Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

rayand/Flickr

Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Romania Beats U.S. in High-Speed Internet Connectivity

New Quantum Of The Seas Cruise Ship Is A Quantum Leap Forward

Quantum of the Seas

When Royal Caribbean International debuted their Oasis-class ships, complete with dual Flow-rider surf simulators, a zip-line across the deck and a host of other over-the-top features, they created an at-sea travel experience like no other. As the world’s largest cruise ships, twin sisters Oasis and Allure of the Seas are so big that the vessel is divided up into neighborhoods. Either can only call at ports designed to handle the massive ship and those who have sailed the 225,000-ton ships agree; there is nothing quite like them – until now.

Now, Quantum of the Seas has arrived.

Today, in New York City, Royal Caribbean revealed details on the line’s new Quantum class of ships. A big secret that Gadling first reported in 2011’s, “The Secret is Out: Royal Caribbean to Build New Class of Ships,” the vessels were code-named “Project Sunshine” and very few details were given. We knew they would be smaller ships, weighing in at 158,000 tons, and carry fewer people, a mere 4,100, but that was it.

Fast-forward to February of this year and names for the new ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, were revealed. At the time, Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein simply said, “The new ship will be such a leap forward in terms of vessel design and guest experiences that we thought the name Quantum of the Seas was perfectly appropriate,” and left it at that.

Today’s reveal begins to put a face on the ship and define what the new Quantum-class will be about.%Gallery-185758%

Continuing to focus on families and occupying their time, how about some bumper car action while cruising the Caribbean? Quantum of the Seas will have that, roller-skating, a full, regulation-sized basketball court and more. But the big features, those designed to satisfy Royal Caribbean’s trademark “wow” factor will no doubt redefine cruise travel as never before.

Those who thought pro-quality, rock-climbing walls were impressive will like RipCord by iFly, a skydiving wind tunnel like the ones professional skydivers use for practice, mounted on the back of the ship. Looking out of the ship-mounted RipCord tunnel, visitors will be able to see the ocean as they simulate free fall. Pretty impressive.

Moving from impressive to bizarre (but in a good way), we have North Star, a jewel-shaped glass capsule that careens visitors 300 feet over the side of the ship on a breathtaking journey. This is where Royal Caribbean shows its depth and how well it understands the nature of big ship cruise travel.

Included as part of the cruise fare, North Star will be available at sea as well as in port, and Royal Caribbean promises that no two “flights” will be the same. Premium packages also will be available for sunrise and sunset flights, or a private flight, which looks to be good for marriage proposals and wedding ceremonies. All packages include a pre-flight reception, in-flight Champagne toast, a commemorative flight certificate and a post-flight brunch or dinner.

Coming back down to earth, briefly, Quantum of the Seas will also feature some multi-use areas that transform throughout the day, utilizing space efficiently.

Two70° is a multi-level great room named for its 270-degree panoramic views via floor-to-ceiling glass walls, three decks high at the stern of the ship. By day, Two70° brings a modern and comfortable living room space for guests to sit back and relax. At night, the space gradually transforms to a venue featuring spectacular, mysterious and unexpected entertainment via new technology that immerses the audience through a combination of live performers, including aerialists, as well as breathtaking video and digital scenery.

SeaPlex will be the largest indoor activity area at sea. This transformational sporting and entertainment venue will begin the day with activities like a circus school with a flying trapeze and a full-sized basketball court. At night, its bumper cars and roller skates deliver the fun and excitement. Not into either? Guests can dance to music orchestrated from a floating DJ booth, which hovers above the activity below.

The two-story Music Hall will have live performances, DJs, theme night parties, billiards and more.

Known for well-appointed, roomy staterooms on their newest ships, Royal Caribbean is making no exception with Quantum class vessels. Averaging nearly 10 percent larger that those on previous Oasis class ships and crafted using Royal Caribbean’s new smart design concept, each stateroom features customizable layouts and larger storage solutions.

Remember Disney Cruise Line’s Virtual Porthole cabins? The inside cabins will feature Virtual Balcony Staterooms, interior cabins with real-time (simulated) views of the ocean.

Further smart use ideas on Quantum feature Family-Connected staterooms that use three different cabin categories that produce separate bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone. New studio staterooms, some with balconies, will appeal to solo travelers. New Junior Suite categories expand the possibilities of the popular mini-suite option and the top-end Loft Suites are even bigger.

Quantum of the Seas will still have popular venues like the adults-only Solarium, an outdoor pool, a rock climbing wall, FlowRider surf simulator and other standard entertainment and dining venues too. But more new features are yet to be announced.

The new Quantum class ships debut in the fall of 2014 with Quantum of the Seas, followed by sister-ship Anthem of the Seas in spring 2015, sailing out of the New York Harbor from her homeport of Cape Liberty on seven- to 12-night itineraries during the winter 2014/15 season.

[Photo Credit – Royal Caribbean International]

When Cruise Ships Get In Trouble

cruise ships

When cruise ships get in trouble anywhere close to the United States, government forces from a variety of agencies spring into action. To make sure those efforts are seamlessly coordinated, they practice, drill and practice again as they did in a complex exercise held this week. At stake could be the lives of thousands traveling via cruise ship.

We’ve seen the media accounts of ships without power for one reason or another, drifting for days at sea. It’s a rare occurrence but when it happens, agencies from the U.S. Coast Guard to the Salvation Army all have a role to play. In Operation Black Swan this week, emergency response teams from the cruise industry along with key Bahamas government agencies joined to test the system in place to handle emergencies.

The three-day exercise was designed to better understand the role each agency plays during a maritime mass rescue event. Testing emergency procedures looked deep into the entire process of a would-be catastrophe at sea starting with the actual abandon ship process and the way ships account for passengers and crew. Stretching search and rescue capabilities as if in an actual emergency along with landing site management and medical surge procedures, the results were good.

Coordinated by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the U.S. Coast Guard runs the show, but other agencies play a critical role in handling an emergency.
“The efforts of the local Red Cross and the Salvation Army at the landing site are to be commended. They were able to provide the passengers and support team refreshments at the site. The efforts of the medical teams from the Rand Memorial and the U.S. FAST Team who came to provide assistance to the injured persons are to also be commendable. I am also pleased with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard air assets, which medically evacuated persons for care and attention,” said Director of NEMA Captain Stephen Russell in a statement.

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Just how complicated is the business of rescuing a cruise ship?

The Black Swan exercise included involvement from Royal Caribbean‘s Monarch of the Seas and Norwegian cruise line’s Norwegian Sky, both utilized for an evacuation drill of passengers and tendering to port. Carnival Cruise Line was there providing family guest care facilities and Norwegian provided landing site forward teams.

Coast Guard Cutters Joshua Appleby, Tarpon and Diamondback were fully staffed and on the scene along with crewmembers from the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) and Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) who also participated in the exercise.

While a full blown catastrophe at sea is rare, medical evacuations by the U.S. Coast Guard are not all that uncommon, as we see in this video:



[Photo credit – U.S. Coast Guard]

Hong Kong Cruise Terminal To Be In World Class Of Its Own

hong kong

When Hong Kong‘s Kai Tak cruise terminal opens in June, the nearly quarter-mile long facility will be able to handle the biggest cruise ships in the world. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the $1 billion terminal will source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in the Pearl River Delta provinces of China. The numbers are big, and so are expectations.

“Hong Kong is fully geared up to provide cruises of all sizes,” said James Tien, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board in a Travel Weekly report.

The ability to handle passenger vessels supposedly as large as two, 1,200-foot, Oasis-class cruise ships at a time puts the 985,716 square-foot Kai Tak cruise terminal in a world class of its own. Not even custom-built Terminal 18 at Florida’s Port Everglades (240,000 square feet), home to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas, can do that.

hong kong

Preparing for 37,000 passengers on 10 ships during the first phase of operation, capacity will double by mid-2014 when the second half of the terminal opens. That’s a huge increase over the old cruise terminal, able to handle just two, 50,000-ton ships at a time.

When complete, Kai Tak will have five passenger bridges, 100 check-in stations and the ability to process 3,000 passengers an hour. Those waiting to board will have no lack of things to do either with close-by local attractions Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden setting the stage for a unique sailing experience.

Think a trip to Hong Kong and maybe a cruise might go well together? Check this video with more details about Hong Kong’s Kai Tak cruise terminal.




[Photo Credit- Hong Kong Tourism Board]

Cruise Line Takes Sustainability From Sea To Shore, Wins Award

cruise lineSustainable Travel International (STI) is a global non-profit charged to help destinations, businesses and travelers protect the environment, adapt to climate change, preserve cultural heritage and more. This week, STI awarded their first-ever, Gold-Level Eco-Certification to a cruise line, honoring Royal Caribbean International for attractions and tour operations at their island in the Bahamas, CocoCay.

Encouraging green travel, STI awards certification for businesses that are engaged in responsible travel practices that focus on economic, socio-cultural and environmental sustainability.

CocoCay is the first operation of its kind to receive the certification, which rates on-island tours, island operations, workplace practices, guest communications and environmental management policies. Rated by an expert third-party, independent of Sustainable Travel International and Royal Caribbean, the CocoCay operation demonstrated an ability to successfully apply its at-sea sustainability initiatives to its on-shore operations.But Royal Caribbean did not just get lucky. Winning the award took a global focus, much like we saw when sailing to their private destination of Labadee in Haiti, just after the major earthquake of a few years ago. Then, Royal Caribbean was self-charged to deliver thousands of pounds of food and supplies to the devastated island, which was also home to resident Royal Caribbean employees who work at Labadee when ships come calling.

“Royal Caribbean developed a very thorough, attainable action plan, designed to implement higher levels of sustainability over time,” said Robert Chappell, Sustainable Travel International’s Senior Director of Standards and Certification in a press release.

Will more cruise lines follow Royal Caribbean and work to get their own private islands certified green and sustainable? Probably. Other cruise lines as well have been working to make a green impact. By recycling cooking oil used on ships as fuel for vehicles on Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line is making a difference.

Princess Cruises shore power program made history debuting in environmentally sensitive Juneau, Alaska, in 2001, expanding to Seattle in 2005, and then to Vancouver in 2009. Currently nine of the line’s ships have the capability to “plug in” to a shore-side power source, representing an investment for Princess of nearly $7 million in equipment.

“I’m excited to see them expand their action plan while developing innovative new solutions that are leading the way in the cruise industry,” added Chappell.

STEP is among the first global standards to be formally recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Royal Caribbean’s CocoCay is the first cruise line private island to receive the certification.

Want to know more about Sustainable Travel International? Check this video:



[Photo Credit – Flickr user kuddlyteddybear2004]