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FROM INTERACTIVE MAPS TO WIRELESS DATA PLANS, CRUISE LINES ARE EMBRACING DIGITAL OFFERINGS

04 Apr 2014

by Tiffany Duening

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Cruise lines provide the ultimate getaway. Patrons climb on board a moving vessel filled to the brim with entertainment, booze and beach-y vibes to sail away from ho-hum land. But here’s one thing they’re not escaping: their digital lives.

With Wi-Fi at sea becoming cheaper and smart devices becoming pervasive across all age groups and cultures, cruise lines have a growing porthole of opportunity to provide passengers with a new kind of luxury — the digital kind. Cruise companies have a greater chance than ever to provide passengers with personalized services and offers right in the pocket of their Hawaiian-print shirts.

SMOOTH SAILING AROUND THE SHIP

Once passengers have boarded, they’re at the will of the cruise line and are bound, for better or worse, by the ship’s offerings. Along with decadent piña coladas and Broadway-worthy performances, cruise lines can provide passengers with digital solutions to help them navigate sprawling decks and packed activity lists.

After all, the only thing worse than being lost at sea is being lost on an enormous ship at sea. With multiple deck levels and an abundance of booze, the first helpful digital task should be wayfinding, which can be presented through interactive maps with GPS directions. Cruise lines themselves must compete with apps from companies like Ship Mate and Cruise.com, which provide deck maps, itinerary data and turn-by-turn walking directions for a wide range of cruise lines.

With new location-based technology like iBeacons, ships can even suggest entertainment ideas and offers to passengers as they walk around. “iBeacons are introducing a whole new world of indoor location-based marketing that connects the digital world with the physical one,” said Chaotic Moon Studios CEO Ben Lamm. “Any business defined by a physical space needs to jump on this technology to stay ahead.” So far, no cruise lines are bridging this gap.

Despite that, many vessels are now offering smarter wayfinding and more thorough digital signage. Norwegian Cruise Lines is set to implement interactive touch screens that let wandering guests get directions and even make reservations on the spot. “With the introduction of these screens, Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising is taken to a whole new level, allowing guests to further customize their vacation on their time. It’s all about freedom and flexibility,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO.

Along with their expansive space, cruises are also known for their massively packed schedules of offerings, generally delivered in a daily printed format (yawn). Besides being entirely mundane, this method just doesn’t cut it — especially when schedules change or passengers want more information about a particular event. Up-to-date schedules right on a passenger’s device can offer photos, descriptions, reservation info and so much more.

Cruise lines can also give app users an advantage by offering reservations for popular events, on and off shore, with updated information about availability. Convenient features like this could help boost sales of planned activities by appealing to the more spontaneous passengers who didn’t want to book that underwater moonlight excursion in advance.

TAKING A GAMBLE ON NEW SERVICES

Cruise ships have a distinct advantage over many other vacation options: their ability to abandon the strict U.S. gambling laws that exist on land. One of the highlights for both first-time and regular cruise-goers is the onboard casino, which happens to also be a primary revenue source for many cruise lines. That said, most passengers don’t want to spend their entire trip stuck behind a blackjack table.

Celebrity Cruises is the first to augment their casinos with ship-wide gambling right on passengers’ devices. They’ve teamed up with Cantor Gaming to create a multi-platform app that offers mobile gambling through a virtual wallet and an array of popular casino games. The Celebrity Fortunes app, when launched within international waters, gives travelers the chance to play their odds without ever leaving the lido deck.

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DEAR INTERNET, WISH YOU WERE HERE

Despite the gains in ship-wide mobile experiences, cruise ships are still lagging far behind in real-time wireless communication. Onboard “Internet cafes” feel terribly archaic in our normally always-connected world, and most ships still only offer Internet through prepaid packages or exorbitant pay-by-the-minute fees.

Luckily, the leading seafaring Internet provider, Wireless Maritime Services (WMS), owned by AT&T, has recently begun expanding services that promise better connectivity at lower prices. They even deployed 3G data services as part of an agreement with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) last June.

Pramod Arora, COO at WMS, said that “cruisers want to use their cell phones and smart devices at sea the same way they do at home. However, international roaming prices have historically made guests think twice before making that call back home to friends or family. With these new plans from AT&T, WMS is able to provide RCL guests the suite of world-class communication services they expect, at more affordable prices.”

HAVE IPHONE, WILL TRAVEL

Through efforts to expand the branded onboard experience with apps, plus vastly improved at-sea Internet connectivity, cruise ships can soon offer passengers the same benefits they expect on land. Despite their best efforts to “get away from it all,” cruise-goers will eagerly embrace these digital enhancements. Prepare your Instagram.

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