Navigating your way around a ship is easier than you think, says Frances Marcellin.
(First published in The Telegraph, 17 February 2018)
As someone who is used to writing about technology, often covering transport and travel, I have become fascinated by the booming cruise industry. Technology is transforming these floating hotels into smart cities. When I heard Luca Pronzati, MSC Cruises’ Chief Business Innovation Officer, describing this new generation of ships “like smart, connected cities, but with the added complexity of being at sea”, I couldn’t refuse an invitation to check this out for myself.
Admittedly I had the jitters. I was worried about getting on, getting off, finding my way around a 4,500-passenger ship and everything in between. Waving goodbye to my husband and kids, I flew to Barcelona and headed for the Muelle de Adosado cruise terminal, where the towering MSC Meraviglia was waiting.
Once on board it didn’t take too long to figure out how the MSC for Me app, public interactive screens, cabin TV and wearable bracelet, available for the first time on Meraviglia, all worked together to streamline and enhance life on board.
These are the top ten ways in which I can see technology helping first-time cruisers at sea.
Before you go
Embarkation can be lengthy and confusing – even more so first-time round – but technology is simplifying the process.
On many ships, such as the MSC Meraviglia, all documentation, such as uploading your photo and receiving digital boarding information, can be done via web check-in. You can also start booking excursions and other activities before you sail. Royal Caribbean also offers a new smart check-in system, so you can avoid check-in counters and waiting in line.
Carnival’s pre-cruise service allows you to register all your details before you go, from passport credentials to food preferences, and you will be sent your wearable Ocean Medallion (the size of a coin, this can be worn as a bracelet or necklace) in advance. The Ocean Medallion (and partner Ocean Compass app) launched in November 2017, on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess.
Veteran cruisers know exactly how they will carry their cruise identification card (essential for getting on and off board) and room key (same card) around on board. Some hang a lanyard around their neck while others might plump for a discreet money belt.
For a first-time cruiser, mulling over how to carry essentials can contribute to pre-cruise nerves. But some cruise companies have put millions into developing multi-faceted wearable technology, which solves the problem entirely.
Royal Caribbean’s WOWbands ($4.99/£3.70 or free depending on ship and class of travel), which look like watch straps, but use radio frequency technology to open your cabin door.
You can use Carnival Corporation’s wearable Ocean Medallion (free to all guests) with the Ocean Compass app to order food, drink and retail items on demand. It also unlocks your cabin door as you approach.
MSC Cruises’ MSC for Me interactive wristbands work with an app to provide 130 smart features, which includes a digital way finder and a speedy reservation service.
On a 13-decks-plus ship, finding your way around is not as difficult as you might expect.
Interactive maps are becoming far easier to use than expected thanks to the digital way-finder on the MSC for Me app. Just indicate where you want to go, and a map will demonstrate how to get there from your current location.
The Ocean Medallion also offers intelligent navigation, similar to a car or phone GPS app, and Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) offer interactive digital signage on board.
A rather futuristic option is available on some AIDA Cruises and Costa Cruises ships in the form of a robot called Pepper, which provides guests with information, including how to get from A to B on board.