Bits & Bytes On The High Seas
Get Onboard With The Cruise Digital Revolution

By Vanessa Lee

Never without my Blackberry!

OCEAN Medallion bracelet

OCEAN Medallion pendant

Technology for all ages with MSC

Regal Princess Embarkation

I am not a major digital devotee but I am getting better! I still have a Blackberry that I adore (and I know many of you iPhone users are slightly jealous as you miss your BBs).

I do tweet – usually from a beautiful cruise ship. I do some biz-oriented things on Facebook but I am not a big app user. And I know I am not typical -- call me a late adopter.

With this background, you might be surprised to learn about my enthusiasm for the digital revolution on the oceans. There’s a sea change going on and it’s a game-changer for some lines. The future really is now.

It all starts with Carnival Corp.’s rollout of its groundbreaking Ocean Medallion program, coming to a Princess ship near you this fall and then three more by early 2018. Then there’s Project Excalibur from Royal Caribbean, MSC for Me from MSC Cruises and the new Navigator mobile app from HAL.

We are going to be inundated with all sorts of new tech lingo my dears – better bone up now and get with the virtual program. It is here to stay and I think it’s a very good thing. Primarily because I believe it will also help bring “new-to-cruise” guests along for the ride by spreading the word far and wide.

That’s my new mantra for the next few years – let’s find “new-to-cruise” vacationers and fill them in on the joys and wonders of cruising which still appear to be, at times, a bit of a best-kept secret. 

I have been doing some research and I have at least a loose handle on some of these fab new digital innovations.

RCI hired away a digital guru from Disney (responsible for its much-hyped Magic Band) who is apparently a “mastermind” at this kind of thing. Royal’s Excalibur rollout is possibly coming this summer and will be a next-generation mobile app for smart phones (Blackberries too I hope – because it’s somewhat smart even if the camera isn’t), and is designed to lead the cruise line’s digital transformation from the WOWbands introduced a few years ago.

There’s not a lot of info yet but look for more details soon. Word is that at least 6 RCI ships will have this by the end of the year and up to 50% of the fleet by the end of 2018. And rather than giving a device to all guests, RCI will use technology to allow phones to access all that is required for a great cruise vacation.

The OCEAN Medallion – the acronym stands for One Cruise Experience Access Network -- will offer guests a new level of personalization for their cruise vacation. Guests who wish to participate will carry a quarter-sized Medallion as a pendant, clip, wristband or simply in their pocket.

The Medallion’s utility is about anticipating guests’ needs, desires and preferences – throughout the cruise and indeed before guests even set sail. Once booked, the Medallion will be mailed to the guest’s home and that way, as they embark the ship it becomes a seamless proposition. No check in and no key card needed – just that Medallion. If preferred, the Medallion can be picked up in the cruise terminal on arrival – the guest’s choice. 

Marrying Ocean Medallion with Ocean Compass, which is essentially a digital concierge, ensures that just about anything and everything can be managed for the cruiser, via a smart phone, the stateroom TV or digital signage around the ship.  

The Medallion technology will be used to book spa appointments and shore excursions, make dining choices, view photographs, find out where those kids have disappeared to on the ship, and stay in touch with friends and family on the ship. And much more – all with privacy intact.  

The Ocean Medallion is tailored to each guest and contains microscopic antennae which interact with literally thousands of onboard sensors – enabling guest recognition and myriad opportunities for personalization.  Princess VP Sales John Chernesky (who I think is a terrific chap) explains all this very well, so check out what he says -- he boils it down to layman’s terms. And watch for more on Medallion as it rolls out later this year.

Then there’s MSC for Me, which just debuted on MSC Meraviglia and will be on MSC Seaside when it arrives in Miami in December for year-round Caribbean cruising. As these new ships are being built (with a $10 billion order for up to 11 more ships by 2026), the technology is literally being incorporated into every step of the ship design and construction process.

State-of-the-art technology on Meraviglia includes 16,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 358 informative and interactive screens and 2,244 stateroom doors being opened by RFID technology.  There are also 3,050 Bluetooth beacons, 1,200 onboard video cameras, and at the core, a digital multi-channel experience available through the dear old smart phone yet again – or a tablet app and those interactive TV screens in staterooms too. Here again the key is for guest interaction and enjoyment. It’s a dedicated app to help tailor a client’s vacation like never before.

Holland America has also launched an enhanced web app which allows guests to book tours, dining and all the rest with its new NAVIGATOR. It’s a free and mobile-friendly tool and offers improved access to every aspect of the cruise experience. It works on the browsers of most personal devices and doesn’t have to be downloaded in advance or require an internet connection. It’s all about offering a wide selection of choices and options that create a better cruise experience for guests – literally at their fingertips. 

And that’s not the half of it Ladies and Gentlemen. All major brands have something high-tech going on. The digital revolution is also a passenger experience evolution and we absolutely want to see it happen in the cruise world.  I’m onboard!

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