My wife and I went on a three-day cruise with two other couples last weekend – and quickly realized that Royal Caribbean was an epic failure when it comes to technology.
After making a reservation, our first connection to the cruise was an app we were told we needed to each download, in order to board. This was an omen of things to come. My first thought was what about all of the millions of people who don’t have smartphones – especially the many seniors who love to cruise but still use flip phones? A Royal Caribbean phone rep admitted to me “okay, it’s not essential to have the app, but then you can expect really long wait times getting onto the ship.” More on the app shortly.
The lack of on-board tech sophistication quickly became obvious once we got on deck. We veered directly to our room to drop off the luggage, and immediately realized there were just two wall plugs plus a USB port in the side of the room phone. Since we brought two phones and a smartwatch, we were covered there for overnight charging. But I also had an electronic pocket translator with me – it was an international cruise – that I was forced to charge while we were out and about, during the day. While this was a minor inconvenience for us because we packed electronically light, I imagine it was a larger issue for a lot of passengers. Especially for the many families on board.
Then we tried logging onto the ship’s WiFi. Except the only thing it gave us access to was the cruise line app. That’s it. If we wanted true “VOOM” WiFi to connect with the outside world, it would cost an extra $20 per day (apparently prices vary by ship). And we could only have one device logged in at a time to the account. Plus if I read the explanation properly, we needed to buy it for every day of the cruise – and not just for one day in the middle of the cruise to make sure everything was fine back home. Plus, and here’s where the app comes back in, if we paid Royal Caribbean another $2 per day per person – and yes, we’d have to pay for every day up front – we would be able to text each other on the ship through the ship app. That would be incredibly helpful when some of our party wandered off, so we would know where to meet up again. Only problem is that the texting feature never worked. As in ever. Talk about pirate robbery. I wound up activating international calling with Verizon once we were on land, for a relative bargain of $5 per day. Everyone in our party was saying that Royal Caribbean should just charge guests a little more up front and give everyone included WiFi. What’s the big deal? The technology is obviously in place. I heard several passengers complaining about how they felt like they were getting nickel-and-dimed by the cruise in this way. I know Royal Caribbean is trying to depict this as an upscale experience. But because I get to stay at a lot of luxe hotels for work, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any that don’t offer free WiFi. I’m sure there are some, but it’s commonplace to provide it complimentary. And I know that free WiFi varies by cruise line and the level of the cruise package you buy, but this seemed cheesy on Royal Caribbean’s part for basic customers like me. Listen, I understand taking a cruise is a getaway from real life. But things are still going on at home and people need to stay in touch.
Then there was the lack of technological details elsewhere on board. The display board on the elevators informed us the entire weekend that it was still Friday. Several times the app notified two members of our party that we were heading to a certain island that was actually not on the agenda. Then our excursion time got pushed up by 90 minutes. Except our app never informed us, like it was supposed to. Had our friends not told us that they got messaged by the app, we never would have known.
In the grand scheme of things, we still had a great time. But had the cruise line paid better – or any – attention to its tech failures, the waters would have been much smoother.