging from 400 square feet to a mind-blowing 3,000 square feet “Owner’s Residence,” equipped with a private infinity whirlpool.

I had the opportunity to sail on Explora in February, from Panama City to Barbados. From the moment we boarded, the Explora difference was evident. The understated luxury and attention to detail permeated every aspect of ship design and layout. It felt more like a lovely boutique hotel than cruise ship. The cabin utilized every inch of space to offer both efficiency and luxury. I loved my Dyson hairdryer, plush bathrobe and slippers, as well as my fully stocked mini-bar.

Though the ship only carries a maximum 900 passengers, it is large enough to tempt its guests with four separate pool areas, a large outdoor fitness/games area, a state-of-the-art fitness studio, as well as an exceptional spa centre featuring an incredible array of services.

The food aboard Explora is outstanding. Your all-inclusive cruise fare includes five different dining options—Sakura, Marble & Co., Med Yacht Club, Fil Rouge and the Emporium Market. All serve cuisine equivalent to upscale restaurants around the world. In-suite dining is also available (and included), as well as a gelateria, creperie and small bites café. Anthology is the only option which is at an extra charge. The ultimate foodie indulgence, with a guest Michelin chef executing seven-course dining debauchery.

Top tier spirits and classically trained mixologists keep the guests relaxed and imbibed with good vibes. Each and every staff member is friendly and attentive, eager to assist in any way possible.

Currently, Explora Journeys only has the one ship at sea. Soon to embark is Explora 2— in August 2024—and will be followed by four more ships by 2028.

Who’s right for Explora? People looking for refined luxury, large living space, ultimate food and beverages, off the beaten path itineraries offering overnight stays in port, as well as busy executives with limited time, who want to decompress in elegant surroundings but still be connected when necessary and those who want a vacation that leaves you revived rather than exhausted.

Current promotions include a 300-euro shipboard credit for bookings made prior to July 31, 2024.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


African Safari 101

I awoke with a start. My sleep-addled brain struggled to determine the unfamiliar surroundings. 

“What was that noise?”

A low heavy “harrumph” was emanating from nearby. Clarity and memory flooded back. I was alone in my tent in the Elephant Camp in Samburu National Park and that noise could only be one of the local pachyderms making their way to the river.   

I frantically started waving the flashlight we had been given by the staff to signal for assistance. Immediately, there was a calm, reassuring voice outside my door. 

“Miss Joy, it's OK. He is only scratching against your tent for a moment. There is nothing to fear.” 

My introduction to safari living had begun.

We arrived in Nairobi in the late evening as is the norm for most international flights. Clearing Customs was quick and efficient and the transfer to our overnight at the Sarova Stanley Hotel uneventful. 

The following morning we were introduced to our tour guides and our group of 13 loaded into our two seven-passenger Safari Land Cruisers and began the first of many long drives. 

Lesson 1

Driving in Kenya is arduous. Traffic is unrelenting and in many areas, the roads are no more than goat tracks. Being in the right vehicles is imperative. We saw other safari operators utilizing minivans and small jeeps and couldn’t imagine how restricting and uncomfortable their journey was. 

Good game viewing allows for you to stand up to take those epic shots as well as allowing equal opportunities for all occupants. 

During our safari, we stayed at three luxury, tented camps. 

This is beyond “glamping”! These permanent fixtures are furnished with king-size canopy beds, clawfoot tubs, outdoor showers and amenities that rival the best hotels in Europe. The staff are professional, kind and hospitable. 

Local Masai are employed as security for each individual tent between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. They are at your beck- and-call for assistance in getting to and from the main lodge area and in my case, getting rid of pesky elephants. 

Lesson 2

Accommodations in Kenya range from large, resort-style lodges to intimate luxury tented camps. 

The large resorts offer pools, spas, fitness centres as well as satellite TV and entertainment. 

The luxury tents are either fenced or un-fenced. The difference becomes the proximity of the local wildlife.  Unfenced allows the animals unrestricted access through the camp and limits your ability to wander freely in the evenings without mandatory security assistance.

WI-FI and electricity in the small camps are provided via generators and only available during set hours. 

By moving around to three different locations we were able to enjoy an ever-changing variety of wildlife. 

The game-viewing days began after a sumptuous early breakfast. We would head off into the national parks to see what awaited us. The guides from various operators all work together via radio to create a network of viewing opportunities. 

The result is that all the visitors have equal access to The Big Five. In fairness, we probably did wait 15 minutes before advising the others about our leopard. 

Lesson 3

Being in the bush in Africa is very different from Canada. The animals in Africa are more likely to hunt you than run from you. My request to “go for a run” was met with incredulity. 

“No, Madam, you cannot go for a run. The animals are everywhere whether you can see them or not.” 

There isn’t much exercise while on safari. And you need some to work off the incredible food they serve every day. 

Trust me, there is so much more to know and understand when planning your African adventure. Push your budget a bit where it counts. 

There’s nothing worse than “cheaping out” on a trip of a lifetime as you’re not likely to get a “re do." 

Ideally, find someone who can give you experienced advice and guide you to those suppliers who can work within your budget and still deliver an epic experience. 

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Enjoy some Galapagos glory

During my hiatus from writing my travel column, I’ve been marking off my own personal travel bucket list.

One of the truly inspiring and wondrous times was spent in the Galapagos Islands.

The archipelago, a province of Ecuador, is 1,000 kilometres off its coast. The inhabitants refer to themselves as Gala pagans and are fiercely independent in governance and thinking.

The only time I would not recommend travel to the Galapagos would be in September/October as the seas are rough and travel between the islands is uncomfortable at best and hazardous at worst.

A Galapagos itinerary is best combined with a short city stay in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. The city is rich in history, architecture and culinary experiences and is best toured with a local guide as many areas are prone to petty theft and nuisance crime.

The 2.5-hour flight from Quito lands you on the rocky outcropping of Baltra. From there, you make your way via ferry and bus to the busiest and most populated island of Santa Cruz.

This tourist-based island is full of great restaurants and nightlife as well as accommodations for all budgets. For those of you with lots of time, you can pick-up last-minute Island cruises. But for those who have a specific time frame, I recommend that you have pre-arranged reservations especially during the high
season — December through March.

Only five of the 18 islands are populated.

Travelling through the Galapagos is done either via sleep-aboard cruise ships or by utilizing the water taxis between the islands. This second option can be a choppy, windswept transit and is not recommended for those prone to motion sickness.

There are pros and cons to both ways of travel.

Land Based

You can plan an itinerary of your choosing. Your stays allow you to truly immerse yourself in island life and get a glimpse of typical day-by-day rhythms of the locals. 

Accommodations on islands such as Floreana and Isabela are basic to moderate. Food and drink options are basic though plentiful. Cost of living is a little higher than ours. Diving, touring and adventure tours will be at an extra expense.

Cruise Based

Options for cruising range anywhere from basic (not recommended) to ultra luxury. All food, drink, accommodations and tours with licensed guides are included.

Your adventure will include stops (not overnights) at uninhabited islands as well as the others. Close up viewing of wildlife both above and below the water line.

Cruising is the only way a luxury client can enjoy high-end accommodations and dining.  Evenings are spent with specialists who teach you about the history, ecological conditions and wildlife that have impacted the region.

Itineraries are set and excursions planned for the group benefit. Pricing for cruises range from $$$ to $$$$$.

The wildlife exhibit little to no fear of humans which allows for incredible close encounters with both land and sea-based creatures.

The land itself offers vividly gorgeous landscapes and countless swimming, diving and snorkelling options.

ne fact cannot be stressed enough. You must be in good physical condition to visit the Galapagos. You will be expected to walk uneven ground, climb in and out of zodiacs, swim and snorkel with marine life and generally partake in the daily activities

Bird watchers, divers, photographers and adventure travel enthusiasts will absolutely adore the islands. It’s also an ideal destination for families with children over 10 years of age.

Disney has nothing on this experience.

The Galapagos will leave you with a new appreciation for nature and simplicity. You’ll return home with a fresh spirit and renewed love of all this world has to offer. Travel there soon to experience this last little Eden lost.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Your travel bucket list

There are so many sad tales of unrequited travel plans from recently retired people. 

Either they’ve been struck by sudden illness or they simply hadn’t planned well enough to incorporate all the varied destinations and experiences they dreamed of while they were working.

Like anything worthwhile, a valid and achievable Travel Bucket List requires planning, research and direction. This is where a professional and knowledgeable travel consultant can be your guide.

Budgeting, planning, saving? 

It all sounds like a financial plan doesn’t it? Financial planners assess individual’s financial needs to help them achieve short and long-term goals. They recommend investments to match the client’s retirement goal. 

The travel adviser that’s right for you will assess your travel needs and help with planning, budgeting and sourcing out the travel suppliers to match your travel goals.

Find a travel adviser who wants to work with you to create the travel dreams and experiences you desire.  Someone who listens. Someone who asks questions. Why? Where? And How? are powerful tools in assisting us to tailor-make an itinerary that is customized to your requirements.

Create a five- to 10-year travel plan now regardless of age. The right consultant will determine which suppliers and destinations can deliver to your personal level of expectation. 

This travel “line” of sorts can incorporate short and long-term goals. Weddings and honeymoons, milestone events, multi-generational trips and retirement travel. 

As your travel budgets, requirements and expectations change, so too will your trusted travel advisor’s focus and direction.

Machu Picchu on your List? The right travel adviser will help you budget your time and money along with the right seasonality, the health and visa requirements and will offer optional inclusions to make this dream destination shine!

Ahh, Africa. This destination is the exotic gem that tops most Bucket Lists. Experiencing her vast wilderness and indigenous cultures is a daunting task to those without a plan. 

What time of year, how much time do I need, what sort of visas and travel restrictions apply?

An around-the-world cruise? Which cruise line is right for you? Big, brash and full of entertainment options? Or smaller, elegant and inclusive with an emphasis on the itinerary?

For those serious about starting or adding to your personal Travel Bucket List, you should check the following travel trade shows ( http://www.traveltime.ca/okanagan-travel-shows) in Kelowna and Oliver in June. 

Well travelled and experienced travel suppliers will be presenting short seminars on their personal product and will be on hand for one on one discussions regarding destinations and lifetime experiences. 

It’s a perfect opportunity to broaden your own travel horizons.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”Randy Komisar

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Joy of Travel articles

About the Author

In her 30-plus years of customizing personalized itineraries for her clients, Joy has embraced the true “art of travel”.

Joy has curated experiences that enhance lives less ordinary and allow for a growth of spirit that encourages immersive cultural connections. Her own personal wanderlust is extensive, and she has been fortunate to experience both ultra-luxury and off the beaten path adventures.

Her insider viewpoint on travel trends and overall helpful hints will prove beneficial for all your travel aspirations.

Joy can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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