Last week we were given an unprecedented opportunity to travel out with the incredible new Quantum Of The Seas cruise liner as part of its pre-inaugural shake-down cruise from Southampton port. For the uninitiated, the Quantum is the most technology packed cruise ship ever to sail the seven seas – billed as the world’s first ‘Smart Ship‘ – and comes with a suitably impressive price tag of near on a billion dollars. Give or take.
Total landlubbers – like us – should know that a shake down cruise is where a ship sets off to test out whether everything is working properly during a local mini cruise. In this case we poodled around the UK’s south coast at a leisurely pace while bits were repaired and replaced, tires were kicked and processes tested etc. So what was it like? Well to be honest, it was awesome, in a ‘totally new experience’ kind of way.
The highlight of the two day excursion was undoubtedly a visit to the bridge to chat with the captain about what it was like to drive the most advanced ship of its type in the world. If you think piloting an aircraft is tricky, just consider what it takes to dock 168,000 tons of floating city without putting a dent in the fender (or wharf). Check out our video below to see how amazing this captain’s bridge is.
The most astonishing thing about our visit to the bridge was the fact that the whole ship is steered using something you’ll never believe. We won’t spoil the surprise, we’ll let the above video do the talking on that one.
So what’s it like?
As we said, it’s an absolutely incredible ship, and there are so many innovations on-board that you need a full checklist just to keep track. Some of it can be seen on other cruise ships around the world, but there’s a bunch of technology that is flat out brand new, and never seen before on any ship, or even on land.
Unfortunately we couldn’t sample the groundbreaking ultra high speed satellite broadband, since it’s only switching on in New York, but apart from that most stuff was working (or working through its share of beta bugs). The two standout tech bits for us included the virtual balconies installed in the inner cabins, which are made from 80″ 4K resolution floor to ceiling LCD screens connected to high speed RED Epic cameras, which broadcast a real time stream of the relevant sea views to each cabin. It’s got to be the nearest you’ll get to actually having a real sea view in your inside room. There are over 350 of these installed in staterooms on the ship. Unbelievably cool.
Below is the second of our three videos looking at some of the facilities you’ll find on the ship. The videos are long, but if you’re at all curious as to what you get for your $900 a week vacation on board a floating palace, it makes for interesting viewing. I never knew they could cram so much onto a ship (it’s not a boat apparently!) and it still float. Check out the totally bizarre Bionic Robot Bartenders at the 17 minute mark.
The second very cool technology is the absolutely massive 12K floor to ceiling screen at the rear of the ship which stretches in a 270 degrees wraparound, and is used to project various entertainment features. The thing, called the Vistarama, is connected to a six robot LCD screen system called Roboscreens, which act together to create dynamic floor shows and daytime entertainment. You can see the result in the Part 3 video below (the cool screen demo starts at around the 12 minute mark), and it’s really very impressive. Royal Caribbean is commissioning special animation and artistic pieces especially for the full rig, which is a world first on a screen this huge. It’s ambitious, and it works.
We’re not experts in the cruise travel business, so we’re not sure how this particular cruise ship compares to others on the oceans, but from what we heard, this is a genuinely sensational product in every way. The integration of top quality technology is incredible, and clearly a fundamental part of the Quantum experience, not just a marketing exercise, and for that reason it’s got to be a huge risk for the company. Will cruise veterans like the result or reject it in a Luddite style revolution? Time will tell.
[Top left – RipCord sky diving pod. Top right – North Star 360 viewing pod. Bottom left – WowBand RFID door & purchase key and a Royal IQ cruise planner terminal. Bottom right – The bizarre Bionic Robot Bar]
But all we can say is if you’re in the market for a cruise around the seas, along with 18 restaurants and a bunch of tablet computers waved in your face at every opportunity, then this is the ship you need to choose. It’s mind-boggling, and technophiles will absolutely love it. And while cruise purists may complain about a loss of tradition, eventually they’ll come round. Because this is clearly the amazing future of sea-going entertainment, and if you’re not on board with that, then you’re doomed to be left drifting behind in its wake. OK, enough puns.