Where Royal Caribbean’s onboard innovations are created and tested: Travel Weekly

Andrea Zelinsky

Andrea Zelinsky

MIAMI — Royal Caribbean Group’s Jay Schneider had me at “microbubbles.”

After arriving in town for this year’s Seatrade Cruise Global conference, I stopped for a visit to the Royal Caribbean Group headquarters. That’s where I found Schneider, the company’s director of product innovation, working on a memo.

I wondered aloud what it means to be a director of product innovation. Before long he ditched his laptop, pulled out a key card and walked with me to show me The Cave and the warehouse.

“We love when we have a crazy idea,” he said.

His job is to develop innovations around hardware and destinations for Royal Caribbean, and group-wide digital innovations like apps and facial recognition tools to speed up boarding.

He leads a “team of nerds”, he said, including himself, who feel comfortable trying something different. The idea behind his work, he said, is to harness his “brand nerd” and experiment to ensure that each new ship is the best yet.

That’s when he introduced me to microbubbles. These beads of cold bubbles, produced by compressors and pushed under the hull, can reduce friction between the ship’s hull and the surrounding water, increasing energy efficiency. If the bubbles are too hot, they dissipate with the heat, but the ship can navigate more efficiently on microbubbles that are too cold.

When Royal Caribbean introduced microbubbles on the Harmony of the Seas, they found the the ship was 20% more efficient
than her sister ship, the Allure of the Seas. Now the bubbles are on the Wonder, Symphony Harmony, Odyssey, Spectrum and Ovation of the Seas.

Driven by the question of how cruises can better compete with land-based vacations, he said it’s that kind of ingenuity that led to the creation of Royal Caribbean’s private islands, like Perfect Day at Coco Cay in the Bahamas. ; it was in an effort to build “the perfect day for a family,” he said. At least one more island is in the works, he said.

We arrived at the door of The Cave. Through that door is a room where almost every surface is a screen: three walls, the ceiling and the floor, he said. This is where the team explores onboard concepts as if they were guests walking through the quarters of a ship. They can look up, down and sideways: are there any unintended consequences of placing these booths facing this hallway? What does it look and feel like? What did they never notice when designing this space?

Schneider, who worked for The Walt Disney Company until he moved to the Royal Caribbean Group in 2016, said The Cave was the kind of tool he used there, and where he traveled to the first time worlds were built for Star Wars attractions.

Then he showed me the warehouse where his team builds replicas of their ideas, like entire model cabins; a new idea for a bar; or interior cabin windows with more realistic imitation views of the sea.

Not all of their ideas come to fruition, he said, alluding to interior windows with mock sea views or a new bar concept.

But having the space to build models and explore in The Cave is helping the line continue to innovate during the pandemic, when it couldn’t assess designs in person at shipyards halfway around the world.

“During the pandemic, that was the only way to do that,” he said.

While some ideas didn’t pan out, others did. Learning that teens and tweens want their own space to make friends, the team wondered if there could be a secret door to enter such a space. So they envisioned an arcade, where a video game would unlock to open a door to the next room when someone won the game. They built a replica, tested it, and came up with three ways to trigger the door.

This secret door now exists on the Oasis of the Seas, although the original is in the warehouse, as an exhibit in a museum of “crazy ideas”.