(10:15 a.m. EDT, Papenburg, Germany) -- When Quantum of the Seas debuts this fall, it will be the most technologically advanced cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited Chairman and CEO Richard Fain revealed at a news conference Monday at the Meyer Werft shipyard where the vessel is being built.
"This ship's combination of ease and flexibility would make a yoga instructor proud," Fain said.
Fain and technology expert David Pogue, speaking to a group of journalists, unveiled a range of technological advances designed to improve the passenger experience, even before people board the ship.
Among the highlights of the announced technology enhancements:
•Improved check-in and boarding process. In addition to the typical online check-in process, passengers can upload photo IDs ahead of their cruises. They'll be issued digital boarding documents, which Royal Caribbean says will help them get on the ship in less than 10 minutes, with no lines and no forms to fill out when they arrive to port. Also, suitcases will be tagged with radio-frequency ID devices at port that will allow passengers to use their mobile devices to track their luggage en route to their cabins. The same devices will be used to allow for luggage tracking when passengers disembark.
•Apps for better scheduling and onboard communication. Two new apps will help passengers plan the details of their cruises. Cruise Planner is designed to be used ahead of the sailing, giving passengers the opportunity to book spa appointments, shore excursions and dinner reservations from their mobile devices ahead of their sailings. Once onboard, passengers can use Royal iQ to keep track of their schedules. The daily Cruise Compass will also be available via Royal iQ, and passengers can pick activities to try out and be alerted if there are scheduling conflicts. Royal iQ will also allow passengers to communicate with one another while onboard Quantum of the Seas. Using Royal iQ's scheduling features is free, but it will cost passengers a yet-undetermined fee to use the communication portion of the app. Passengers will also have the option to use RFID wristbands rather than the traditional keycard to gain entry to their cabins and make purchases onboard. The wristbands will cost $2 per person.
•Super-fast Internet. Partnering with Ob3 Networks, Royal Caribbean has hooked into satellites that will allow passengers to experience Internet speeds akin to what they might find on shore: Fast enough, the company says, that passengers could watch streaming video, share vacation photos via social media and video conference with loved ones at home, options almost unheard of when it comes to Internet on cruise ships, which is notoriously slow.
•Tablets for the crew. Royal Caribbean is giving Microsoft tablets to every crewmember on Quantum of the Seas, theirs to keep as well as use to better track passenger preferences. Crewmembers can also use the tablets to communicate with their families at home. The line will eventually give tablets to every shipboard employee fleetwide -- 40,000 total.
•Robot bartenders. While Royal Caribbean has revealed little about the bars and lounges on Quantum, today's announcement provided a glimpse into at least one space, dubbed Bionic Bar. Here, passengers order cocktails via tablets, then watch as robots mix their drinks.
•A green commitment. All lighting on Quantum of the Seas will come from LED or fluorescent lighting, and hallways will feature motion-sensitive lighting; when no one is around, the halls will dim, conserving energy. Cabins, too, will feature environmentally sound lighting systems.
Royal Caribbean's new ship debuts in November, when it sails from Southampton to Bayonne, New Jersey, where it will homeport for the winter before it moves to Shanghai. Fleetmate Anthem of the Seas, expected to be a near-twin, debuts in spring 2015 in Southampton and will homeport in Bayonne beginning next fall.
-- By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor