(Bloomberg) -- One morning aboard the 922-passenger Explora I, eating eggs with caviar for breakfast, it dawned on me: I had probably eaten 3 ounces of the delicacy in less than a week. I was sitting in a plush banquet in the French-inspired restaurant Fil Rouge, onboard the first ship of a new cruise line called Explora Journeys, which has been incubating for more than six years. For almost as long, industry insiders—most notably the owners—have contended it would significantly change high-end cruising.

Explora is the latest line from MSC Group Inc., the privately held Geneva-based global container shipping company that also owns the megaship-focused MSC Cruises. To date, Explora represents an investment of €3.5 billion ($3.8 billion), a sum that covers the cost of building Explora I along with five sister ships that are due by 2028. (The next ship, Explora II, is set to arrive this August.)

The line’s point of distinction is all about families—specifically, ones where the parents are well-adjusted to luxury. The bar is low when it comes to catering to this group, and Explora toes the line of maintaining a high-end feel by adding just enough helpful amenities for parents and their brood. The atmosphere is relaxed yet refined, and—importantly—there’s a complimentary, year-round staffed kids club. On one of the brand’s first Caribbean sailings, spanning seven nights from Miami to Barbados, I found Explora I to be like a great land-based resort with thoughtful amenities for all ages: Think kiddie-size bathrobes and toy delivery service for tiny travelers age 6 to 24 months.

About that kids club: The sizable, ocean-facing Nautilus Club, for ages 6 to 17, is open daily 9 a.m. to midnight, with features such as a fancy pool table designed in Italy by MBM Biliardi. The counselors speak multiple languages for an international crowd and lead activities, some with an ocean conservation slant. (They can also take kids to dinner.) For younger ones aged 3 to 5, there are designated playtimes with age-appropriate activities. The one thing lacking here is babysitting service, which leaves parents of very little children out of luck if they want to enjoy their caviar without their screaming toddler.

“Other cruise lines cater to a wealthy segment of retirees from North America,” says Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of the cruise division of MSC Group, during a shipboard interview. “I want the busy guy in finance who says, ‘Dammit, look at this: I can go with my family, I can take a week and enjoy Greece or the Caribbean.’”

Explora’s competitors are well-established—if not particularly family-friendly. Among them are Silversea (owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.), Seabourn (owned by Carnival Corp.) and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.), as well as Crystal Cruises—which was resurrected from bankruptcy in July and is now part of Abercrombie & Kent. Most of the competitors’ ships top out at just over 700 passengers and go after an adult cruising audience. Families that come onboard tend to bring their own nannies; a few select itineraries designated as “family holiday cruises” may include some activities for youngsters.

To Vago, the opportunity to court families was like low-hanging fruit—and spoke to a need he personally understood. “My seven days were so precious for recharging my brain,” he says of his experience as a father with limited vacation time, which he would always spend at the same resort, the Royal Palm in Mauritius. “I knew I would always get the same experience, with a homey feeling. I am trying to do that at sea.”

Like other high-end cruise brands, Explora is aiming for starting fares of $1,000 per person per night. But while the line finds her footing, there are deals to be had: On my sailing, the fares were under $500 per person per night, and the ship was less than a third full.

On the first ship are the perks of fine living, such as plush daybeds by modern European brands such as Molteni & C and Manutii. Linens and robes are by Frette, and there are Steiner binoculars and Dyson Supersonic hairdryers in all of the suites, which are generously sized and have a residential feel. For families, there’s an array of kid-appropriate shore excursions—such as a sustainable beekeeping tour in St. Lucia—suggesting a version of family friendliness that favors subtlety and luxury rather than going in on amusement rides or character breakfasts. A Disney Cruise this is not.

It’s also not quite as small or intimate as the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection (which also features a year-round kids club, but for a fee). That’s not a bad thing: Explora makes an impression with her generous space. More than half an acre of open deck is studded with four swimming pools and five whirlpools, and 64 dreamy, curtained cabanas are available at no additional charge.

Really, there are pools for all. You can quietly watch the ship’s wake from a double daybed at the glass-fronted infinity pool or hang out with the kids at a livelier, all-weather main pool, which has a retractable roof and a big movie screen for silent cinema nights (you watch with headphones). Need exercise? You know there is a millennial crowd onboard when there’s a pickleball court.

With the kids occupied, there’s plenty for adults to do, be it an eight-hour, $795 spa package that includes yoga, meditation and anti-aging treatments with Dr. Levy Switzerland products or shopping at the first Rolex boutique at sea. (The stock varies by sailing, but you can walk out with a brand-new watch—no waitlist—as several people did on my trip.) There’s also trivia, of course—here, it’s the best of the Explora’s cruise-shippy activities.

The food is largely European and indulgent, with no kids menus anywhere in sight. (There are highchairs for toddlers, though.) My husband and I enjoyed buttery filet mignon, Maine lobster and impressive sushi—with caviar here and truffles there—along with such surprises as a vegan sweet potato and forest mushrooms tart topped with plant-based cheddar. Moët & Chandon flows freely throughout the ship, in addition to other selections, though the free pours are less impressive than a wine list with such splurges as a Puligny Montrachet Leflaive Clavoillon (about $1,200).

It does at times veer toward the excessive, particularly at the highest-end restaurant, Anthology, where degustation menus by visiting chefs cost $420 for two, or $584 with wine pairing. On our cruise, Emma Bengtsson of New York’s two-Michelin-starred Aquavit was cooking—and it was a flawless menu including caviar with lemon bavarois. (Coming onboard next is chef Claude Le Tohic, of San Francisco’s O’ by Claude Le Tohic.) But it seems superfluous for a ship already serving such fine cuisine—and so much caviar.

For kids who aren’t great at sitting through a long meal (or adults who need something lighter), Emporium Marketplace offers a break from the white tablecloths. Yet it’s hardly the standard cruise buffet, with plated dishes, a raw bar and à la minute preparations such as fresh-baked pizza.

One constant is excellent service. The international crew of more than 650 are not the kind that just busy themselves with tasks, as on some big ships. Instead, they’re relaxed enough to show off their personalities and even make jokes. You may meet a bartender claiming to be Spider-Man at the lobby bar, which features a stunning two-deck-high display of bottles. 

Everything is there to appeal to multiple generations. But what really makes a family cruise great for kids, no matter the niceties, is the opportunity to play with peers. On my sailing, there were only nine kids—one of whom took to playing pool with the crew. Other sailings, by contrast, have attracted dozens of youngsters. For now, families may want to look at the ship as they would a private yacht vacation and book with another family or two.

It will likely take time for Explora to make inroads with its target audience. The good news is that until then, ship No. 1 happens to make excellent competition for Seabourn, Silversea and the rest of them when it comes to adult passengers, too.

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