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Cruise ships have rarely set a course for the cutting edge. It wasn’t that long ago that you were still calling the concierge via rotary phone. And connecting to the ‘Net was a more harrowing journey that the ones taken by 17th century explorers.

There was a good reason for this: logistics.

You can’t build a cruise ship overnight. Most vessels are planned a decade in advance, and remain in service for about 30 years. Sure, they’re refurbished and renovated through the years. But there’s still a chance that coffee maker is old enough to remember the ‘80s.1

But there has been a sea change in the cruise industry. A big one. And now cruise lines aren’t just catching up to technology that’s popular on the mainland, they’re setting the pace of innovation in many ways to up the convenience, comfort, and wow factor for passengers. From virtual assistants and apps to reliable WiFi, these advancements are designed to make travelers feel like they’re at home — while still floating on the ocean and eating lobster tails from a giant ice sculpture of Neptune at 1 a.m. Ahhh, cruise life.2 (Just remember: technology may smooth out the speed bumps of cruise life, but it’s no substitute for the peace of mind and financial security provided by a travel insurance plan from Allianz Global Assistance.)

Here’s a closer look at how cruise ships are embracing the changing tide of high tech while still providing all the creature comforts and exotic experiences that make them such a popular getaway.

First Things First: Better Cruise Internet Connectivity

Make no mistake: nearly any technological advancement aboard cruises will sink without a reliable, economical connection to the World Wide Web. So that’s exactly what cruise lines did, evolving their connectivity well beyond the sluggish and pricey online sessions that were once isolated to ships’ Internet cafes. Take Royal Caribbean, which teamed up with Voom to stake its claim as “the fastest Internet at sea.” Boasting WiFi  powerful enough to stream shows and connect passengers with loved ones back home via video chat, Voom is now available aboard the cruise line’s entire fleet.3, 4

Cruise Lines Get Appy

Everyone has an app these days, from your favorite airline to your babysitter. (And don’t forget TravelSmart, the ideal travel companion for your travel insurance plan from Allianz Global Assistance.) By overcoming the Internet connectivity issues inherent in floating in the middle of the sea, cruise lines have joined the app movement. Many of these apps mimic the functionality offered by hotel apps. Take, Celebrity Cruises’ new app, which gives passengers the ability to browse entertainment and dining options, as well as open their doors and dial in the right temperature aboard the Edge and Apex (in 2020).2

While apps are built to enhance the onboard experience, they’re also designed to streamline all the logistics and planning that happens before you walk across the gangplank. For example, the Cruise Norwegian app allows passengers to book excursions and dining reservations, check in, and access a boatload of digital documents vs. printing them all out and stuffing them in your pocket.5

Cruise apps are already evolving: you can now synch up your itineraries with other passengers to plan your day together, message fellow cruisers, and even track purchases.

That brings us to the latest trend in personal cruise tech: wearable gadgets. Cruises have long issued cards to make it convenient to pay for drinks, snacks and sundries without having to carry around a wallet or purse. These are now being upgraded. Carnival offers passengers Medallion, a quarter-sized pendant that can be worn on your wrist or around the neck. Not only can it partner with an app to handle onboard transactions, but it can open cabin doors and perform other functions.2

Virgin Voyages adds another layer to its wearable tech. Beginning in the spring of 2020, it will give passengers an eco-friendly bracelet called The Band. Crafted out of recycled ocean plastic, the rope-like wearable doubles as a room key and onboard charge card. It also uses location-based technology to enable delivery of a late-night meal or impromptu bottle of Champagne — whether you’re in your cabin or lounging on the Lido Deck.6

Similar wearable tech is also being offered by MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Princess Cruises. And of course, they’re all waterproof by design.1

Smart Devices at Sea

The wave of virtual assistants and smart home devices we use every day has also hit cruise ships. Alexa and Siri’s tan and fun friend is Zoe, which is available on MSC Cruises’ Bellissma, Grandiosa, and Virtuosa (in November 2020). Having been tested with 400 people asking 2.2 million questions in 30 accents, Zoe can answer virtually anything, telling you about tonight’s menu or tomorrow’s weather in seven languages.2, 1

Thinking Outside the Cabin

When we think tech, our minds often drift to the personal devices that grant conveniences and make life easier. But cruise advancements are also creating some exciting communal experiences.

On the Norwegian Encore, passengers can face off in a 10,000-sq-ft. gaming arena in competitions ranging from virtual reality racing to digitally created escape rooms. In other words, there are two more reasons to pack a motion sickness remedy.2

If you’d rather be an audience member than a participant, check out a show aboard the Celebrity Edge, which boasts 10 synchronized panoramic projection screens, 16 state-of-the-art video mapping laser projectors — and even a pair of spinning spiral staircases, just for kicks. Now that’s one fancy karaoke night.3

It wasn’t that long ago that cruise ships could impress you by preparing drinks in actual coconuts and putting on a dueling piano show. Boats got bigger and boats got smaller. And now cruise lines are wooing customers with high-tech gadgets and onboard innovations designed to make you feel at home while taking you far away from it.

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