Every family recalls their favorite cruise vacation. What makes any cruise a family’s favorite could be based on anything. It could be the shows, the on board activities, the shore excursions, or the top notch dining experience each night. The list goes on and on. However, there’s one thing which everyone needs to know. Every cruise vacation begins when the family leaves their home and heads for the cruise terminal. In November 2014, Royal Caribbean introduced its newest and most innovative ship yet; Quantum of The Seas. The Quantum of The Seas was introduced as being the world’s first ever “Smart Ship”. In other words, the cutting edge technology both on board and in the cruise terminal is something to behold. Royal Caribbean introduced a new passenger check-in program, known as NGE, or Next Gen Embark. Royal Caribbean passengers are very used to the system that they experience on any cruise. NGE is a whole other story. This coming November 2015, Royal Caribbean’s newest Quantum Class vessel, Anthem of The Seas, will be arriving in Bayonne, New Jersey for the very first time. 2015-16 is predicted to be another incredible season for a new ship in town. Or, is it?
When Quantum of The Seas arrived in Bayonne, New Jersey, Royal Caribbean passengers were exposed to a handful of firsts. The Quantum of The Seas was introduced as the world’s first ever “Smart Ship”. Plus, Royal Caribbean introduced a new dining concept known as Dynamic Dining. Dynamic Dining, as many may recall, turned out to be a “Royal” pain. Passengers complained about the lackluster service and disorganization. The four dining rooms were understaffed, making the experience far worse. But, that’s not the issue. Every cruise begins with the check-in process. NGE, or Next Gen Embark, is supposed to be Royal Caribbean’s most innovative and cutting-edge check-in system. The system, according to Royal Caribbean, is supposed to make the boarding process a whole lot simpler and a lot less stressful with little to no waiting time. How does NGE work? It is not as complicated as some say, but it could still use some much-needed tweaking.
When Royal Caribbean passengers complete their online check-in at home, they must print out their Set Sail Pass. The Set Sail Pass is the passenger’s cruise ticket. In addition, passengers can upload their own security photo. The photo will be saved into Royal Caribbean’s database. In order to be accepted, the photo must concur with a series of guidelines. The guidelines are provided online as part of the online check-in process. When the passengers arrive at the terminal, they are met by the shore staff and the longshoremen. At that point, the next feature of the NGE system is introduced. The longshoremen attach RFID tags on the passengers’ bags. The passengers are provided with the bar code stickers to be affixed to the left side of the Set Sail Pass. There is a black box provided, so passengers can neatly attach them. Once the RFID tags have been applied, the passengers can proceed inside the terminal building to be checked in.
After turning in their luggage, the passengers can begin their cruise vacation. Inside the terminal, the passengers are greeted by the check-in agents, or mobile agents. The check-in agents are holding wireless tablet computers. The passengers must show their Set Sail Pass to the check-in agent. The check-in agent, on his/her tablet, will type in the cabin number or scan the bar code on the Set Sail Pass. The names in the cabin will pop up on the his/her tablet. He/She will take the passenger’s security photo, if not already uploaded online. Afterward, the check-in agent verbally asks the passengers the health questions, whether they have been to Western Africa in the past thirty (30) days and if they have had any flu-like symptoms in the past week. Next, the check-in agent swipes each of the passengers’ passports through the wireless scanner. Once all of the passports have been successfully scanned, the check-in agent will ask the passengers if they checked any luggage. If “yes”, the agent will ask for the luggage bar codes given to them. Each of the bar codes are scanned into the passengers’ cabin profile. To make life easier, the check-in agent will scan all of the bar codes under one passenger’s name. Next, the check-in agent will review the passengers’ on-board charge and personal information. Lastly, the check-in agent checks to make sure that the passengers have successfully completed their on-board charge and ticket contract signatures. Once all of that is complete, the passengers are officially embarked. To complete the check-in process, the check-in agent applies a green stamp on the passengers’ Set Sail Passes. Passengers with on board charge issues, or who are without a Set Sail Pass, are directed to the counter to be checked in.
Having been successfully checked in, the passengers must keep their Set Sail Passes in hand. Each passenger must have their own individual Set Sail Pass. Their Set Sail Pass is scanned in the boarding area and they can proceed onto the vessel. What about those luggage codes? Passengers with Smart phones, IPhones, IPads, tablets, or even Android phones can track their luggage’s location. By using Royal Caribbean’s new Royal IQ app, they can keep track of their luggage as it makes its way from the terminal to their cabin door. Also, the passengers can track their luggage as it leaves the ship during disembarkation. They can easily track where in the terminal their luggage is located. If any piece of luggage should go astray, the guest services desk can track the location of the missing bag. Further, the Royal IQ allows passengers to keep track of their dining arrangements, show reservations, and excursion bookings.
Is Royal Caribbean’s NGE system efficient? Yes, and no. It depends on the passengers. Some have been amazed by the cutting-edge technology. Some, however, are not so excited about it. Some have said that the new check-in concept is too choppy and a bit discombobulated. The Sea Pass cards, or the passengers’ stateroom key cards, are provided on board outside their cabin door. One card is provided in a sealed envelope outside the cabin door, while the remainder of the Sea Pass cards are located inside the cabin. Some passengers and shore staff think that the boarding process should have a bit of normalcy to it. Just like with all of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the Sea Pass cards should be distributed in the cruise terminal. It is plainly easy to say that sailing day (Day 1) is key for generating revenue. Why must passengers have to wait for their cabins to be ready in order to obtain their Sea Pass cards? Once the passengers have their Sea Pass cards in hand, they should be able to enjoy the array of bars and lounges until sailing time. Along with the Sea Pass cards, the passengers are each provided with a Royal WOW Band. This wrist band has an RFID chip in it, just like the Sea Pass card. A passenger can use the Royal WOW Band to make on-board charges and get in and out of his/her cabin.
Royal Caribbean is always coming up with newer and more exciting experiences for its loyal passengers to enjoy. From the North Star, to bumper cars at Sea Plex, the robotic bartenders at the Bionic Bar, and new specialty restaurants, the Quantum Class ships feature countless WOWs. Royal Caribbean’s new NGE system, or Next Gen Embark, is still a feature that has passengers not so sold. Passengers still like the normalcy of getting into the much-famed switchback line to reach the check-in counter. What is so wrong with that? Getting in line is the way this country works, isn’t it? The passengers having to get a cruise ticket stamped and waiting to get on board to get their Sea Pass cards is still a bit of a lengthy process. It is a bit unnecessary. Royal Caribbean’s NGE system is nifty, modern, and somewhat user-friendly. However, some give-and-take could make the process even smoother. Further, it is one more WOW which Royal Caribbean is capable of delivering.