Hands-on with the world’s smartest cruise ship: the Anthem of the Seas

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Here at Pocketnow, normally we talk a lot about smart phones and smart watches and smart tablets. Sometimes we talk about smart cars, too, but what about a smart cruise ship? Last week, the Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas high-tech cruise ship arrived in New Jersey just outside of New York City where it will start offering some awesome cruise vacations for the foreseeable future. It’s Royal Caribbean’s 2nd Quantum Class ship and it’s the 3rd largest cruise ship in the world. It can hold about 5000 people and acts as a giant floating resort in the ocean. Of course there are tons of restaurants, and bars, and swimming pools and we’ll look at some of those, but the real trick is how the Anthem of the Seas integrates the latest in technology.

First of all, Anthem of the Seas has the fastest wireless internet capabilities on the ocean. In fact, its broadband capabilities are faster than all other cruise ships combined. There’s a dedicated mid-orbit satellite flying above the Earth which is trained on the Anthem of the Seas cruise ship at all times. That gives the ship about 500Mbps upload and download speeds. Obviously that’s for the entire ship, so as a normal user you’re going to get around 10Mbps, though we’ve seen it go as high as 22Mbps, and sometimes as low as 1Mbps. It’s also important to note that while moving away from the port, the internet doesn’t work well or at all. That’s the transition period where it’s disconnecting from the local internet and attaching to the satellite. Don’t expect to do any streaming video for up to 40 minutes during that time. Unfortunately, that outage time tends to happen during the awesome Sail-Away party at sunset.

Staff members outside will quickly check you in by scanning your passport using a Lenovo Thinkpad tablet.

Staff members outside will quickly check you in by scanning your passport using a Windows-based Lenovo Thinkpad tablet.

The new tech stuff starts before you even get on the ship. When you arrive, you’ll need to check in. You can do this online 48 hours before leaving, but when you get to the terminal there are numerous staff members with Lenovo ThinkPad Windows tablets that have Passport scanners attached. These staff members will scan your information, take a photograph of you and enter you into the database. Inside the terminal, there are more Lenovo ThinkPad tablets attached to keyboards being used as check-in laptops.

The mobile web app works beautifully on Windows Phone, except when it shows notifications for other people.

The mobile web app designed for media guests works beautifully on Windows Phone, except when it shows notifications meant for other people.

Before departure, we received an email with a QR code that pointed to a special mobile app website where we could log in and load the itinerary. We were expecting the mobile app to only work with Android and iOS, but since it was really a mobile website, it actually worked beautifully on Windows Phone. To be fair, this was a mobile web app designed specifically for media during this cruise. In addition to our schedule, it also had maps of each deck along with alerts that would pop-up notifying us when we would be scheduled to be somewhere. These would happen for media briefings, dinner reservations, etc.

Email notifications show up on my wrist too. No need for a proprietary app.

Email notifications show up on my wrist too. No need for a proprietary app!! Oddly the email alerts came from a Gmail address though. Royal Caribbean can’t afford the $50/year for a real domain name and a real email account?

The notifications also arrived via email, which would nicely appear on our Microsoft Band smartwatch. Opening the notification details in the web app would list the location of the event, and then we could tap on that to load the map of the deck showing that location. It was extremely helpful in finding my way around the ship which incidentally consists of 16 guest decks that hold about 5,000 people.

The Royal IQ Android/iOS app isn't as feature rich as the web-app that media were given access to during the inaugural cruise.

The Royal IQ Android/iOS app isn’t as feature rich as the web-app that media were given access to during the inaugural cruise.

For normal customers, there’s also a “Royal IQ” app which only works on iOS and Android. This offers a similar view of your schedule, but lacks a lot of features found in the special web-based Media app. For example, there are no deck maps. Of course, this app is not platform agnostic either, so that’s another downside. Hopefully they’ll go all-in on the mobile-web style info app in the future, since that was much more powerful.

We were kind of surprised that there is no Internal Positioning System (IPS) on the ship. There are thousands and thousands of Wi-Fi access points throughout the ship, and our media app does have maps of each deck, but the Wi-Fi access points don’t communicate their locations to the ship’s dedicated smartphone apps, so you’re on your own in figuring out where you are.

Large touch-screen panels on the walls show where you are and can give you directions to where you want to go.

Large touch-screen panels on the walls show where you are and can give you directions to where you want to go.

However, there are large touch-screen panels embedded in the walls located throughout the ship and all of these have “you are here” maps to help you navigate. They will also let you browse the events schedules, restaurant options, and other deck maps (but do they do not have RFID scanners that recognize who you are.) You can even choose a location and have these stationary panels show you directions to that room. You’ll have to memorize them though since the directions won’t show up on your phone. Most of these panels worked really well, but we ran into a couple that were unresponsive or very slow to respond.

These are the four mounted iPads with RFID scanners.

These are the four mounted iPads with RFID scanners.

There are often mounted iPads strewn about the ship as well as in the customer service and port excursion sections. From these screens you can make dinner reservations, check your schedule, and look at what else is happening on the ship. Most of the iPads do not have RFID scanners that you can tap your bracelet on in order to load your information though (only 4 out of the 10 iPads in the port excursions section do). You actually have to type in your name and room number to get started. That seems very tedious when we can simply tap the bracelet to a terminal in other parts of the ship.

Other mounted iPads don't have an RFID scanner and require that you type in all this stuff.

Other mounted iPads don’t have an RFID scanner and require that you type in all this stuff.

The State Rooms

After boarding, the first stop will be your state room. You’ll use an RFID card to open the door and then there will be a bracelet with an RFID tag in it which you can also use to open doors and pay for things or identify yourself in photos that staff members take or allow the robotic bar tenders to identify you. Some rooms have virtual balconies on the interior of the ship. Basically the virtual balcony is a large TV screen that displays the outdoor view. The regular TVs inside the rooms are also smart. They have a custom interface that knows who is staying in the room and can display your schedule as well as your account info and what you have bought using your RFID bracelet. Of course you can also watch on-demand movies or other shows here as well. I kind of enjoyed the channel that flips through different security cameras on the ship especially when I could see people I had met previously.

These RFID bracelets are you key to opening doors, buying stuff, and receiving photos.

These RFID bracelets are you key to opening doors, buying stuff, and receiving photos.

There are AC and USB charging ports at the desk, but no Qi wireless charging. The TV doesn’t support connecting peripherals either. No exposed HDMI ports and no MiraCast wireless display support. There’s a custom plastic remote control that you can control it with, too. That’s right, it’s not as high tech as my living room where I can just use voice commands or hand gestures to control the TV (via Xbox One & Kinect). I may be spoiled though as using a plastic remote control feels very “1990s” to me.

Lots of ports on the desk for my gadgets. No Qi wireless charging built into the furniture though.

Lots of ports on the desk for my gadgets. No Qi wireless charging built into the furniture though.

The TV knows who's staying in the room and can display all of your schedule and account information.

The TV knows who’s staying in the room and can display all of your schedule and account information.

The RFID bracelet and card both work the same way on RFID readers throughout the ship, so it’s unclear why we need two of them. However, the card is required to turn on the lights in the room. There’s a slot just inside the door where you leave the card in order to activate the in-room electronics. There is no sign or instructions indicating this, so if you think you can just slide the card in and out to keep the lights on, you might end up stuck in a pitch-dark bathroom like I did. No amount of clapping or hand waving would turn the lights back on. Other lighting systems, in the hallways for example, seem to be motion sensitive and will brighten when someone is detected walking through.

There are no instructions, but it turns out if you want the lights to stay on in the bathroom, you need to leave your card in this slot.

There are no instructions, but it turns out if you want the lights to stay on in the bathroom, you need to leave your card in this slot.

Photo services

Throughout the ship you’ll often see photographers as part of the crew who will ask you if you want your picture taken. Sometimes they’ll actually have some studio lights set up in certain areas so you can get something really nice. The photographers usually have a smartphone mounted to the side of the camera that can scan your RFID bracelet in order to identify you. Later on, you can stop by the photos room which is filled with touch screen kiosks.

This is how you find the photos that photographers have taken of you.

This is how you find the photos that photographers have taken of you.

Tapping your bracelet to the designated spot on the kiosk will load up all of the photos that were taken of you. If a photographer did not scan your bracelet after taking your picture, it may show up anyway due to the software’s facial recognition. Photos take about an hour to get from the photographer’s camera into the photo download center. From these kiosks you can either buy prints or choose to download the photos to your phone.

Downloading the photos to your phone is kind of overly complicated though. First off, the kiosk displays a URL along with a code that you have to type into your phone. Why is this not a simple QR code that we can scan? Why is there no NFC chip that can send this website straight to my phone? I can understand not using NFC/Bluetooth to transfer the photos directly since that often has compatibility issues, but at least let me tap the terminal to transfer the web page (or for those without NFC, scan a QR code). My RFID bracelet has my email address associated with it too… why not send an email with a link to these pictures? Anyway, once you do all that typing, the photos show up and you can check off each one to download them. From there, of course you can share them as you wish. It’s actually pretty nice once you have this website log-in information since you can check back from your phone later on and see the new pictures that have been uploaded to their servers. Unfortunately, this service is not integrated with a central phone/web app like Disney World has.

Downloading photos is not part of the primary cruise ship app. It's a website you have to log into manually.

Downloading photos is not part of the primary cruise ship app. It’s a website you have to log into manually.

At one point another service was available where you could stand at the back of the ship and a quadcopter would film you up close and then fly backwards to reveal the entire ship floating in the middle of the ocean. They called these “Dronies” and you would receive the video in an email about an hour later. I had to actually write my email address on the waiver though instead of simply tapping the RFID bracelet to the staff person’s tablet like I would expect. The email later arrived from a LyftAerial.com email address. That’s better than the schedule notifications sent from Gmail, but it’s still not a Royal Caribbean domain. This service may or may not be part of the cruise ship’s public offerings, by the way. That may explain why it’s not fully integrated with the ship’s servers yet.

Bionic Bar

While there are plenty of places to get alcoholic drinks on the Anthem of the Seas cruise ship, there’s one spot that is run by robots. Yes, you read that correctly. The bionic bar has two large robotic arms at a table with a large series of bottled beverages in the ceiling, a cleaning area behind them, an ice dispenser, plastic cups, lemons, limes, and at the front of the table is a series of conveyor tracks that deliver the drinks to customers. Yes, the robots are able to slice lemons and limes to add to the drinks.

Two robotic arms are programmed to prepare all sorts of drinks for you.

Two robotic arms are programmed to prepare all sorts of drinks for you.

After tapping your wristband to the top of this touch screen, you can start creating your own mixed drink.

After tapping your wristband to the top of this touch screen, you can start creating your own mixed drink.

After you order your drink from the touch screen kiosk, your name and drink will show on the wall along with the time remaining.

After you order your drink from the touch screen kiosk, your name and drink will show on the wall along with the time remaining.

First you have to find an available touch-screen kiosk at one of the surrounding tables. Tap your RFID bracelet to the top of the tablet where indicated and that will log you in. Then you can use the touch screen software to either order a drink, or create your own mixture. After using the software to order the drink, your name and your drink’s name will appear on the mirrored screens next to the robots along with an estimated time remaining until your drink is ready.

It’s a little difficult to tell which drink is yours when it’s placed on the conveyor track and finished, so there’s a human hostess there to help you out. When your drink is ready, you walk up to the table where the robots are and put your RFID bracelet against the proper spot. At that point your drink will slide down the table where you can pick it up. A human administrator will be alerted whenever supplies need to be replenished and those bottles naturally need to be replaced manually. Try not to spill anything though because the robots are not currently trained to wipe the bar clean.

Art

One of the interesting things about Anthem of the Seas is all of the artwork that’s installed. There is a huge variety, and some of it has some interesting tech behind it.

A chandelier flickers with your pulse if you put your hands on the panel.

A chandelier flickers with your pulse if you put your hands on the panel.

Another piece of art on the wall has small blocks of wood that flip around to change the light to reflect your shape (using a Microsoft Kinect sensor) when you stand in front of it.

Another piece of art on the wall has small blocks of wood that flip around to change the light to reflect your shape (using a Microsoft Kinect sensor) when you stand in front of it.

A lot of the artwork is interactive and animated.

A lot of the artwork is interactive and animated.

Shows

The entertainment is pretty high tech, too. A musical called “We Will Rock You” can be seen in the Royal Theater at certain times. It features music from Queen and some of the lyrics have been rewritten for the story. The story is about a futuristic world where everyone only lives virtually through the internet and only communicates with “friends” who exist online and the only music that exists is programmed on computers. It was very entertaining even if it’s a bit satirical towards the ship’s target market of social network sharers.

If you like Queen, the "We Will Rock You" show is a must-see.

If you like Queen, the “We Will Rock You” show is a must-see.

At the other end of the ship is a lounge area called Two70 that converts into another show room. At night, the windows become giant projection screens that display immense animations that go along with performances or stand on their own. The lamps and lighting in the room change to go along with the show as well. It’s very immersive.

During the day, Two70 is a bright lounge area with a big view of the ocean.

During the day, Two70 is a bright lounge area with a big view of the ocean.

In the evening, Two70's windows turn into giant video projection screens, and amazing shows of humans and robots appear from the floors and ceilings.

In the evening, Two70’s windows turn into giant video projection screens, and amazing musical acts of humans and robots appear from the floors and ceilings.

At the forefront of Two70 are 6 giant robot arms attached to a beam that can slide up and down in front of the windows. Each robot arm has a giant video screen attached to it. The robots twist, turn, and tilt these giant screens along with the music while displaying gorgeous animations that either go along with the performances or stand as their own performance.

Once in a while during the day, these six robot arms put on an animated show with their giant displays.

Once in a while during the day, these six robot arms put on an animated show with their giant displays.

In the evening, the robots become an integral part of the entertainment.

In the evening, the robots become an integral part of the entertainment.

Even the piano player in one of the bars uses an Android tablet for reading music.

Even the piano player in one of the bars uses an Android tablet for reading music.

If you want something less techy, there are other night clubs on the ship with more traditional live shows like this 80's cover band.

If you want something less techy, there are other night clubs on the ship with more traditional live shows like this 80’s cover band.

Activities

Looking for some more active activities? Anthem of the Seas has some crazy fun features for that too. How would you like to float on air or slide across the water on a surfboard in the middle of the ocean with absolutely nothing on the horizon for as far as you can see?

On the upper deck right at the front of the ship is a surfing simulator and a vertical wind tunnel skydiving simulator.

On the upper deck right at the front of the ship is a surfing simulator and a vertical wind tunnel skydiving simulator.

The "North Star" viewing pod rises high above the cruise ship to give you even better views.

The “North Star” viewing pod rises high above the cruise ship to give you even better views.

On the lower decks, there is a mall-like area with lots of retail stores and restaurants.

On the lower decks, there is a mall-like area with lots of retail stores and restaurants.

The "Sail Away" party happens around sunset on the upper decks and it is beautiful.

The “Sail Away” party happens around sunset on the upper decks and it is beautiful.

The center area of the SeaPlex offers bumper cars, roller skating, basketball, and a circus school during different times of the day.

The center area of the SeaPlex offers bumper cars, roller skating, basketball, and a circus school during different times of the day.

Another section of the SeaPlex has Xbox Ones set up. Please do not remove the batteries from the controllers.

Another section of the SeaPlex has Xbox Ones set up. At the time of writing, they did not have Halo 5 installed, but they did have the Halo MCC installed. Please do not remove the batteries from the controllers.

Another part of the SeaPlex has plenty of arcade games. There are also Ping-Pong and Foosball tables. Lots of games to play!

There's a full casino too if you want to play some slot machines, blackjack, poker, etc.

There’s a full casino too if you want to play some slot machines, blackjack, poker, etc.

Even the fitness center is decked out in high-tech workout equipment. They don't seem to be connected to the Royal IQ app or integrated with the rest of the ship's servers though.

Even the fitness center is decked out in high-tech workout equipment. They don’t seem to be connected to the Royal IQ app or integrated with the rest of the ship’s servers though.

The Solarium has about a half dozen awesome multi-level hot tubs to relax in at the front of the ship just above the bridge.

The Solarium has about a half dozen awesome multi-level hot tubs to relax in at the front of the ship just above the bridge.

If the weather's nice, there are outdoor pools and hot tubs for kids and adults.

If the weather’s nice, there are outdoor pools and hot tubs for kids and adults.

The indoor pools and hot tubs are great if it's cold and rainy outside.

The indoor pools and hot tubs are great if it’s cold and rainy outside.

You'll get some spectacular views of Manhattan.

You’ll get some spectacular views of Manhattan.

Internet

As mentioned earlier, the Anthem of the Seas has faster broadband wireless internet access than all other cruise ships combined. That bears repeating since it’s such a big deal. On other cruise ships you might have the option to pay a ridiculous fee to access the internet for an hour even if it only works for 20 minutes. Or you might have a little computer room with a dozen PCs that will have dial-up speed internet access. None of those problems exist on the Anthem of the Seas (except during the 40 minutes while leaving port and attaching to the satellite connection).

The internet works well even from hundreds of feet above the cruise ship.

The internet works well even from hundreds of feet above the cruise ship.

Streaming video from YouTube works great!

Streaming video from YouTube works great!

There are digital dashboards showing guest tweets occasionally displayed on large screens throughout the ship.

Social network sharing is highly encouraged by large digital dashboard screens loading #AnthemoftheSeas hashtag tweets.

Of course, the internet speeds vary depending on things like weather and how crowded the current part of the ship you’re on might be. If a ton of people are in the same place connected to the same Wi-Fi router, that internet access is going to be less reliable than if you were out on the aft deck with one other person. By the way, the internet access will cost $15 per device per day for the first device, and $10 per device per day for each additional device.

Conclusion

The Anthem of the Seas is certainly the most technologically advanced ship on the ocean. There’s no doubt about that. The internet access capabilities alone are hugely impressive and the entertainment options are pretty much mind-blowing. However, it’s not exactly as cohesive an experience as it could be. Photo download services are a separate thing, some terminals don’t have RFID scanners, and the Royal IQ app doesn’t have deck maps. So it’s not quite Disney World on the ocean, but the fact that you can stream video and share photos instantly from your smartphone anywhere on the ship is sure to please all of the social-network savvy Millennials that may have shied away from disconnected cruise ships in the past. If you’re more about staying in touch with the office, you can do that here, too. The Anthem of the Seas really has something for everyone and the excellent internet access ties it all together.

I’ll certainly be browsing the prices on Anthem of the Seas cruises in the near future.

Pro Tip: When back at the Cape Liberty port in NJ, go all the way to the top of the parking garage for a great photo opportunity with the ship.

Pro Tip: When back at the Cape Liberty port in NJ, go all the way to the top of the parking garage for a great photo opportunity with the ship.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein

Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002. Read more about Adam Lein!