Quantum of the Seas: World's 'smartest cruise ship' with robot waiters and skydiving

Story highlights

  • Quantum of the Seas cost nearly $1 billion to build and is billed the world's smartest cruise ship
  • Robots make your drinks, you can take out a surfboard on deck and surf the web at speed
  • The company behind it, Royal Caribbean, believe it is "winning cruise wars"

(CNN)Robots serve you drinks, you can skydive on deck and a mechanical arm hoists you 300 feet into the air to view the ship.

You could be forgiven for thinking you had been transported into the future on board the new $1 billion cruise ship Quantum of the Seas. As its name suggests, it is very much a quantum leap in boat building.
The latest brainchild of Royal Caribbean, which has branded the newest member of its fleet the "smartest cruise ship in history," it is basically a fun palace on the high seas.
    Everything, it seems, is a first: the first bumper cars, skydive simulator and bionic bar on a ship.
    And among the 19 restaurants on board, there is something for everyone.
    Those of a literary slant can even dine at Wonderland, with waitresses dressed up in characters from the novel by Lewis Carroll.
    Such are the maverick creations on board from bow to stern, it is a vessel befitting of the Mad Hatter.
    "This is the smartest cruise ship," says Harri Kulovaara, executive vice-president of maritime at Royal Caribbean and head of the design process behind the project. "This is probably going to be a big change for the industry and the future."
    And this is not just Royal Caribbean's prediction.
    "It's unique and unusual, and we just had fun -- pure and simple," is the assessment of Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of Cruise Critic, after spending eight days on Quantum. "Royal Caribbean are always raising the bar when it comes to putting stuff on board you'd never thought you'd see on a cruise ship.
    "They just do things well before anyone else and their ships are traditionally the ones you get most excited about," adds Spencer Brown, who estimates she has been on 300 cruises as part of her job.
    "You keep on thinking when they come up with something crazy they've hit the wall and there can't be anything new, but there always is. They keep doing things no-one else has thought of."
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    There are bigger cruise ships out there: Allure and Oasis -- both part of the Royal Caribbean fleet -- although not quite with the same box of tricks. Kulovaara likes to think Quantum has something for everyone -- it even has its own "godmother," American actress Kristin Chenoweth.
    But what exactly does a price tag of nearly $1 billion buy you? The vessel is 16 stories high, has room for 4,500 passengers and a 1,500-strong crew.
    It also boasts 18 decks, 2,090 state rooms, is the length of 41 London buses and weighs 167,800 tonnes.
    Built in Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, its first voyage at the end of last year was from Southampton to New York, and an eight-day Caribbean cruise on board starts from $1,333.
    The project was first discussed in 2009 and the build took three and a half years. Finland-born Kulovaara, now based in Miami, takes great pride in the fact the vessel was delivered just two minutes late.
    Kulovaara, who has been with the company since 1995, is proud of the open-thinking mentality that appears to have gone into the design process.
    "I don't remember any major elements that we did not get on the ship," he says. "It's come together nicely. We have a group of people that love to innovate and look to the future. With this, we started to think about the next generation.
    "When we start a new design, we think of the customer and what can we do. We put the customer right in there. How can we provide a better vacation? We constantly explore novel options, what's possible on a ship. We have people pushing innovation that just have that in their DNA."
    That involves bringing partners on board, including the team behind RipCord by iFly -- provider of skydiving on the deck in an enclosed capsule -- which has long been a company aspiration.
    "We've actively looked at having that on board before the technology was not enclosed and also too noisy," adds Kulovaara, who spent his childhood summers sailing in the Finnish Arctic.
    "The technology moved on and the energy could be used in a constant loop so there wasn't such wasted energy."
    It was the same for the North Star, a capsule -- modeled on the London Eye -- that gives holiday makers a 360-degree view of the deck but can also protrude over the side of the boat with just the sea below. It is not something for vertigo sufferers.
    "North Star looks simple but it's very complex so adding to the ship design was huge," explains Kulovaara, who says he only got involved in studying naval architecture in order to make him a better yachtsman.
    "Some of our best resources were working on that for 18 months before the product was started."
    At the Bionic Bar, passengers can order drinks by iPad and watch as huge bionic arms make any beverage of their choosing.
    The tech thrills don't end there: Kulovaara claims Quantum has the most advanced WiFi on board any ship.
    He says the connectivity, set up by O3b, is as fast as logging on at home or at work -- achieved by using a satellite in much lower orbit than would normally be the case.
    "It's comparable to anything on land, so this is a revolution."
    The company is confident it is winning the cruise wars, and reviews of the vessel have, to date, been very positive.
    There are, however, rivals. Spencer Brown cites the examples of both Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival for their own innovations.
    "Norwegian has this completely nuts rope course on deck 16 with a gang plank which looks down over the sea. They were also the first for alternative restaurants and led the way with outdoor spaces and great party areas with bars and restaurants outside," she says.
    "Carnival are doing some fun design work with Carnival Vista (launching in 2016). It's like a ship within a ship with a separate family zone and a Cuban-themed area for adults.
    "So Royal Caribbean are leading the way but it's nice to see it's got competition."
    There is a pressure on Royal Caribbean to raise the bar for its next creation, though Kulovaara is not concerned.
    "This is about 1% great idea and 99% execution," he says. "History tells us that we like to push the envelope and will continue to do that and create very unique experiences."