IT helps passengers, crew navigate gigantic cruise ship

Digital signage, facial recognition, handheld computers and RFID are used on board the Oasis of the Seas

MIAMI -- Approaching Oasis of the Seas from the parking lot of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and then entering the ship, you are overtaken by its size.

Almost 1,200 feet long, 210 feet wide, and rising 213 feet from the water line, it is the world's largest cruise ship -- about five times the size of the Titanic.

open air amphitheater
The open air amphitheater on board the Oasis of the Seas. (Photo by Juan Carlos Perez / IDG News Service)

It features 16 passenger decks, 24 passenger elevators and more than 2,700 rooms. At full capacity, the 225,282-ton ship can carry about 6,300 passengers and 2,100 staffers.

Amenities include a park with more than 12,000 plants, an 82-foot long zip line in the open air activity area, a jogging track that is almost half a mile, a shop promenade worthy of a shopping mall, more than 20 swimming pools and whirlpools, multiple restaurants and a theater that sits more than 1,300 people.

Royal Caribbean International knew its ship had to be designed it in a way that its size didn't overwhelm passengers and staffers, and decided early on that IT would play a big part in addressing this challenge.

In a recent, exclusive tour of the ship, Royal Caribbean IT officials showed the IDG News Service how the company is using tools like RFID, facial recognition and handheld wireless devices for a variety of purposes, including emergency responses, food safety, point-of-sale (POS) transactions and passenger service. You can watch an IDG video of part of the tour, here.

"We were keenly aware that we were building the biggest ship in the world and we wanted to make sure the experience nonetheless was an intimate one, and eliminate any sense that you are on a massive ship," Santiago Abraham, vice president of information technology programs at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, parent company of Royal Caribbean International.

To that end, the ship, which had its maiden voyage in December 2009, is divided into different "neighborhoods," as opposed to being a monolithic structure, and features many small restaurants, rather than a few gigantic dinner halls.

It is critical to help passengers find their way around this layout, so the ship has digital, interactive signs that people can use to access maps, get directions, see scheduled activities and check in real-time the occupancy level of restaurants. The more than 300 touchscreen devices are the size of flat-screen televisions and are mounted on walls on the ship's corridors.

"The digital signage helps our guests navigate the ship," Abraham said of the system, whose touchscreen devices use Windows 7 on the front end and tap SQL Server and other Windows server products on the back end. "You see guests interacting with it on a pretty continual basis very effectively."

Royal Caribbean's IT department also automated retail transactions and food inspections on board with PAR Technology terminals and tablets running software from Agilysys and the Windows Embedded OS.

With those systems, a food inspection round that would take five hours with paper-based logs and conventional thermometers is done instead in two hours with devices that have temperature probes and readers that scan RFID tags on food containers.

Meanwhile, waiters and salespeople are more mobile and order-taking and order-processing are faster, especially in the pool area, where orders can be beamed wirelessly to the bartenders.

The IDG News Service took a tour of the Royal Caribbean's Oasis cruise ship to see how its IT department uses technology. RFID, facial recognition and handheld devices help make the ship more manageable.

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