Featuring online check-in, a robotic bar, RFID-based passenger services and one of the world’s most advanced entertainment systems, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas is billed as the first ‘smart ship’. Cruise Critic UK editor Adam Coulter talks about his experience on the maiden voyage and whether the cruise liner lives up to expectations.
On 31 October 2014, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas – billed as the world’s first smart ship – sailed out of Southampton, UK, packed with journalists and travel agents for its maiden voyage. Built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg, Germany, the 348m long ship can accommodate 4,905 guests and 1,500 crew members and offers 2,090 staterooms, 375 of which offer ‘virtual balconies’ made up from 80-inch LED screens. But it is Quantum’s state-of-the-art communications technology and software that really makes this ship stand out from all the rest.
Quantum of the Seas has been promoted as having more bandwidth than all cruise ships in the world combined, a smart check-in system that takes ten minutes, a smart concierge service which uses RFID and apps that allow guests to make bookings on their smartphone and a futuristic theatre, TWO70, which uses the most technologically advanced entertainment systems in the world.
With so much hype surrounding the launch of the extraordinary-sounding ship, the question remains of whether or not it genuinely lives up to its billing. Frances Marcellin spoke with Adam Coulter, UK editor of Cruise Critic, just after he disembarked Quantum to find out whether his experience was as smart as expected.
Frances Marcellin: Having spent two nights and three days on board the Quantum of the Seas, what was your overall impression of the ship?
Adam Coulter: I’ve been on a fair amount of ships in my time, but this was impressive. There were some old hands on board who have been doing the cruise ship beat for many years and they were blown away too. Royal Caribbean has broken the ship down into six "smart" areas of innovative technology – concierge, experiences, service, sustainability, connect and check-in – and it was the online check-in that really impressed me, it was absolutely seamless.
FM: Royal Caribbean says that you can be from quayside to deck in ten minutes, is this really the case?
AC: I tested that actually and I’d say in theory that you could do it in ten, but for me it was nearer 15. But, you know, this was the very first voyage and it wasn’t the actual check-in that took the time, it was the security.
With their system you’re encouraged to check-in online and so all the pre-check-in details, such as passport and credit card details, are entered beforehand. Then you’re sent a barcode that goes straight to your smartphone. This is the part that really struck me: there weren’t any check-in desks, just staff standing with iPads.
There was just one person in front of me and I had a two-minute wait before walking straight through. Usually on cruises you can be waiting around for hours, but this really puts the customer back in control.
FM: Part of the smart concierge service includes RFID "wowbands" – which you can make purchases with and access staterooms – as well as the apps, Cruise Planner and Royal iQ, which allow you to book reservations and manage your holiday calendar on your smartphone. How did you find these experiences?
AC: The RFID bands work in a similar way to key cards, however, when you put your key card against your phone it tends to delete it because it is magnetic, plus you have to bring something to keep the key card in. As the RFID bands are wearable they are more comfortable and remove worry about where the key card actually is, so those two aspects make them really useful. I think in the future that Royal Caribbean will probably get rid of the key cards all together.
The apps have great functionality and Royal iQ was pre-populated so I was regularly receiving alerts about where I needed to be. Usually on a cruise you’re given acres of paper and I founded it really useful that all the information I needed was coming through on my phone – it really is all singing and all dancing.
FM: Using satellites launched with technology partner O3b Network, Quantum is supposed to have broadband speeds that match the fastest connections onshore – is this the case?
AC: The Wi-Fi wasn’t as fast as I was hoping, but then again the ship was packed with journalists sending the most enormous files, which is unusual, so I couldn’t give a fair review of the Wi-Fi. What I can say is that it was better, although a little patchy, than what I’ve experienced previously on a ship. Most ships will tell you not to use Skype as it’s too slow, but if in the future you can use Skype and Facetime then it’s truly bringing the ship into the modern world with what we take for granted at home. It will allow real-time social networking, tagging, chatting to loved ones and I think this is where it will come into its own.
FM: Do you think that Royal Caribbean is making big efforts to attract Generation Y to the cruise world?
AC: There is definitely a push towards a younger, savvy generation. A number of people might be put off by it at first as it could seem to be depersonalising things, but there is the human touch if you need it.
Royal Caribbean is all about family and those coming with teens, who all have smartphones as they have been brought up with them, expect this level of technology. They are playing catch-up in a way, but it does push the bar. I’ve never seen anything as technologically advanced.
FM: How did you find being served by robots in the Bionic Bar?
AC: The Bionic Bar is made up from two robots who make cocktails, and you place your orders via fixed iPads. I would say, though, that it is a bit more gimmicky than the TWO70 theatre, which just blows everything else away.
FM: With no backstage, just under stage and over stage, TWO70 is said to revolutionise entertainment whether on board or land. Did it live up to expectation?
AC: The TWO70 space is vast, like an amphitheatre. The windows are about three decks high and offer a beautiful view most of the time, but then the surface is covered by something like 18 projectors with digital resolution of 12k (which is apparently almost double of any Imax cinema), which converts the entire back of the ship into a vast screen.
Up front there are six robots over seven feet high each, which move separately or in time and interact with the performances. The show, "Starwater", was incredible. It took 110 animators put together some of the films you see and more than 1,000 people were involved overall in this one entertainment space.
I got a quote from Nick Weir, the vice president of entertainment for Royal Caribbean and he said that after living in Las Vegas for ten years he wanted to give the city a run for its money. I’ve been to Las Vegas several times and seen a number of his shows, and I really think he has – it is amazing.