T3 joined Royal Caribbean on board its latest cruise liner, the Quantum of the Seas, to experience what the new "smart ship" was all about...
Cast your mind back to T3's September issue and you'll recall we were quite excited about the techy possibilities of a new cruise liner from Royal Caribbean. Although, calling the 168,666-tonne Quantum of the Seas a cruise liner is a bit of a disservice – it's practically a floating city.
We can attest to this because Royal Caribbean decided it wanted T3 aboard for a crisp autumn day's sailing to test out the Quantum's wares before she set sail on her inaugural cruise to New York. When full, the Quantum will pack 4,180 passengers into staterooms that run the length of the ship. A length, in fact, that's in excess of five Boeing 747 jetliners laid nose-to-tail. Basically, it's a really really big boat.
The Quantum of the Seas has taken five years to build and Royal Caribbean is billing it as the world's first “smart ship” with satellite Wi-Fi signal provided by partner 03b Networks. Anywhere on board, you're able to tap into broadband Wi-Fi and use the Royal iQ app to manage your calendar while on board and book yourself into restaurants and activities.
As the Royal Caribbean executives are happy to point out, this ship has more bandwidth available than every other cruise ship in the world combined.
The headline feature of the new boat includes the Two70° event space, complete with robotic 100-inch LED TVs and wraparound 20ft floor-to-ceiling windows. Then there's the Bionic Bar with robot bartenders that look like they've been plucked from the production line of a Vauxhall factory. Oh, and the NorthStar observation tower that rises 300 feet above the ship like a maritime London Eye capsule.
When you're strolling around the boat, the size and scope of these features is nothing short of jaw-dropping but, as you would expect, the teething problems of any brand-new technology are to be expected. During T3's stay, that piping-hot broadband hadn't been activated; the robot bartenders were more often than not down for maintenance and the NorthStar was unavailable first for software upgrades and then because the wind was blowing too strongly.
We're also savvy enough to realise that these activities, while awesome, aren't always going to be readily available when there's 4,179 other people wanting to use them as well. But with that in mind, there's no end of restaurants, shops, pools, gyms and lounge chairs to occupy.
What's more, you never need to take your wallet out with you as you're given an RFID “WOWband” wristband upon check in that lets you unlock your room door and make purchases on board.
One of the ideas behind the Quantum is to make the image of the cruise holiday attractive to the millennials and the young professionals to whom a boat trip probably seems a bit antiquated. To be fair, who isn't going to be swayed by robot bartenders?
There are still a lot of the classic cruise liner experiences to be had – tribute bands, a casino and a full-on production of Mamma Mia. All of which T3 partook of in the name of thorough journalism.
If you lift the shiny veil of the “hotel on the waves” image for a second though, you'll find a nautical behemoth requiring 1,500 crew members to operate. Descending below desk T3 found itself standing in the engine room where the ships four bow thrusters are controlled and regulated. A good thing too, as each one produces 4,964 horsepower, equivalent to 24 Formula 1 cars.
Royal Caribbean extends the smart ship mentality beyond just connecting the guests to the internet from the middle of the Atlantic. The company calls the design of the Quantum of the Seas “smart sustainability” and is at pains to explain the environmental efficiency of the massive liner.
Quantum is the first cruise liner to be built with a multi-stream exhaust gas cleaning system called advanced emission purification or AEP. The system injects water into the exhaust gases produced by the ship's generators, removing sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and a small amount of nitrogen oxides. Additionally, everything on board available to be recycled, repurposed or donated is methodically sorted and used accordingly.
There's a full-time Environmental Officer on board the ship whose responsibility it is to train the crew in effective waste management as well as monitoring all aspects of the ship's environmental impact. He reports to the Captain, as do all crew, who occupies an altogether more impressive space up on the bridge. T3 got to go up and take a look at that as well.
The Captain of any ship gets to have an input into the design of the bridge and first impression of the bridge of the Quantum is that it's noticeably sparse. A front-facing command desk is flanked on each side by secondary command stations that give a view back along the sides of the liner. Behind the main desk is a meeting room and damage control centre separated by sound-proofed glass doors. It's like Jack Bauer met the Starship Enterprise.
Not that your average punter is going to see any of this, mind. It's just enough to know that there's a lot going on behind the scenes of Royal Caribbean's newest flagship. And, as you read this, the ship is currently steaming over to New York at a speed of 22 knots with a full contingent of passengers and, hopefully, working Wi-Fi.