Royal Caribbean's State Room of the Future

Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that it "is rolling out an unprecedented wave of digital innovations touching every aspect of its business, charting a course for a world where travel frustrations have disappeared, erased by technology that is transforming cruise ships from stem to stern."

A new app is coming to all 48 ships by the end of 2019, the company said, that will eliminate check in-lines and let crew  anticipate guests' needs. Also, the fuel-saving bubble-system is coming fleetwide.

"The pace of change is relentless—and so are we," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO. "We are harnessing a range of technologies to enhance every facet of our business, every minute of our guests' vacations, and every inch of the ships we build."

Royal Caribbean Future App

Jay Schneider, RCL's senior vice president, digital, said one focus of RCL's company-wide innovation initiative is zeroing in on wasted effort and wasted energy. "We are finding ways to eliminate friction and frustration, giving guests more time to make the memories that make vacations special," said Schneider. 

The new technology will enable quick boarding thanks to facial recognition, along with letting guests make shore excursion and restaurant bookings from the app. 

There are also VR and AR experiences that transform ship spaces into virtual environments and interactive games, where stateroom ceilings might be replaced by starry skies, the walls of a restaurant can transform into the sights and sounds of an outdoor café and digital signs challenge you to play an arcade game, the company said.

"Consumers are buying experiences now, not things," Fain said. "So we are creating ways for them to design vacations rich in made-to-order, memory-making moments, and even providing recommendations based on what they have enjoyed before or shared with us about their preferences. And with our mantra of continuous improvement, our strategy is to constantly upgrade the guest experience across the fleets of all our brands."

"Time spent in line—whether you're waiting for your food, waiting for your bags to arrive, waiting on a table, or booking an excursion—is time stolen from your time off," Schneider said.

To return that time to guests, the company is combining technologies ranging from facial recognition to RFID tagging to GPS mapping to Bluetooth-enabled beacons to streamline boarding, manage check-ins automatically and improve wayfinding. 

Virtual Aquarium

"Many of these same technologies are being deployed to put the power to manage your vacation in the palm of your hand," said Schneider. "Our new app will make it simpler than ever to book and plan your cruise vacation from home or with a travel agent. Once on board, you can navigate our ships with interactive maps and guides, explore the ship with cool features like x-ray vision, or order drinks that can be delivered to you wherever you are on the ship." The app, along with the next generation of the company's WOW Bands, will also unlock guest staterooms and enable guests to control stateroom lighting and temperature.

"Our aim is to have the app enabled on about 15 percent of our fleet by the end of this year, and more than double that by the end of 2018," said Schneider.

There will also be an app for crew that helps check-in guests, complete required paperwork, track delivery of guests' bags to their staterooms, and interact with guests and anticipate their needs throughout their vacations.

In addition, crews will have access to easier means to manage their own schedules, stay connected to friends and family while onboard, and stay connected to the company during their off-contract periods.

"We regularly earn industry-leading guest satisfaction ratings – which is first and foremost a tribute to the outstanding work our crews do every day," said Fain. "To continue to improve, we will put more capability to delight and surprise our guests into our crews' hands even as we help them better manage the special challenges of being away from their homes and families while on board."

Royal Caribbean also announced command centers will use augmented reality to assist with navigation and maneuvering. "Think of it as enabling the nautical equivalent of flying on instruments," said Fain. "Our ships always operate with keen sensitivity to the limitations the weather may impose. But having new means to mitigate the weather's impacts on departures and arrivals helps us uphold schedule and itinerary commitments important to our guests," added Fain.

In addition, Royal CaribbeanL is pioneering the use of an air lubrication system that coats the hulls of its ships with millions of microscopic air bubbles to further reduce resistance and drag. In initial uses, air lubrication has reduced fuel consumption at speed by 7 to 8 percent, the company said.

Quantum-class ships already have the technology, and a number of other ships have been since retrofitted. 

The company is planning fuel cell experiments on existing ships, with an eye to extensive use of fuel cells and liquefied natural gas (LNG) propulsion on its upcoming Icon class of ships.

"We are fully embracing the expectation that we run an environmentally sustainable business," said Fain. "Experimenting with new ways to power our ships is just part of our broad commitment to being a responsible environmental steward."