From go-karts to wearable gizmos, cruise is one of the most innovative travel sectors. Sam Ballard looks at some of the latest developments
For an industry that is traditionally seen as catering for a much older generation, save for honeymooners, there is an awful lot of cutting-edge technology pushing it forward. Much of that misalignment comes from the typical myths that still exist around cruise, but it’s a lazy assertion.
Recent enhancements to the passenger experience have been exceptional. Entertainment is no longer washed up comedians, it’s original productions and shortened versions of West End shows – with amazing sets and high production values. The theatres themselves are more technologically advanced than land-based venues could even dream of. An example is Royal Caribbean International’s Two70 – a lounge that has floor-to-ceiling windows that transform into a 30m wide, high definition screen (twice that of an Imax) – bolstered by six more screens that come attached to robotic arms.
Meanwhile, Celebrity Edge is redefining cabins with its Infinite Verandas. Inspired by the French balconies on European river ships, the ship will move the balcony area inside the cabin – allowing the top portion of the window to be lowered and the area separated by bi-folding doors. This results in an additional 23 per cent of floor space in the cabin and means that the space can still be utilised even if the weather isn’t great.
When it comes to much of the innovation on cruise ships, it is sometimes hard to filter out the genius from the gimmicky. Submarines, speedboats and go-kart tracks could be put into either camp depending on your disposition. Ponant’s Blue Eye Lounge – an underwater venue that will include huge windows to view marine life – is an amazing installation, especially on ships that will be able to handle polar ice, but the vibrating seats that mimic the underwater noises may stray too far in the other direction.
Much of the innovations that are being pioneered by travel companies come down to an ambition to improve one thing in particular: making experiences more personal for guests. This is easier said than done, especially when you’re dealing with thousands of people. But it is that search for personalisation which has seen other companies innovate.
Carnival Corporation set tongues wagging last year when it announced it would be launching Ocean Medallion – a small disc that holds details about the holder and thus enables a world of experiences to be opened up. Staterooms unlock when you come within a certain distance, barmen know your favourite drink and security staff can verify your identity as you approach them. Screens will display your own personal avatar. Tests are currently being carried out on Regal Princess after delivery was delayed earlier this year.
These moves haven’t gone unnoticed at Carnival’s main rival, Royal Caribbean. Although there is one big difference in the way both companies are approaching the next stage of their passenger experience – namely that Royal are creating an app, rather than a piece of wearable technology.
Although in its infancy, the idea behind the Royal Caribbean app is simple: it will allow check-in, frictionless boarding (with the aim of getting guests from car to bar in 10 minutes) while also enhancing the onboard experience, potentially replacing the cruise card for those who want it. Everything from surfing classes to spa treatments will be bookable, while the company is also planning a new on-ship location finder that works with a drinks-ordering function and a messaging service – useful if you’re trying to keep an eye on your kids. They’re aiming to have it rolled out to half the fleet – including Celebrity and Azamara – by the end of 2018.
It’s no secret that the cruise industry has upped its game in the past 10 years or so. The perceptions about a stale sector will die away as more and more innovative lines increase their publicity. The message coming from all of the different lines is uniform: the competition is no longer other cruise lines, it’s land-based resorts.
Read the Cruise Guide 2018 in full here