A mock-up of Royal Caribbean's 'cruise cabin of the future', unveiled in New York last week Credit: Royal Caribbean International (RCI)
Facial recognition, fake views and virtual excursions – is this the cruise ship of the future?
Futuristic cabins with video walls streaming tranquil beach scenes and starry night skies are among a raft of features being developed by Royal Caribbean International (RCI), the line that gave the cruise world its first “smart ship” in 2014.
Inspired by Nasa
Cocooned by the rhythmic sounds of calming waves, gentle rain showers, quiet thunderstorms and other surround-sound acoustics, the concept cabin of the future, unveiled by RCI in New York last week, is designed to “bring a little bit of the outside in”, so passengers will feel closer to nature within their rooms.
“The idea is to make the walls feel less solid,” an RCI spokesperson said. “We wanted to create a space where people could see views of the ocean and skies from inside their cabin, without having to necessarily go to the promenade of the ship.”
Video content can either be streamed live or pieced together from stock footage to create the “perfect” natural surrounding. A bespoke sunrise alarm call can be tailored to each passenger, right down to the exact colour of the sky.
The cavernous cabin design is reminiscent of a spaceship, which may not be completely accidental. The new cabins have been developed following consultations with Nasa.
“We discovered that Nasa’s biggest challenge for their spaceships is the same as that of cruise cabin spaces – the lack of an environment, visually speaking,” said RCI. “Nasa found the thing the crew desired most was nature.”
Virtual reality dining
Also unveiled last week was a “high-sensory” dining experience that combines both augmented and virtual reality. Similar offerings are available on land, but RCI claims it will be the first to offer it at sea.
“The immersive experience is meant to enhance the taste of the food that you are consuming,” said its senior vice president of digital, Jay Schneider.
The food is said to taste better with a virtual reality headset Credit: RCI
I tried it out in New York. Wearing a high-tech headset over my eyes and ears, the experience began in the virtual living room of a traditional Japanese home. A small glowing blue ball appeared and we were instructed to use one hand to pick it up and consume what in reality was a savoury canapé. I was then transported to a wintry Japanese garden, filled with birdlife, like something from an anime cartoon, for a second snack (also in the form of a glowing ball). The backdrop then changed again, to a spring garden, before switching to a night scene for dessert, consumed to the pulsating glow of stars.
Were the flavours more intense, as RCI claims? It's hard to say, but the visual immersion certainly made it a more memorable supper.
Facial recognition and virtual excursions
There were practical new features unveiled, too, designed to streamline and remove the “friction and frustration” of the check-in experience and to make booking a cruise easier than ever before. They included a facial recognition app that lets passengers to take a photo ID of themselves and beat the queues. Once on board, the app can also be used to order drinks and have them delivered to wherever the passenger is located.
“Our vision is to make the guest experience hassle-free, personalised and fun,” said Mr Schneider, “with a focus on giving lost time - whether it be queing or waiting for a table - back to guests through the use of technology.”
The app also has an “off limits” feature which allows guests to virtually explore the captain’s quarters, and can be used for virtual shore excursions. RCI says it will serve as a “try before you buy” rather than replace the real thing.
There's an app for that - Credit: RCI
The Wow factor
The Wow Band, worn on the wrist, is already in use and acts as the guest's wallet and room key. It can even be used to control cabin lighting and temperature.
It sounds impressive, but there are a few hazards. Unwittingly unlock your cabin, for example, and others could access your room.
“Losing the band is just like losing your current stateroom key. You would need to report it as lost or stolen to guest services as soon as you realise it. However, just like a stateroom key, the bands do not have the stateroom number printed on it. So if it was lost, the person that finds it would not know what is the stateroom number,” a spokesperson for RCI told Telegraph Travel.
Niggles like patchy Wi-Fi and other teething issues at the launch of Quantum of the Seas - the world’s first ‘smart’ cruise ship - are said to be a thing of the past.
“Everything we’ve learnt from that experience [the launch of Quantum of the Seas] has been used to make every piece of our technology better,” Mr Schneider told Telegraph Travel.
Beyond the snazzy gadgets and gizmos, the cruise line is also introducing technology to help reduce the environmental impact of it ships. The company showcased the first-ever use of an “air lubrication system” that coats the hulls of ships with millions of microscopic air bubbles to help reduce resistance, drag and therefore fuel consumption.
“Experimenting with new ways to power our ships is part of our commitment to being a responsible environmental steward,” said RCI’s chairman and CEO Richard D Fain.
When will these upgrades be made?
While it has yet to be confirmed on which ship it will be unveiled first, the company is aiming for its new app to be available on 15 per cent of its fleet of 48 ships by the end of this year and more than double that by 2018, according to Mr Schneider.
Other technology, such as the virtual reality dining, is expected to be rolled out across half of Royal Caribbean’s fleet by 2019, with installation across all ships expected by 2020. A launch date for the concept cabin has not yet been unveiled.