On a recent cruise aboard Norwegian Breakaway, I experienced a taste of what I believe onboard communication technology will one day look like.
A group of friends and I decided to download Norwegian Cruise Line’s iConcierge phone app, which among other things allows you to text and call people onboard the ship without having to use your cell phone provider’s roaming service.
To quote a famous Disney flick, it opened up a whole new world of what cruising can be like. At any given time, we could check in with each other to find out who was where — “I’m in the far booth at O’Sheehans” — or decide where and when we should meet — “Heading to Howl at the Moon at 10:30.”
No more leaving messages on cabin phones, hoping the information would be received. No more leaving notes on cabin doors. No more having to plan out the entire day first thing in the morning. It was freeing. And all for just $7.95 (the app itself is free, but its more advanced uses cost money).
Another cool feature of the app is that it tracks your onboard spending, updating your folio nearly instantaneously, so you can see what you’ve spent up to that exact moment. It was a great way to keep myself on budget.
Some of the app’s features are free to use, like restaurant, show and shore excursion bookings. You can also view a virtual edition of the Freestyle Dailies.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. As with any technology, it could be glitchy. Three of the four in my group were repeatedly kicked off the app, to the point they had to shut down and restart their Wi-Fi in order to get on. The problems were irrespective of device, as two of them used iPhones, while one was on an Android (I used an Android and while I did occasionally get kicked off, it was not to the same extent. Even with that hiccup, we all still managed to remain in contact with each other.
The app has its limits as well, and could use a 2.0 upgrade. For instance, I’d love it if it “knew” when my dinner and show reservations were and consequently built a personalized daily plan, something like “My Schedule.” Then when you pull up the day’s events, I would like to select the activities I want to attend and add them to my plan. That way I’d always know what I wanted to do for the day and where I needed to be – without having to rescan the full schedule each and every time.
Another major limit to the app. It can only be used on three Norwegian ships: Epic, Breakaway and Getaway.
As of this month, only a few cruise lines offer anything similar; Costa Cruises just launched their “MyCosta Mobile” app this week. A major difference between the two is that Costa’s app can be used on all 14 of the line’s ships and doesn’t cost a penny, even for unlimited talk and text between onboard passengers. MSC Cruises also has an app that can be used on their Miami-based ship, Divina. That allows free instant messaging between passengers.
But don’t think these will be the only lines to move in this direction. Jim Berra, chief marketing officer for Carnival Cruise Lines and Chair of Cruise Lines International Association’s Marketing Committee recently said cruise lines are making investment in onboard communications a priority, getting more bandwidth to the ships and developing new apps for cruisers.
I can’t wait.