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The Travel Mavens: Counter-intuitive at sea: Sky Princess crew use computer pads to make service more personal
The Travel Mavens

The Travel Mavens: Counter-intuitive at sea: Sky Princess crew use computer pads to make service more personal

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If ever you have been unclothed or otherwise unprepared for visitors to your cruise ship cabin, and realized suddenly that a steward has unwittingly entered the cabin to tidy up, you will see immediate vacation advantages in the techy OceanMedallion distributed free to passengers by Princess Cruises on an expanding number of its ships.

Not that Princess is touting cabin privacy as the key attribute of the poker chip-sized medallion. Instead, cruisers will hear about easy boarding at the beginning of their voyage and using their smart phone to order goodies from a deck chair for quick delivery.

Key to the OceanMedallion is that crew members know who you are, what you typically consume, and, especially, where to find you. Crew members carry a small computer pad. On the pad, each passenger is a circle, which moves as you move about the ship, a medallion dangling from your neck. Enter a bar and the bartender sees your image in a circle arriving on his pad. Sit in a deck chair and want a coffee? A whiskey? A slice of pizza? Order it on your smartphone. A waiter will find you and your medallion. And voila!

That also means that the crew knows where you are not.

A form of cabin tag has long been played at sea on cruise ships. A steward awaits as you awaken and leave for breakfast, so he or she can clean and freshen your cabin. The same process occurs in the evenings when you go to dinner. Soon, the steward knows your habits, though on vacation many of us tend to eschew routine, confusing the issue. So, the steward, some with more of a lighter knock and a softer hello than others, arrives inside your cabin expecting it to be empty. Sometimes it is not.

Enter the all-knowing OceanMedallion, which Princess Cruises has introduced as part of a huge rewiring and modernizing upgrade that also greatly improves internet connections to the outside world. Medallion capabilities depend on the ship and the quality of smartphones carried by passengers, but the internet reception on all ships is terrific (extra daily fee). Some of the other accoutrements, such as a playful animated friend who tags along whenever you pass a public monitor, are available only on the newer ships.

When my wife and I sailed on the Caribbean Princess in early 2019, the medallion was still in its infancy. Some crew members and lots of passengers didn’t know how to use it, so there was some uneasiness about the newfangled toy. By December 2019, when we cruised out of Fort Lauderdale on the 3,660-passenger Sky Princess, the line’s newest ship, the medallion seemed to be used nearly seamlessly by passengers and crew. I didn’t hear a complaint.

Embarkation was a breeze (Princess collects ID information and a picture before you leave home). Bartenders seemed to delight in checking their iPads as I walked into a lounge and calling me by name (the second time, they knew what drink I had ordered on the first visit).

I could see the value for both passengers and cabin crew. My cabin door, for instance, was aware I was arriving and was unlocked as I approached, showing my name on a box near the door, sort of a personal greeting. I spend so many nights in hotels, motels, and ships that sometimes I temporarily forget my room number. Was it 708 or 718? My door, thanks to the OceanMedallion, knew the answer.

Another great benefit of the OceanMedallion is that stewards now know which cabins are occupied, and by whom, without consulting some sort of list.

“Good morning, Ms. Golden,” said our cabin steward to my wife on the first day, as we left for breakfast. That was followed by a nice chat. A lot of steward-passenger familiarity has been lost on big ships, as time for ship employees to schmooze has dissipated and communication has evolved through the decades into a nameless towel animal sitting on your bed when you return from dinner. I never know what to do with it. Seldom is there much of an opportunity for conversation, which I miss, as I’m fascinated by cabin attendants’ homes, families, and future plans. Their families often are a continent away, and I learned that the new Princess internet system makes it possible for crew members to get Facetime with their families on their smartphones from their own cabins, allowing crew members to enjoy some free time ashore in ports instead of always searching for an internet cafe.

Sky Princess, and a sister ship Enchanted Princess that debuts this summer in Europe, are Princess Cruises’ most technologically-advanced ships, not only for the medallions but also for such innovations as a digital escape room. Worthy of your time to escape at sea: The basic escape story does not change, but each 30-minute game is different, with multiple outcomes. Arrive with your wits about you.

Is everybody happy with this new OceanMedallion?

Prag Shah, global head of experience and innovation operation for Princess, said that older passengers indicate a higher approval rating of OceanMedallion than younger passengers.

“That’s counter-intuitive,” he said, but understandable. “Older passengers may not have had such easy experiences with technology. Younger people do this all the time.” Younger people, he said, may see the medallion as fine, as expected. “With older folks, it is more of a ‘wow.’”

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com

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