Friday, December 12, 2014

The Quantum of the Seas, One of the Technological Wonders of Our Time

The Quantum of the Seas, One of the Technological Wonders of Our Time.
(Originally written Dec 15, 2014, Updated Mar 22, 2016)

Last month we had the privilege of sailing on the Quantum of the Seas.  Royal Caribbean's latest cruise ship.  They have referred to it as a "game changer", and I cannot disagree.  Other than my Navy days, I am not a veteran cruiser.  We took a cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy at 70,000 tons in the 90's and on the Carnival Pride at 89,000 tons a year ago.  Just enough  experience to offer comparisons.

The Quantum of the Seas at sea.  Picture shamelessly stolen from the internet as this ship is so big that there was no place I could have taken one myself.
The first thing you notice is the size.  At nearly 170,000 tons, this thing is almost twice the volume of an aircraft carrier.  Especially when you take into account the difference between a civilian liner "ton" which is 100 cu feet verses a Navy ton which is a ton of displaced water.  With 18 decks, the her top floor is about 170 feet above the waterline.  

Well cover the wow's first.
This ship was designed with all the bells and whistles.  Royal Caribbean has contracted a dedicated satellite constellation from OB3, which can in theory provide 1.5 billion bits per second connection speed straight to the internet IP hubs.  In practice they have gotten 500 million bits per second.  Repeaters abound throughout the ship to allow for continuous connectivity below decks.  Royal Caribbean claims this is more capacity than all other cruise ships combined.  To be sure this has teething problems, but it is quite an accomplishment.  The cost of this service is $20/day for "normal" access, and $40/day for priority access.  This seems high, and it is, but on the Carnival Pride last year the cost was $45 per hour for far slower internet.

Getting on the ship was a dream compared to our Carnival trip last year.  I think we were in the terminal 10 minutes before an employee approached us, Windows Surface Pad in hand, and checked us in.  Maybe 5 minutes with the TSA and we were heading up the gangplank.

Possibly the first thing you would notice is the "North Star"  A boom on the forward end that gives the ship an angler fish look.
The North Star.  135 foot long, with a capacity of 18 people, which can elevate you to 300 feet above the water line.
North Star from below
View from the North Star off the Port Beam.
From inside, looking down.
300 feet up on the North Star swinging out on to the port side.
The North Star got stuck while we were up there, so we sat down and sang Kumbaya.

My favorite space was the Solarium.  The sun room on the top floor forward with 3 pools, 4 hot tubs and the spectacular view.
Night shot of a pair of hot tubs in the Solarium.
Solarium starboard side view while pulling into Nassau. 

Solarium port side, pulling into Nassau. The resort Atlantis is in the background.

The Solarium's middle pool. 
It's nice being the biggest ship in port. 
View from the Solarium, still pulling into Nassau.

A note on these ships.  They don't do tug's.  Even on the Ecstasy they have port and starboard water jets for pulling in.  In the case of the Quantum, the bow jets generate almost 20,000 horsepower.

More ship-geek stuff.  The ship has no rudders.  Its two props are on maneuverable pods.

The ship has installed what is referred to as the Micro-bubble air lubrication system.  This system generates a very high volume of micro-bubbles, which reduces drag along the keel, improving fuel effeciency by a measured 4%.
The next big thing on this ship is the sheer number of projection panels and screens.  Aft is the theater "Two70"   The rear glass of this room is some 150 by 30 feet offering comfortable views of the sea from the comfort of excellent seating with convenient food and beverage service.  Perfect for morning coffee.

Not just a direction sign pointing to Two70, but a touch activated pad for interacting with scheduling, news, and other information services.
No picture can do this justice.  Dusk view from Two70. 
View from the balcony in Two70.

But Two70 is not just an excellent lounge, it is also a theater.  Bits of the floor raise and drop to support their show Starwater, an excellent show with beautiful music, dancing, high wire acts combined with their technologies of "Vistarama" and "Roboscreen". 

This is not a real city, but 18 projectors on the 13 screens of "Vistarama", used for the various shows in Two70.

Same cityscape.

Undersea whimsey at Two70.
More undersea whimsey at Two70.

Jungle animation on Vistarama.

Then we get to Roboscreen.  Roboscreen is 6, 100 inch monitors each with their own robot arm for maneuvering. 

Roboscreen running its paces.  The two center monitors are maneuvering as one big monitor.

4 roboscreen monitors forming a box for this show.
It doesn't look it here but if it wasn't for the gap, this looked totally real.

The shows here were totally captivating.

Then we go to the Royal Theater, on the other end of the ship.
The Christmas Tree went up tastefully on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

A very nice promenade.

On the way is a mobius strip embedded with LED's to form an interesting piece of art,
Then entrance to "Wonderland", one of their restaurants.
Wonderland is a bit warped.

"Izumi", their Sushi restaurant. 

A glass whirlwind.

An automated wine dispenser. 

The Bionic Bar.  Two industrial robots to mix your drinks for you.

FYI, everyone is issued with both wrist bands and id cards for charging your drinks and you key to your cabin.
More art.
Almost there, just passing the midships elevators.

The Royal Theater.  Seats 1,300.  Currently with two shows, Momma Mia, and Sonic Odyssey.  In the back ground is the "Earth Harp"  with strings that stretch across the theater, resembling an egg slicer from Costco.
Earth Harp's frets.

Sonic Odyssey's drum set.

Other entertainment.
Battery powered bumping cars.  They seem to be able to run 4 hours on a charge.  When charging this becomes a roller rink, a teen disco, a trapeze training site.  On the upper deck are ping pong and X-Box rooms.

And are stowed in their own 2 level, private charging stations.

Because all blogs about ships should have a picture like this.
Parachute simulator off.
A retiree tries out the Quantum's parachute simulator .
Seems to work OK.  Weight limit is 250 pounds though.
Staff member showing off.
Seating in the Ping Pong room.  Warning, while cute and stylish, not for the "Top-Heavy"
A bit of boggy boarding.
Though from this view it kind of looks like a blender.
Definitely not Disney.  Animals do not have buts in Disney.
Despite the artwork connotations, no diving in the pools.

Looking down about 8 floors in the mid-ships elevator conduit.  Deja-vu for "Time Tunnel" anyone?
Why another picture?  Because I like the view through this glass floor.

One great improvement over older ships, the pools are fresh water.

To be sure there are some "Interesting" concepts being introduce here.  Purell and washing stations before the eating areas to reduce infectious transfers.  The same with power door bath rooms.  But this?

These are the buttons in one of the mens bathroom stalls.  There are 5 buttons here.  What do they all do?  One hint is that none of them flush the toilet.

You can tell Royal Caribbean is competing with Disney.  To that end we have Dreamworks characters all over the ship.  And we got to see The Penguins of Madagascar for free about 3 days after it premiered.

And the elevator art:

All a bit weird.

The problem with hiring artists are that sometimes you get art.

While the ape is weird, this one is unsettling.  The eyes are animated and blink and move.  We avoided looking at it when passing by.

Restful watching this swing with the rolling of the ship

View of Royal Caribbean's new Cape Canaveral port building.  The building was ready but a bit of dredging was still needed.

How am I to read this menu.  Either its All Day, or is it only from 11-6?  There was a similar problem with the "24 Hour Grill", which closed at 11pm.

Complaints.  I am not going to go over the teething problems.  There were some and they will be fixed, these are complaints that are more endemic in nature.

1) The visit to the private island.  The contract states that the itinerary can be changed without notice due to weather and safety concerns.  And I understand that, but we have since found out, that the visit to the private island, which was a major expectation of ours, has a 50% of being canceled due to weather.  To my mind it is fraudulent to offer something with that high a percentage of not being able to provide it.  

2) The in room televisions.  Sixty years ago, it took up to five minutes for a TV to warm up.  Then someone invented "instant on" and we never went back.  Till now.  The in room TV's are "IP" connected and take a minute to boot up.  That may not be so bad if it went to the channel you were last on, but it only then takes you to a menu screen.

3) Buffet selections.  There was a lot of rice, fish  and curry offerings, even for breakfast.  Weird for East Coast Americans.  And from the looks of it, they went largely uneaten.  But this ship is moving to China in 6 months, and I think they were preparing the kitchen staff for their dietary expectations.

4) 24 hour buffet and room service, except after 11pm.  See the picture above.   

5) Booking your next cruise.  All cruise lines offer this.  A special deal to book another cruise while on this cruise.  I think they were offering a $400 discount.  I am not sure because the crew was totally disinterested in helping you book said cruise, pointing you to the self help pads.  Which didn't work well due to the WIFI problems that were still being worked out, and an App that was not working correctly either.  When technology fails, bodies must serve, and on that Royal Caribbean failed miserably.

6) Quantum of the Seas?  What kind of name is that?  The definition of quantum is "The smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently, especially a discrete quantity of electromagnetic radiation.", another "This amount of energy regarded as a unit."  Hardly descriptive of the third largest cruise ship operating out of the United States.*

7) Constant badgering for tips.  Every time you made a purchase, you were handed a pad to check for the amount of tip for the overpriced drink.  It was always a range, but the range constantly changed.  Like 5/10/18 onetime, 10/18/23 another and once 18/23/ or 35 percent.  For those that have never cruised, there is already an extra daily charge for tipping automatically applied to your bill.

8) Elevator programming.  It seemed like an extraordinary number of people had special privileges to getting an elevator.   We would watch their indicators go "Priority" which we think meant someone took it off line for their special trip.  Once, while in transit, ours stopped, the doors opened, and we were told to exit immediately.  Then the elevator went somewhere, then came back for us.

9) Toilet Paper.  One of the things I judge a companies health when deciding if I want to work for them or not is the quality of their bathroom towels and tissues.  I have noticed over the years when a company is in economic trouble, the towels and tissues get replaced with the cheapest, thinnest stuff ever.  The quality of the toilet paper on this ship is the thinnest I have seen by half.  18 squares were needed to avoid a poke through.

1) Initial boarding and debarking.  The boarding process was amazing, There was no obvious lines, and an obvious exit point.  So we were standing our small group, looking at the signage, trying to figure out what to do next, and a staff member showed up, electronic pad in hand.  Less than 5 minutes later we were going up the escalator to the ship.  Way better than our Carnival experience, which involved us standing in line for an hour or more.

2) The Dreamworks channel.  All Dreamworks cartoons, all the time.  Nice to have this as a movie channel.  Off course by the end of the cruise, we caught up with all of them.

3) Sanitation.  There have been a number of stories in the last decade of some epidemic traveling through cruise ships.  And Royal Caribbean was doing something about it.  At the main buffet, not only did they have a Purell(tm) station, backed by an alcove of 6 hand washing sinks, they manned the station 24x7 with a minder. 

4) The room lights.  This was annoying.  You have to put your room key in a slot to activate the rooms lights.  We took to putting a business card in the slot for the week.

* Larger ships being the "Allure of the Seas", and "Oasis of the Seas" each at 225,000 tons.  Soon to come out, the Harmony of the Seas at 227,000 tons.