Technology innovates constantly, and Royal Caribbean has never been one to shy away from leveraging new advances to improve the guest experience.
Most recently, the cruise line rolled out a virtual muster drill that not only solves a social distancing problem, but also addresses a negative guest experience that has been an issue for decades.
Royal Caribbean has plans for other next generation transformations to the cruise ship experience, and some have already been filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Whether or not these products ever see the light of day is another question, but here are some of the more intriguing and futuristic ideas that might be coming to a cruise ship near you sometime soon.
Virtual reality dining
Despite the cruise industry being stuck in a year-long shutdown, Royal Caribbean is still hard at work innovating the cruise ship experience.
The cruise line files plenty of trademarks and patents, including a patent for virtual reality dining that caught my attention.
The patent was filed in 2018, but has been updated as recently as November 2020 and was summarized as follows:
A method, system and computer program product for virtual reality dining includes establishing an index of different human consumables positioned on a sensory surface of a serving tray and, generating in a display of a virtual reality headset, a rendering both of a thematic visual background and also a display of different graphical representations of corresponding ones of the different human consumables at different positions consistent with the index. Thereafter, the removal from the serving tray of one of the different human consumables is detected. In response, a theme of the thematic visual background changes and the thematic visual background re-renders in the headset with the changed theme. Finally, the method includes animating the movement of a display of a corresponding one of the different graphical representations of the removed one of the different human consumables in the headset.
I was able to actually try out this idea in a very early test back in 2017 at a press event that introduced a number of new technologies and concepts.
Essentially, the user puts on a virtual reality headset and is seated at a virtual restaurant. You see virtual food, which is replaced with real food by servers around you.
The idea is that your surroundings and overall experience are more than just being in another restaurant. There is the opportunity for eating to be a visual experience too.
Not only did Royal Caribbean patent the idea, they even filed a second patent for the interactive serving tray that has an integrated digital display.
The tray has a computer program that can identify the food or beverage item ordered by the customer, and identity information of a customer associated with the order, such as a digital image of the customer, and displaying the identity information in the display.
Until the holodeck from Star Trek becomes a reality, the next best thing might be augmented reality.
Royal Caribbean filed a patent for what sounds like a cruise ship tour that you can see around you using holographic animation.
The "Augmented reality tour guide" is described as:
In augmented reality self-guided tour, different augmented reality views are received in a mobile computing device. One of the views presents a holographic animation of a tourable three-dimensional structure with multiple activatable points of interest disposed thereon. A geographic location of the device relative to the structure is determined and a camera of the device retrieves an image of a surrounding portion of the environment so as to compute a position in the image at which to render the animation. The animation is then projected in the display at the computed position. Upon selecting an activatable point of interest, it is determined if the geographic location matches that of the selected point of interest. If so, a different animation associated with the selected point of interest is projected in the display at the computed position.
This is a self-guided tour of a three-dimensional cruise ship, with a holographic person speaking behind the ship.
The patent sounds like you would be able to navigate parts of the ship to get an idea of where things are located and become acclimated with the cruise ship more easily.
Crowd detection cameras
As cruise ships have gotten bigger and bigger, managing crowds to avoid a negative guest experience has been a major focus for Royal Caribbean.
To help detect where crowds are congregating (and perhaps offer swifter crew responses to help move things along), Royal Caribbean patented a multi-camera that can detect population density.
Cruise ships have always relied on security cameras to record what is happening, but what if cameras could be a front line tool for knowing where crowds will form before they get there?
The invention relies on using automated surveillance, while leveraging deep learning to better determine how crowds form in compact areas.
The patent was filed in May 2019, and then updated again in November 2020, and summarized as follows:
A method for determining population density of a defined space from multi-camera sourced imagery includes loading a set of images acquired from multiple different cameras positioned about the defined space, locating different individuals within each of the images and computing a population distribution of the located different individuals in respect to different locations of the defined space. The method additionally includes submitting each of the images to a convolutional neural network as training data, each in association with a correspondingly computed population distribution. Subsequent to the submission, contemporaneous imagery from the different cameras is acquired in real time and submitted to the neural network, in response to which, a predicted population distribution for the defined space is received from the neural network. Finally, a message is displayed that includes information correlating at least a portion of the population distribution with a specific location of the defined space.
Different cameras positioned around a space are programmed to figure out all the different individuals in a given space, count how many people are there, and then using a neural network, predict population distribution in that area.
The images gathered by the computer system would be processed so that the neural network could be "trained" to predict a number of individuals at different locations in imagery so as to produce a population distribution by location of a supplied real-time image
In the short term, the system could determine how empty or full an area is, and report back to the ship crew so they could be alerted of crowding issues.
Long term, the neural network could help Royal Caribbean better manage spaces to mitigate congestion in the first place.
The system can then give crew members a message of what to expect before it happens.
Augmented reality cruise ship cabin
Royal Caribbean played around with the notion of the cruise ship stateroom of the future when it patented the augmented reality stateroom.
Another concept that was showcased at a media event in 2017, the basic concept was to take a traditional cruise ship cabin and use technology to enhance the look and feel of the space.
A method, system and computer program product for generating augmented reality in a state room includes establishing a communicative link with different computing devices disposed within separate state rooms, with each of the state rooms including a display positioned at a ceiling, a display positioned on a wall and a display embedded in a floor. The method further includes, for each of the state rooms, assigning a theme of an exterior environment, directing the retrieval from fixed storage of exterior environmental imagery, and directing display of an atmospheric portion of the exterior environmental imagery on the display positioned at the ceiling, directing display of a horizon portion of the exterior environmental imagery on the display positioned on the wall, and directing display of a surface portion of the exterior environmental imagery on the display embedded in the floor.
Digital displays embedded in the walls and floors would allow the room's look to be changed at any time, and could match a theme of what is happening outside. They even thought of taking live outside imagery and making that what you see on your walls or ceiling.
Imagine sailing through Alaska and seeing the amazing scenery without leaving your room. Or seeing the horizon and sea going past your ship on your wall.
When you get onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, you might be ready for a bite to eat and Royal Caribbean provides a few options to dine at for no additional cost, and some that do cost extra.
Getting on your ship means a lot of choices on how to begin your vacation, but many guests elect to start things off with lunch. Embarkation usually begins in the late morning to early afternoon, so lunch is the first opportunity to sit down for a bite to eat.
Here is what you should know about where you can eat on the first day of your cruise.
Food included at no extra cost
Depending on your ship, Royal Caribbean offers a few venues to dine at that cost nothing extra to enjoy.
The most popular option is the Windjammer Marketplace, which is a traditional cruise buffet that serves up a variety of food and beverages. It is also the first restaurant to open on embarkation day, and will remain open until just before it is time to set sail.
You will find soups, sandwiches, burgers, nachos, casseroles, fish, salads and plenty more to choose from and it is unlimited. Just grab a plate, take what you like, and find a seat.
There will be other venues available to dine at on your ship that are complimentary. These include:
El Loco Fresh
The main dining room is not typically open for lunch on embarkation day, except for guests who purchased The Key, where they will enjoy a complimentary specialty restaurant meal there.
Restaurants that cost extra
Anyone who wants to indulge may prefer to eat lunch at a specialty restaurant on the first day of the cruise.
While not all specialty restaurants may be open on the first day, some do open their doors for those first few hours onboard.
There is no need (nor option) to make lunch reservations on embarkation day, so it is just first-come, first served.
If you purchased a specialty dining package, you can choose to use your package benefits on the first day lunch. Just let your server know that you have the package.
Just like the included restaurants, which restaurants are open on the first day depend on the ship. The typical extra-cost restaurants open for lunch on embarkation day are:
How do to find which restaurants are on your ship
After reading this, your next logical question may be which restaurants are on your ship, both specialty and included.
The Cruise Compass is a daily newspaper of events, times, and schedules, including what is open on the first day of your cruise. If you read one or two of these Compasses, you will quickly discover the restaurants open on embarkation day for a given ship are pretty much the same each sailing.
Restaurants open for dinner
Once you get to dinner time on the first day of your cruise, all the restaurants onboard will be open for service.
Unlike lunch on the first day, dinner time is the beginning of a more normalized schedule for operations onboard and you do not have to be concerned about a specific restaurant being open or not.
The most notable restaurant open to everyone for dinner, but not lunch, on embarkation day is the main dining room.
Depending if you booked traditional or My Time Dining for your dinners, the dining room is always available as an option, in addition to the complimentary and specialty restaurants onboard.
If there is one aspect of cruising that concerns some new cruisers, it is the idea they might have to sit with other guests for a meal during their cruise.
One of the carryover traditions of cruising is being seated in the main dining room with other cruise guests. Seating is limited in this venue, and there are a number of large tables that can accommodate multiple families.
If you have a Royal Caribbean cruise booked and would prefer not to sit with others at a meal, here is what you need to know.
Main Dining Room
The most common setting where you might have to dine with strangers is the main dining room, and depending on the meal, there are different ways around it.
Regardless of if you prefer to dine alone, or just do not wish to sit with people you do not know, here is what to know.
Breakfast and Lunch
When the main dining room is open for breakfast or lunch, seating is on a first-come, first seated basis.
If you say nothing, there is an equal chance you may be seated by yourself or with others, although the smaller your party, the more likely you will be seated with others.
If you prefer to dine alone, when you enter the dining room and a waiter asks how many in your party, let them know you wish to sit by yourselves. It may take a few extra minutes to be seated, but the staff can arrange it.
If you have selected My Time Dining, sitting by yourselves is very similar to breakfast or lunch in the main dining room. If you have not made reservations in advance, you just need to go to My Time Dining reservations table in the dining room and ask to be seated alone.
Just like other meals, there may be an additional wait for a table to open up (especially during peak dining times).
If you are booked in traditional dining, you should contact Royal Caribbean prior to your cruise to make the request. Send an email to [email protected] about 2-3 weeks prior to your sailing with your request. This strategy usually works for most people.
When you get onboard the ship, be sure to confirm with the head waiter at the main dining room that you are indeed seated by yourselves. The main dining room is open to walk in on embarkation day, and your SeaPass card will list your dining room table assignment. In addition, there will be a head waiter on duty in the afternoon of the first cruise day to take requests and make adjustments.
You can change your mind
If you think you might want to try sitting with others at dinner, but are concerned after a day or two that you want to change your mind, it is quite possible to be re-accommodated.
If the other guests you are seated with are not a good match for you, there are usually opportunities to change your table.
Ask to speak to the head waiter in order to arrange a table change.
The popular buffet option on all Royal Caribbean ships has seating that is available to whomever grabs them first.
There are tables that come in all sizes, including some long tables and roundtables that can easily accommodate more than one family.
Royal Caribbean will not seat you in the Windjammer, so it is up to you to find a table for your family, but it is not uncommon for another group to ask to sit at one of the larger tables.
The easy way to avoid sitting with others is to pick a table that just accommodates you and your group.
Most specialty restaurants will seat guests alone without having to be seated with other guests.
There are a couple of restaurants where this is not possible, and sitting with strangers is the norm. These include Izumi Hibachi and Chef's Table.
In both restaurants, seating is extremely limited so there is no way around it (unless you buy out the table).
At Izumi Hibachi, you could request to be seated on the end of the table so that only one person needs to be next to another guest.
Since joining the company, Mr. D'Souza was responsible for the updated Sorrento's pizza recipe, revamped the culinary offerings at CocoCay, and introduced Portside BBQ specialty restaurant on Oasis of the Seas and Giovanni's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar on Freedom of the Seas.
It looks like his next target is the venerable main dining room.
Specialty restaurant menus are also generally the same across the fleet, although sometimes new menus get rolled out with ship refurbishments, as is the case with Giovanni's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar concept on Freedom of the Seas (and Allure of the Seas before the upgrade was put on hold).
Royal Caribbean's test kitchen is located at the cruise line’s Miami offices, and it is where they can come up with new ideas among the corporate team, test and just those ideas, and then roll them out to the fleet.
What do you want to see on Royal Caribbean's main dining room menu? Share your suggestions in the comments!
Eating on a Royal Caribbean cruise is just as enjoyable as any shore excursion, performance or activity. Royal Caribbean puts a great deal of effort into its onboard dining options, and I have a few ways you can maximize these choices with some dining hacks!
These tips are all about giving you a little bit more out of your dining experience onboard, and giving you a leg up on other guests.
Order off-menu food in dining room
Each evening in the main dining room, there is a printed menu that guests can order from, but there are many more options you can consider beyond what is written on the menu.
The main dining room dinner menu is designed to appeal to a great majority of guests, but perhaps you have a dietary restriction, or you just really want something else.
Guests can ask to speak to the head waiter at any point and order something special, provided the chef in the galley has the ingredients to make it.
The example I often share is Royal Caribbean used to offer Indian dishes on its old main dining room dinner menus, but the current version does not offer it. As a result, I always speak to the head waiter and ask to have an Indian dish prepared for me each evening. Sure enough, my waiter brings me that special dish every night.
Ice cream in a cup
This tip is something I learned from someone on Periscope, and it is sheer genius for someone that loves ice cream.
On all Royal Caribbean ships, there is complimentary soft-serve ice cream on the ship. Usually, it is near the pools and there are ice cream cones available to pour the ice cream onto. Ice cream cones are great and all, but you really cannot load them up too much without an incredibly elevated risk of it falling over and you becoming that guy.
For those that want to load up on ice cream without multiple trips to the machine, grab a drink cup from somewhere onboard. Usually, the water cups in the Windjammer are perfect for this. Take the cup and fill up the cup with as much ice cream as you can handle. The result is that ice cream fix you have always dreamed of!
If you want to take it to the next level, grab a soda with your drink package and make an ice cream float!
The secret menu at Perfect Day at CocoCay
If your cruise visits Perfect Day at CocoCay, be sure to stop by the Snack Shack not only for the awesome food on the menu, but a few added items not listed there too!
Known colloquially as "the secret menu", you can ask for a chicken parmigiana sandwich, which is essentially a cross between the crispy chicken sandwich, mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce that are on the menu.
Not only is this an added menu option most guests do not know about, but it is really tasty!
Make your own pizzas
While Sorrento's Pizza offers slices of pizza all day, you might not have known you can customize your pie at a special station.
You can place an order (no additional cost) for a pizza with just the toppings you like, and have a a custom pie hot and ready to eat fairly quickly. Moreover, you can also request a gluten-free crust option.
After you place the order, head across the Promenade to the pub and enjoy a drink while you wait.
Stock up on cereal for excursion snacks
If you have kids, be sure to grab a few extra boxes of cereal from the Windjammer to bring back to your room.
Boxed cereal is a tasty and portable snack that works really well for shore excursions. Whether the kids want something to munch on during the bus rides, or at the beach, cereal will not go bad in the heat, and travels well.
What is your favorite dining hack?
Do you have a dining trick on Royal Caribbean not on this list? Share your food ninja tips in the comments!
Many cruise fans have been wondering what Royal Caribbean's plan will be for keeping guests healthy while onboard their ships, including what the fate of the Windjammer buffet will be.
It seems we have a definitive answer from the head of Royal Caribbean's food and beverage: there will be a buffet.
Royal Caribbean Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage, Linken D'Souza, spoke on the fate of the buffet in a webinar question and answer with travel agents on Wednesday and confirmed the buffet will remain.
Mr. D'Souza was asked about if there will be a buffet on Royal Caribbean's ships, and while Royal Caribbean has not divulged its plans for which policies and changes will be made onboard its cruise ships, he was able to dispel rumors and concerns surrounding what will happen to the buffet.
"Windjammer is one of my favorite spots, and we will continue to have a buffet at Royal Caribbean. We have worked through a variety of different scenarios, from employee service to individual portions to individual tongs for self-service, to finger koozies that you can pick up hot dishes with that can be washed and sanitized. So we continue to work through a lot of the details."
"But rest assured, the buffet will exist. There may be some small modifications that allow us to ensure that we have a really great, healthy return to service. But your favorites and what you're used to at the Windjammer will still be there."
"So I'll I'll put that to rest. We will absolutely have a Windjammer with all of your favorites in a very similar fashion to what you've had previously and maybe some different service steps to ensure healthy service."
The origins of the idea that the Windjammer might go away started in May, when Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley mentioned the cruise line was working on their plan to keep guests healthy and the buffet experience came up.
"I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet in the beginning, that's how I see it. It depends again upon the timing. We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability it won't be a classical buffet. It will be something more akin to a restaurant."
While Mr. Bayley did not say the Windjammer buffet was gone, it opened up the idea that significant change could occur. A week later, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain had a different take on the buffet's fate.
"It doesn't mean that you don't have a buffet. I think it's very likely that you're not going to see that on land or sea."
The changing nature of recommendations by health professionals, as well as the organic discussions Royal Caribbean has had internally likely caused the answer to change depending on the week.
With Mr. D'Souza's affirmation today, it appears guests will have a buffet experience to look forward to once cruising resumes.
Not just Royal Caribbean with buffets
If the idea of a buffet remaining on a cruise ship when cruises resume sounds odd, other cruise lines are keeping theirs as well.
Dinner on a Royal Caribbean cruise for many guests involves a visit to the venerable main dining room. When you book your cruise, you will choose between traditional dining times or My Time Dining. Regardless of which you choose, here is how to change your dining times.
If you are booked in traditional dining, then you are either in early or late eating. This means whichever option you pick, you have a set dining time for the entire cruise. No advanced reservations are necessary, and you always have the same waiters, table mates and table assignment.
Early seating is usually around 5:30pm, and late seating around 8:00pm. The exact times will vary according to your cruise itinerary.
If you want to change your traditional dining time, you can contact your travel agent (or Royal Caribbean if you booked directly) to have the change made. Assuming there is availability, you can move from one of the traditional dining times to the other, or opt for My Time Dining.
Once onboard the ship, it can be more challenging to make this change, but not impossible. Ask to speak to the head waiter onboard for assistance.
My Time Dining
My Time Dining allows guests to pick a dining time anytime between 6:00 and 9:30 pm (times vary by ship) each evening.
Reservations are encouraged, especially if you can pre-book before your cruise, but you have the ability to choose a different time each day. This allows for a more flexible dinner schedule that you can curtail around your plans onboard or onshore.
You can manage reservations for dinner even before your cruise, by visiting Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site and scheduling something. Reservations can be made, modified and deleted prior to the cruise, as well as once onboard.
If you have My Time Dining, you can change your dining times before the cruise via the Cruise Planner site. Onboard the ship, there is a dining hotline you can call from your stateroom phone to modify reservations.
If you want to change to traditional dining, you can do so by contacting your travel agent (or Royal Caribbean if you booked directly). Keep in mind that traditional dining has a maximum capacity, and it is not unheard of to be put on a waitlist, especially if you try to change close to your sailing.
Do you prefer traditional or My Time Dining? Let us know which you usually reserve and why in the comments below!