Hot Technology on the Leading Cruise Lines

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April 07, 2020
Cruise | Technology
Fran Worrall

Editor’s Note: The Spring 2020 issue was published prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. While some of the information is dated, we published the articles in their entirety as the industry was showing great progress prior to the outbreak. We can learn from these articles and examples as we prepare for future disruptions.

Ships are using innovative solutions to enhance passenger service and transform the cruise experience.

In today’s competitive cruise market, it takes a lot more than fast Wi-Fi to keep passengers happy. Consumers have a seemingly insatiable desire for new technology and increasingly expect the ‘latest and greatest’ from their cruise experiences. “Guests today are more demanding than ever when it comes to technology,” said Derek Fournier, president of DeCurtis Corporation, an Orlando, Fla., provider of custom application development services for the cruise industry. “It’s not enough to deliver a good experience. You have to deliver an exceptional experience.”

As a result, cruise lines are channeling big money into new apps and tools that enhance everything from boarding the vessel to booking on-shore excursions. Following, HU outlines some of the newest technology that is transforming the industry and allowing passengers to tailor their own unique experiences. 

A VIRTUAL CRUISE ASSISTANT

Last year, MSC Cruises introduced Zoe, a voice-activated virtual assistant that’s part of the ‘MSC for Me’ ecosystem, an innovative multi-channel digital cruise experience that personalizes the way passengers get information. Zoe is available around-the-clock to answer hundreds of commonly-asked questions as well as to provide information about onboard activities and amenities, off er guidance and suggestions and even help guests book services.

The virtual assistant not only understands seven languages but also can detect various accents within each one. Luca Pronzati, chief business innovation offi cer at MSC Cruises, and his team began working on Zoe three years ago, organizing the questions that passengers ask most frequently and then using machine learning and natural language processing to train the virtual assistant to provide the answers. Zoe can recognize the diff erent ways passengers ask the same questions and will continue to develop answers with every guest interaction. Moreover, MSC’s research revealed that most consumers prefer short vocal interactions, so Pronzati and his team worked with vendors to enable Zoe to connect with in-cabin TVs to display lengthy answers on screen. Consumers are already accustomed to voice apps like Alexa and Siri, so Zoe is a familiar type of technology. “Zoe is conversational and easy to use,” said Pronzati. “Just say, ‘OK Zoe’, and she’s ready to help.” 

FACIAL RECOGNITION FOR FASTER BOARDING

Traditionally, a downside to cruising has been the lengthy boarding process, an inevitable consequence of a large number of passengers checking in at the same time. Royal Caribbean Cruises has solved that problem by deploying facial recognition technology. Computer vision-equipped cameras recognize travelers as they board, reducing the need to verify documents manually and drastically reducing boarding time—from 60-to-90 minutes to 10 minutes or less. The cameras are built into the terminals, and sophisticated algorithms match the visual data they capture with photographic identification that passengers have submitted before departure.

According to Jay Schneider, the company’s senior vice president of digital, the guest satisfaction result has been overwhelming. “People are eager to begin their vacations as quickly as possible, and we’re making that happen,” he said. Facial recognition technology is also used on select Celebrity vessels, where guests simply upload a selfie to an app, and facial recognition software automatically checks them in. In addition, the app allows passengers to review itineraries, adjust thermostats, and view options for dining, entertainment and activities. Similarly, on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, guests can use an in-app remote to unlock stateroom doors and control TVs.

THE MEDALLION THAT DOES IT ALL

Carnival Corporation’s OceanMedallion is a groundbreaking wearable device that enables a new level of personalized guest service—before, during and after the cruise. Initially available on Princess ships, the company plans to outfit all Carnival vessels with the technology, which does almost everything from speeding embarkation and unlocking stateroom doors to enabling wagering in the casino and allowing payment throughout the ship.

Free to every guest, the quarter-sized device has no on-off switch or menu and requires no charging. It’s also waterproof, heatproof, sandresistant and salt-resistant. Passengers can wear the OceanMedallion as a wristband, pendant, clip or simply keep it in a pocket or bag. They receive the device a few weeks prior to the cruise. They can then go online to upload their information and download any apps they want to use while on the ship. It holds each passenger’s unique digital identity and communicates with thousands of readers onboard and in port, helping guests seamlessly discover everything around them and allowing crew to view information to provide enhanced service. According to John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer at Carnival Corporation, OceanMedallion not only makes cruising simpler but also makes it more enjoyable. “One of the most popular apps is the Ocean Compass, which allows guests to track family and friends on their phones,” he said. “Parents especially love this app. It reduces their anxiety and allows them to enjoy the cruise.” 

A GUEST-ENHANCING PLATFORM

Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line rolled out the ‘Cruise Norwegian’ app—a component of its Cruise Freedom platform—to every ship in its fleet. Designed to streamline the guest journey, the app offers assistance from the time of booking until the last day on board.

A pre-cruise mode allows passengers to check in online, view itineraries, book dining reservations and activities, and get directions. Once onboard, all reservations, bookings and favorites are seamlessly transferred to the ship. Guests can then use the app’s communications feature to message and chat with other passengers, view and track onboard purchases, get daily schedules and view disembarkation information. The company debuted the Cruise Freedom platform on the new Norwegian Encore late last year.

The state-of-the-art platform is designed to help the cruise line engage seamlessly with guests; for example, ships can dispatch crew to talk with passengers at poolside or buffet or issue electronic invitations to nearby events based on guests’ locations as detected through smartphone apps. “Norwegian has always been an innovator in global cruise travel,” said Harry Sommer, president and CEO. “This technology will further enhance the freedom and flexibility our guests have come to know.”

ECO-CHIC WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY

At new luxury brand Virgin Voyages, an emphasis on sustainability translates into sleek wearable technology made from recycled ocean plastic. Through a partnership with BIONIC, a material engineering company committed to addressing plastic pollution, the cruise line is using The Band, a nautically-inspired eco-chic wearable device that contains six grams of marine and coastal plastic, equivalent to one-half of a plastic water bottle that washes ashore.

The Band, which is sent to guests prior to the trip, is easily activated with the tap of the wrist, providing a hands-free way for passengers to access their cabins, board the ship, make onboard purchases and pay for drinks. It also serves as a VIP pass for suite passengers. To complement The Band’s ease of navigation, The Sailor App helps passengers complete the check-in process, book exercise classes, track friends onboard and book Shore Things—a selection of curated excursions for Virgin Voyages guests.

The app even enables passengers to order champagne on demand simply by shaking their phones. When the app is shaken, a Virgin Voyages Champagne button appears; and, with a single press, a bottle of Moët & Chandon Impérial is delivered to the passenger, along with two glasses. “There’s nothing more luxurious than having champagne at your beck and call,” said Nathan Rosenberg, the company’s chief marketing officer. “Or, in this case, at the shake of your phone.” 

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