Not Your Grandma’s Cruise Ship: Technology and Connectivity at Sea

Conference Planning Cruise Ship

Conference Planning Cruise Ship

Cruise Ship Conferences….. Who would have thought we would see this post but here we are… and go figure, I have a client setting sail early in 2014 for a conference at sea with about 250 attendees and I am hearing that more and more of my colleagues are looking at cruise ships for events ranging from conferences to incentives.

One of the biggest concerns with cruise ship events has been the technology. From WiFi to signage and everything in between this guest post by Maureen McKeon helps you navigate what can be strange waters for many meeting and event planners.

Technology and Connectivity at Sea

Remember when folks took a cruise to “get away from it all”? You still can – but now it’s an option. Most of today’s cruise ships offer Internet Cafes along with bow-to-stern Wi-Fi and phone connectivity, which is good news for meeting and event planners (and their meeting-at-sea attendees).

And here’s the best news: The cruise industry is unrolling new technology that is nothing short of amazing. With sophisticated networks and innovative platforms on the horizon, groups will soon find that their smartphones and mobile devices provide communications services at sea that are comparable to those they expect on land.

Here are a few of the Recent Technology Developments

Faster Connectivity at Sea

WMS (Wireless Maritime Services), the world’s leading provider of cellular voice and data services at sea, is launching a new platform called Connect at Sea, which is expected to drastically enhance wireless communications and reduce costs.

The Connect at Sea app features services similar to what Skype can do on land, and provides a cost-effective way for cruise passengers to make phone calls, send text messages, and connect with friends and family onboard using mobile devices. It can be downloaded from iTunes or the Android store and does not require the purchase of an onboard Internet plan.

WMS has also introduced 3G data services on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, allowing guests to use their mobile devices to access email, use apps and surf the web at dramatically increased connection speeds. The 3G services mark a major milestone in passenger connectivity and is already available on Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

Streaming Movies and Live News Reports

All-inclusive Silversea Cruises has just launched a complimentary service that allows guests to watch TV or on-demand movies, and enjoy newspapers on their mobile devices and laptops. Already rolled out on Silver Cloud, Silversea plans to have the service on four more ships by the end of 2013. To access the new streaming options, passengers simply connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi network and open their internet browser.

On Board AppsApps at Sea

When you’re planning a meeting or incentive program, there’s nothing like the announcement of a cruise to create excitement and fuel motivation to reach qualification goals. Free cruise line apps are a great way to keep the buzz going before, during and after their cruise event. The Ship Mate App, packed with detailed ship and port information for 13 cruise lines, is one of the best.

The Ship Mate app has lots of features to help everyone in your group prepare for their cruise. With just a few clicks or swipes, they can find suggestions and tips for their ships and ports, meet and chat with others on the ship before they board, explore deck maps and ship venues in preparation for the cruise, and access helpful tools to make the most of their free time onboard and in port. The app will work offline while on board – no Internet required! Want to customize the app for your group cruise event? No problem – the creators of this app are happy to work with meeting planners.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s iConcierge app is now available through iTunes or Google Play and can be used on Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Breakaway. With this app, your attendees can stay informed about daily activities, make reservations for shore excursions or spa treatments, review restaurant menus, and keep in contact with friends and colleagues onboard. Once attendees input their cruise data, a countdown timer will begin, building excitement (and motivation) way before your cruise event.

Digital Signage

RCIwayfinder Signage
RCIwayfinder Signage

Royal Caribbean was the first to introduce interactive WayFinder LCD signage on Oasis of the Seas, and later expanded the popular signage across their fleet. Norwegian Cruise Line followed RCI’s lead by installing interactive touch screens on their newest ship, Norwegian Breakaway. Norwegian guests can use the signs to order specialty items; get directions; and reserve dining, shore excursions and entertainment with a simple scan of their stateroom key. By summer 2015, the digital signage will extend across the Norwegian fleet, with between 30 and 50 touch screens strategically placed around each ship.

Royal Caribbean’s Tech-Powered Quantum Views

Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum-class ships raise the bar on innovative facilities, and most feature spectacular views. The North Star glass capsule, modeled on the London Eye, takes guests 300 feet over the ocean. Sea views are also included with iFly, the first cruise ship skydiving experience offered in a safe and controlled environment. And everyone can have an ocean view with “virtual balcony,” a digital program that streams real-time views of the ocean and destinations to interior cabins.

Another exciting group venue is Two70°, a multi-level room named for its 270-degree panoramic views. By day, Two70° provides a modern and comfortable living room space for your meeting-at-sea attendees to relax and connect, but at night, the space gradually transforms to a spectacular entertainment venue. New technology will create an immersive entertainment experience through a combination of live performers and aerialists, as well as breathtaking video and digital scenery.

Regent Seven Seas’ Free Wi-Fi

With the exception of some river vessels that offer free Wi-Fi, Internet access on cruise ships is still a small investment, averaging about 75 cents a minute (although group packages can usually be negotiated). But the tide may be shifting. After a multi-million dollar investment to upgrade their fleet’s wireless infrastructure (including increased bandwidth), Regent Seven Seas Cruises is offering up to 500 minutes of free Wi-Fi Internet access to guests in Concierge-level suites and higher. The free service begins with the 2014-2015 Winter Season, and applicable minutes are based on the length of the voyage.

Still More Ways to Connect at Sea

While cruise lines are rolling out fantastic new services and platforms to make Wi-Fi-based connections faster, more powerful, and less costly, there’s another movement afoot: “Digital Detoxing”. By powering down devices and starting conversations, more people are developing connections at a much deeper level.

And what better place to power down and connect than at sea? The self-enclosed environment of a cruise ship offers wonderful opportunities to network and strengthen relationships. Isn’t that what your meeting or event is all about? And here’s the best part about disconnecting to connect: it doesn’t cost you or your attendees a penny!

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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