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With each new technology rolled out, and with each new app, travel gets a little simpler and more enjoyable. But how often do we think about the staggering amount of work that goes into each leap? Princess Cruises is one of several lines at the forefront of improving passenger and crew technologies, and I had the pleasure of talking with Nate Craddock, project lead for guest experience applications, about the current and future state of Princess@Sea, the company's now fleet-wide web app that I have myself experienced firsthand.
At its core, the free mobile-friendly but not mobile-exclusive app - built using the Acquia Drupal platform - provides an electronic version of the Princess Patter list of onboard activities, a readout of guests' stateroom account portfolios, itinerary and port information, dining menus, venue details and deck plans, all in a multilingual fashion. There's also a messenger feature that allows individuals and groups of passengers to communicate via complimentary text chats. Overall, the app serves to make the guest experience more efficient while reducing paper consumption.
With other cruise lines, ones even within the Carnival Corporation family, offering mobile apps specifically for iOS and Android devices, it may at first seem peculiar that the Princess equivalent is not a native app, but Craddock explains, "I think one of the big differentiators for us, in thinking about that mobile experience, was that we really wanted to provide this foundation for the guest experience first and then look at the platform as something we then can use to expand how we do our offerings onboard." That means it is also accessible from traditional internet cafe terminals, laptops and tablets and can be inexpensively updated more frequently.
Nonetheless, the messenger function is available as a standalone app that can be downloaded from Apple and Google respectively, and the current web app does not preclude the possibility of other dedicated mobile apps in the future. After all, there is more and more of a "There's an app for that!" expectation.
When speaking further of the history of the technology, Nate says it was originally prompted by the upcoming launch of the then new Royal Princess and Regal Princess, integrating it with new digital signage and video on demand and wanting to, "allow everybody - the guests and our crew onboard - to be able to maximize their time, whether it be for the enjoyment of the cruise vacation or, in the case of the crew members, be able to spend more time working with our guests directly rather than doing a lot of paperwork and system wrangling they have to do in order to make all the fun stuff happen."
Guests' usage of the app has exceeded initial expectations, with 30 percent of passengers using it across the fleet and even more so onboard the newest ships and in the Caribbean. From my experience, the technology is very responsive, and I didn't really miss having a dedicated app as it was easy to bookmark the web page on my iPhone's home screen, with quick access available even in airplane mode. Overall, the tech has been well received by Princess passengers, and positive feedback for improvements have already been taken to heart and developed.
The messenger feature, for instance, is a new one that was not originally offered, as well as the ability to bookmark activities and schedule and share specific events within a travel party. Also in early trial testing is the option for groups and charters of various sizes to create a specialized wall exclusive to their members and their activities.
In the works next are commerce features such as the convenience of booking shore excursions and making dining reservations and spa appointments right at your fingertips. Additional new developments are expected in the next six months or so, including perhaps Carnival Corporation's high-speed internet endeavors.
In the meantime, Craddock is excited about where the new technology stands and is heading. He said, "as of last week we launched on the final ship, Pacific Princess," which was kind of fun because it tied in to the whole 50th anniversary celebration, the embrace of 'The Love Boat' we've had over the last year. So, it was fun to be able to go on to the namesake of 'The Love Boat' and launch there and celebrate our fleet-wide rollout of the application as well."
The future also includes the forthcoming Majestic Princess for the Chinese cruise market. Nate adds, "the multilingual [feature] was specifically injected into our development queue really to support all the efforts in Asia, so with Majestic, it will definitely be tied in there as well." Now unique to Princess Cruises is a broad deployment on such a large number of cruise ships. He concludes, "it's a time now that we have just completed the fleet deployment that we can also take a step back and think about what does the next iteration of this platform look like."
Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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