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In early November, in one of the most dramatic reveals from a cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. introduced its new digital initiative, Excalibur, at New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. With features that include a facial recognition system and virtual reality previews of shore excursions, the new smartphone app merges astonishing technology with practical application. Additionally, Royal Caribbean also made sure Excalibur would help a ship’s crew more easily provide passenger comfort and pleasure.
“We named this ‘Excalibur’ because it’s not easy,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. “Technology isn’t easy; it’s hard to get it right, and the pace of change just keeps increasing.”
Indeed, it may not be easy to develop tech like Excalibur, but the service will certainly make the formalities of cruising easier for guests. They can complete the check-in process at home through the app, and as long as they have their smartphone with them as they board, they can walk straight onto the ship, where they will be greeted by name in a digital display.
During the unveiling, Jay Schneider — a former The Walt Disney Company guru who joined Royal Caribbean Cruises last November as senior vice president of digital — said having the cutting-edge technology is vital.
Standing in front of six “roboscreens” borrowed from the upcoming Spectrum of the Seas (the first Quantum Ultra-Class ship, due in 2019), Schneider stated that the demand and expectation of advanced technology stretches across all age demographics, from baby boomers and Gen Xers to millennials.
He pointed out that it took 25 years for television to achieve penetration of 25 percent of the population, whereas it took only seven years for the internet and four years for Facebook.
“These technological advances aren’t wants or wishes; they are expectations,” he said. “They are the existential requirements of any company today.”
Schneider added that the modern vacation has changed, and family time has become scarcer and more valuable than ever. Additionally, he noted that grandparents tend to be much closer to the core family than before, and that vacation time is increasing.
On the first day of a cruise, Schneider said, guests obsess about logistics and arranging perfect dining, shore excursions and activities. During Excalibur’s reveal, however, Royal Caribbean demonstrated how its new technology makes those choices easy and booking ahead simple.
“We want to give back the first day of the vacation,” Schneider said. “That’s the day guests organize and check that everything arrived safely. By downloading the app, they can plan shore excursions, see what’s going on each day and make their plans, with a complete calendar and reminders. They can track their luggage and do a number of things that would have formerly required a visit to the front desk and standing in line to arrange or understand otherwise.”
The app’s combination of GPS technology and facial recognition produces fast service; guests can also find family members and order food and drinks to be delivered wherever they are. When I made a drink order while in a large room crammed with people, the app notified me that the drink was being poured and announced that the server was coming (right about the time he arrived).
Passengers can also use the technology to open their stateroom doors, make purchases, see the ship’s location, check the weather in port and order room service. And an X-ray feature allows guests to “see” through walls to behind-the-scenes venues, such as the kitchen galley.
And best of all: Excalibur is very, very easy to use. The new system is already on Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, and it will be onboard 13 percent of the company’s ships by the end of this year, 50 percent by the end of 2018 and on the whole fleet by the end of 2019.
The new Excalibur technology isn’t just centered on the app, however. It has also led to enhanced sustainability: Royal Caribbean has designed a more fuel-efficient hull, where the ship rides on a cushion of small bubbles that reduce friction. It has also allowed crewmembers to stay in better touch with friends and family at home, and it has made it possible for prospective employees to go through screening and interviews virtually. There are also driverless shuttles being tested that are expected to create more efficiency for guests while they’re in port.
Most impressive is the safety and security aspect of the Excalibur technology. Specialized information streams are constantly displayed to both to onboard officers and onshore staff. Stats on everything from currents, wave height, weather expectations and efficiency of the engines to the status of lifeboats, the state of the electrical system and much more is shown on a huge table-size screen, with a group of additional screens showing specialized information . Even the presence of passengers from each stateroom at the muster drills is tracked; if someone is missing, a touch of a button shows the guest’s name and where they are.
All this information is monitored in separate rooms from the navigation bridge, allowing each group of crewmembers to concentrate on their tasks.
“We are making sure the right information goes to the right person at the right time for the right decisions,” said Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of global marine operations and fleet optimization for all Royal Caribbean Cruises brands.
Here’s a look at cruising’s newbuilds for 2018.