With this week's inaugural sailing of Ovation of the Seas — the world's third largest cruise ship — from Southampton, UK, to Paris and Belgium, we thought now would be the perfect time to assess the three Royal Caribbean Quantum class ships that have identical tech set-ups and that have been hailed as the most technologically advanced cruise ships in the world.
The three ships? Ovation and her sister ships Anthem of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas, which I sailed on last year. A fourth ship, Harmony of the Seas — which launches next month — has many of the same technology goodies.
Since Quantum has already been repositioned to China and Ovation will shortly be heading to China and Australia, readers may find this tech run-through most relevant to Anthem, which is sailing to the Caribbean, Bermuda and New England for the rest of 2016.
Here was my experience on Quantum, which should be comparable or identical to what you'll find on Anthem and Ovation.
Cruise planning before you embark
The first thing we noticed was that the technology for getting on Quantum was needed before we even stepped onto the ship. By creating a Royal Caribbean online account, you gain access to your cruise reservation and the ability to personalize your cruise from the comfort of your living room. Within the Cruise Planner feature, there are tabs for shore excursions, dining and beverage choices, entertainment, spa and fitness, onboard activities, and a full calendar detailing all your selections. Here, you're able to browse and book available shore excursions for your ports of call (of course, you can also opt to go your own way), make dynamic dining reservations, pre-purchase drink packages, pre-book spa treatments, pre-book entertainment, and pre-book onboard activities such as character breakfasts, the iFLY simulated skydiving experience, and an all-access tour of the ship. Nice!
We recommend that you make use of this feature to pre-book all dining and entertainment, as choices will be limited once you board the ship. It appears the time frames for which dining and entertainment reservations are open for booking vary but are typically available at least 90 days before your sailing.
So it's a good idea to check the Cruise Planner frequently. We did and found that new dining times would become available as other cruisers made changes. But, we had difficulty modifying our reservations, so we often had to call and have a representative from the company change our reservations for us. (Perhaps the kinks have been worked out by now.)
Also, the entertainment schedule changed twice for our sailing, which meant we had to rearrange our schedules as well as rebook some of our entertainment. With all of the options available, it's great that you can pre-book before cruising, but it does require a fair amount of planning.
Royal iQ mobile app
To enhance your onboard experience and give you the ability to modify your Cruise Planner or view your cruise calendar once on the ship, Royal Caribbean has created the Royal iQ smart app that you can download for iPads, iPhones and Android phones. It's a good idea to download the app before your sailing, but just be aware that it won't work until you are on board the ship. To be honest, we did not really make use of this technology during our cruise but did see other cruisers using it. The same information can be found on smart touch LCD screens located throughout the ship.
The technology on Quantum of the Seas allows you to complete all necessary check-in documentation online — including uploading your own photo. There are specific guidelines for what's considered an acceptable photo, so be sure to read those if you want to make sure you don't need to take another picture at the terminal.
After completing your online documentation, you can print your set sail pass, which contains a barcode that is supposed to be scanned at the terminal. The purpose is to save time, allowing you to get from sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes, with no check‑in counter, no forms to fill out, and no lines to wait in. It didn't turn out to be that seamless for us, but I'd love to hear your experience. Sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes, anyone?
RFID Luggage Tracker
This new smart feature allows you to track your luggage using the Royal iQ app once on board the ship. When you check your luggage with the porters, they issue you a tag for each piece of luggage with a barcode on it. During the check-in process in the terminal, these tags will be scanned and associated with your account so you'll be able to track the status of your luggage on your mobile device.
Apparently, our tags were not scanned in properly as we tried using the Royal iQ app to test out this RFID luggage tracker — we were told there were no bags associated with our check-in. Is it really essential to know the location of your luggage? Probably not, unless there's a snafu. Our bags had already been delivered to our room by 1:30 pm.
RFID WOW Bands
This cutting-edge piece of tech seemed to hold promise: the new WOW bands, which are essentially a wearable Seapass card that is supposed to increase ease and efficiency while on board. Upon entering our stateroom, our WOW bands were on the bed waiting for us to don them. They're roughly the size of a watch and can be swiped to enter the room and make onboard purchases. It should be noted, however that the WOW bands do not work at the gangway, and you will still need your Seapass keycard to enter and exit at a port of call.
During the daytime hours, we did wear our bands and found them to be convenient when ordering drinks and entering our room. At nighttime, I chose not to wear my band since I didn't want it to show in any of our pictures. Overall, we would give the WOW bands a thumbs up for convenience.
Using mid-range O3B satellites, Royal Caribbean boasts "unprecedented bandwidth and Internet speed" about seven times faster than typical satellite connections, allowing for use of social media, Skype, streaming video, Xbox Live and much more.
During our sailing a year ago, we received complimentary wi-fi service. We experienced some inconsistent service — there were times we were sitting right next to each other and the Internet was working for one of us but not the other. I'm not sure if these down times were related to the number of people using the service at the same time, our geographical position, the weather, or some other factor. Despite these minor hiccups in service, the wi-fi was much faster than typical cruise ship Internet, letting us do social media posts and check email throughout the week. We did not experiment with Skype, streaming or Xbox Live. (Hey, we were on a cruise.)
Overall, Royal Caribbean gets another thumbs up in this area of technology on Quantum class ships. Although the wi-fi wasn't perfect, it is definitely a step in the right direction for the modern cruiser who wants to stay connected while at sea.
At the Bionic Bar, through the use of robotic arms powered by Makr Shakr, a robot will make and serve your drink. You order your drink via a tablet, and then you can watch the step by step process of your drink being made.
Is this the way of the future? No.
While ordering drinks on the tablet, there were often timeout errors. At other times the robot made two drinks when we ordered only one. And really, bartenders are some of the coolest people on cruise ships, so why replace them with 'bots?
Two70 is where Royal Caribbean's technology on its Quantum ships really shines! This venue, at the aft of deck 5 on Quantum, with a 270-degree view of the ocean, is a daytime and nighttime hangout. During the daytime, this venue functions as your very own living room at sea. At nighttime, the venue transforms into the hottest entertainment venue on the ship, featuring a 270-foot backdrop made up of 18 high-definition projection screens that display awe-inspiring scenes, including a fireworks display, a space scene and an underwater scene, to name a few. Check it out for sure.
The Roboscreens on hand not only add dimension to the other entertainment in Two70, but they serve as entertainment all on their own. During the daytime, "roboshows" are played every hour beginning at 12:30 pm. With the eloquently choreographed movements of these six screens and the visual images displayed, these roboscreens tell a story incorporating abstract art, dance and a bit of humor. Overall, a big thumbs up for the tech in Two70 and a well deserved RoyalWOW.
Along with many of the other technological advancements onboard Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has increased the viewing experience for all passengers, including those staying in inside cabins, with its innovative virtual balconies. Yes, those staying in interior cabins can now have a real-time view of the high seas and outside world. These 80-inch 4K LED Sharp Aquos screens run from the floor to ceiling and project real time video and sound. The virtual scenes are much more life-like than we expected and definitely enhance the stateroom experience for economical cruisers who don't want to spend the extra money for a real balcony. We have to admit that we weren't expecting much from the virtual balconies but were pleasantly surprised.
With all of the technology on board this new smart ship, the star that really shines in our opinion is Two70 and all this venue has to offer. The award for most improvement needed goes to the Bionic Bar. All of the other technology on this ship is truly innovative and can certainly enhance your overall cruise experience but still has some kinks that the Royal team is working out. See my review on Cruiseable of Anthem of the Seas, where many of these technologies
Have you sailed on Anthem, Quantum or Ovation of the Seas or have an upcoming cruise on one of the Quantum class ships? If so, what is your favorite or most anticipated aspect of the technology? We would love to hear your experience with these innovative technologies.