The Celebrity Edge ship’s hi-tech design features include the magic carpet - an orange cantilevered structure that glides up and down the ship and whose functionality changes depending on which deck it’s on. Picture: The New York Times/CELEBRITY CRUISES.
People who work on cruises ships often describe them as “cities at sea,” but cities usually have speedy wi-fi, food delivery services you can summon on your phone and homes with voice-activated assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google to answer questions and provide information.

Now, cruise companies, realising that an expectation that people disconnect from their technology is going too far, are getting in the tech game. Beyond providing fast wi-fi on board, many of these companies have developed technology to make people feel like they are at home while travelling and have integrated new tools and apps into the cruise experience. The new features make it easier for guests to get on board and enjoy their sailing, while also making it easier for the crew to keep things moving swiftly.

“Technology is impacting every element of the cruise experience, making it faster, easier and more fun,” said Emma Le Teace, who runs the blog Cruising Isn’t Just For Old People. “Most lines offer downloadable apps which allow cruisers to tailor the experience.”

Goodbye to the cruise card

For decades guests have had to carry a card to pay for meals, access rooms and do just about anything else.

In October, Carnival unveiled Sky Princess, the company’s first ship built specifically to support the company’s Ocean Medallion technology. The ocean medallion is a circular pendant smaller than R1 coin guests on ships like Sky Princess can wear as a bracelet or necklace, or keep in a pocket. The idea is to always have the medallion, without having to think about it.

The medallion doesn’t need to be charged or turned on. It can unlock a stateroom door when guests approach. Guests can use the medallion to pay for meals and to settle bills through an app downloaded to their phones.

A few weeks before their cruise, guests receive the medallion in the mail. They can go online to upload their information and download the apps they’d like to use on board. Many of the apps mimic familiar ones like Netflix and Uber Eats and are meant to make cruising more convenient. Guests who don’t get the medallion ahead of time can get it on the ship. Take a selfie and get on board faster

A guest aboard the Sky Princess using the medallion app and wearing the ocean medallion. The ship is the company’s first built specifically to support the company’s Ocean Medallion technology. Picture: Princess Cruises via The New York Times.

The Celebrity Edge, which made its debut in December, has been hailed “the best new ship” and received a great deal of attention for its magic carpet: a cantilevered structure that moves up and down 15 decks and transforms into a formal restaurant, a poolside bar and a debarkation area that hovers a few feet above the water.

But Celebrity’s app is also new. Guests on the Edge can upload a selfie to the app and the company’s facial recognition software will automatically check them into the cruise, allowing them to bypass long check-in lines.

Cruisers can see their itinerary and link their reservations with other guests’ to make plans together on board. The app allows passengers to see entertainment and dining options and information about activities on the ship. Guests can open their doors and adjust the thermostat in their rooms through the app. These functions will also be available on the Apex, a Celebrity ship setting sail in April 2020.

Check-in via selfie is also available on the app for Celebrity’s parent company, Royal Caribbean, which says the function allows guests to get from “car to bar” in 10 minutes.

Use your voice

People attached to voice apps like Google, Siri and Alexa who book a cruise on MSC’s newest ships, the Bellissima and the Grandiosa, can ask an on-board voice-activated system called Zoe for all sorts of guidance.

“People don’t want to sacrifice their life on land when they are at sea,” said Chris Gray Faust, managing editor of Cruise Critic, the world’s largest cruise review site. “Alexa and Siri are so integral to how we’re living and cruise lines are addressing that.”

Zoe, available in all staterooms, is programmed to answer 800 questions about excursions or on-board restaurants and will be able to communicate in seven languages.

Champagne delivery

When the Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages’ first cruise ship, sets sail next year, its guests will be able to download an app to order meals, book exercise classes and track their friends on board. It will also allow passengers to use their phones to buy Champagne.

Give your phone a shake and a Champagne button will appear and, with one tap, you can get a bottle of Möet & Chandon Imperial delivered.

The ship will use Climeon technology, which converts heat from the ship’s engines into electricity, reducing how much fuel is needed to power the ship. 

The New York Times.