Set sail with robots, virtual balconies on tech-filled cruise

Royal Caribbean says it's hitting the high seas with "the world's first smart ship" this November. Expect high-tech toys aplenty.

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At the Bionic Bar, robot mixologists will be creating a buzz aboard Quantum of the Seas. Royal Caribbean

You order a rum and coke from a robotic bartender, paying from your wristband, and sip as you watch video on giant screens that swoop, swirl, and spin. Or perhaps you retire to your room, again using your wristband as the key, and gaze at the floor-to-ceiling HD virtual balcony. It might sound a bit more Starfleet than Royal Caribbean, but the cruise giant's newest vessel, Quantum of the Seas, has all that tech and more.

The tech fest begins for passengers before they even board the new boat, which will begin sailing out of Liberty, N.J., this November. The cruise line is instituting a preboarding process that will let passengers upload their photo IDs and print their boarding documents before they sail. They're also launching an app called Cruise Planner that will let passengers book their excursions, dinner reservations, and spa appointments before the cruise begins.

Other cruise lines offer similar services. Princess, for example, allows passengers to print their boarding passes and luggage tags at home, as well as prebook activities. Norwegian offers an "iConcierge" app that allows prebooking of activities as well. Many cruise lines also allow priority boarding for passengers in frequent cruiser clubs. New here is Royal Caribbean's promise (PDF) that all "guests can go from 'sidewalk to ship' in 10 minutes with no check-in counter, no forms to fill out and no lines to stand in."

Another tech improvement comes with the implementation of RFID chips. They'll be applied to luggage, which will let guests track the progress of their bags on their phones, and they'll be embedded in wristbands that will let passengers open their stateroom doors with a wave of their hands, as well as make onboard purchases and access personalized information throughout the ship.

Internet speeds will also be taking a quantum leap on Quantum of the Seas, with data rates Royal Caribbean claims will be 500 times faster than most other ships at sea. "Quantum of the Seas will supply more bandwidth than the entire cruise industry combined," Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain told Crave. That means guests should be able to do things like Skype and watch video streams on their devices -- something that's been impractical before.

The difference is that the company will be using its own satellites, developed by partner O3b, which have been launched in an orbit closer to Earth than those used by other cruise ships. "The O3b connectivity is radically different. It's in a low mid-earth orbit, and it's three, four times closer to earth," Royal Caribbean's Bill Martin said in a statement. "It's very, very fast and it changes the game of onboard bandwidth."

Turning to entertainment, in the onboard "Bionic Bar," guests will order drinks using tablets and then watch as robotic arms get busy whipping up their cocktails. In the "Two70" venue, a set of six robotic screens that measure over 7 feet high each will deliver some seriously cool entertainment as they whip and twist around, displaying individual images, or coming together to show one complete scene. Behind them are floor-to-ceiling windows that can transform into video screens for projection or video mapping.

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Six "roboscreens" can create unified or separate images for a unique onboard entertainment option. Royal Caribbean

Technology will also feature in the staterooms, especially the inside ones where Royal Caribbean will one-up Disney Cruises, which beams real-time views of the outside to inside staterooms through round screens known as "magic portals" on their ships. On Quantum, the virtual view gets a huge size boost -- a floor-to-ceiling HD video screen framed in such a way that it'll look like there's a balcony leading to the outside. Cameras outside the ship will beam real-time footage to the screens using "the same RED Epic cinematic cameras used to shoot 'House of Cards,' 'Sharknado,' and more," according to the company's statement.

Hmm, speaking of "Sharknado," I wonder how good those robot bartenders are with a chainsaw in each claw?

Quantum of the Seas (a name, which, by the way, I find only a little less irritating than the Bond film title, "Quantum of Solace") will be the first of Royal Caribbean's new tech-heavy vessels to provide "Quantum-class cruising." Its sister ship Anthem of the Seas will launch in April 2015.

Update, 3:15 p.m. PT:Information about Internet speeds on the ship added.

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