Dispatch, Explora Journeys: Unconventional luxury

ABOARD THE EXPLORA I — As befitting a new brand, the Explora Journeys luxury line created by MSC Group is doing some things differently from other cruise lines.

Maria Antonietta Franzini, a sales agent at The Journey shop on the Explora I, displays a women's handbag that sells for 535 euros.

Among the areas where a different approach is evident are enrichment and entertainment.

At a talk in one of the Explora I’s boutique stores, I learned the story of Stefano Conticelli, a leather and wool artisan in Orvieto, Italy, whose family suffered a financial calamity that left him unemployed.

Conticelli started over making toys out of wood and wool to sell to children on the street. Now quite successful, his fashion accessories, games and other products are among 30 or so artisanal products — mostly Italian — sold in The Journey shop onboard the ship.

About a dozen passengers attended the 30-minute talk, given by Maria Antonietta Franzini, a native of Verona, Italy, and one of the shop agents at The Journey. Franzini described the history of Conticelli’s workshop, the progress of his work from mostly utilitarian items to more fashion-oriented accessories, and the values that underlie his work.

She brought down items from the store shelves, including most prominently a large purse made of gray wool felt that has become Conticelli’s signature piece. The rather plainly designed bag, which is produced in limited numbers and not distributed in the U.S., retails on the ship for 535 euros. Franzini says the shop has sold over 30 of them since the Explora I made its debut in mid-August.

About a dozen passengers aboard the Explora I gather in The Journey shop.

The appeal, she said, is that women get tired of having the same bag from the same Italian names that every other woman also has. “Sometimes the woman, she really likes to have something different,” Franzini said.

While Explora I also has shops with goods from luxury brands such as Cartier, Piaget and Rolex, managers are eager to see the reception for The Journey because of its mission of highlighting lesser-known artisans whose goods are not widely available.

Other enrichment programs include talks by baristas about the origins of coffee varietals along the ship’s cruise route and talks by resident and guest artists about various behind-the-scenes aspects of the creative process.

In entertainment, one thrust is to move away from the classic 45-minute production show that is given twice nightly to fit around the dining room schedule. Instead, guests can drop in and out of a two-hour evening “experience” that is relevant to a destination on the cruise, said Explora head of entertainment and enrichment Drew Gowland.

A leather carrying case for playing cards and a crafted hardwood domino were two items showcased in the "Artistry Beyond Boundaries" enrichment talk.

For example, our cruise that departed New York on Sept. 25 features “An Evening by Candelight – The Music of Broadway.”  The Journeys Lounge theater space is decked out with 600 (electric) candles, while the resident cast sings and plays show tunes from the Great White Way.

On other itineraries, while the “Evening by Candlelight” template will be retained, the music could switch to “The Sounds of the Caribbean,” for example, or “A Box at the Opera” if the cruise is in Italian waters.

Gowland said surveys so far show that first-time cruisers have no trouble adapting to the new concept, while those with more voyages under their belt are adjusting more slowly.

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