SOUTHAMPTON, England — North American travel agents will get their first taste of the Quantum of the Seas this week, as the newest Royal Caribbean International vessel pulls into New York harbor for a series of preview events.
The ship, bristling with new technology and “wow!” features, is expected to host tens of thousands of agents, media and VIPs on a trio of two-night cruises starting Nov. 12.
On Nov. 14, actress Kristin Chenoweth is lined up to christen the 4,180-passenger Quantum at its homeport, Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., where a newly completed 125,000-square-foot terminal awaits.
Uncharacteristically for a vessel built at Germany’s Meyer Werft shipyard, there were still unfinished items on the ship’s punch list as it left here Nov. 2 for the U.S. Royal officials said they hoped to take care of most of them during the transatlantic crossing.
Agents from the U.K. and across Europe got a chance to preview the ship on a two-night cruise from Southampton before it sailed for America. Many of them said it should be a delight to sell.
“It is a very impressive ship,” said Martin Skelly, president of the Irish Travel Agent Association in Dublin. “I loved the dining experience. It’s modern, and there’s something for every customer.”
The association’s annual conference was held onboard the Quantum and drew about 150 agents.
Skelly also said he was impressed by the size and layout of the cabins. “The ship is airy and fresh,” he said. “Royal Caribbean promised a vibrancy, and it is delivered.”
Kelly Trice, an agent at Thomson TUI in Hempstead Valley, England, said the teen club called the Living Room would be popular with her 13-year-old son. She also liked the bumper cars in the SeaPlex and the skydiving simulator.
“Ripcord is amazing,” she enthused.
Other agents praised the quality of the finishes and the design. “It feels like a Celebrity ship to me,” said Susan Hegarty, an agent at Travel Counsellors in Carlow, Ireland.
Hegarty predicted that Irish vacationers would be just as likely to fly to New York to sail on the Quantum as they would to travel to Southampton when Quantum’s sister ship, the Anthem of the Seas, arrives there next April. The short hop to London or Southampton hardly seems worth the flight, she said, and Ireland has nonstop service to New York Kennedy.
Moreover, she said, flying to New York is cheaper than flying to Miami, which has no direct service from Ireland.
June Arlen Eggesbo Lundeby, general manager of USA Spesialisten in Oslo, Norway, said Quantum’s prices compared favorably with an upscale vacation in the U.S.
“I think people have realized it’s not expensive,” she said. A balcony cabin on a seven-night cruise departing Dec. 27 is listed on Royal’s website at $1,749 per person.
“You would never find the same value in a four-star hotel vacation in Miami Beach,” she said.
Travel counselors found few negatives with the ship itself, though in a Q&A for agents with senior Royal executives, Flavia Gray of Go Cruise U.K. said she would have a hard time explaining to clients why there is large magenta sculpture of a bear on the Quantum’s top deck.
RCCL Chairman Richard Fain conceded, “The bear is a little bit ridiculous, and certainly unexpected,” then added, “But isn’t she great?”
Fain made a pitch for agents to focus on the Two70 lounge, a multipurpose space with two-story, panoramic windows facing aft that are covered at night with a screen that employs a unique projection system.
“I would suggest that is a priceless feature that you can talk about and sell anywhere in the world,” Fain said.
Royal Caribbean has also promoted the use of several personal technologies meant to save time or provide convenience, though agents said some of them didn’t work as intended on the preview cruise.
For example, an app to track baggage from curb to room was hard to download because of intermittent WiFi service. Royal said its lightning-fast O3b system, which wasn’t available in Southampton, should solve that problem in New York.
Also, mobile check-in didn’t produce as many green lights as anticipated, forcing those who had one or more issues to go through the more conventional boarding process.
“We had a lot of firsts,” Fain said, explaining that preview cruises are a bit of an anomaly because so many guests are added or deleted to the sailing on short notice. “We had some funny things happening with the manifest.”
He said an RFID bracelet called SeaPass, which is designed to be used as a combination room key and credit card, as well as to call up personalized information at kiosks around the ship, functioned in at least one respect.
Typically, Fain said, hundreds of key cards each cruise get demagnetized by contact with cellphones or digital cameras, requiring a visit to guest services to reprogram the card.
Royal is providing both the SeaPass and the traditional card to Quantum guests. On the Southampton preview cruise, only four passengers reported that their key cards didn’t work, Fain said.