Carnival Corp.: Wearable technology to transform cruise experience

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Ocean Medallions will work in tandem with the Ocean Compass mobile app, which will make drink suggestions based on preferences or prior purchases.
Ocean Medallions will work in tandem with the Ocean Compass mobile app, which will make drink suggestions based on preferences or prior purchases.

Carnival Corp. has created a new Bluetooth-enabled disc that will replace and augment plastic key cards on future ships and be the underpinning for a variety of new ways of doing things on cruises.

The disc, called the Ocean Medallion, will be unveiled by Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald in a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan 5.

A Carnival team has spent more than two years designing the Ocean Medallion, the brainchild of John Padgett, who joined Carnival in 2013 as the company's chief experience and innovation officer.

Padgett, previously a vice president at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, was one of the chief architects of Disney's MagicBand bracelet. The Ocean Medallion will function in a similar way to a MagicBand, but it is more evolved and adapted for use on a cruise ship rather than a theme park.

The Ocean Medallion, whether worn as an accessory or simply in a purse, will function as a room key. A sensor reads the medallion's Bluetooth signal as the guest approaches.
The Ocean Medallion, whether worn as an accessory or simply in a purse, will function as a room key. A sensor reads the medallion's Bluetooth signal as the guest approaches.

The first brand to use the Ocean Medallion will be Princess Cruises, which will outfit three ships to use the device. The debut is set for Nov. 12, 2017, on a Regal Princess cruise from Fort Lauderdale.

Although it will provide room access, payment capabilities and security functions, the Ocean Medallion is envisioned as the foundation of a far-reaching change in how guests experience their cruise.

Its breakthrough feature is the ability to offer guests services that are more personally relevant by learning from the choices guests make in food and drink, shore excursions, ship activities and merchandise purchases.

"We don't think this is a game-changer for the cruise industry or the travel industry, but we think for the entire service industry," Padgett said before a demo of the product. "Because no one in the service industry will be able to react as personally or without friction as we will be able to do with our medallion."

To make it work, Carnival will install thousands of sensors throughout each ship that read the medallion's Bluetooth signals. The discs do not have to be paired with the sensors and do not have to be tapped or touched to any other surface to function.

"You just have to have it. It can be in your pocket. It can be in your pocketbook. You can also accessorize it any way you want," Padgett said.

The medallions will work in tandem with a mobile app called the Ocean Compass, which will be the storehouse for most of the guest's data. The medallion itself is more of a signaling device that creates a "service aura" around the guest, Padgett said.

The Ocean Compass can be accessed through a guest's mobile device, but doesn't have to be. It will also be enabled by a medallion's proximity to hundreds of "portals" around the ship, typically 55-inch or 80-inch screens in elevator lobbies and elsewhere.

There will be a smaller, personal portal at the entry to each stateroom, and the in-cabin TV screen will also function as a portal. Servers will have tablet devices with their own Compass.

The Ocean Medallion is the brainchild of John Padgett, who joined Carnival Corp. in 2013. He previously was one of the chief architects of Disney's MagicBand bracelet.
The Ocean Medallion is the brainchild of John Padgett, who joined Carnival Corp. in 2013. He previously was one of the chief architects of Disney's MagicBand bracelet.

This will enable much more personalized and intuitive services, Padgett said. For example, guests can order a drink anywhere on the ship using the Compass, and a waiter will find them because he can locate them with the medallion and identify them with photos stored on his Compass. Payment is paperless.

The guest's Compass can suggest a drink when he passes by a bar on the ship, based on preferences entered or previous drink orders. Food and merchandise can be handled the same way.

Also, guests can order a drink or food to be delivered at a certain time. And the services will be functional at some ports of call, initially at Princess Cruises' private island in the Bahamas, Princess Caye.

Signals from the medallion are encrypted, so that if they are intercepted they won't be useful, Padgett said.

Shopping, gambling, shore excursions, the photo gallery and embarkation are the other activities that will be most changed by the medallion.

The device will also be a catalyst for larger changes. For example, Carnival plans to redo its terminals, initially in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, to make them calmer and more lounge like, promoting them as areas for passengers to plan meals and shore excursions pre-embarkation using the medallion.

It also plans a dedicated coach service, Oceanline Express, at key ports, starting with Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Content from Carnival's recently launched Saturday morning TV shows will be heavily integrated into the Compass, part of an emphasis on greater story-telling that Padgett brings from Disney.  A new show, Good Spirits, will be launched and there will be a Good Spirits bar created on the three Princess ships, which in addition to Regal will include the Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess.

The medallions, about the size of a quarter and weighing 1.8 ounces, will be included with the fare and can be mailed to the guest's home in a gift box, or picked up at the pier. Carnival will sell a variety of accessories to hold them, such as watchbands, pendants and bracelets.

Carnival will encourage guests to file all their embarkation data from home before the cruise. If they do, using the medallion they will simply be able to go through port security and walk on the ship.

Using a format borrowed directly from Disney, "ocean-ready" passengers will go through a green lane at the terminal, while those with some issues will be diverted to a blue lane.

Guests will be encouraged to create a digital avatar called a Tagalong, which will be used in playful ways to encourage and promote greater personalization and engagement in the guest's chosen cruise.

Other cruise lines have previously debuted versions of activities enabled by the medallion/app combination. Celebrity Cruises, for example, has mobile gaming, which Carnival will introduce as a new activity on medallion-enabled ships. Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships bristle with technology, including WOW Bands, which have some of the functions of the Ocean Medallion.

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