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