Thousands of passengers on ships of Princess Cruises are toting around a new toy: An Ocean Medallion that is among the most innovative and potentially exciting new trappings for vacations at sea.
These Medallions, smaller than a poker chip and not much heavier, are powerful enough to eventually change some basic cruise experiences.
They open your cabin door and connect with your smartphone to order a drink from a deck chair, play a trivia game against other passengers you may never meet, and locate a wandering child or errant spouse, whose whereabouts are given away by their own all-knowing medallions.
By fall of 2019, all passengers sailing on the Princess fleet in the Caribbean Sea will be armed with a Medallion. Two ships already have been outfitted to handle a portion of the full power of the Medallion; its capabilities slowly are being introduced to cruisers.
Other Princess ships already have or are scheduled for the Medallion, though some provide or will provide primarily high-speed Internet services called MedallionNet.
A major Ocean Medallion celebration is expected during the debut of Princess Cruises’ newest and most wired ship, Sky Princess, due out in October.
The Ocean Medallion, distributed free to passengers at home (pre-cruise), is carried around the ship in a pocket, clasped to your clothing, or dangled from a lanyard. Princess Cruises is the first brand of Carnival Corporation to roll out the company’s ballyhooed project to equip its ships with a network of innovative wireless communications; computer games; interactive information on food, beverages, and shipboard activities; and amazingly high-speed Internet.
Recently, I wore a Medallion around my neck for a week, as I was invited by Princess Cruises to sail aboard the Caribbean Princess out of Fort Lauderdale to review the current status of the program. The project still is in its early stages. Like most other digital newbuilds, the rollout has had some fits and glitches, but the Ocean Medallion seems to have great promise once the program is ready for prime time, when passengers, crew, and the digital machinery mesh.
For any future Princess passengers anxious about impacts of the rollout or whether the new gadgets will interrupt their cruise experience, a comforting thought about this program is that the Ocean Medallion is so well conceived that it does not have to be an essential element of a vacationer’s experience at sea. In other words, if you want to, you may almost ignore it.
Except for its outstanding capabilities on the high-speed Internet and its obvious contribution to quick and smooth embarkations, the Medallion and its uses are primarily an extra benefit that, depending on your inclinations, may be an exciting addition or something as innocent as a sophisticated room key.
Interviews with passengers
Some passengers aboard Caribbean Princess told me that seldom did they use their Medallion during the cruise. Some said they were disappointed that the Medallion was not yet up to its expected tasks when using their mobile phones. Most said they look forward to a time when the Medallion is fully operational. Others pointed out the advantage of using the 100 portals — smart screens placed around the ship, mostly in elevator lobbies, that connect to the Medallions with a simple touch to play games, see timelines of daily activities, and use maps to locate restaurants, bars, and shows. One man said he had no intention of using his cell phone on the ship during his vacation, and he was pleased that he didn’t have to.
Among the key elements in this program are: 1) passengers are free to use whatever part of it they want; 2) the Medallions are free; and 3) the corporate goal is for the Medallion to simplify and personalize each passenger’s cruise. That goal couldn’t come at a better time, as much of the cruise industry seems to be building ships that are more complex,offering more choices but also requiring passengers to make more decisions, both pre-trip planning as well as the rush of booking meals, reviewing activities, and locating them on a huge ship, on the fly.
Preparing for a Princess cruise with Medallion
For my cruise on Caribbean Princess, I followed instructions that arrived at home in the mail with my Medallion. I filled out forms on the Internet, including my picture, and downloaded six apps to my Apple iPhone 6. Each app is designed to connect to uses on the ship, starting with OceanReady for boarding. Other Medallion apps are OceanNow for daily communications onboard, OceanCompass for getting around, OceanPlay for games, OceanView for videos, and OceanCasino. A seventh, and essential app though not connected to the Medallion, is OceanConcierge for planning events and activities, browsing restaurant menus, the ship’s itinerary, and your cabin account.
I zipped through the boarding process in Fort Lauderdale. My Medallion wirelessly told my cabin door that I had arrived and unlocked it. An app on my iPhone allowed me to order a cappuccino, waiting just a few minutes for it to arrive (as pictured on my iPhone above). An app allowed my wife to find me when we were on different decks because of a missed communication. The ship’s circuitry provided me with the best Internet connections I have seen at sea (at $9.99 per day for the week).
Medallion and iPhone 6 lack communication
While it turned out that my Apple iPhone 6 was not sophisticated enough to use all of the Medallion programs — Ocean apps filled my phone to capacity so neither the casino games nor a portion of the compass app would work — I enjoyed playing with some of the 100 Medallion portals around the ship. The computer games screens are big and fun, whether your choice is a jigsaw-like puzzle, a pub crawl with drink suggestions, or a scavenger hunt that may take you all over the ship.
Plan at least 40 minutes for a portal game of scavenging through Caribbean Princess, a fine family adventure. You may leave a screen and come back to it or another portal, hours, even days later, because you will have logged into the game system by touching your Medallion to a button at the edge of the portal.
Thanks to the Ocean Medallion, you will be found and remembered.
David Molyneaux, editor TheTravelMavens.com, writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published monthly in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, and on Internet sites, including TheTravelMave