Virtual Balcony

4 Royal Caribbean features inspired by something else

In:
13Jan2016

When Royal Caribbean designed its cruise ships, they built these ships from the keel up to offer guests amazing experiences, and in some cases, the inspiration for new features or areas was from something outside the company.

In business, once a concept or idea is proven to be succesful, it is not unusual for companies to start adopting it into their products to improve their offerings. With Royal Caribbean, they are not afraid to branch out and try new ideas that have the potential to attract new customers.

Today, we look at a few different aspects of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience that were borrowed, adopted or inspired by something outside the company.

Virtual balcony

One of the most impressive innovations that Royal Caribbean has rolled out in the last few years are its virtual balcony staterooms, where inside staterooms offer real-time high definition views of the ocean.  It is essentially a balcony experience for an inside stateroom price.

The idea to display live outdoor views in inside rooms was first done by Disney Cruise Line with their virtual portholes when they debuted on the Disney Dream in 2011.

Photo by atlassb

Royal Caribbean took that concept and made it significantly larger.  Virtual balconies are 80-inch LED screens recessed into the wall, complete with curtains and faux balcony imagery.

Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain mentioned Royal Caribbean saw what Disney was doing and decided to improve upon it. 

"We actually had looked at the idea, and we didn't think that the technology and the receptivity from the public was there," Fain says. Disney "proved that the public does value something like this."

North Star

One of the signature features on Royal Caribbean's Quantum class cruise ships is the 300-foot observational pod known as North Star, which gives guests 360-degress views of everything around.

The idea for North Star was inspired by the London Eye, but instead of placing it on a ferris wheel, there is just one pod and it is attached to a giant robotic arm.

Photo by Khalid M.

Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain said in an interview, "Quite frankly, the success of the London Eye had a lot to do with this."

The Grande

When Royal Caribbean designed its formal night, all the time restaurant, The Grande, on Quantum of the Seas, it went back in time for inspiration.

The design for The Grande is evoked, "by the grandness and classic detailing of European ocean liners."

Photo by Retronaut

Essentially, The Grande is a throwback to the kind of dining rooms the golden age of ocean liners featured. It's when dining was not just a task, but a time-honored ritual.

Boardwalk

On Royal Caribbean's Oasis class ships, the Boardwalk neighborhood is always popular with guests because of the pleasing aesthetics, fun activities and great views of the sea.

The Boardwalk neighborhood was inspired by both the seaside piers that dot the coast of England and the nostalgic boardwalks of yesteryear such as Coney Island.

Photo by Martin Nicolaus

The focal point of the Boardwalk is the traditional, hand crafted carousel, which would be common on many boardwalks.  There is also hot dog stands, ice cream, and even a candy shop called, "Candy Beach" (get it?).

Royal Caribbean Virtual Balcony: Everything you wanted to know

In:
Category: 
14Aug2015

The virtual balcony stateroom on a Royal Caribbean cruise offers guests the chance to pay for an inside stateroom but get a balcony stateroom view. This amazing innovation is exclusive to Royal Caribbean and combines impressive technology with break taking views.

If you are considering booking a Royal Caribbean cruise, here is everything you need to know about virtual balconies and how they work.

What is a virtual balcony?

Virtual balconies are 80-inch LED televisions that are in inside staterooms on select Royal Caribbean ships that provide live HD views from outside the cruise ship, right into your stateroom.

The screens are 4K ultra high definition capable screens that stretch from floor to ceiling and receive a video feed from the ship's cameras that are mounted at the stem and stern of the ship.  

In your stateroom, you can turn the virtual balcony on or off at your discretion and enjoy a view just like if you had a real balcony stateroom.

Royal Caribbean even added sound and a computer generated balcony overlay to give guests the perspective someone with a real balcony stateroom would have.  Royal Caribbean has also provided the virtual balcony with curtains, just like the real thing.

Ships that offer a virtual balcony

The following Royal Caribbean ships have a virtual balcony stateroom

  • Navigator of the Seas
  • Quantum of the Seas
  • Anthem of the Seas
  • Ovation of the Seas
  • Harmony of the Seas
  • Voyager of the Seas
  • Explorer of the Seas

Tech behind the virtual balcony

Making the virtual balconies work was no easy task because of a variety of ship-specific needs that were not available when the project was first being developed.

BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT MAKING OF VIRTUAL BALCONY

The view of the ocean is provided by two RED Epic cinematic cameras.  These cameras have fantastic dynamic range and can support up to 240 frames per second.

The camera picks up just about what the human eye could see, so on evenings where there is no moon, on a real balcony you would see nothing but darkness and the same is true for the virtual balcony.

The virtual balcony recieves the feed and displays it on 80" 4K LED Sharp Aquos screens in each stateroom.  

Do you want to stay in a virtual balcony stateroom on your next Royal Caribbean cruise? Tell us in the comments below!

8 days of Virtual Balcony Views on Quantum of the Seas

In:
12Feb2015

I'm happy to welcome back guest blogger Don & Heidi from EatSleepCruise.com! They've got another really interesting blog post to share with everyone today about what I consider to be one of the coolest features on any Royal Caribbean ship. Enjoy!

Inside cabins, by their nature, can sometimes feel claustrophobic. While we almost exclusively stay in interior cabins, as a cost saving mechanism, we admit, they do sometimes feel closed off from the rest of the cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean must have heard our pleas when designing the Quantum of the Seas. To enhance the experience in these interior cabins, and bring travelers one step closer to the ocean, this innovative ship offers “virtual balconies”.

Yes, those staying in interior cabins can now have a real time view of the outside world. These virtual balconies are really 80" 4K LED Sharp Aquos screens that pan floor to ceiling, and through the use of technology, project real time video and sound. There are even curtains on the side of screen to complete the effect.

What are these technological wonders like you ask? Well, we recently spent 8 days sailing on Quantum of the Seas and can give you a detailed description of our experiences with these new portals to the outside world.

Day 1-- Embarkation Day

Yes, the virtual balcony is on as soon as you enter your inside cabin. We stayed in room 10-207, portside. This meant that our virtual balcony was actually displaying the view from the starboard side of the ship. Getting on the ship at Cape Liberty, NJ, the view is not too spectacular. But, it was pretty cool to step into your cabin and be able to watch the action outside.

Day 2 and Day 3-- At Sea

Waking up to an ocean view is one of the reasons travelers love to cruise. Now with the virtual balconies, even those in an inside cabin can wake up to the waves in the ocean and the sun. It was our first full sea day that we appreciated the resolution of these screens; the colors of the ocean and sky were crystal clear. It was also great to wake up and get a feel for the weather outside. On Day 3, our second full day at sea, we were able to tell that the weather was much nicer than on Day 2.

Day 4-- San Juan, Puerto Rico

Seeing the Port from your virtual balcony is really quite impressive. The 4K, high definition view gives you a level of detail that is eerily life-like. When we arrived to San Juan, on day 4, there were already two ships in port, and it felt like we could reach out and touch them on our virtual balcony. What was even more amazing was getting to see one of those ships, the NCL Gem, sail away. This is something we would have normally missed on a typical inside cabin, but we were able to experience everything via our virtual balcony.

The virtual balconies are always on (if you so choose), so even at night there is something for you to see. During the overnight we had on Day 4, we got to witness the other ship in port, the HAL Westerdam, turn on its exterior lights at dusk. With the resolution of these screens, you can actually see people walking around the other ship.

Day 5-- San Juan, Puerto Rico

It’s a new dawn, a new ship, and we are feeling good. This morning, we awoke early to see that Disney Fantasy was parked where the NCL Gem had been yesterday. HAL Eurodam also pulled in to port a while later. None of these changes would have been apparent to us if it weren’t for the virtual balcony, or a trip to the top deck.

Day 6-- Labadee, Haiti

Seeing another ship sail away is one thing, but watching the real time sail-in to a port from the virtual balcony is an entirely different experience. During this cruise, we got to watch Quantum of the Seas dock in Labadee, and it was quite the show. We were able to get a few minutes of the sail in on video. While the video does not do it justice, it does give you a sense of how “real time” the displays are as you are able to see the ship’s position in relation to the land as she is being docked.

It was not until day 6 that we learned there is a remote control to turn the virtual balcony on and off. All along, we had been treating the virtual balcony like a real balcony and pulling the curtains closed at nighttime to block the view. But, it was here on day 6, when we returned from Labadee, that we first heard sound. Yes, the virtual balconies have sound, at least when it works. When we arrived back in our room after our outing in Labadee, we could still hear the music from the performers on the dock. After sailaway, we could also hear the sounds of the ocean.

At this point, we realized it might be difficult to sleep now, so we asked our stateroom attendant if there was a way to turn off the sound. Apparently, we were missing our remote control all long that allows you to control the images and sound, a simple on/off and mute function.

Days 7 and 8-- At Sea

On Day 7, we slept in a bit, but when we awoke, we turned on the virtual balcony and were greeted with beautiful sunshine and the sound of the waves. The sound really gives the virtual balcony a much more authentic and realistic experience. Later that day, we returned to this beautiful moonlight night, but noticed that our sound was no longer working. Guess the technology hasn’t been perfected yet.

Day 9-- Disembarkation

Like all good things, they must come to an end. Even when arriving back at port, to begin the trek home, the Quantum of the Seas virtual balconies were there to show us what it was like outside, complete with a trace snow cover. Even though this was our good-bye, the virtual balcony was now ready to greet some new guests and provide real-time views for those more economical cruisers!

Takeaways

While I would not replace the virtual balcony for a real balcony, if you are looking to save some money when sailing on a Quantum class ship, the virtual balconies are a really nice enhancement. We are not sure that we would pay more for a virtual balcony, if there were additional costs down the line, but for the time being, these high tech additions make your cruise more enjoyable and are a definite WOW. We are sailing on Anthem of the Seas in 2016, and we are looking forward to our virtual balcony views on that new ship!

Video: Virtual Balconies on Quantum of the Seas

In:
05Nov2014

When Royal Caribbean announced the concept of a virtual balcony on Quantum of the Seas, it was a big deal because it offered passengers in an inside cabin a view without the cost of a balcony or even oceanview stateroom.

Today we have a new video by Royal Caribbean that has a behind the scenes view on this unique feature found on the world's smartest ship.

Speaking of virtual balconies, don't miss our exclusive interview with the team that built the virtual balcony!

An inside look behind the making of Royal Caribbean's virtual balcony

In:
20Feb2014

Of all the new and intriguing innovations coming to Royal Caribbean's newest cruise ship, Quantum of the Seas, few have captured the public's imagination quite like the virtual balcony.

Photo by Control Group

These 80-inch LED screens offer cruisers in select inside staterooms the opportunity to get views around the cruise ship in real-time displayed in their cabin.  We had a chance to talk with the technical lead of the virtual balcony, Tim Mattison from Control Group, and dive into the details of how he and his team created these new virtual windows to the sea.

From the project's creation, Mattison and his team had a good idea of how they wanted to tackle the project but there definitely some technical hurdles to overcome, "We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to accomplish. There were a few features that were trickier to implement than we thought, but I think the bulk of it was tying together all the different systems it talks to."

So what's so difficult about getting a video feed from one end of the ship and displaying it somewhere else on the ship?  The answer is far more complex than you might think.  Mattison said it took a team of network engineers and software engineers just to get it working in a prototype environment, "there's so much behind the scenes to make it happen."

Tim Mattison and team member working on RED camera. Photo by Control Group

Mattison was particularly proud of the two RED Epic cinematic cameras mounted at the stem and stern of the ship to deliver the video to the virtual balcony displays.

"We had a couple of requirements for a camera and we spent a very, very long time finding a camera that met them.  RED was the only company that would warranty the camera and said it would run indefinitely.  According to RED, we have the record for the longest running RED camera.

We approached plenty of them [other manufacturers] and all of them said our camera will not do this and if we find out that you're doing this, we will not honor your warranty.  RED said please do this, this is what we want you to do with our camera.

The RED camera has fantastic dynamic range and it supports incredible resolutions and the sensor is huge.  This camera supports up to 240 frames per second in certain resolutions."

Interestingly the camera itself supports 4k resolution, which is a generic term for ultra high definition television (UHDTV), and while the output in the virtual balcony is currently downsampled to the virtual balcony's native resolution. In fact, in the future with a few upgrades, the virtual balcony could upgrade to deliver a true 4k experience without major hurdles thanks largely to the RED cameras.

One of the questions our readers wanted to ask Mattison was what happens at night and how good the picture is during the evening.  

Mattison replied simply, "You see basically what you see when you look out the [real] balcony.   But if you have moonlight coming off the waves, you see that.  They wanted it to be as authentic as possible; if you were to look out your balcony and see nothing, that's what you're going to see."

Another good question from our readers was why the virtual balcony shows a view forward or aft but not sideways, like a real balcony does.

Mattison responded, "There was no place to place a port or starboard screen.  If you have a forward screen, you want have it face forward. There were some concerns about sea sickness and things like that. There may be port and starboard views eventually, but that's about all I can say."

From my talk with Mattison and others from Control Group, I got the subtle notion that what we know about virtual balconies today will not be the final version and that more virtual balcony features will be announced in the future.

We also wanted to know if guests can change the view between forward and aft currently.  Mattison said, "No, it was one of the things that was under consideration. We wanted to keep the remote control as simple as possible. And again, with wanting to have an authentic view they wanted to make sure that people couldn't change the view. At least for now.  If you had a real balcony, you can't just say I'd want to see the balcony on the other side."

Mattison did indicate there were no limits to what the technology could do and if Royal Caribbean wanted to allow guests to change the view or offer other views, it could be done, "If people are interested in it, it's totally possible.  There are no limits to the technology that would stop us from doing that.  So if you want it, request it."

Previewing Royal Caribbean's virtual balconies

In:
31Jan2014

When Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas emerges from dry dock next week, among the new changes onboard the ship will be virtual balcony staterooms that feature an 80 inch high definition LCD screen in select inside staterooms.

Fox News interviewed Ronnie Farzad, Royal Caribbean’s head of entertainment technology, and he says the new screens stretch from nearly floor to ceiling and wall to wall, complete with the sound of the seas in real-time from the camera location. Royal Caribbean is also included a banister for a feeling of safety.

Why a banister?  Well, Royal Caribbean told Fox News that they tested a simulated virtual balcony with 30 to 40 people at Royal Caribbean headquarters, and many of the testers complained that an open ocean view is a little scary because there was nothing to keep passengers from “falling in,” especially if the ship is moving in high seas, Farzad said.  

While Navigator of the Seas only has about 80 staterooms with virtual balconies, there will be a virtual balcony in every interior cabin on Quantum of the Seas. There will even be smaller virtual balconies in the studio staterooms that accomodate solo cruisers on Quamtum of the Seas.

Charlie Miller of Control Systems, the concept design company behind the virtual balconies, spoke to Fox News about several of the challenges in creating an authentic feel to Royal Caribbean’s virtual balconies. 

Another challenge was making it all look the way designers envisioned, as Fox News reports, "Designers wanted to create virtual banisters and even balusters, the vertical poles that hold the banisters in place. But the banister had to appear to be outside the window, like on a real balcony. And that created a whole new set of visual challenges, because the look of a real banister changes all the time as the sun and the ship change directions. The answer was to incorporate sun movement charts and powerful GPS data to add “real” shadows and highlights to the virtual banisters. At the same time, they decided not to put virtual glass between the balusters."

 

Everything we know about the virtual balcony

In:
05Aug2013

If there's one feature of Royal Caribbean's next-generation cruise ship that is just starting construction, Quantum of the Seas, that is capturing people's imagination the most, it's likely the virtual balconies.  These 80-inch LED screens attached to a wall are promising to deliver an innovative take on the inside cabin.  

Understandably, there's a lot of intrigue regarding this new kind of cabin and people want to know what it is exactly and what to expect.  We don't know everything quite yet, but here's a listing of all the information on virtual balconies that we do know in one place.

What is a virtual balcony?

The virtual balconies will be 80-inch LED projection screen that stretches from floor to ceiling.  They will offer digital real-time views of the ocean and destinations visible from the ship’s exterior.  

It will be displayed in high-resolution color on a giant 80-inch LED screen on the wall of an otherwise windowless stateroom.  It will work at sea and in port.

Will virtual balconies cost extra?

When they were announced, Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein said there will not be a specific surcharge for interior cabins with virtual balconies, but added that he hopes they will bring higher yields.

How many inside cabins on Quantum of the Seas will have virtual balconies?

There will be 373 inside cabins on Quantum of the Seas that will offer the virtual balcony feature.

Will any ships other than Quantum of the Seas have virtual balconies?

It's a safe bet sister ship Anthem of the Seas will have virtual balconies along with the unnamed third Quantum-class cruise ship Royal Caribbean has on order.  

In addition to those ships, Navigator of the Seas will receive virtual balconies as part of a previously planned refurbishment.  Navigator of the Seas will go for its refurbishment in December 2013. It is scheduled to sail from Galveston when the upgrades are complete.  Royal Caribbean will use Navigator of the Seas as the "testing ground" for this brand new innovation.

In addition to Navigator of the Seas, virtual balconies will be included as part of scheduled refurbishments for Voyager, Adventure and Explorer of the Seas.  Those ships are set to undergo the revitalization process in 2014-15.

Will the virtual balcony projection be on all the time?

No, you may turn the virtual balcony feature on or off at your convenience.

Where did Royal Caribbean come up with the idea for the virtual balconies?

According to Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain, they got the idea from Disney Cruise Line's virtual portholes that debuted on their ships a few years ago.

"We actually had looked at the idea, and we didn't think that the technology and the receptivity from the public was there," he says. Disney "proved that the public does value something like this."