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Bionic Bar

Billed as the world's first "smart ship," Royal Caribbean's brand new Quantum of the Seas tucks cutting-edge technology into every nook, from bow to stern. Crave's Michael Franco went aboard with other members of the media for a two-night cruise out of New York.

The most visible tech toy on the ship is to be found at the Bionic Bar. Here, after ordering your drink via tablet, a pair of robotic arms swivel into action, getting booze from overhead bottles and mixers from dispensers built into the wall. Once the ingredients are in place, the bots are capable of either shaking, stirring, muddling or straining the drinks. When that's done, they pour them into a cup, which comes toward you on a conveyor belt. Then the robots bring their silver shakers back to the wall to clean them and get busy making the next drink in the queue, which is displayed on a mirrored screen to the left and right of the bar.

The bar was built by Makr Shakr, a company launched earlier this year that aims to bring robotics to the cocktail scene. It took them 41,600 man hours to build and test the robotic bartenders whose movements were patterned after Roberto Bolle, a dancer with the American Ballet theater. The bots can make two drinks per minute using 30 different spirits and 21 total mixers. Patrons are able to choose from premixed cocktails or create their own concoctions.

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Info at your fingertips

These interactive touchscreen displays, found throughout the ship, help passengers navigate the cruise -- from finding the nearest bar or bathroom to seeing what activities are up next.

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A bear, oh my!

Why yes, that is a giant red bear hanging out on the side of the ship. While some aboard joked that the bear was placed there to balance out the weight of the ship after it was built, it's actually just a piece of art called "From Afar" designed by artist Lawrence Argent.

But why a bear? Crew member Kirk Anthony Burgess told me jokingly, "Because we're Royal Caribbean and we can." He also told me the crew has chosen the name Phylicia for the big mascot, which is made out of stainless steel, stands 30 feet tall and weighs a whopping 80 tons.

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Starwater

At the rear of the ship is a unique space called Two70°, which gets its name from the 270-degree panoramic windows that stretch through nearly three decks in height. During the day, the space is set up something like a living room where guests can lounge and relax. By night, screens come down over the windows that transform into massive 12K video screens that form the backdrop for a show called "Starwater."

And yes, that is a man hanging in the air playing a cello. The theater also has a number of secret doors in the floor and ceiling through which actors, acrobats and one high-flying musician arrive and depart.

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A nebula on a cruise ship?

This shot of the 12K screens really shows off their clarity and capability. Eighteen projectors create the images that appear on the screens, which form a surface 100 feet wide and more than 20 feet tall.

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Roboscreens

Hanging above the stage are six robotic screens that participate in the show. I got the impression the creators of the show were unsure just what to do with the roboscreens, so they only have a small supporting role. I hope that changes and they get a lot more involved in future performances, because it's just plain cool to see a set of huge video screens swooping and swirling all around a stage full of actors and dancers.

"These are the first power robots ever on the high seas," said the designer and "trainer" of the screens, Andy Robot, who I bumped into after the show. Robot's company, Robotic Arts has made Roboscreens for clients including Bon Jovi, Activision and Deadmau5.

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Gondola ride at sea

North Star is a glass-enclosed pod attached to a mechanical arm that lifts guests up and over the side of the ship to a total height of 303 feet above sea level to give them a view of the ship and its surroundings. It rotates 250 degrees and the rides last 15 minutes. Rides will be free to all guests, but premium packages will be available for sunrise and sunset trips.

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Get your game on

On the upper floor of a two-story gaming complex known as the Seaplex is a dedicated Xbox room with multiple gaming consoles, comfy couches and screens embedded into the wall. The ship's Wi-Fi connectivity means you can game with your less fortunate landlubbing friends while aboard.

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Flying on a cruise ship

Yup, that's me floating on a column of air on top of the cruise ship. Quantum has Royal Caribbean's usual offerings of a rock-climbing wall and endless wave surfing, but it also has something brand new at sea -- Ripcord by iFly, a skydiving simulator.

After a brief instructional session, we donned our flight suits, helmets, earplugs and goggles and were led up to a glass-enclosed capsule on the very top of the ship. There, we waited our turn for a one-minute ride in another tube where a blast of air roared up from below. The air is produced by two 400-horsepower propellers to create speeds from 120 to 160 mph. It's something of an engineering marvel because the noise from the engines had to be dampened to not travel anywhere else in the ship, the large curved glass sides of the tube had to be designed in such a way to accommodate the movement of the ship, and -- oh yeah -- it lets people fly on top of a cruise ship!

To start the minute-long experience (which was plenty) you step to the edge of the tube and then fall forward (disconcerting to say the least), but then like magic, you're floating in midair. Of course you have to do your part and focus on staying in a superman-like position with legs bent. I found that it required a surprising amount of balance to not lean to one side or the other and, when I did, I was rewarded by falling flat on my back to the netting below. Still, it was one heck of a ride and I'd do it again in heartbeat. It was like getting off that amusement park ride that you want to immediately get back in line for.

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Living art

The Quantum of the Seas is full of engaging art, some of which comes "alive" thanks to video screens. This installation by Los Angeles-based artist Brian Bress consists of three pieces called "Hunter 2," "Farmer 2" and "Captain." They feature colorless cartoon characters who scribble on the screens from inside.

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Dreamride

"Dreamride," another piece of art that incorporates a video component, features a big plastic car mounted to the wall with a screen filling the driver's window. The driver goes through a range of movements throughout the day against an animated background, eventually nodding off behind the wheel.

The work was created by American artist Peter Sarkisian. "In Sarkisian's artworks, sculpture begins where images end and vice versa," reads the description of the piece. "By joining physical and virtual elements in this way, the normally passive act of watching television is transformed into a more engaging experience."

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Sci-fi style

Not all the art aboard Quantum is interactive or fueled by video screens. This installation outside two of the ship's 19 restaurants consists of shiny red balls suspended by monofilaments. It's not super techy, but it definitely adds to the futuristic decor.

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Bridge wing

This is the control deck in the bridge wing, an area on the left side of the bridge, "where all the fun is taking place," Captain Srecko Ban said.

It might look small, but it has absolutely everything a captain needs to operate the entire ship. The bridge wing is used when the ship is docking or pulling out of port because it provides a view to both the front and rear of the ship as well as straight down through a glass panel in the floor.

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Joystick control

The two larger joysticks on this panel control the ship's azipod motors. Pushing them produces thrust and turning them steers the ship. The two motors are capable of producing 23 knots of speed, equivalent to about 26.5 mph. The smaller handle just visible in the lower right controls four thrusters, propellers that help move the ship sideways. The handles can all be synchronized to move as one, or they can be controlled individually.

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Enviro control room

This is the ship's control room, where all technical components of the ship are managed. Again, I was struck by the small size.

Here we heard about many of the ship's environmentally friendly technologies. One of the most fascinating is the ship's air lubrication system. "Quantum is the first ship with a total air lubrication system," said Richard Pruitt, vice president of safety and environmental stewardship. "What that is, is that we're injecting high-pressure air in the front of the ship and it creates micro-bubbles that create a layer under the ship. What that does is reduce the friction between the hull and the water." Captain Ban told us that the system allows the ship to gain a half knot in speed which makes it work less hard to go faster, improving fuel efficiency.

Pruitt also detailed the ship's use of a heat reclamation process that uses the heat thrown off by generators to boil seawater, which is then passed through a filtration system to create the ship's drinking water as well as hot water for laundry. The ship can make over 2,500 tons of potable water per day using this system. The heat is also used to warm up the ship's fuel, which needs to be thinned before it's used.

To clean gray and black water, Pruitt says the ship uses a system of bioreactors, filters and ultraviolet light to disinfect it before discharging the practically clean water out at sea.

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Bulb eater

Nicholas Rose, environmental regulatory lead for the ship, detailed many of the trash-handling measures aboard the Quantum of the Seas, which, he said, produces zero landfill waste. Glass, as seen here, is the largest source of trash on the ship and it's ground into small particles, then put in 1,500-pound bags. Plastic is baled and cans are crushed, and all of these materials are given to recycling facilities on land. Cooking oil is captured and given to a biofuel producer back on shore. Trash that can be incinerated is, and the ash is collected and given to concretemaking facilities on dry land. Food waste is collected through high-volume vacuums in the galleys, dried and incinerated or "ground up into a very fine powder that goes into the sea and becomes fish food," Rose said.

Rose also demonstrated the ship's "bulb eater," a machine that deals with dead fluorescent bulbs by crushing the glass casing and sucking up the mercury that's released. That mercury is then returned to bulb manufacturers for use in new fluorescent lights.

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Future fit

The exercise equipment in the gym also gets the tech treatment on Quantum of the Seas. Treadmills, stair steppers and other cardio machines all have a Wi-Fi-connected screen attached that let you access services like Facebook or Flipboard while sweating off all that yummy cruise ship food.

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WOWbands

Every passenger on the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship gets a "WOWband" in his or her stateroom upon check-in. The band is implanted with an RFID chip that lets you into your room even though you'll still need your key card to get the electricity working. It is also supposed to let you check in at various "Smart Concierge" tablets around the ship that let you check your reservations for restaurants and shows. Despite several attempts, I couldn't get this feature working, although I did see others tapping away at the tablets, so I assume the problem was eventually solved.

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Virtual balconies

Of the 2,090 staterooms aboard Quantum of the Seas, 375 feature "virtual balconies." These are basically 80-inch Sharp Aquos TVs mounted on the walls that display a video feed from cameras mounted outside. A graphic of a railing in front of the feed helps create the balcony illusion, which, I have to admit, was quite good. The screen is turned on and off by a remote control or it can be left on and the curtains closed if you want that "virtual sunrise" feeling in the morning.

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Smart desk

The desks in the staterooms are a good size -- and a thoughtful touch being that you might want to bring along your laptop to take advantage of the ship's fast Wi-Fi. The desks also feature two USB charging ports, two outlets for grounded US-style plugs and a universal outlet for overseas plugs.

Quantum of the Seas will sail out of Bayonne, N.J., and make trips through the Caribbean until May 2015. After that, it will be relocated to China.

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