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Carnival's Ocean Medallion Class harnesses technology to personalize cruising

(Photo: Carnival Corp. & plc)
Arnold Donald shows an Ocean Medallion, which unlocks a wide array of personalized experiences
Carnival Corp. & plc's new 'connected' guest experience uses cutting-edge technology to interact with travelers and enhance and personalize their experiences across all aspects of a cruise.

Everything hinges on the Ocean Medallion, a quarter-sized disc that passengers can wear as a wristband or pendant or carry in a pocket. This is their unique identifier, and it facilitates activities and services, gives the crew more information about their preferences and builds a relationship between the company and the customer that can span the entire portfolio of Carnival brands.

The Medallion will enable airport greeters and cruise terminal check-in personnel to provide a personal welcome. It will breeze passengers through embarkation, unlock and lock their stateroom doors without a key or a card, allow them to order foods and beverages when and where they want them—down to the exact deck chair or theater seat—and ease navigation around the ship. It will enable purchases, provide interactive entertainment, suggest relevant activities based on interests, and more.

'This is a fundamental new guest interaction that spans every element of the cruise experience,' according to Carnival Corp.'s John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer, who earlier masterminded the phenomenally successful MagicBand for Disney. Carnival's Medallion is more advanced and comprehensive.

Ships are getting bigger, which makes cruising more complex and creates a mass experience.

'The Medallion changes everything,' Padgett said. 'It puts an experiential aura around you. Everything you do becomes personalized.'

There are some similarities to Royal Caribbean International's WOWbands that use RFID technology to open stateroom doors, enable purchases, give directions and access the Royal iQ app for planning and activities. But passengers still need a printed bar code for embarkation, and a SeaPass card to get on and off the ship.

Carnival's Medallion is the only medium a passenger needs throughout their cruise. It contains microscopic antennas; one uses near field communication and the other, Bluetooth low energy. The antennas communicate with thousands of readers and sensors that recognize passengers as they approach.

And Carnival's technology is arguably far more ambitious—at least, compared to the current WOWbands.

The Medallion works in conjunction with Ocean Compass, a digital interface/portal that acts as a cruise planner and itinerary manager. Ocean Compass is available online, on smartphones, on thousands of interactive portals (digital displays) throughout the ship and via crew, who have a handheld Crew Compass that instantly recognizes the passenger and informs about their choices.

With Ocean Compass, travelers can make plans and reserve excursions, spa treatments and dining, complete paperwork, consult their personal program and receive offers for personalized experiences based on their location in the ship, their cruise history and information they provide.

For example, if a shore excursion is rained out, Ocean Compass may suggest an alternative that matches interests. It may alert someone who's ordered wine that there's a wine tasting scheduled that afternoon, or tell a couple when a spectacular sunset is going to be visible from their balcony stateroom and offer to have champagne chilled and ready.

A waiter might recommend a particular dish or cocktail based on earlier passenger choices, and passport information might lead to an offer to deliver flowers for a birthday.

Besides opening stateroom doors, the Medallion can turn on (or off) the lights and air conditioning by sensing a person's approach or presence. Televisions become interactive, too, and involve the content of Carnival Corp.'s original, major network TV programming. These include 'Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin,' 'The Voyager with Josh Garcia' and 'Vacation Creation' with Tommy Davidson and Andrea Feczko.

There will be gaming elements that transcend the casino, and as people pass the digital photo gallery, pictures of themselves, family and friends will appear. If anyone wants to share an image of themselves on Facebook, there's no charge.

The Medallions have implications for safety, too, such as confirming attendance at the muster drill. And knowing where people are helps the ship provide proper staffing. When it comes to wayfinding, instead of just giving a pre-programmed direction, the system provides dynamic, point-to-point navigation. For example, if a corridor is blocked by luggage loading, people are routed a different way.

The system is dynamic. It learns as people use it, enabling improved customization. An Ocean Concierge element is 'always curating what you're doing, what your interests are. It provides personal invitations,' said Carnival Corp.'s Michael Jungen, vp design and technology. Experiences can be rated as they happen, too—no more waiting until the end of the cruise to give feedback.

Crew service delivery is critical, since they'll need to fulfill many personalized requests and offer customized extras. A comprehensive crew training program is planned.

Princess Cruises is the first adopter of Ocean Medallion Class cruising. It will debut on Regal Princess in November, then Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess in early 2018.

To prepare, during last year's drydock in Palermo, Italy, Royal Princess was equipped with 122 kilometers of cable, 7,000 sensors, 650 readers and more than 4,000 interactive portals.

Ocean Medallion Class is scheduled to be rolled out across the entire Princess fleet over multiple years, and then will be available to all Carnival Corp. brands.

Passengers receive their individualized Medallion in the mail pre-cruise and can complete embarkation formalities online via Ocean Compass. Then they're considered 'ocean ready' and at the cruise terminal can board straight away. Others will get help as needed, and if anyone misplaces their Medallion, they can get a new one.

Passenger profile, payment and personal information are secure and password protected; a lost device can be voided. Travelers receive a new Medallion for each cruise but online profiles and preferences will live on and carry forward to all future bookings with Carnival Corp. brands.

Their information will persist across ships and brands. A traveler doesn't have to go through the 'new guest' rigmarole every time. This maintains the customer relationship.

With the new technology, Carnival Corp. can share customer learnings and information from ship to ship and brand to brand. Since passengers will get a more personalized experience, Carnival expects satisfaction levels to improve, cementing customer loyalty.

The company isn't revealing the cost of this technology effort, but during Carnival's fourth quarter earnings call in December, ceo Arnold Donald said it is part of the 3% to 5% of total annual capital spending put toward research and development innovation.

While the concept is enabled by technology, it's not intended to be tech-centric. 'Our deep, deep passion is for technology to recede into the background,' Padgett said, citing the futurist Arthur C. Clarke who stated 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'

Ocean Medallion Class cruising is to be unveiled Thursday by ceo Arnold Donald in his keynote address at CES 2017, a major technology innovation trade show.