Cruise lines have long been investing in technology to make the cruise experience more seamless and reduce human contact.
And while those advances may have made the sailing experience better before the pandemic, they are proving essential in a Covid-19 world.
For some cruise lines, the necessity of that technology is playing out in theory, while for others, it's been happening in real cruise situations operating during the pandemic in Europe and Asia.
MSC Cruises, which launched service from Italy in August, said that new technology has not only allowed it to greatly minimize points of contact, but it enabled the line to employ contact tracing.
Guests on the MSC Grandiosa were provided MSC for Me wristbands that facilitate contactless transactions around the ship and provide contact and proximity tracing. Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises, said during Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld last month that if anybody on the ship tested positive for Covid, the line could quickly detect anyone who had been with the positive person for more than 15 minutes at a distance under six feet and quickly isolate those contacts.
"The technology of the wristbands has proved to be very successful," he said. "This has been the key to isolate only a few people and not adding the need to have many people involved in a case."
A device resembling Princess’ OceanMedallion is provided to Costa passengers to assist in contact tracing.
Costa Cruises, which likewise launched service in Italy this summer, has also used a wristband device, which it calls OceanOrbit and which leverages the OceanMedallion technology developed by parent company Carnival Corp. The device enables onboard medical personnel, with appropriate authorization, to immediately access and review contact histories and identify individuals who have been in close contact with an infected person.
Since almost all cruise ships are still idle, much of the technology that will aid in creating a more contactless cruise experience has yet to be used.
One of those advances that will most change the passenger experience is Royal Caribbean Group's reinvention of the muster drill, which it calls Muster 2.0, and which debuted on the Quantum of the Seas' sailing from Singapore last week. Muster 2.0 reduces the muster crowding by making key elements of the drill, such as where to go in case of an emergency and instructions on the proper use of a life jacket, accessible via mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs, eliminating the need for the traditional, one-time, large-group assembly.
Royal began working on the concept years before the pandemic because, said CEO Richard Fain, "we thought it would give a better muster experience."
"But in Covid it becomes essential to our success," Fain said during CruiseWorld. "The timing of that has been fortuitous."
It is among the many technological advances that Fain says "make the cruise experience so much better independent of Covid, but with Covid they really come back and help us."
Another example is Royal's frictionless boarding process that enables people to board with facial-recognition technology, "so you just walk right on the ship without having to check in with somebody and have all the contact," Fain said.
Royal Caribbean’s tracing device, the Tracelet.
Royal also debuted its own tracing wristband last week on the Quantum, called the Tracelet, and is requiring all guests and crew to wear it in order to monitor social distancing and enable contract tracing.
Jan Swartz, president of the Holland America Group, is the Carnival Corp. brand president with the most experience using the OceanMedallion technology: it was during her time as president of Princess Cruises that the line was the first to deploy the technology.
Speaking during CruiseWorld, she said the OceanMedallion wearable, which interacts with what Princess calls "the smart city" onboard, was actually "built for a touch-free world that supports physical distancing."
After the pandemic, Princess will take that "Medallion Class ecosystem to a whole other level," she said.
"We used this pause to really lean into all of those capabilities because we know that consumer expectations in the world of Covid-19 have changed quite dramatically," she said. "So the need for touchless services are perfectly supported by Medallion Class cruising, with touchless embarkation onto the ship and easy cabin door entry. And MedallionPay allows for touchless payment of any service or product you buy onboard the ship."
Swartz also said that the Medallion's Ocean Now service, the program for ordering drinks, food and even shop items (think sunscreen) enables as much or as little interaction as passengers want.
"We think that Ocean Now is perfectly positioned to support our guests with whatever physical distancing they want to have. Whether that's ordering our dinner from their chairs in the piazza or watching sunset on the top deck, their Champagne can find them, even as they move," she said.
Other cruise ship technology that has already been in use, like Medallion, will be more widely used when ships return to service.
MSC's MSC for Me app already enabled guests to book services and manage daily activities on their personal devices. The line has added the ability to communicate with ship staff for services for which guests would have had to visit the service desk.
And technology that has been adopted widely during the pandemic is being used on ships sailing now. For example, Costa's and Royal Caribbean's onboard menus are accessed on passengers' personal devices via QR codes.
Healthy Sail Panel recommendations
Cruisers can expect such technology to be commonplace once cruising resumes on a large scale because its adoption is dictated by the recommendations that the Healthy Sail Panel outlined for the safe resumption of cruising, all of which were adopted by CLIA lines.
Recommendation 45, for example, says that cruise operators "should employ a variety of contact-tracing methodologies" to ensure anyone potentially exposed to Covid-19 can be identified as quickly as possible. Potential contact-tracing methodologies include utilizing Bluetooth technology from cruise line-provided wearable devices.
Similarly, recommendation 21 says that cruise lines should "utilize processes and protocols for touchless check-in and speedier boarding to reduce contact and potential congestion in the terminal."