‘The question I’m always asked is will this really work?,’ says Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean. Whether it’s fast broadband at sea, passengers being able to board in ten minutes, computerised ‘dancing’ TV screens or ‘virtual balconies’ on inside cabins, the critics and cynics are ready to pounce.
It won’t take long to find out the answer. Quantum of the Seas, still under construction at a shipyard in Germany, will take on its first guests – journalists and travel agents – in Southampton on October 31. Fain seems unfazed it is Halloween – normally more associated with nightmares than dreams coming true.
As he guides us round the 167,800-ton ship in Papenburg, Germany, Fain appears to delight in creating challenges for himself and the company, setting high expectations and ambitious goals in an attempt to always be the ground-breaking cruise line.
Even launching Quantum is a headache. Of all the places to build a 1,142ft ship, 30 miles from a port probably isn’t the first place you’d think of. On September 21 – or thereabouts, depending on the weather – it will leave the Meyer Werft yard in Papenburg and inch backwards along the Ems river until it reaches the sea and undergoes its first proper trials. Only then will Royal Caribbean take ownership.
Most of the ‘wow’ factors on the ship, such as the North Star observation pod and robotic bartenders, are still not complete or fully operational. But here is what Fain had to say on the key attractions as he led us around…
After ice rinks, surfing machines and zip lines, Royal Caribbean has gone that next step and allowed passengers to be able to ‘fly’ at sea. Ripcord by iFly is a huge construction at the rear of the ship where, after 15 minutes of training, guests can experience the thrill of skydiving. But the sessions may not be long, says Fain. As boss, he was allowed to have a two-minute try-out at a simulator on land – but after a minute and a half he felt he’d had enough. ‘It’s a lot of fun and challenging – especially if you are over 12 years old,’ he joked. The air is recirculated around the two big tubes at the side to save on energy. There will be a 250lb weight limit for users and you will be able to book your ‘flight’ in advance. Ripcord is said to have the largest piece of curved glass in the world.
With the boyish fun Fain had showing off his new toy in the SeaPlex centre, you might think this was his favourite part of the ship. If the passengers have half the enjoyment he did, this will be a winning feature.
That might look pretty real but it’s actually an 80in LED screen, which will be fitted to all inside cabins. To make it as authentic as possible, the view is the same as if you were able to see through all the walls to the other side of the ship. As the vessel moves, so does the view. If it rocks gently, the image will as well. The picture is relayed via one of three cameras on the bridge – pointing port, starboard and forward – and one at the stern facing backwards. The screen is also set behind a false wall, so it doesn’t jut out, spoiling the illusion. Just don’t try to lean on the rail…
Fain said that when it was suggested the huge display could be used for other things – watching TV, emails, gaming – his answer was ‘a firm no’.
One of the most striking features of Quantum – and its sister ship Anthem, also being built in Papenburg – will be the North Star, an observation pod on a 135ft arm which will carry guests over the side of the ship, giving a view 300ft above the waves. The gondola is being built in Switzerland, the arm in Poland.
The attraction will carry 15 people at a time on a 15-minute ‘flight’ – though private parties can book it for 30, 45 or 60-minute sessions, maybe for a wedding or a renewal of vows. It will operate at night, as well as in port.
Fain concedes the North Star would not be great in heavy seas. But he says: ‘Based on historical water patterns, it would be in service 80 to 90 per cent of the time.’
The six 7ft TV screens in Two70 – a huge ‘living room’ area that cost more than one of Royal’s earlier ships – will twist and turn to create visual effects, in combination with Vistarama, a series of 18 projectors that turn the 270-degree backdrop into a giant screen. Between them, they will display such shows as Virtual Concert. For this, 15 musicians were filmed in performance and guests will be able to see the entire gig from whatever angle they want, concentrating either on the background or one of the singers featured on the RoboScreens.
To prove that not everything goes right in Fain’s world, he admitted that during practice on land, two of the RoboScreens crashed into each other, cracking both displays.
‘Big Red’, as Fain calls him/her (he’s not yet decided on a gender), keeps watch over the side of the ship. But adjustments had to be made for the eight-ton artwork. Asked why he had decided to create the massive animal – Fain denied he was a polar bear – he answered rhetorically: ‘Why would you build a ship like this and not have one?’
There will be 18 restaurants and 14 bars for the 4,180 passengers on board Quantum – including the first one at sea by British chef Jamie Oliver.
Complimentary ones include the American Icon grill; the European-inspired Grande, ‘where every night is formal night’, says Fain; Silk, serving Asian cuisine; and Chic, which is refined American.
Other venues include Wonderland, said to be ‘sensory, magical and engaging’ for ‘people really into a different food experience’.
So does Fain think all the risk and investment is worth it? Of course he does.
‘People are willing to pay for the overall experience,’ he says. ‘If you build a better vessel they will come.’
Asked what can top this on the next project, he answers: ‘Every time you come up with something spectacular the question is always what’s next. I’m revelling in this and right now I’m going to enjoy the success this is having.
‘We are happy on how this is doing. People can see we are determined to wow them.’