It’s one of my favorite moments in baseball: a pitcher unleashes a strikeout pitch so nasty, so unhittable, that the batter walks back to the dugout shaking his head, sometimes even laughing, as if to say, “No way I’m catching up to that. It’s just ridiculous.”
If the cruising industry is anything like baseball, there’s a lot of laughing and headshaking going on there right now. Royal Caribbean’s newest supership, Quantum of the Seas, is so innovative, so high-tech and fun, it really is ridiculous. And no one’s catching up to it anytime soon.
Consider the cruising game changed: Quantum of the Seas is the ship to beat. (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
There’s been no escaping the hype over Quantum that Royal Caribbean has drummed up ahead of its U.S. debut, where it’ll offer itineraries to the Caribbean and Bahamas from Bayonne, N.J. for the rest of the year. Within days of its launch, it was named “Best New Ship” in Cruise Critic’s 2014 Editors’ Picks.
Quantum more than lives up to the hype. It ticks off all the necessary cruising basics: a spacious, well-appointed interior; a helpful and courteous crew; roomy staterooms; high-end stores; countless food choices; and a bright but tasteful decor.
But it’s the high-tech extras — some unprecedented in the cruise industry, others just done better than everyone else — that are bound to attract new cruisers, while leaving experienced cruisers like myself in a stage if delirium.
Here are some highlights:
You’ve gotten over your fear of ships, now it’s time to tackle your fear of heights. (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
It’s a mostly glass-enclosed capsule that takes you 300 feet above the ship, giving you amazing — and, for some, unsettling views of the ocean below. Check out the video of my aerial ride:
RipCord by iFly
Almost like jumping out of an airplane — without that pesky chute. (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
The company iFly, which runs indoor skydiving facilities all over the world, now has one on Quantum, a cruise ship first. Guests suit up in a jumpsuit, goggles, and helmet and step into a chamber, where upward-blowing, 100-mile-an-hour-plus winds suspend you in a simulated free fall. You’ll float and flail through the air as an instructor keeps you from crashing around too much. My ride lasted for about a minute, but it felt much, much longer.
I don’t need no stinkin’ card key; this new wristband acts as your card key, charge card, and cool accessory. (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Quantum gives each passenger a WOWband, which virtually means you may not need your card key, although you’ll get one of those too. The WOWband is an RFID (radio-frequency identification) bracelet that allows you to make purchases, unlock your stateroom, and access other ship functions with just a tap of the wrist. There is a learning curve; it takes a while to get the hang of tapping your wrist against a surface, and there were times when it flat-out didn’t work. Carry your card key as a backup, at least for the first day or two of the cruise until you get the hang of it.
The Bionic Bar
(Photo: Royal Caribbean)
The pride of Quantum of the Seas: a bar run by two robotic bartenders. You use your WOWband to select your drink on several tablets positioned throughout the bar, and the robots proceed to make your drink. Watch me try it out:
The bartenders do other things, too. (See: The Robot Bartender Hit on my Wife)
Not as sexy as the rides but still a big deal. Checking in on a cruise ship can be a slog, but Royal Caribbean says it has streamlined the process. Its SMART Check-In system promises you’ll be on the ship 10 minutes after you begin checking in. Like other ships, it allows you to avoid that pre-boarding paperwork by filling in your booking and payment information online at home beforehand. Royal Caribbean also lets you upload your shipboard ID photo at home, saving you more time.
Hey, DMV: Are you listening? Quantum lets you upload your own ID photo before you board. (Photo: Royal Caribbean)
My check-in experience was a breeze, but I was on a preview cruise that was only three-quarters full. Still, Royal Caribbean CIO Bill Martin assured me check-in will go equally smoothly even when the ship is at 100% occupancy (about 4,000 passengers).
(Photo: Royal Caribbean)
Royal Caribbean already features ice skating rinks on some cruise ships, so Quantum’s SeaPlex was the next logical step. This is a multipurpose facility that resembles the place your parents drove you to on Saturday nights in junior high. It has roller skating, air hockey, an Xbox Live game room (made possible, by the way, with the ship’s faster-than-usual Internet capability), a basketball court, and even a trapeze. But it also has something you probably never thought you’d see on a cruise ship: bumper cars. Of course, I had to check it out. See the video of the resulting carnage:
(NOTE: This was shot by a trained professional, yours truly, on a track filled with journalists on a closed ring. So please, don’t bring cameras or take video selfies on bumper cars.)
Royal Caribbean is planning nothing less than world domination for Quantum. After its debut in the United States, it’ll start visiting Asian ports from its new home port in Shanghai sometime next year. Quantum also has two sister ships joining the fleet: Anthem of the Seas will sail from the U.K. to Mediterranean itineraries next April, while Ovation of the Seas will sail in 2016 for parts as yet unannounced. As Quantum seeks to leave its rivals in its sizable wake, it also leaves behind a big question: Just how is Royal Caribbean or the other cruise lines going to top this? It’s going to be fun to find out.