|Quantum of the Seas at Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany // Photo by Ana Figueroa|
By Ana Figueroa
The “wow” ships are about to get smarter and a lot more fun. That’s the message Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent of Royal Caribbean International, emphasized to 40 top travel agents and consortia/franchise group executives touring Quantum of the Seas in a German shipyard this week.
News media, including Travel Agent magazine, also participated in the two-day event as did two other senior Royal Caribbean executives, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, executive vice president of operations, and Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service.
The whirlwind schedule began with a chartered flight from Miami last Sunday, and included presentations, Q&A sessions and streaming telecasts.
A story earlier this week detailed some announcements made by the line about the Quantum-class vessels: www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/royal-caribbean-plans-smart-perks-quantum-class-ships-47530.
Touring Quantum with Fain
|Junior Suite Configuration on Quantum of the Seas // Photo by Ana Figueroa|
With two months to go before delivery, Quantum of the Seas is still a work in progress. But that didn’t put a damper on Fain, who enthusiastically led a small group tour for media and agents -- offering his “take” on three of the ship’s showcase features.
Among them is RipCord by iFly, located near the FlowRider surf simulator. Resembling a huge clear pneumatic tube, it will simulate a sky diving experience with a one-minute wind tunnel freefall.
“I’ve tested it and I can tell you that it’s an awful lot of fun,” said Fain. “But the experts are telling me that the ones that are the most natural at doing skydiving are the children.”
The North Star is another potential show-stopper. It’s a glass capsule suspended by a giant arm that will lift guests some 300 feet in the air, suspended above panoramic views.
“The gondola holds fifteen people, and we’re having it custom-made in Bern, Switzerland. You’ll get quite a view from there,” said Fain.
He added, “We anticipate that the gondola will be reserved for special events like weddings. If you want some private time for special use, that can be arranged. But otherwise, there’s no charge for normal use. We’ve tried to make all these things part of the cruise package.”
In the SeaPlex, Quantum of the Seas offers the largest indoor activity space at sea. Guests can enjoy everything from basketball to roller skating and even a circus school complete with flying trapeze. There are bumper cars too, which Fain happily demonstrated.
|Richard Fain, RCCL Chairman & CEO, Leads Quantum of the Seas Tour // Photo by Ana Figueroa|
New Smart Ship Features
During the tour, Fain and others elaborated upon the technology designed to make Quantum of the Seas the first “smart ship” at sea.
Some of the new technology will come into play before boarding. With the no-hassle check-in procedure, guests fill out forms and upload a photo online before leaving home. Once at the port, a simple barcode scan and passport check will get them “from sidewalk to ship within ten minutes,” said Fain.
Also at the port, luggage tags embedded with radio frequency ID (RFID) chips will allow guests to track the progress of their luggage as it's transported to their stateroom or suite.
Another new feature demonstrated during the tour was the use of blue rubber “WowBands” that will provide access to guest rooms. Worn on the wrist, the bands also will be used by guests to make onboard purchases.
Royal iQ, a new app set to launch in time for Quantum of the Seas’ debut, will help guests plan their onboard experience. That experience will be more connected than ever, thanks to Royal Caribbean's partnership with the O3b Network's satellites.
Beamed specifically at the ship, the satellites will enable uploads at the same Internet speed that guests enjoy at home. “It really is a game changer for any of us who have struggled with the Internet on a ship,” said Lutoff-Perlo.
More importantly, “guests will pay less for phenomenally more speed and bandwidth,” she added. “It’s more bandwidth than all other cruise ships in the world combined. This changes everything.”
|Virtual Balcony cabin // by Ana Figueroa|
“We are living in a connected world and all types of travelers – from leisure to business – have a hard time disconnecting while traveling,” says Michelle Fee, co-owner and CEO, Cruise Planners (www.cruiseplanners.com). She said that with the bandwidth enhancements, leisure travelers can instantly share their vacation memories on such image-based social media sites as Facebook and Instagram.
"Ultimately, the stronger data connection will build buzz for the Royal Caribbean brand as cruisers share their cruise pictures and 'selfies' online in the moment," Fee believes."
Staterooms too can lay claim to the smart ship distinction, thanks to a new Virtual Balcony category. A wall-sized stateroom screen will display real-time video from cameras mounted on the ship exterior. The video feed will correspond to the stateroom’s location.
So, the Virtual Balcony will deliver the same view guests would receive from an actual balcony. Our assessment based on a first glimpse during the ship tour? The effect is pretty realistic.
Even dining will have a technological twist on Quantum of the Seas and her sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, also now under construction at the German shipyard.
The ships’ “Dynamic Dining” concept will forego a main dining room in favor of five distinctive venues. Waiters will use special tablet devices to send food orders to the galley. They will also input guest preferences and allergies so that servers in all venues have that information.
The servers in the Bionic Bar are robots, taking the smart ship theme to yet another level. Guests place their order on a tablet, and the robots shake, measure and stir at the counter.
“You do have to tip the bartender,” quipped Lutoff-Perlo, noting that the line will have to figure out what to do with the tips, though. “One thought is that we will donate them to the crew welfare fund and do something nice for them.”
|Roboscreens are among Quantum of the Seas' smart technology elements // Photo by Ana Figueroa|
Robots also will take center stage at a new venue called Two70. Significantly larger than their bartending counterparts, these robots specialize in “dynamic movement.” Suspended on a movable platform, they will deftly maneuver giant TV screens that display a selection of video montages.
The room’s signature feature, however, is the Vistarama. It’s a wall of glass more than two decks high. By day, it offers an expansive ocean view. By night, screens in front of the glass project ultra-high definition digital scenery. It’s a backdrop for performance artists, lightshows and virtual concerts.
From Fain’s perspective, “the screen is incredibly realistic because of how powerful the projectors are. We can show anything. We can make it snow or rain, project the Manhattan skyline or a hockey game.”
In a reference to Royal Caribbean's first ship that launched in 1970, he added: “This room cost more than Song of Norway."