Excalibur: Royal Caribbean’s Top-to-Bottom Tech Revamp

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain talks the new Excalibur technology initiative at the Sea Beyond reveal event in New York. // Photo by Adam Leposa

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. is rolling out a slate of new technology updates that will aim to streamline all phases of the guest experience, as well as improve the cruise company’s operations and sustainability. The new program will apply to all three of the company’s wholly owned brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.

Dubbed Excalibur, the program will be device-agnostic, meaning guests will be able to take advantage of the new features using any smart device or one of Royal Caribbean’s WOW Bands, which launched in 2015, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said at a reveal event in New York.

“If you want, instead of having a WOW Band, you can use your phone or anything you want that’s connected to the Internet of Things,” Fain said.

Excalibur is built on non-proprietary, open-source technology, an approach which will allow the company to maintain it easily and to keep continuously rolling out and testing new features, in order to keep up with ever-changing guest expectations. The company will also be retrofitting its ships with pervasive Wi-Fi in order to provide the bandwidth necessary for the new features.

Constant testing and a gradual rollout will be a key part of Excalibur, using an approach that Fain describes as an “expanded universe,” as opposed to a “big bang” – a sudden, all-at-once launch. Many features of Excalibur started to roll out in August, and the company plans to have them implemented on 13 percent of its ships by the end of the year. By the end of 2018, Excalibur should be active on half the company’s fleet, and across the company’s entire fleet by the end of 2019.

Royal Caribbean’s future app will let guests order food and drink to be delivered to them anytime,
anywhere on board. // Photo by Diane Bondareff/ Invision for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd./AP Images

What Guests Can Expect

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. SVP Digital Experience Jay Schneider, who is spearheading the new initiative, shared a little more detail on what guests can expect from Excalibur. In addition to new vacation planning features in the company’s mobile apps, including virtual reality (VR) videos of shore excursions, the company is also aiming to use Excalibur to streamline the boarding process.

“The boarding process is loaded with friction,” Schneider said, noting that long lines and paperwork can put a damper on the kickoff to the cruise.

Using Excalibur, guests will be able to take a selfie using their smart device, which will be displayed on a digital boarding pass. During boarding, guests will be able to simply walk through a scanner that will use facial recognition technology to automatically check them in, meaning they can go straight to their staterooms without waiting in line. Travel Agent was able to test out the system later in the event, and we were able to pass through the scanner at about the speed you’d go through a metal detector. The system automatically flagged our face and checked off our name on a digital passenger list that was displayed on a nearby screen. As part of the demonstration, Royal Caribbean representatives noted that if a passenger had any uncompleted paperwork, the system would automatically flag them so they could be pulled out of line to finish providing any necessary information. The system will also track guests’ luggage in real-time, allowing them to always know where their bags are.

“We want to give guests their first day back,” said Schneider.

Excalibur features on Royal Caribbean’s smartphone apps, or the Wow Bands, will allow guests to do a number of other tasks after the cruise is underway. In addition to unlocking stateroom doors, guests will be able to order drinks and have them delivered directly to their location, no matter where they are on the ship. Excalibur will also let guests control their stateroom’s lighting, temperature and other features from their mobile device, even from outside their stateroom. Guests will also be able to stream content from their devices to their stateroom televisions, including content that is stored locally from their devices or taken from major streaming services. Excalibur will also allow Royal Caribbean to send guests notifications with personalized recommendations for services they can book onboard, such as relaxing treatments for spa lovers.

Excalibur also incorporates a number of augmented reality (AR) features, which allow guests to play games and interact with their environment using their smartphones. In one demonstration a guest was able to point their phone at a poster, which appeared to “spring to life” on the smartphone screen and become a game the guest could play. In another, called “X-ray vision,” a guest could point their smartphone at a special area of a wall. A camera behind the wall would project a video to the guest’s smartphone, providing the illusion that they were looking through the wall just like Superman. Royal Caribbean representatives told Travel Agent that the line could use this feature to give guests a behind-the-scenes glimpse of certain areas they couldn’t otherwise access for safety or security reasons, such as the galley or engine room. 

In a follow-up interview Schneider told Travel Agent that all the new vacation planning content the line is rolling out as part of Excalibur will be available across all the cruise company’s channels, including for travel agencies. Royal Caribbean is also partnering with travel agents through the company’s advisory boards to continuously gather feedback on its new features. Royal Caribbean will expand some of the vacation planning components to high-touch agencies so they can use them for their clients.  

What about guests who don’t have a smartphone, or don’t feel like toting one around on their vacation? Schneider told Travel Agent that the Wow Band will continue to provide access to Excalibur features.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that, even if you have your smartphone, some guests want to leave it in their car,” Schneider said. Royal Caribbean is even planning to roll out a new version of the Wow Band, dubbed Wow Band 2.0, sometime next year.

In addition to new features for guests, Excalibur will also include a number of elements to help the crew provide a smoother experience. Apps for crew will keep track of guest preferences in information, allowing crew to remember items like birthdays and favorite drinks.

A new digital table allows crew to keep track of safety drills and ship systems in real time.
Shown here is a diagram of the new
Celebrity Edge. // Photo by Adam Leposa

Safety and Sustainability

At the reveal event, Travel Agent also got a chance to preview a number of safety and sustainability updates Royal Caribbean will be rolling out across its fleet in the near future.

In one demonstration, we saw the latest version of a digital table that allows the crew to monitor the ship’s systems and safety features in real-time. The display allows for the tracking of operations like digital muster drills, allowing bridge crew to see at a glance which guests have failed to check in for muster, and even zoom in on their last known check-in location to aid in tasks like locating missing children.

On the bridge, we were shown an augmented reality (AR) display that would help officers navigate during foul weather. During periods of poor visibility due to rain and wind, the windscreen could display an overlay that would highlight important features like channels, land and other ships.

Sustainability and reducing carbon emissions are also a major part of the company’s goals going forward. While many of Royal Caribbean’s upcoming ships will be powered by low-carbon liquefied natural gas (LNG), the company is also heavily investing in fuel cell technology. Fuel cells combine stored hydrogen and oxygen from the air using a chemical catalyst to generate electricity, with only two byproducts: water and heat. That means fuel cells are completely carbon emissions-free. In fact, the reveal event was powered by a fuel cell that Royal Caribbean will now test on the Oasis of the Seas. While using the technology on cruise ships is still in its early stages, a cruise line representative told Travel Agent that the company hopes to one day power its entire fleet using fuel cells, meaning the whole fleet would be carbon-free.

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