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Dream Cruises’ Explorer Dream has more than a dozen new food and beverage venues, VR gaming and simulators, a state-of-the-art spa and a suite enclave with private butlers. If you sailed on SuperStar Virgo in the early 2000s, the Explorer Dream cruise ship might seem familiar, although an $80 million refurbishment means it is virtually unrecognisable from its Star Cruises days.

Balcony room on Explorer Dream
Balcony cabin on Explorer Dream

However, one thing remains unchanged: Explorer Dream’s appealing mid-range size. Carrying a maximum of just 1,856 passengers, it offers an intimate cruise experience which lends itself to socialising. If you would prefer not to sail on a huge floating theme park, a smaller ship like this is ideal. However, that’s not to say kids won’t have fun if you do bring them along.  There’s a waterslide for them to enjoy and a kid’s club where they can hang out, although the club isn’t free so remember to budget for this if your kids enjoy going to the kid’s club or you want a romantic night out with your partner.

Explorer Dream pool deck
Kids can play on the waterslide

Explorer Dream also has The Palace, an exclusive “ship-within-a-ship” with less than 50 suites, a dedicated restaurant, swimming pool, lounge, and chic Italian décor plus a team of Dream Butlers. The Palace offers exclusive dining events such as a lobster barbeque and drinks with the ship’s officers, and cocktails, wine and other beverages are included in the cost of all Palace fares.

Explorer Dream The Palace
The Palace restaurant on Explorer Dream
Explorer Dream Palace Deluxe Suite
Dream Palace Deluxe Suite on Explorer Dream

If your holiday budget won’t stretch to a butler, there is still plenty to enjoy onboard, especially if you love Asian food as much as you love cruising. Dream Cruises originated in Asia so it’s no surprise Explorer Dream is a dream for lovers of Asian cuisine. Whether you prefer hot pot, dim sum, sweet and sour pork, tempura, sashimi, sushi or soba, or classic hawker market fare, this ship delivers. The entertaining teppanyaki bar where talented chefs use knife skills and culinary artistry to produce dinner and a show is a lot of fun.

Umi Uma Teppanyaki Bar
Umi Uma Teppanyaki Bar on Explorer Dream

Explorer Dream also features the line’s newest restaurant, Seafood Grill by Mark Best, which offers al fresco dining and a relaxed ambiance. It’s the ideal spot to enjoy a bite to eat while you sail out of a scenic port like Akaroa Harbour. If you have travelled on one of Dream Cruises other ships like Genting Dream, it’s worth noting that the Seafood Grill by Mark Best on Explorer Dream is more casual than his restaurants on the line’s other ships. This will delight some cruisers but could be a disappointment for others.

ESC Experience Lab on Explorer Dream
ESC Experience Lab on Explorer Dream

If you would prefer something racier than cooking, there’s the ESC Experience Lab which is packed with immersive VR and AR gaming simulators. You can race on a virtual motorbike or challenge a mate in the multiplayer VR gaming zone which has a dynamic floor that moves with the game. If you have always wanted to ski but don’t live close to the slopes, you can ski at sea thanks to the VR ski simulator. It’s the only way you can ski in New Zealand (or Australia or the South Pacific) in the middle of summer.

Disclosure: The writer can’t ski but she would love to give the VR ski simulator a try as you can’t hurt yourself when you fall over on a virtual ski slope.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.