Remember your first computer, your first smart phone? Royal Caribbean’s revolutionary new Quantum of the Seas, now cruising out of New York, is the first “smart ship.”
Quantum’s big technology leap is connectivity.
You can be wired (wirelessly) to the world around you, if you choose.
You will have little choice about being in charge of navigating your own days at sea, as you will be armed with a high tech plastic wristband and an app for your cellphone that knows who you are, where you might want to go, and what you have reserved for eating and activities.
Outrageous bandwidth, said a passenger
The 4,180-passenger ship has so much bandwidth aboard that your family and friends at home can watch you play while you cruise, via tweets, blogs, Facebook and other social media posts.
Quantum’s bandwidth (roughly defined as how much data can move quickly on and off the ship through a satellite beamed to the Internet) is touted by Royal Caribbean as greater than, or at least equal to, all the bandwidth on all other cruise ships, combined.
This huge bandwidth mostly will impact the passengers who want to be fully connected while they are on vacation. Typically, cruise passengers cannot do that, as Internet connections aboard ships are much slower than on land, and are restrictive against the amount of data that you can move.
On Quantum, whether you merely want to check your E-mail or prefer to post pictures, Skype or share videos with a friend, the ship is up to the task (for a fee, of course, that probably will range from $15 to $30 a day for unlimited usage).
Wristbands know everything
All passengers will be connected wirelessly to the daily pulse of the ship. In the tradition-bound cruise business, Royal Caribbean has designed Quantum as a jump into the future. For tech-savvy travelers, it’s more like a slide into the present.
The passenger communications system is called Royal IQ, which has an app for your smartphone or tablet computer pad that will guide you about the ship, list various daily events, and can remind you of your spa appointments and dinner reservations.
If you wear the plastic wristband, which is issued free at the beginning of your cruise, Royal Caribbean knows who you are and can communicate with you each time you press the wristband against one of the ship’s many scanners. The wristbands, as well as a key card issued to each passenger, also open your cabin door lock.
Wristbands carry an RFID chip (Radio-Frequency IDentification). They are gaining in popularity. Earlier this year, for instance, Disney World began issuing resort guests a MagicBand for room entry, access to attractions, and purchases at its parks.
Techy identification not a novelty
For Royal Caribbean, the new techy IDs are essential to keeping track of large numbers of people and moving them to the correct dining rooms and activities.
They are a key to the success of Royal Caribbean’s new Dynamic Dining concept, in which passengers eat at different dining rooms each night, and are required to choose a reservation for a seat and a time, so that everyone is accounted for.
If you don’t make a dinner reservation, the Quantum computer will make a daily choice for you, among the restaurants where the meal is included in the cruise fee. I imagine that some passengers will wait each morning to be told where they are dining that night. You won’t have to go to your assigned restaurant or table -- there’s always the free buffet restaurant upstairs.
All this maneuvering, choosing and scanning will be easier if your personal tech IQ is up to the capabilities of Quantum’s Royal IQ. Yet, in an interview aboard Quantum, Royal Caribbean’s Bill Martin, the company’s Chief Information Officer responsible for technology, pointed out that a novice aboard Quantum has one advantage. He said that because tech-savvy passengers will be able to resolve all their own needs and issues using the new equipment, crew members, who carry smart tablets to help, can concentrate on answering questions from passengers who are not tech savvy.
Annoyances and frustrations
To get on the smartest cruise ship at sea, I needed remedial work.
I was confused about pre-boarding messages from Royal Caribbean and failed to get some of my required information into the ship’s data base, which is essential for a smooth and quick transition from land to ship. I wasn’t alone. A guide book author who had difficulty figuring out the instructions prior to boarding said he wondered how less savvy people would manage it.
My failures became clear when I tried to board the ship with one of the slick new Setsail Pass printouts that have significantly reduced check-in lines and waiting time. All of my printout requirements carried a green check mark -- including the selfie I took at home with my iPhone -- so I thought I was clear for a quick embarkation.
“Wrong sound,” said the lady gatekeeper when her scanner issued a “boing” instead of a “ping.” That was a little disconcerting to hear, but within minutes my additional information was approved, and I was on my way to the ship.
Once aboard, I realized that the ship’s app had not been downloaded properly into my iPhone. I walked to the customer service desk where a friendly crew member, carrying a smart tablet, told me she had no idea what my problem was, but that it surely was an issue with my iPhone, not the Royal Caribbean website.
“Can you help?” I asked when she seemed ready to move on to other, more resolvable problems. “Anybody got an iPhone?” she asked her colleagues. One crew member did, and within a few more minutes, my issue resolved, I was fully connected with a downloaded Royal IQ.
Do you homework before the cruise
Royal Caribbean asks Quantum passengers to connect online and download its apps prior to the cruise. Savvy cruisers will do all their boarding “paperwork,” restaurant reservations, shore excursions, and activities requiring advance preparations well before they leave home.
If you don’t, the boarding process will be longer, and you take a chance that a specialty restaurant, an excursion, or a show will be fully booked by the time you get onboard.
The puzzle of smartness
Behind the wristbands, USB ports in the cabins, the bumper cars, robots that tend bar, the whoosh of 120-mile winds that power a sky-diving experience called RipCord, at the root of the world’s first “smart ship” is a goal that drives Quantum of the Seas.
At the November naming ceremony in Bayonne, NJ, Richard Fain, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said that Quantum of the Seas was designed for all those folks who, “for some reason,” have never taken a cruise, resisting the lure of the sea -- including tech-savvy millennials (ages 18-34).
Why have they not sailed? Fear of boredom maybe. Perhaps lack of connectivity.
As for how much smartness that people want on vacation, Quantum of the Seas sails with some potential answers: Travelers who require constant connectivity and a range of nonstop activity choices may love the ship. Folks who want nothing to do with smart anything may choose another vacation. The rest of us will find a middle ground.
Quantum’s high tech stuff can be exciting and fun, though my order to the robot bartenders for a simple Jack Daniels on the rocks annoyingly got hung up in computer freeze-land for at least 10 minutes, so I decided to move on to another bar with a more human touch.
For me, the smartest things to remember on a very smart ship are about playing fearlessly with new technology but not being ruled by it, while programing into my schedule some time to relax.
This blog also appeared in the Miami Herald.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column appears monthly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com