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PHOTO: The new Pixels Gallery aboard the Carnival Vista. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)
ABOARD THE CARNIVAL VISTA, NAPLES, ITALY - Today, it's commonplace to be offered the keepsake memory photo to instantly relive your vacation highlights. But cruise ships were among the first to master monetizing and multiplying the photo opportunities onboard. From cruise elegant nights to a flash at the ready at every exit of the ship at ports of call, you never have to worry about missing the big moments at sea.
The downside to this convenience - other than your kids' annoyance at constantly being asked to strike a Griswold family portrait pose - has always been finding those photos in the ship's photo gallery. Thousands of proofs hang on the wall, organized by port of call. Trying to find your photo among an endless array of identical poses often negates any upside to not clicking the photo yourself.
In our selfie-obsessed, smartphone camera world, the mountain of cruise line photo proofs quickly came to symbolize a corporate aversion to technology. Couple this with dial-up modem speed Internet access when instant downloads is the norm and cruise lines have rarely been applauded for the tech innovation.
Disney Cruise Line wowed my family and I in the fall of 2015 aboard the Dream. They digitized the photo process using facial recognition software. No more sorting through a mountain of prints. Your family photos were available in the photo gallery at kiosks simply my touching your room keycard on the screen.
I was a big fan of Carnival's new HUB app when I first tested it aboard the Breeze. It allowed for onboard communication, digitized the daily onboard itineraries and put deck plans and food station opening times at your fingertips. But photos was one no-brainer addition for future updates.
Carnival not only listened, but their tech lab team has improved on the Disney experience with their new fully digital photo selection process. The game changer here that all other cruise lines will emulate: making photos instantly available for purchase on the HUB app on smartphones and on the TV in your cabin.
The Pixels photo gallery is more of a gathering place now, where staffers show you how to upload the app to your phone or use one of the many iPad Pros in the gallery to view and buy your photos. Now, instead of an old-school print wall of fame changed daily, there's a bank of TVs along the deck 5 promenade that display an ever-changing array of digital photos.
Photo by Tim Wood
This attention to evolution is far from the only technological marvel aboard the Vista, but it's by far the most impressive. Cabin TVs on the Vista are now 32-inch flat screens as opposed to tube TVs half the size that were just barely interactive by allowing passengers aboard other Carnival ships to view their bill.
There are plenty of other Easter eggs in this tech. The HUB app's chat functions have become even easier and the in-cabin HUB TV provides much the same experience, showing a digital version of the ship's Fun Times daily itinerary and now allowing for instant rentals of an impressive array of on-demand movies, from instant classics of the last decade available for free to new releases available for $4.99 each.
The ship's high-speed Internet has greatly improved as well, providing a comparable and at times better experience to the much-hyped Royal Caribbean VOOM service. Skype and FaceTime is now available with premium plans. While streaming of services like Netflix is not yet available, it is now just a matter of a next-step upgrade rather than a pipe dream.
With this impressive baseline operating system, the list of possible upgrades is plentiful. Imagine ordering room service, booking an airport transfer or ordering an Uber car at your next port of call all with the touch of a screen or click of a remote.
There is room for improvement, to be sure. The face recognition software placed photos of an elderly Midwest woman in my queue who I later met while dining and who now allows me to call her Nana.
I am still trying to "reunite" with the turban-wearing family that also landed in my queue.
And while Internet access is plentiful and blazing fast in common areas on the ship, they are still troubleshooting blindspots aboard the ship - like my far-aft cabin where we could only get access by sitting by our cabin door for the first seven days of the cruise. But as promised, the techs found our blindspot and for the final three days, the Wi-Fi was ultra fast in our cabin.
And while I enjoyed the new HUB experiences, I was already wanting shore excursions available for booking on the app. But if I'm judging Carnival on their improvements from the Breeze to the Vista, this is an upgrade that will likely be available aboard the next new Carnival ship to sail in 2018 if not before.
But these are correctable hiccups that don't overshadow the achievements Carnival has on display aboard the Vista. VP of Guest Tech Gabriela Gonzalez and her team are to be congratulated for huge steps forward. While acknowledging the eco-friendliness and potentially huge cost savings of the new tech, Carnival officials could not attach a number to the savings. But just imagine that each double-occupancy-minimum stateroom likely led to at least 10 unpurchased proofs per cruise and the savings could easily be estimated to be seven figures for the cruise line.
The ease of the onboard photo experience is a value add to any vacation purchase. Carnival officials said the technology is only available and being tested on the Vista for now. But after witnessing the results, the green impact and cost savings, I predict will be a fleetwide upgrade within the next 18 months.
Tim Wood is the editor-in-chief of Travel Pulse. Contact him at email@example.com.
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