When Carnival Corp CEO Arnold Donald took the stage earlier today at the annual CES show in Las Vegas, he became the first travel industry executive to give a keynote at the show.

Carnival went all out this year, their first year, at CES. They built a 14,000 sqft virtual cruise ship at their booth on the show floor. They had several media previews and exclusive events and were able to get a keynote, a rarity for new companies at the show.

As was speculated, the event centered around their IoT (internet of things) enabled wearable medallions. Marketed as Ocean Medallions, it forms a centerpiece of their O.C.E.A.N. initiative. It stands for One Cruise Experience Access Network and seems to be almost a rebranding of sorts.
The way it works is before your cruise, you go online, and fill out your profile entering in information and uploading your government ID. It will recognize your cruise booking and know what cabin you’re in, who you’re traveling with, what your dining preference is, etc. Since it has your ID on it, embarkation is even quicker now. After clearing security, you’ll be able to walk onboard without having to wait to speak to anyone.

After that, everything is seamless. You pay for drinks, dinners, casino games with it. You can buy gifts in the shops with it. No more paper receipts (More on security below). As you walk up to your cabin door, you just reach your hand out to the door knob and it recognizes it’s you and will unlock the door.

The medallions will talk to embedded sensors located all throughout the vessel. As you walk past these sensors, the platform will know that’s where you are. It will know that other members of your party are still by the pool or are in the Spa or are eating in the lido buffet.

Ocean medallions will sync to Ocean Compass, a smartphone app and kiosk located around the ship. These is where you interact with all the features. This is where you get the updates about members in your party and can plan future events onboard. If you frequent the same bars onboard, it will alert you of the daily specials there. If you frequent the spa, it will give you spa focused messages on the compass.

So what are these devices?

They’re slightly larger than a quarter and weigh 1.8 ounces. They can be worn on the wrist like a watch, around the neck like a necklace or in a pocket. For techies out there, the devices use NFC and Bluetooth Smart. They run off of xiOS (no relation to Apple). It stands for Experience Innovation Operating System which is developed specifically for this application.

The concept was developed for Carnival by John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corp, and formally of Disney. While at Disney, he launched the MagicBand which is extremely similar concept to the Ocean Medallion.

Princess Cruises will be the first to get it. Debuting on the Regal Princess in November of this year. Royal Princess and Caribbean Princess are next up after that in 2018.


What does Carnival get out of it?

Carnival Conquest Sailing from Port Everglades ©CruiseInd

Carnival gets to track your every movement. Since it’s a device that will always be with that guest, it will tell Carnival all about that guest. There are over 7,000 sensors on the ship, so that’s 7,000 potential data points that they can make conclusions on about their guests. They can tell how long guests spend in the bars, which bars they stay at the longest, and which drinks most people seem to like. They can track how long guests stare at the paintings in the galleries and even the exact ones.

I believe for Carnival it’s all about these analytics. They want to know as much as possible about their guests, that way they can develop and refine their onboard product to cater more towards exactly what the guests want.

Security Concerns

With all this information being out there it’s important to be concerned about security. The physical device doesn’t contain any data about you. All that’s on the device is just a ‘meaningless number.’ That meaningless number is actually an encrypted unique identifier string. That way if it’s lost or compromised, there’s nothing legible on it.

When read by a sensor on the vessel, the number on the medallion is transmitted to the main server on the ship and is only decrypted there. Only on that local server onboard can they relate it to your specific account.

For purchases, that server will transmit back to the employee your name and your government ID photo so they can verify that’s its actually you that’s trying to purchase something. Carnival believes, and rightly so, that this gives higher level of security than what is currently out there. You can even create an individual pin number for significant purchases, such as expensive onboard purchases (jewelry, watches, etc.)

It doesn’t track the actual person but gives you intelligence about the guest. It’s important to emphasize that Carnival executives won’t be sitting in their offices tracking you specifically to see how long you sit at a bar. They’ll just know that ‘x’ number of guests were at a bar on any given day. John Padgett emphasized in a follow up phone call, “It’s not a global tracking system.”

Closing comment…

As someone who’s obsessed with gadgets and was already devoting a disproportionate amount of his time following CES, long before Carnival even decided to go there, I cant wait to try this out!