Robotic bar staff and virtual reality aren’t the first things that come to mind when thinking about cruises. But it's time to forget images of golden-oldies sunning themselves on deck with a pina colada in one hand and foil reflector in the other: Royal Caribbean’s US-based Quantum of the Seas is the most technologically-advanced cruise ship at sea. Now, in April 2015, a carbon-copy sister ship, Anthem of the Seas, will set sail from the UK for the first time, taking in destinations across Europe. We don't often get excited about cruises, but these ships are packed with travelling techno firsts. Here are ten weird and wonderful innovations to check out onboard.
Last orders for traditional bar staff
Fancy a cocktail mixed by a robotic bar person? (We’re still unsure of their gender.) At the Bionic Bar on Deck 5, created by a company called Makr Shakr, there’s an extensive range of spirits hanging from the ceiling. Create your own blend by tapping an order into a tablet computer and robotic arms reach out to select bottles then shake you a drink. It’s certainly a taste of the future – but like any bar, there’ll still be a queue as they serve around 1000 drinks a day.
A wave of your wrist opens doors
It can be a pain on a cruise having to carry around a keycard to pay for purchases and unlock your cabin door. But the difference here is Quantum and Anthem use wristbands – dubbed WOWbands – featuring futuristic wireless RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Just tap your wrist against the lock to open. It also connects to your onboard account for buying drinks and gifts.
A bumper feat of engineering
Whoever put the world’s first dodgem track at sea onto a cruise ship deserves a high five. Jump into a bumper car and you’ll soon forget you’re not on dry land. There’s even the first hot dog truck at sea for the ultimate fairground experience, while Xbox games consoles are built into the walls on the floor above, with extra comfy seating for a long session.
A room with a view
Imagine stepping inside a London Eye-style pod, which is then lifted 300ft above sea level via a huge metal arm. Accessed from the top deck, the North Star is an experience like no other. It offers once-in-a-lifetime views of the vast ocean and even better views when it’s allowed to be used in port. And because it doesn’t operate when it’s windy, there’s no danger of getting a different type of sea sickness from the swaying.
A wall of light and sound
Entertainment venue Two70 resides at the rear of the ship and features a huge panoramic window with 270 degree views of everything in your wake. But at night it turns into a huge floor-to-ceiling 12k resolution screen with projections that provide an immense backdrop to shows staged there. It’s nearly twice the quality of an IMAX cinema and six other independent screens ‘dance’ along with live performers.
Get a virtual window on the world
The thing about cruising is unless you’ve got the money for an outside cabin, you can’t see the sea. But that’s no longer an issue with the ship’s Virtual Balcony. Virtual reality is encroaching making waves the travel industry and Quantum of the Seas is no exception: cameras across the exterior combine images to project a view onto an 80-inch high definition screen on your cabin wall. The image shows the actual perspective of what you’d see if there was a real balcony there.
Go wireless ultra fast
Personally we love that cruises mean you can’t get online easily. But changing tastes means Quantum and Anthem offer satellite-based wi-fi through a system called O3b. Speeds are promised to be the fastest at sea, even when in the middle of nowhere, and that means you can use the onboard app to find your way around, book dinner reservations or report issues – even catch up on TV from home and research ports of call before you arrive.
© David MG/Shutterstock
Staff prescribed tablets
You’ll soon notice all the staff have tablet computers. They’re in the restaurants, at the front desk and across the ship – even built into walls alongside huge touch screen information centres. Waiting staff use them to track your tastes and preferences so you only get the food and drink that’s suitable for you.
Set sail from your computer screen
You don’t even need to step foot on Quantum of the Seas to experience it for yourself. Royal Caribbean has teamed up with Google to create a Street View of the whole ship. It used more than 15,000 still images that took five days to stitch together. You can find it for yourself here.
Check-in without a struggle or hassle
People who book with Royal Caribbean on Quantum or Anthem will benefit from one of the smartest check-in systems ever seen. You upload your own security photo from home and fill in everything you need online in advance. When you arrive you can monitor your luggage from a smartphone to see when it will arrive at your room, thanks to attached electronic tags.
Get inspired to travel with the Rough Guide to 2015. Find out the top countries, cities and best-value destinations to visit this year. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.