Cruise lines step up for the challenge of making “high-tech on the high seas” a smooth experience

You’ve woken early on MSC Bellissima – the cruise ship is sailing off the coast of Naples – and you can’t recall which of the ship’s 12 dining venues serves your favourite breakfast of smashed avocado and poached eggs.

Who are you going to call? You’re hungry and need to get moving.

Luckily, ZOE has all the answers – or most of them. To be fair, she’s learning as she goes along.

ZOE is a voice-enabled personal assistant – a bit like Apple’s Siri – found in every Bellissima cabin. She can perform a variety of jobs, including reserving restaurants and excursions and checking bills – in any one of seven languages.

ZOE has been programmed to keep learning with every interaction, and if she didn’t immediately know which of the ship’s dining spots served smashed avocado and poached eggs, she will next time.

Ok, ZOE, here’s what we can tell you about the surge in high tech on the high seas as the cruise industry leaves the pandemic in its wake while passengers begin to fill ships again in record numbers.

ZOE, she’s your very smart cruise companion

The pandemic gave the cruise industry precious time and space to move away from old technology, which largely focused on mobile phone apps, whose connectivity at sea was sporadic and whose acceptance by privacy-protective passengers was guarded.

Cruise companies have taken up the challenge and are restoring trust in safety protocols from the moment a passenger steps onboard the ship, starting with digital check-in and boarding passes.

As well as enhancing the passenger experience, the latest technology being introduced by the major cruise lines can ease concerns about health issues associated with close contact.

Royal Caribbean’s seamless check-in is one example of the touchless boarding experience, allowing passengers to take a selfie and scan their passports. From there, Royal Caribbean’s partnership with Tascent Inc has resulted in a smart door device that can control access to a stateroom or common area using facial recognition.

Enabled with a wide-angle camera, the smart device detects a person’s face in its field of view, uses facial recognition algorithms to identify the person, and unlocks the door if the person is authorised to enter. It eliminates the need to constantly carry a key card during a cruise.

Onboard, passengers are increasingly being exposed to new technology. Princess Cruise’s Ocean Medallions, Viking Cruise’s intelligent TraceSafe devices and Royal Caribbean’s WOW wristbands are equipped with RFID technology to perform numerous tasks around the ships, such as opening stateroom doors, and making purchases at bars, and onboard shops.

Designated cruise line apps, such as NCL’s Cruise Norwegian app, offer enhanced communication abilities so that guests can connect with family, friends and crew members while onboard.

Going further, Royal Caribbean has launched Elton Musk’s SpaceX’s satellite-based internet service across all three brands operated by the company: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises, with the installation expected to be finished by early 2023.

Royal Caribbean’s WOW wristbands.

Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, said SpaceX will improve and enable more high-bandwidth activities “like video streaming as well as activities like video calls”.

Sea Dream’s twin luxury yachts, SeaDream I and SeaDream II have also started to offer Internet access via SpaceX Starlink.

Andreas Brynestad of SeaDream said, “The small size of our yachts provides a distinct advantage, in that we can deliver a larger amount of Internet per-person on board—quite possibly making us the fastest Internet on the seas.”

Royal Caribbean has also used advanced analytics to develop a personalisation engine that learns, tracks and helps its crew respond to passenger preferences from its mobile app.

OAG, in a report, Making Waves: Cruise Technology and Digitization for Post-Pandemic Passenger Experience, says third-party travel data can help cruises better tailor the passenger experience both onboard and offshore. Insight into a traveller’s post-ship journey allows cruises to provide targeted ads for restaurants, hotels or experiences in their future destination.

Newly launched Resorts World Cruises has a partnership with IBS software which offers passengers a digitally enhanced shopping experience. Through IBS’s iTravel Cruise Enterprise Reservation, Resorts World Cruises can provide customised offers and promotions to guests, digitally engaging them throughout the entire trip.

Partnerships between cruise and airlines, such as Carnival Cruises and American Airlines, can include roundtrip transfers between their arrival airport and subsequent port. OAG’s platform provides flight status data to airlines and cruise lines so they can coordinate around delays to ensure that each passenger arrives stress-free at their destination on time.

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