Our Journey to New York to see Royal Caribbean’s Latest Innovation(s)
She has been billed as the most eagerly awaited new cruise ship of 2014. Her features, amenities and even her dual deployment in North America and Asia have turned heads. This week, we’ll give you our take on one of the most talked-about ships of the year.
Beginning Wednesday, Avid Cruiser’s Aaron Saunders will be spending two nights aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas as she embarks on her first North American media preview voyage before her christening on November 14, 2014.
Aaron’s voyage is a simple one, only 48 hours or so – but that’s okay. This one is all about the ship, and a simple loop into the Atlantic and back will be just what the doctor ordered.
Everything about Quantum of the Seas is designed to be new, innovative or different in some way – and that includes the terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. Dubbed Cape Liberty, the cruise terminal has been Royal Caribbean’s home in New York since 2004. The old terminal was nothing to write home about, and involved a cumbersome bus ride from the terminal to the ship itself.
To prepare for Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean built a new 125,000-square foot terminal adjacent to the existing terminal. Pegged at an estimated cost of $55-million dollars, the new state-of-the-art terminal is crucial to one of Quantum’s key new features: an all-digital embarkation process that, Royal Caribbean says, will have you from the curb to the ship in just 10 minutes. The bus ride is also a thing of the past; embarkation will be conducted via enclosed gangways that lead directly to the ship.
Known as SMART Check In, all necessary forms for your sailing are filled out pre-cruise on the Royal Caribbean website. You can even register your credit card and upload a digital photograph to use as your shipboard ID photo that will then be attached to your SeaPass card or wristband (more on that in a minute). Once that’s done, you’ll receive a digital boarding confirmation which you’ll take to the pier, presumably to present to security personnel. Royal Caribbean promises “no check-in counter, no forms to fill out, and no lines to wait in.” You’ll tap your barcode against a scanner, swipe your passport, and away you go.
This is something we’re excited about; if Royal Caribbean can pull it off, it will revolutionize the way guests embark for their cruises. Although, the airline industry made the same promise more than a decade ago when web-based check-in began to take off.
At the terminal, you’re going to notice two new developments. One is that your luggage will be tagged with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag. This will allow you – and presumably, shipboard hotel operations – to track where your luggage is in real-time. Unfortunately, for this short preview cruise we won’t have a chance to check this out; we’ve been asked to bring carry-on luggage only due to the short sailing time.
One thing Aaron might get to test out is the new RFID WOW Bands. The new bracelet – which will do everything from open your stateroom door to purchasing onboard items – is one thing he’s eager to try. Traditional SeaPass cards will also be offered to guests at no additional cost.
There are more digital tricks in Royal Caribbean’s toolbox, including an app called ROYAL iQ that will allow you to make reservations for meals, excursions and special activities right from your phone. From an ease-of-use standpoint it sounds phenomenal.
Royal Caribbean’s Quantum is an attractive ship, with nicely proportioned lines, a swept-back forward superstructure, and a tapered stern. The upper-deck windows of the SeaPlex look a little “disco” – and we can’t work out what the giant red bear is or does – but by and large, the ship’s exterior and open deck spaces have already won us over.
What’s the SeaPlex, you ask? A gigantic multipurpose area spanning Deck 15 and 16 that will offer “a circus school, full-size basketball court, and the first-ever roller rink and bumper cars at sea. Not to mention delicious bites provided by the first food truck to ever set sail and music from a floating DJ booth suspended overhead.” In other words, if you have kids – this will probably keep them happy for hours.
Also frequently talked about is the North Star, a gigantic glass ball mounted to the end of a hydraulic arm and situated high atop Deck 16, just aft of the radar mast. It will take guests on panoramic rides high above their already-massive ship.
There’s also Two70, a two-story show lounge bordered by 180 degrees of glass walls. Situated at the stern on Decks 5 and 6, this multi-purpose venue will sport robotic performers and even the ability to turn that magnificent wall of glass into a gigantic projection screen, which Royal Caribbean can turn into anything it would like, from a jungle to a bustling city.
The Bionic Bar features robot bartenders. Your drinks will be ordered via Windows tablet PC’s and then whipped up by the robotic bartenders, which look like they were lifted straight from the Toyota factory. Aaron says he’s going to see if the robots can make him a decent Moscow Mule. Again, if this works, it’s a nifty technological feat. But where’s the crew? Unlike an actual person, the robot can’t engage in witty bar talk. Or can he?
Aaron says he’s eager to take a look at the Solarium, a glass-enclosed oasis overlooking the bow high up on Deck 14. It gives way to a large, Magrodome-covered Indoor/Outdoor Pool area just aft of it. He’ll also check out the Vitality At Sea Spa and Fitness Center that is so massive it spans the forward sections of Decks 15 and 16.
Also noteworthy is Michael’s Genuine Pub on Deck 4, which is supposed to have an amazing selection of American-made craft beers. He’ll also check out Quantum’s Navigation Bridge and Engine Control Room, take a tour of the Dining Options, and a look at some of the ship’s Staterooms and Suites, including the much-awaited Virtual Balcony staterooms that feature an LED display designed to mimic a real balcony inside what is essentially an interior stateroom.
Is Quantum of the Seas worth the hype? We’ll be reporting our findings here.