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.” It is as exciting, as occasionally frustrating, and as puzzling as any other new gee-whizzy gadget.
The excitement: Quantum’s big technology leap is connectivity. You can be wired (wirelessly) to the world around you, if you choose. You will be armed with a high-tech plastic wristband and a cellphone app that knows who you are, where you might want to go, and what dining and activities you have reserved.
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 benefit passengers who want to be fully connected. Typically, cruise passengers cannot do that, as Internet connections aboard ships are much slower than on land, and restrict 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, Quantum is up to the task. There’s a fee, of course, that probably will range from $15 to $30 a day for unlimited usage.
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 that will guide you about the ship, list 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 unlock your cabin door. Wristbands carry an RFID chip (Radio-Frequency IDentification). They are gaining in popularity. Disney World, for instance, now issues resort guests a MagicBand for room entry, access to attractions, and purchases at its parks.
For Royal Caribbean, this techy identification process is essential to keeping track of large numbers of people and moving them to the correct dining rooms and activities. It is 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. If you don’t make a dinner reservation, the Quantum computer will make a daily choice for you.
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 — and I wasn’t alone.
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, so I thought I was clear for a quick embarkation.
“Wrong sound,” said the gatekeeper when her scanner issued a “boing” instead of a “ping.” That was a little disconcerting, 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 onto my iPhone. At the customer service desk a friendly crew member with an iPhone helped me get connected with a downloaded Royal IQ.
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 they don’t, the boarding process will be longer, and passengers take a chance that a specialty restaurant, an excursion, or a show will be fully booked by the time they get onboard.
The puzzle of smartness: Behind the wristbands, USB ports in the cabins, the bumper cars, robots that tend bar, the winds that power a sky-diving experience is a goal that drives the world’s first “smart ship.”
At the November naming ceremony in Bayonne, New Jersey, 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 — 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 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 got hung up in computer freeze-land for at least 10 minutes, so I moved 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.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com