If you're one of the growing number of seniors -- or anyone else, for that matter -- with a pronounced geek streak, think about a fall cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the Quantum of the Seas. It will carry more tech capability than anything outside of the Navy.
Start with unprecedented Internet access. Royal Caribbean says that Quantum can provide more bandwidth than all the rest of the cruise ships in the world combined. All passengers have access to broadband Wi-Fi fast enough to stream video and play online games, available 24/7 anywhere the ship sails. Connection is provided through 03b Networks, which operates satellites with "steerable" signal beams that can follow a ship's itinerary. Royal Caribbean hasn't yet published the online rates, but they will almost surely be eye-popping compared with your usual costs. But still, as Sam Scheele once noted, "being online is like the hard stuff," and if you gotta be connected, you gotta be connected.
Inside Cabin with a View. Interior cabins have "virtual balconies," otherwise known as 80-inch floor-to-ceiling LCD screens, to replicate the views that outside cabins get. Of course, cabins have USB outlets along with traditional power plugs.
Virtual Concierge. You can arrange everything about your cruise through an online or smartphone app. To start, you can upload details, including your ID, and print out your complete set of cruise documents before you leave home. You can also arrange shore excursions and make dining reservations before you leave. By the time you arrive at your departure point, says Royal Caribbean, you can avoid lines and counters and go from "sidewalk to ship" in 10 minutes.
Once onboard, you can continue to use your smart device to make arrangements and contact other cruisers. Or if you prefer, you can forget schlepping your own gear and instead use terminals located around the ship.
RFID for Everything. When you start your cruise, you receive a wristband equipped with RFID that you use to board the ship, get into your stateroom, arrange and go to restaurants, buy drinks, buy stuff at onboard shops, and most other shipboard transactions.
Because We Can. A few of the additions seem to be gimmicks just to show how high the tech. Robot bartenders? Order with a tablet? All sorts of big-screen spectaculars? Sheesh!
Low-tech, Too. Quantum does not have a single, "main" dining venue with its set dinner times, formal nights, and such. Instead, it has 18 separate options, 11 with meals included in the cruise price, the others extra. As far as I can tell, only one specifies "formal" attire -- one too many, in my book, but I guess some folks like it. Cabins range from two-story "loft" suites to 28 single cabins, including 12 with balconies, a first among cruise ships. Many adjacent cabins can be interconnected, and 34 cabins in different classes are wheelchair accessible.
Quantum of the Seas will start its commercial life with an eight-night delivery cruise from Southampton to Cape Liberty, New Jersey, departing November 2. The ship will then continue with Bahamas and Caribbean cruises, based in Cape Liberty, through the 2014-2015 season, after which it will base permanently in Shanghai. A sister ship, the Anthem of the Seas, will join the fleet early next year, base in Southampton for a year, and reposition to Cape Liberty for the 2015-2016 winter season. A third unnamed sister ship will go into service in 2015. These "Quantum Class" ships are among the largest ever built, in the 4,000-plus passenger class. For more detail, or to book, check with an online cruise agency or visit a local travel agency.
My guess is that although the Quantum ships may be the first with all the tech stuff, they won't be the last. Coming generations of cruisers have grown to rely on the Internet, texting, games, and such as important parts of their lives, and cruise lines will deny them access to these services at their peril.
(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)
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