Princess Cruises is promising passengers smoother sailing with its new wearable technology, Ocean Medallion. Sara Macefield tries it out to see if it lives up to the hype
It’s the end of another beautiful sea day and as the fading sun sinks slowly into the horizon, I’m sitting on deck, mesmerised by the white trail of the ship’s wake. Yet something’s missing. I need a drink to make the experience complete, but I don’t want to ruin the moment by getting up and going to the bar.
Then I remember – I have an Ocean Medallion, so I don’t have to. Instead, I reach for my smartphone, tap in an order for a rum punch, and soon a waiter appears with it on his tray.
Success is sweet, and it’s thanks to the latest new piece of kit, the size of a 10p piece, that is appearing on Princess Cruises’ ships in place of traditional key cards.
Ocean Medallion is Princess’ new wearable technology that promises to transform the cruise experience for passengers.
Having debuted on Caribbean Princess last September after a delayed start due to developmental issues, my chance to try it came in January as I sailed from Fort Lauderdale to St Thomas.
From my few days onboard, it’s obvious there is still work to be done, with Princess executives quick to point out that the technology is at the start rather than the finish line – but there is no denying its potential.
While cruise lines including Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises have also launched wearables, Princess asserts that Ocean Medallion takes customer service a stage further, as the breadth of features it offers provides a more all-round personalised service for passengers.
At the most basic level, Ocean Medallion simply replaces the room key card by unlocking the cabin door and doubling as a payment device around the ship, but it comes into its own when combined with six related apps that can be downloaded to a mobile device.
Even better, passengers don’t need to pay for internet access, as it is served via the ship’s own intranet system. Moreover, Princess Cruises claims Medallion Net internet is the best Wi-Fi at sea, with speeds matching land connectivity.
One of my Ocean Medallion highlights comes when I order a mojito on my smartphone while in the hot tub – which causes confusion among the bar staff, who cannot see where I am. A waiter even climbs to the next deck for a better view and spots me sniggering amid the bubbling waters. Having been tracked down, my drink arrives within minutes.
Another is sitting with a friend while she tracks her husband via the family and friends locator as he walks to his cabin in innocent ignorance, reminding me of a high-tech version of Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map, which magically tracked protagonists around Hogwarts School. But best of all is the automatic cabin access, which I love, as it saves precious minutes spent fumbling for my key card.
As I approach my cabin, a special device by the door automatically reads my medallion, which I’m wearing around my neck in a special pendant. My picture pops up on the small screen and the light on the door handle turns to green as a click signifies that the door is unlocked.
It’s not surprising that this – the simplest and most obvious benefit – has proved to be such a winner with passengers, with many I speak to hailing it as the biggest bonus, along with speedier embarkation.
“Having an Ocean Medallion makes getting into the room so much easier,” says Jan Figoni from Oregon. “We also did the pre-cruise ‘Ocean Ready’ whereby the medallions were sent to our home. So when we arrived we whizzed right through. I’ve had priority boarding before, but this was faster.”
Jim Hicks, from Wisconsin, agrees: “We downloaded the apps and did it all in advance and were through in no time. It’s never been so quick.”
He, and others, admit they haven’t used the medallion to its maximum, as the technology takes a little bit of getting used to.
“It’s fantastic, but like anything else the learning process takes you a step back and that’s not against Ocean Medallion, but against change,” Hicks says. “Yet, having used Ocean Medallion, I think I would miss it if it wasn’t there.”
On sampling Ocean Medallion on Caribbean Princess, the line’s UK & Europe vice-president Tony Roberts also cites automatic cabin access as his favourite feature.
“I hadn’t realised how cool it was. I love the way it works as I walk up to my door – as though it is welcoming me back,” he explains.
“It’s a great advantage for all guests, and that goes for the embarkation process when you arrive Ocean Ready. It is a seamless experience.”
Roberts also hails the ease of ordering food and drink through the Ocean Now app and the fun aspect of playing games on the giant Movies Under the Stars screen on deck, where passengers use their own devices as consoles.
That fires my competitive streak, and having created my own “Ocean Tagalong” earlier – a seagoing version of an avatar – I jump at the chance to race it against everyone else’s onboard.
Alas, after leading the pack convincingly on an exciting underwater sprint, my cute seahorse is pipped to the post by an annoying turtle.
It’s enough to make me throw a little hissy fit and fling my medallion overboard. But, hang on, that would be such a waste. Far better to use it to get another drink and drown my sorrows instead.
Book it: Princess Cruises has a 14-night Caribbean East West Adventurer cruise on Sky Princess from £1,273pp. Departing December 14, 2019 from Fort Lauderdale, ports of call include St Thomas, St Maarten, Grand Cayman,Roatan, Belize and Cozumel. princess.com