High tech on the high seas

Kate Ferguson
Quantum of the Seas has been called the world's first smart ship / Picture: Michael Verdure

As I prepare to embark on a journey from New York aboard the world's first "smart ship", my mind fills with expectation and wonder.

Is it true there will be cocktail- making robots? Will I really be able to share pictures on social media from the middle of the ocean and enrage my friends?

But first, I have to turn my attention to the boring bit - the check-in.

With my online profile created a couple of days earlier, including a less-than-flattering web-cam profile picture, it takes a surprising 15 minutes to get through security and into my room. On the bed sits my RFID Wow band - a watch-like device that becomes my ID, room key and credit card all in one.

As the sun sets, casting a golden glow across Manhattan's dramatic skyline, so begins my two-night journey on Quantum of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's latest offering which aims to push the limits of design, technology and entertainment.

It took a crew of more than 1000 designers, engineers and builders seven million working hours to complete this smart ship, which was finished just over a month ago, before embarking on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York.

One of its biggest claims to fame is its internet connectivity. Streaming from eight satellites, Quantum of the Seas' wireless network claims to be faster than that of the entire cruise industry combined. So first, I connect my phone to the network to access the Smart Concierge - an online app to book dinner reservations and theatre shows.

With the formalities done, I set off to see Quantum of the Seas. As I walk into the lobby, it does not feel like a ship but rather the innards of a giant city. Firstly, there is very little movement and I have to focus hard to feel the roll of the ocean beneath my feet. Secondly, the ship is enormous - spanning 18 decks in height and more than five Boeing 747s in length, and accommodating 4900 passengers. It appears I have quite some exploring to do.


  • THE GOOD *

Like any vibrant city, Quantum of the Seas leaves you feeling bewildered with choice, especially for dining and drinks. Gone are the days of the large dining hall, stodgy buffet dinner and awkward 80s dance-floor after-party. It offers 18 unique food offerings - 10 are complimentary, including five upscale restaurants and five casual cafes. Of the eight extras, three are celebrity chef collaborations including Jamie's Italian - his first restaurant at sea - and Devinly Decadence, created by weight-loss celebrity Devin Alexander, which features meals under 500 calories. As for the drinks, a collaboration with chef Michael Schwartz is a must-see for any gastropub enthusiast. It features a wide array of carefully selected craft beers, spirits and eats. Another winner is Vintage - a finely curated wine lovers' lounge where you can buy tasters of top-quality wine with the swipe of your Wow band.

There's also plenty for the young (and young at heart) to do, including the 12m-long Flowrider surf simulator, a rock-climbing wall, a skydiving simulator, bumper cars, roller skating, a circus school and the ship highlight, the North Star. Stretching out like an arm above the ship, it stands more than 90m above sea level - about as tall as Statue of Liberty - and gives you an incredible view of the ship and its surrounds from the safety of a bubble-like vessel.

Another highlight is Royal Caribbean's theatre creation Starwater at Two70° - a theatre room with a 3-D screen backing. The show combines video, robot technology and moving stages into a jaw-dropping production.

Equally stunning are the performances - particularly duo Jane Edwards and Giacomo Bia, both previous dance partners in Saturday Night Fever. They are electrifying as they navigate gracefully through an exceptionally challenging routine of aerials and contemporary dance.


  • THE GLITCHES *

Quantum of the Seas arrived in New York just three days before we board and, with such stratospheric steps in smart technology, I expect hiccups. They come in the form of internet black holes and confused robots.

For me, the much-spoken-about robots at the Bionic Bar provide an unexpected mid-party intermission as a colleague and I wait 45 minutes for my cocktail to arrive. My name, which pops up on the screen as "Jessie T", continues to skip further and further down the production line. As my colleague sips on her robotically mixed Cosmopolitan from a plastic cup, we look at each other in bewilderment. "Have they run out of liquor," I ponder, but there is no one to ask. We move on to a place with a real barman.

As for internet black holes, it appears there is one in my stateroom and it doesn't discriminate between night and day or device - laptop, tablet or smart phone. It leaves me wandering the main lobby of the ship, the hub of social activity, in the hope I can load the app with my itinerary.

The internet works in the main foyer without trouble, loading almost as quickly as wireless speed at home.

Despite the techno glitches, Quantum of the Seas is an extraordinary, almost otherworldly experience.

I will be intrigued to see what this smart-ship technology inspires in the way of future holiday getaways.


  • fact file *

·For more information, visit royalcaribbean.com.au, phone 1800 754 500 and see travel agents.

Kate Ferguson travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean International. Head aboard the high-tech Quantum of the Seas with Kate Ferguson's video feature, online at thewest.com.au /travel.