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Cruise ship focus - Quantum leap? Not yet!
World of Ships

Cruise ship focus - Quantum leap? Not yet!

Posted Monday, February 2, 2015   |   1093 views   |   Leisure Interest   |   Comments (1) In early November 2014 William Mayes was on the maiden voyage of Royal Caribbean's new cruise ship Quantum of the Seas, and reports on his onboard experiences.

As each new class of ship comes on line, for whatever operator, it must lave new features, — in reality gimmicks — to attract passengers and provide something that differentiates both the ship and the line from its competitors. Royal Caribbean International's new Quantum of the Seas is no exception and takes the passenger interface with technology to a new level. However, much of this innovation failed to deliver as designed on the ship's maiden voyage from Southampton to Cape Liberty, New Jersey in November 2014.

Quantum of the Seas was built by Meyer Werft at Papenburg, Germany and handed over to Royal Caribbean just a few days before her first arrival in Southampton, from where she did at least one travel trade promotional trip. With a gross tonnage of 168,666 and a length of 1,141ft, she is not Royal Caribbean's largest ship: in terms of gross tonnage she slips into third place in the table of the world's cruise ships, behind fleets ates Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

Cabins on upper decks
The layout of the ship largely follows the current trend, with the bulk of the public rooms on the lower decks (3, 4 and 5) and cabins on the higher decks (6 to -13). Interior cabins have a virtual balcony, which gives the view that the occupants would see if the cabin had been outside, and cabin storage space is well organised and plentiful.

Again, in keeping with the norm, there is a large theatre forward, which spreads over three decks. The production show on the maiden voyage was Mamma Mia, a two-hour extravaganza of song loosely woven into a storyline. However, bucking the trend, the music for this performance was provided by a live orchestra.
At the after end of the ship is the second major entertainment venue, Two 70, a large three-deck space overlooking the stern in daytime, but transformed into a visually stunning technology showcase for evening performances. Here, in the evening, the massive stern windows are covered by equally massive screens on which 18 projectors create some wonderful effects, entertainment in themselves, but also the backdrop to the live performances in this versatile room. There is also a bank of six robot screens, but during the transatlantic crossing some of these were not working. This single room has been reported as costing more than the company's first entire ship (Song of Norway).

A further technological challenge was presented by the robot bartenders in the Bionic Bar. After what appeared to be round-the-clock reprogramming being carried out on the maiden voyage, these seemed to be working after a fashion by the time the ship arrived in the USA.

Another room of note is the two-deck-high Music Hall, a multi-purpose venue that features some extremely good bands in the evenings. Reports suggest that this room will be turned into an extension to the casino (which occupies a large part of deck 3) when the ship moves to China.

Eating is an important part of any cruise, and on Quantum of the Seas there are four main included dining rooms: Chic, Silk, American Icon and The Grande, all serving different types of food. However, the menus in these did not change during the crossing. Royal Caribbean has introduced Dynamic Dining on this ship, so there are no fixed seating arrangements. Even when booked into restaurants on a ship that is designed to eliminate queues, passengers could be in a I5-minute queue. Additionally, there are several extra-charge restaurants, ranging from the quirky Wonderland to Michael's Pub, which serves bar snacks, and Johnny Rockets burger bar.

Devinly Decadence, the Solarium bistro, is included for breakfast and lunch, but incurs an extra charge for dinner. The massive Windjammer Marketplace provides buffet-style meals and has two bars and a bakery counter. The Grande is the only formal restaurant aboard the ship, but with no formal nights the ambiance around the ship is lost, and it is not unusual for someone in a dinner jacket to be sitting adjacent to another passenger in shorts and sandals in one of the bars before dinner.
All the waiting staff in the bars and restaurants have been equipped with a tablet device, because not only does this ship supposedly eliminate queues, something the tablet is meant to aid, but it is also moving towards a paperless cruise concept, although initial glitches led to their frequent abandonment in favour of paper and pencil. Check in staff in Southampton were also using tablets, and the ensuing chaos and delays there resulted in a $300 per cabin on-board credit.

A cruise App
Royal Caribbean has introduced the Royal i(2 app for smartphones. This could be a great step forward when the initial problems have been ironed out. Once connected to the ship's system (not always as easy as might be supposed), it allows bookings for restaurants, shows and other activities. It should also allow for luggage tracking, as each checked bag is given a unique tag.

With the delay in delivering the last of the bags at about eight hours from when they were checked in, this would have been a very useful feature. But the message 'there are no bags associated with this booking' was less than helpful. Another technology problem was the internet. Royal Caribbean advertise that Quantum of the Seas has more bandwidth that all other cruise ships combined. But on the maiden crossing connection was poor, slow or actually non-existent The company dearly, understood the problem, as all fees paid for internet packages were refunded on the last day.

A particular feature of Royal Caribbean ships for many years has been the physical activities, exemplified by the iconic Rock-Climbing Wall. In recent years ships have been equipped with ice rinks and Flowriders, and the Oasis class vessels also have a zip wire across the Boardwalk., eight deck below. The wording on the waivers that have to be signed for many activities exempt Royal Caribbean for any liability 'from the beginning of the world to the end of time' amusing but very clear.

Quantum of the Seas has no ice rink, having a two-deck-high activity centre instead, known as the Seaplex, on deck 15, which is used for roller-skating, trapeze, basketball and other sports. Perhaps the most impressive use for this space is as the platform for bumper cars, an activity that was clearly popular despite the queues and the number of cars taken out of service for maintenance. The faces of the passengers using the trapeze showed varying degrees of terror.

The Seaplex also features a hot dog van, part of which extends through the wall to the open deck outside. The jogging track encircles this deck, but the strategically placed giant pink bear must he a nuisance to the sporty as it seems to be a draw for passengers wanting to be photographed with it, thus obstructing the track. Bumper cars at sea is a first, as is RipCord by iFLY on deck 16. The best description of this might be a vertical wind tunnel in which the experience is somewhat like free-fall before opening a parachute. Another innovation is North Star, a capsule that will elevate a maximum of 14 passengers up to 300ft above sea level. After queuing for almost two hours, it was something that was just about worth doing, once.

Quantum of the Seas arrived at Cape Liberty, New Jersey on 10 November 2014, after a crossing that started with several days of force ten winds and high seas, which the ship handled very well. She then spent some time on short publicity trips before heading for the Caribbean on her first cruise. She will be based at Cape Liberty until about April 2015, when she will move to China, where she will be based for the foreseeable future.

Royal Caribbean describes Quantum of the Seas as 'the world's first smartship', and once the initial problems have been resolved the technology will be impressive.

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