From the Bridge: What Does Carnival Corporation's New Ocean Medallion Really Mean to You?

January 5, 2017
The Ocean Medallion will come to the Carnival Corporation fleet in 2017

The debut of Carnival Corporation's game-changing Ocean Medallion wearable technology, which took place at the annual CES conference this week in Las Vegas, focused on how the system works. 

What's more important is what it is does. 

As Cruise Critic reported this week, Carnival Corporation, beginning with Princess Cruises, will introduce a proprietary system that focuses on bringing the joy back to big-ship cruising. It's about saying -- and proving -- that you can travel on a ship with thousands of other people and have the experience, from personal service to a personal concierge, that you might have thought was off-limits to all but the wealthiest travelers. 

At Cruise Critic, we hear longtime cruisers lament that ships are too big these days. How easy it is to get lost, how hard it is to find a community onboard, how indifferent service can sometimes be. Fair game. And yet, those of us who love the 3,000-plus-passenger ships also have to admit that options and choices are a big part of the appeal of cruise travel. Among many things, we love the sprawling spas, the children's clubs, dozens of restaurants, entertainment in venues from grand theaters to intimate nightclubs, and majestic piazzas. (Tell us about your favorite big ship bits in the comments below!)

The team behind Carnival Corporation's Ocean Medallion at CES in Las Vegas

Is it possible to merge both the contemporary features and amenities that are so important to today's travelers with cruising's traditional virtues, like personal service and an intimate ambience onboard?  

What Carnival Corporation is saying this week in Las Vegas is emphatically yes; yes it is possible. And if technology is the platform on which the Ocean Medallion will perform, what resonates more is how cruising will better suit our individual travel styles. Consider how, for so many of us, our personal devices, such as cell phones, are so much more than talking mechanisms. "Our phones are particularly excellent examples," Carnival Corp. President Arnold Donald said at an Ocean Medallion preview Wednesday night. From apps to photos to social sharing sites, he says, "they are customized and organized around us."

John Padgett, Carnival Corp.'s chief innovation officer, is creating a cruise-centric product that will be as personal to us as our cell phones. Some of the exhaustive effort his team has been making has revolved around ensuring the technology works. What's been inspiring to see is that significant time has been spent figuring out how to give travelers the best possible cruise experience.

That's a big issue for Princess Cruises' President Jan Swartz, whose line is the water-carrier in this innovative new "guest changing" effort. She talks about eradicating "pain points" in the cruise process. What she's saying is, let's figure out how we can make a cruise a better, more seamless, more personal experience at every step along the way. Let's rethink how we embark and disembark the 3,560 passengers boarding Regal Princess, the first ship to debut with Ocean Medallion and Ocean Concierge in November. Let's make the check-in process fun. How do we eliminate the need for people to get in line? How do we get rid of nonsensical hassles over reservations for spa treatments, dining and shore excursions? How can the cruise line parlay information supplied by each traveler into helping each one curate his or her own favorite fun? And this one really strikes closer to home than just about anything else: How can this new initiative empower crew members? How can it transform standard service into the wonderfully, powerfully personal service that was for so long a great cruise travel tradition? 

Over the next 11 months, through the debut of Ocean Medallion Class on Regal Princess and beyond, we'll be following along on what feels like an incredible turning point for cruisers who love the big ships but don't want a mass travel experience. The Ocean Medallion is giving all of us who are passionate about cruising the option to re-create the vacation experience we love to our personal standards. Let's take full advantage of the opportunity.

From the Bridge is a recurring column on hot cruising topics by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Cruise Critic's Editor in Chief. Reach her at editor@cruisecritic.com.

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