A raft of digital innovations have been unveiled by Royal Caribbean Cruises including measures to illuminate check-in queues.

A “guest-empowering” app will cover the company’s 48-ship fleet over the next two years, while the company aims to banish check-in lines at ports, equip crew members to anticipate passengers’ needs, and enable giant cruise ships to ‘sail’ through the water on a fuel-saving curtain of air.

The technological transformation encompasses areas beyond the guest experience, including ways to make ships more energy-efficient, enhance ship management and put more connectivity into the hands of crew members.

Examples of how digital technology is driving change across the company’s fleet, whose brands include Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, are being previewed at a ‘Sea Beyond’ showcase in New York.

The new technology will enable passengers to:

  • Board ships in the time it takes to order fries from the drive-through, skipping check-in lines thanks to facial recognition technology that knows who they are on arrival.
  • Sign up for shore excursions, order drinks and make dinner reservations without ever leaving their chairs by the pool thanks to an intuitive app on a device most of them already have—a smartphone.
  • Indulge in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences that transform ship spaces into virtual environments and interactive games, where cabin ceilings might be replaced by starry skies, the walls of a restaurant can transform into the sights and sounds of an outdoor café and digital signs challenge you to play an arcade game.

The app, along with the next generation of the company’s ‘WOW Bands’, will also unlock cabins and enable passengers to control stateroom lighting and temperature.

An initial release of the cruise guest app is already available on selected ships in the fleet.

The company will continue to refine the app, adding new ship-specific features and capabilities, with each subsequent release.

Digital senior vice president Jay Schneider said: “Our aim is to have the app enabled on about 15% of our fleet by the end of this year, and more than double that by the end of 2018.”

He added: “Our vision is to make the guest experience hassle-free, personalised and fun.”

One specific focus is removing time-wasting moments from the cruise experience.

“Time spent in line- whether you’re waiting for your food, waiting for your bags to arrive, waiting on a table, or booking an excursion – is time stolen from your time off,” Schneider said.

The company is combining technologies ranging from facial recognition to RFID tagging to GPS mapping to Bluetooth-enabled beacons to streamline boarding, manage check-ins automatically and improve wayfinding.

“Many of these same technologies are being deployed to put the power to manage your vacation in the palm of your hand,” said Schneider.

“Our new app will make it simpler than ever to book and plan your cruise vacation from home or with a travel agent. Once on board, you can navigate our ships with interactive maps and guides, explore the ship with cool features like X-ray vision, or order drinks that can be delivered to you wherever you are on the ship.”

Next generation bridge technology will allow officers to track passengers on their way to muster stations to ensure all are accounted for and locate stragglers.

Moves are being made to cut fuel consumption across the fleet, which not only lowers operating costs but also lightens emissions that are part of cruising’s environmental footprint.

An air lubrication system is being pioneered that coats the hulls of ships with millions of microscopic air bubbles to further reduce resistance and drag. In initial uses, air lubrication has reduced fuel consumption at speed by 7% to 8%, according to the company.

The use of fuel cells for power generation could fundamentally change ship design by distributing power sources throughout the vessel, RCCL claims.

Adoption of fuel cells would also mean producing less energy from diesel generators, reducing the environmental footprint of ships.

The company plans fuel cell experiments on existing ships, with an eye to extensive use of fuel cells and liquefied natural gas (LNG) propulsion on its upcoming Icon class of vessels.

Chairman and chief executive Richard Fain said: “We are fully embracing the expectation that we run an environmentally sustainable business.

“Experimenting with new ways to power our ships is just part of our broad commitment to being a responsible environmental steward.”

He added: “We are harnessing a range of technologies to enhance every facet of our business, every minute of our guests’ vacations, and every inch of the ships we build.

“Consumers are buying experiences now, not things. So we are creating ways for them to design vacations rich in made-to-order, memory-making moments, and even providing recommendations based on what they have enjoyed before or shared with us about their preferences.

“And with our mantra of continuous improvement, our strategy is to constantly upgrade the guest experience across the fleets of all our brands.”

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