Royal Caribbean shows how technology will transform cruising

Sea Beyond - From upper left, clockwise: Jay Schneider, Richard Fain, ordering drinks via app, virtual reality augments the Izumi dining experience Sea Beyond - From upper left, clockwise: Jay Schneider, Richard Fain, ordering drinks via app, virtual reality augments the Izumi dining experience

Royal Caribbean opened a window to the future at its Sea Beyond technology reveal Wednesday. Simply put, that future is 'hassle-free, personalized and fun,' said Jay Schneider, SVP digital.

Erasing the frictions and frustrations from travel leaves more time for people to collect experiences and Instagram moments, which are now important for every age group and demographic, according to Richard Fain, chairman and CEO.

Royal Caribbean has gone beyond its WOWbands to develop the Excalibur app and an infrastructure including pervasive Wi-Fi, RFID tagging, GPS mapping and Bluetooth-enabled beacons. As Fain put it: 'We're not building a simple app but a holistic, multidimensional ecosystem.'

Cruisers will breeze through embarkation thanks to facial recognition technology from their pre-loaded photo, and open their cabin doors without a keycard. A luggage tracker will monitor bags and even send an alert when they've arrived to the room.

Passengers will be able to stream their own content on their in-cabin television, and use their personal device to control the lighting, temperature and curtains. (These can also be managed with a touch-screen panel in the room or by voice commands.)

When people order a drink with the app, it will be delivered wherever they are. Excalibur can create a personal calendar of activities, send reminders and offer suggestions based on interests. It facilitates wayfinding and allows people to stay connected on board and with those back home.

Excalibur will transform planning and booking, giving cruisers video clips—and one day incorporate even virtual reality—to vividly show experiences like shore excursions, dining and other activities. All of these can be reserved at home or from a deck chair poolside with the passenger's choice of device.

Entertaining elements include X-ray vision—the ability to 'see' through certain walls so passengers can learn how things work behind the scenes in interesting places like the galley.

The app will help crew provide better service by helping with guest preferences. And Royal Caribbean's new technology will even make it easier for crew to apply for a job remotely, and will digitize their schedules, ease their embarkation process and help them stay connected with friends and family.

Royal Caribbean's approach is device-agnostic, open-source and non-proprietary, which makes it different from Carnival Corp. & plc's Ocean Medallion, though many of the features are similar.

Since it's non-proprietary, it can advance as technology advances, allowing for continuous improvement, according to Fain.

This week almost a thousand attendees—analysts, media, travel partners and influential Royal Caribbean employees from around the world—are getting immersed in Sea Beyond briefings at the Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn's Navy Yard.

It's tricked out with everything from a South-Beach-like lounge complete with six amazing RoboScreens like those aboard the Quantum-class ships to an Izumi specialty restaurant with VR features, a cutting-edge safety center from a navigational bridge that incorporates augmented reality, a Sky Suite from Celebrity Edge and a stateroom of the future. A giant screen overhead shows what friction-reducing air bubble lubrication looks like on the bottom of a ship's hull.

Attendees can see how a fuel cell works and ride an autonomous (driver-less) electric shuttle in the parking lot.

'We wanted to have the "wow" factor,' said Dondra Ritzenthaler, SVP sales, trade support and service, Celebrity Cruises. 'This is another difference between us and our competitors,' she told Seatrade Cruise News. 'For travel agents, it's part of the overall experience to help plan a vacation using technology.'

Royal Caribbean's digital strategy should position the company well to attract the new-to-cruise market, particularly millennials, given its social connectivity and mobile platform, William Blair's Sharon Zackfia said in a note following the analysts' Sea Beyond briefing.

The technology is already functioning on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas and will be on 13% of the company's global fleet—including the Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity and Azamara Club Cruises brands—by the end of this year, then 50% by the end of 2018 and fleetwide by the end of 2019.

That marks a much faster rollout than Carnival Corp. & plc's Ocean Medallion technology, which will be on six ships by the end of 2018.

Posted 08 November 2017

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Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

 Europe Exhibitor