Call of the sea
Technology meets the sea, and luxury, that’s the impression you get as the 16 deck cruise ship ‘Quantum of the Seas’ slides out of the Southampton dockyard in southern England on its maiden journey. As of date, it is the third largest cruise ship ever built in the world.
Today cruising for leisure travel is as popular, if not more, as in the past. And why not? For the period you are in the sea, you are thankfully away from the routine of tackling the rush traffic to office, shopping, cooking- the chores that make up the humdrum daily life. You take a cruise and forget it all which even a conventional travel destination can’t offer where too you have to travel from place to place. Here lies the charm of sailing into the sea.
According to the cruise industry overview (2012) by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, 20.3 million passengers cruised globally worldwide during that year and the pace was kept up in 2013 too. In fact, it’s a supply falling short of demand situation, it says, as the clamour for more berths rises.
What has changed today, though the basic concept has not, is that technology has caught up; and we are not just talking about the sophisticated equipment. The Quantum of the Seas, the latest high-profile addition to the Royal Caribbean International liners, showed how. Not for nothing it is projected as a ‘Smart-ship’ in keeping with the digital-age. Before arriving in the port with the Cruise Planner you can check in well ahead, and be allotted the cabin number. The ground stuff thumb around their individual tablets, take an instant photo and then give out (besides the conventional room key) a plastic-like watch-band which embeds your picture and can also work as the key to your room; it also contains all the information about your plans for the period if you have booked ahead in which restaurant you want to eat and when, which entertainment show you want to see, etc. This can be done through the Cruise Planner in the website.
The whole process of check-in has been clocked at 7 minutes flat, on its trial run, according to the officials at the Quantum on board. At most it can take 10 minutes. By the way, this ship can accommodate around 4,500 guests at a time.
Some might find it a bit daunting, registering the name, booking for restaurant online, etc. But, as Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. said, “Today’s generation is tech-savvy; they don’t have patience to hover around or with slow service. We have to move with the times.”
Keeping with the times, the dining experience has also changed. Remember all those Hollywood films where the grand dining room with the captain sitting at head of the coveted table with important guests was common? Quantum has done away with it by introducing the flexible option of ‘Dynamic Dining’ i.e. guests can select different restaurants to eat on different days, and at their own convenient time. No more need to run to the big dining hall to keep to the stipulated hour.
As Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, executive vice president, Operations, said, “People today like to have a more intimate atmosphere in a restaurant rather than filing into a big space. Guests today are also exposed to different cuisines as they travel widely; we have tried to cater to their tastes too.”
Hence there are more than a dozen eateries with cuisines from American grill, Italian, Japanese, to chic, not forgetting the old-style luxury in the Grande restaurant for nostalgia effect. Waiters carry tablets to take the order (no scribbling on paper pads) which is instantly noted at the kitchen to make for quick service. Twenty-four hour cafés and designer pubs provide for quick bites and drinks. By the way, there is also a pub with a Robotic bartender. Interstellar age?
A cruise ship cannot neglect the entertainment factor. So there is the Music Room where well-known bands are invited to play, three theatre halls with pulsating dance routines as the Starwater and plays. On its maiden trip Broadway style musical Mama Mia with Abba-inspired songs with an excellent cast was a huge hit with the audience.
Sports lovers do not lose out either. An innovation is the Seaplex, the largest sports facility yet in the sea where car bumping, roller-skating, even a basketball game are available as also simulated sky-diving for the adventurous.
Then there is the North Star, a concept that “stunned and surprised me,” even Fain. It is a glass capsule that rises above sea level from where you can get a 360 degree view of the ship below and the sea beyond as it rotates.
Freedom and flexibility, the way you travel in the sea, are definitely taking a quantum leap from the old times. We are after all living in an age of tablets, Androids, and space travel.