Sara Macefield sails on Caribbean Princess and uses the wearable technology that is set to be a game-changer for cruise
I’m cursing as I approach my cabin – juggling a cup of coffee in one hand with a plate of biscuits raided from the buffet in the other – because I can’t remember where I’ve put my key-card.
It’s that age-old dilemma we’ve all encountered, but just as I’m figuring out how to find it without dropping my precious cargo, the door automatically unlocks itself, simply leaving me to nudge it open with minimal effort.
Later, while revelling in the balmy, bubbling waters of the ship’s hot tub, I decide to order a rum punch, so tap the request into my smartphone, and within a few minutes a barman arrives holding aloft the exotic cocktail.
Welcome to the world of Ocean Medallion, the ambitious initiative being rolled out by Princess Cruises that promises to transform the cruise experience for guests with a package of holiday-enhancing features.
At its heart lies the medallion itself – a small disc the size of a 10p piece that guests carry around with them and use in much the same way as a key card, which in its simplest format carries out the same functions – accessing staterooms and doubling as a payment device around the ship.
My chance to try it came in January aboard Caribbean Princess which was the first ship to debut Ocean Medallion last September after a delayed start following developmental issues.
It has since been introduced on Regal Princess – where it has now totally replaced key cards – and later this year will be rolled out on Royal Princess, Crown Princess and the line’s new ship Sky Princess, which launches in October, before eventually going fleet-wide.
Initial feedback from passengers has been favourable, with the most popular function being the automatic cabin access, made possible thanks to a device by each cabin entrance that reads each passenger’s medallion and automatically unlocks the door.
I took to wearing mine in a bangle-style bracelet – one of the natty accessories passengers can buy if they don’t want to rely on the complimentary lanyard it comes with at check-in. Other alternatives include a clip and a necklace, but with items costing up to $65, you need to be keen.
But this wearable technology really comes into its own when combined with a series of six related apps that can be downloaded to a phone or alternative mobile device:
Ocean Ready – passengers download details of their passport, credit card and a photo at home before departure, which speeds up embarkation.
Ocean Now – enables food and drink to be ordered from around the ship using dropdown menus, with waiters guided by the guest’s picture and location details which pop up on the server device.
Ocean Compass – the wayfinder app which helps passengers navigate the ship. A ‘ShipMates’ feature also enables them to locate friends/family and invite others to become ShipMates.
Play Ocean – use this to set up an ‘Ocean Tagalong’ – your own avatar in the shape of a seahorse, turtle or butterfly fish. You can take part in Games Under the Stars sessions on the giant movie screen on deck, using your smart device as a game controller, or play games on smaller portals around the ship and join an interactive digital scavenger hunt that sends players to screens at different locations.
Ocean Casino – aimed at anyone who fancies a flutter at slots, poker, roulette or wants to log into a live bingo game.
Ocean View – lets users stream TV shows from their stateroom.
Princess claims Ocean Medallion is a game-changer that will give it a USP among guests, with UK & Europe vice-president Tony Roberts hailing it as a “unique paradigm shift” from what is currently available.
Yet the line is not alone in developing such technology with Royal Caribbean and MSC hot on its heels with similar offerings.
However, Princess president Jan Swartz asserted that Medallion Class – comprising Ocean Medallion and Medallion Net wifi which is claimed to be the best at sea – was the most advanced, offering more personalised experiences for passengers.
“Medallion Class is not about technology or one-off investments. It is about delivering all-round guest service and also supports our crew in treating every guest like a VIP,” she stressed.
“Things magically happen for our guests, as they can get on our ships as quickly as possible, cabins are always ready, there is keyless entry and they can sit in the Piazza and order food and drink.”
Swartz said that, on the two ships where Ocean Medallion was operating, there had been significant increases in guest satisfaction scores.
“It has exceeded my expectations and I believe, in time, it will redefine how vacations are enjoyed globally,” she predicted.
“In the end it will be a key driver in converting many more people around the world from taking a land-based vacation to taking a holiday at sea.”
Such benefits make it even more crucial that agents are aware of what this new technology facilitates, something that Princess plans to focus on this year with its largest-ever ship visit season with more than 1,000 places across 18 UK ports of call.
These mainly involve Crown Princess, which becomes Medallion-activated from July, and is spending the summer sailing around the UK from Southampton, while Regal Princess, which is already Medallion-activated, will also call at British ports.
“It’s all about how we bring the experience alive for agents to better tell their customers,” stressed Roberts.
“Anyone visiting Crown Princess from July will get an exclusive preview of the Medallion Class experience, showcasing its features.
Princess has recently added a new Medallion Class module to its Princess Academy training programme, but Roberts promised more developments in the pipeline.
“In the coming months, we will announce an exciting opportunity for agents to truly become Princess Cruises brand experts,” he added.