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13 Ways Technology has Changed Cruising



Cruising, at least in the way that we know it today, has been a popular vacation choice since the late 1970s. But there have been a lot of ways that the cruising experience has changed over the last 40+ years thanks to continued advances in technology, especially given the shift in the reliance on the internet since the 1990s. While this list could probably be endless, here are 13 of the biggest ways technology has changed cruising.

How Technology Has Changed Cruising

Robots slinging drinks at the Bionic Bar.

1. Easier booking

In the Dark Days before the internet, you had to call a travel agent if you wanted to book a cruise or get any information about sailing dates, itineraries, prices, etc. Now, the world is your oyster. Anyone can do a quick search to find practically all the information they need. Plus, with hundreds of cruise review sites just like and online forums, there are plenty of places to find reviews from fellow cruisers. And while I still recommend using a travel agent to help you get the best bang for your buck, doing your research will help your agent too by giving him/her a better idea of what you want.

2. Faster check-in

If you thought embarkation day was rough already, consider what a nightmare it would be to check in everyone the day of. That includes verifying IDs, setting up onboard accounts, and more. Plus, you couldn’t go online and print your own boarding passes and bag tags yourself. These documents would all be mailed to your travel agent’s office in vinyl packets (or leather, if you were sailing on a luxury line). Then, your travel agent would have to deliver them to you before your cruise – you’d best not lose them. So, let’s all take a moment to be thankful for the internet and online check-in. Also, thanks to the introduction of facial recognition technology, the check-in for cruising is only getting faster as more ships update their process.

Read More: 7 Things to Know About Anthem of the Seas

3. Staying connected to home

Nowadays, the availability of wifi for purchase onboard cruise ships makes getting in touch with family back home incredibly easy, whether you do so through the ship’s computers or your own devices. Contacting home is much easier and more affordable than the past, when in-stateroom telephones charged several dollars per minute to call back to land. And while it’s still about $1/minute to use those phones, hardly anyone uses these anymore now that they access wifi and send a message online.

4. Instant photos


Okay, so most ships still use the tried-and-true method of printing your cruise photos for you to find on display at the photo shop onboard. But, almost all of the newest ships – as well as many that have undergone refurbs – have made the switch to a digital photo gallery. This not only allows a cruiser to instantly download his or her photos to a mobile device – it also saves on printing costs and takes up less space on a ship. Plus, thanks to facial recognition technology built into the digital galleries, it means no more wasting time thumbing through random pictures to find your own.

5. More diverse onboard activities

From bumper cars to robot bars, the onboard cruising experience has changed drastically over the years. While years ago it was a big deal when a Carnival ship got a water slide equivalent to what some people have in their own backyard pools, nowadays the stakes keep getting higher for what ships can offer onboard. The North Star glass observation capsule that extends out over some Royal Caribbean ships is certainly a technological marvel, as is the fact that Carnival Vista has an IMAX theater. The list goes on and on…

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6. Bigger ships

Photo via Richard MacGregory.

When the RMS Titanic debuted in 1912 as the largest moving object built by man, measuring in at just over 46,000 gross tons and 882 feet in length, it’s likely no one of that day and age would believe the size of the ships built today. When Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas debuts next spring, it will break the record for largest passenger ship ever built by measuring over 230,000 gross tons and 1,188 feet in length. Still, you don’t have to go back over a century to marvel at the differences. Even just two decades ago, Carnival Destiny (now Carnival Sunshine) debuted in 1996 as the first passenger ship built at over 100,000 gross tons.

7. Onboard apps

Chances are that in a few years the paper daily planners will become another item of the past. That’s because almost every cruise line has built its own app for onboard experiences. Once onboard, you can view your daily planner, check which bars and dining venues are open, make dining reservations, review your expenses, and more (depending on the app). \

8. Social media

Even just a few years ago, social media was not accessible while on a cruise because internet was something you could only get by logging into a ship’s computer and paying a hefty price. Now, internet is available and affordable on cruises, and people love to use it to post about their vacation. The cruise lines love it too, because it’s basically free advertising when you post fun vacation pictures and your friends comment to say “Wow! I want to take a cruise!”

9. Better dining experiences

Photo via Disney Cruise Line.

In the past, most cruise ships had only a main dining room and a buffet, and possibly a steakhouse if you were lucky. That would be almost impossible to believe in today’s cruising world, with technology allowing ships to feed more people and offer more numerous and more diverse dining options. Plus, the introduction of technology into the dining experience created experiences like Animator’s Palate on Disney ships, where your own artwork comes alive on the dining room walls. It almost makes you wonder what things will be like in another 20 years…

10. Effortless reservations

Back in the day, there was no such thing as going online to make dining or spa reservations ahead of your cruise. If you needed to make any type of reservation, you had to wait until your were onboard. This sometimes resulted in a mad dash to the guest services desk as soon as people stepped on the ship. Not so much, anymore. Now, most people take advantage of the opportunity to pre-book their onboard activities online to spare themselves the time and hassle on the ship.

11. More budget friendly

Photo via NCL.

One of the biggest ways technology has changed cruising is by making it more budget friendly. And in turn, that makes it more accessible to more people. In the past, you paid for only the cost of your cruise in advance. Extras like shore excursions or your bar bill were tacked onto your final statement at the end of your cruise. Now, you can prepay these and more like wifi access, spa passes, and specialty dining packages – concepts that weren’t even around in the cruising world “back in the day.”

12. More energy efficient ships

The better technology gets, the more energy efficient ships get. Today’s ships operate under stricter, greener policies than in the past. For example, cruise lines have rigid recycling rules for their crew, more energy efficient onboard equipment (like the laundry rooms), as well as computers in the ship’s galleys that help track food supplies and orders to decrease food waste. And, in a revolutionary shift, many new ships are being built to be fueled by LNG (liquefied natural gas), which both costs and pollutes less than diesel.

13. Stateroom accommodations

Have you heard of the “virtual balcony” staterooms on some Royal Caribbean ships? These are actually interior rooms that feature a floor-to-ceiling HD screen that displays the view outside the ship in real time. It even has its own “railing.” Better still, it will even play sounds from outside like the ocean rolling underneath the ship. Does it really get more techy than this?

Do you like technology in modern day cruising?

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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 8: St Thomas



I did two things on this cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem which I never really imagined I’d ever do. The first was two days ago, when I ziplined through the rainforests of St. Lucia. The second was early this morning, when I wound up having to visit the medical center.

This was not, as you might have guessed, how I intended to spend the morning.

The view of St. Thomas from on board the Norwegian Gem, shortly after we docked.

The original plan was that once we arrived in St. Thomas, I’d disembark early and head to the pier for my shore excursion, during which I’d take a catamaran to some exotic place and do a little snorkeling. Our time in St. Thomas was going to be very limited — the ship arrived around 7 a.m., and we were departing at 1 p.m., which meant even this snorkeling excursion would be cutting it close. (I’d booked it through the ship, so I wasn’t worried about them leaving without me if for whatever reason we wound up running late.)

But everything changed when I woke up upon our arrival, looked in the mirror and realized there was something really wrong with my eye. Assuming I had pinkeye — and absolutely terrified I’d wind up quarantined to my room as a result — I made my way down to the medical center. (In a cruelly ironic twist, the medical center was located on deck 4… mere steps away from where people were disembarking to enjoy their day in St. Thomas.) The good news? I didn’t have pinkeye. The bad news? I did have an eye infection that required treatment. (It’s worth noting that I was up around 7 a.m. waiting for the medical center to open at 8:30 a.m., and as you can see in the below picture, the chair hogs had already staked their claim. I would return to this same spot about 2 hours later and those same chairs would still be staked out, nobody in them, nobody anywhere near them.)

Clearly, these folks got up at the crack of dawn, staked their claim on the pool deck… then went back to bed for several hours.

Now, I’m not a fan of going to the doctor under the best of circumstances, and having to do so on a cruise is definitely not the “best” of anything. But I will say the medical center staff was fantastic and made the entire process pretty easy. My eye needed a medication which, fortunately, they had available on board. The doctor thought it best that I skip snorkeling, however, so that was out. (Armed with a note from the medical center, a quick visit to the shore excursion desk and the charge for the cancelled daytrip was almost immediately processed.) Suddenly having a lot more time on my hands than I’d thought I would, I joined my friend Dianne for breakfast in Moderno.

Afterwards, I disembarked and wandered from Havensight, where the ship docked, to Charlotte Amalie. I’d been to St. Thomas years ago when friends and I rented a villa for a week, and had fond memories of Charlotte Amalie’s shops and restaurants. Wandering the alleyways, I found all kinds of wonderful stores and cute restaurants. I sort of wanted to sit in one of the cute cafes and have a few drinks, but it was still early in the day and the ones I really liked weren’t even open, let alone serving alcohol.

St. Thomas is a wonderful place to simply wander around, with its shop-lined alleys and hidden bars.

One thing I’d hoped to do in St. Thomas was take the tram to Paradise Point, a spot I loved visiting a decade earlier. Unfortunately, the sky ride was out of commission, as it had been since the hurricanes hit the island in the fall of 2017. (I’m happy to report that only a week or so after our ship’s visit, the Sky Ride re-opened for visitors!)

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The sky ride to Paradise Point was sadly closed during my visit, but reopened a few days later.

I’m not a photographer by nature — as you may have noticed, based on the quality of my pictures from this trip. But wandering the streets of Charlotte Amalie made me want to be a better one. Everywhere you look, there is something interesting. (At least everywhere that isn’t housing a jewelry store… seriously, how many of them are there here? Do people really buy enough to keep all these places in business?) Bright colors, cool shops, hidden alleyways. It’s just a fantastic spot for aimless wandering… which is what I did for several hours.

I wish I’d had longer in St. Thomas, but it was actually the shortest of all our port stops, with the ship arriving at 7 a.m. and departing at 1 p.m. 


Eventually, I wandered back to the ship and headed to the Great Outdoors bar, aka my home away from home on the Norwegian Gem. The bartenders here can get incredibly busy, but they always make time to smile and chat with their regulars. By two or three days into this trip, Simon (pictured below) had become for me what Norwegian refers to as a Vacation Hero.

He’s as quick with a smile as he is with a drink… and on this particular afternoon, as several of us who’d become big fans of his gathered for cocktails while the ship sailed away, Simon helped me to get pretty buzzed. How buzzed? Well… I wound up going to the casino around 4 p.m. … where I sat at one of my beloved Lock & Link Diamond machines (I suspect that if I could, I’d marry one of these amazing slot machines!) until nearly 2 a.m.  I skipped lunch and dinner, not wanting to give up the machine. I played that machine so long I got sober… and then got tipsy again… and then sober again. I had an amazing server in the casino who would, every few drinks, bring me a bottle of water and insist I hydrate.

It was definitely the best night of the trip, casino wise… and yes, I wound up walking away with money!

Drink Of The Day: Daydreamer Daiquiri. Weirdly, on day 8 they went back to the beginning… as if there aren’t more than 7 drinks to cycle through! (Based on the number of cocktails I tasted on any given day, I can attest to the fact that this definitely isn’t true!)

High Point of the Day: The casino was very, very good to me. Not handpay good, but good enough that I walked away very happy.

Low Point of the Day: I’d really, really been looking forward to going snorkeling, so having to miss it was a bummer. As was the $600 bill for my visit from the medical center. Yes, I have travel insurance which will cover it, but ugh… the paperwork!

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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 6: Ziplining In St. Lucia



As promised, I stayed out of the casino last night and was in bed at a decent hour so that I could get up early and watch as we sailed into St. Lucia on the Norwegian Gem. Like all the other ports on this itinerary — except St. Thomas — this was a place I’ve never visited before. And I was going to do something I’ve not only never done before, but kind of had a life-long fear of even attempting: ziplining!

It was a somewhat cloudy day as we pulled into St. Lucia… and those clouds would later unleash a few minutes worth of heavy rains.

I was hoping to grab breakfast before heading off on my adventure, but I had to be in Moderno’s (ironically, the very place where I would have been eating) at 8 a.m. for priority disembarkation, so… no food for me. Instead, I got off the ship and met with the rest of the crew who’d signed up for the early-morning excursion. (There was a later session as well, but my thinking was that it might get hot in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to be hiking around in the heat.)

I’ll write a full review soon, but for now, here’s the basics: I booked the Rainforest Adventures Sky Canopy & Ziplining tour through the ship for $149. (Interestingly, the price was the same whether you did the ziplining or only took the sky-ride up and down the mountain). We were met by the ship and taken to a van for one of those terrifying rides up twisty, curvy, up-and-downy mountain roads that make the drive to your excursion practically part of the adventure.

One of the many colorful houses passed as the bus climbed the mountains of St. Lucia

Upon arriving at our final destination, we were outfitted with helmets, harnesses and taken to what one of my fellow passengers referred to as “the bunny slope of ziplines” so we could be taught safety procedures and give it a try. Afterwards, we boarded the skytrams — which hold 7 people, plus our two guides) and began the slow ascent up the mountain. Our very funny guides — Jimmy and Junior — were as good at cracking jokes as they were dispensing information about the rain forest through which we were traveling.

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The tram which transports eight passengers at a time up the mountain.

Once at the top, we went for a short hike to our first platform… and then the screaming started. Mostly mine, as I faced a lifelong fear of heights and reluctantly stepped off the first of 9 platforms to fling myself through the jungle. Now, I’ve seen the pictures and all I will say is: A fat man flying through the air suspended from a wire is not a pretty sight. But oh, man, was it an amazing experience.

Afterwards, we had to take a pretty vigorous hike back to the tram for the return trip down the mountain. The trip down is actually on a higher level than the trip up, and the views are stunning. At the bottom, we visited the obligatory gift shop (which you had to pass through to collect your complimentary “I didn’t die on the zipline” punch drink before climbing in the van and making the trip back down the mountain.

The ride down the mountain offers a spectacular view, and the guides offered witty, info-filled commentary.

Once back at the main area of the port, I wandered around a bit, did a little browsing (as opposed to actual shopping) before getting back on the ship. Having not eaten yet (and it was around 2 p.m. by this point), I swung by O’Sheehan’s (the 24-hour joint located on deck 8… just down the hallway from my room, for better or worse!). I ordered a half-dozen thai chili wings, a half-dozen Jamaican jerk wings… and, to balance out my health needs, a caesar salad with blackened chicken.

In the least surprising development ever, that rather gluttonous meal left me ready for a nap. I was supposed to meet friends at Cagney’s for dinner but realized two things when I went to get ready: I wasn’t at all hungry and, perhaps more important, I had no pants. A perk of platinum status is being able to have a bag of laundry done for free, so I’d stuffed one and sent it out earlier in the day… sending all of my jeans and dress pants, leaving me with nothing but shorts! I called and made my apologies to my dinner companions, admitting I’d be uncomfortable eating in the steakhouse in my shorts (even if it is allowed, which I’m not 100 percent sure of). I told them I’d instead meet them in the casino after they had dinner.

By the time they enjoyed their meal however, I’d pretty much figured out that this was going to be one of those nights where the casino was all take and no give, so I called it an early night. The next day, we’d be arriving in St. Kitts… and there would be plenty of time to gamble later in the week.

Drink Of The Day: The Moscow Mule

High Point Of The Day: I will never, ever forget flying through the rain forest. Would I do it again? I’m not sure… but I’m proud of myself for having done it at least once!

Low Point Of The Day: Seeing the photos of myself on the zipline. Let’s just say that should help me skip dessert the next few nights!

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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 4: Day Drinking And Casino Winning



There are two types of cruisers in the world: Those who will take as many sea days as an itinerary wants to throw at them, and those who start getting itchy if they’ve been “trapped” on the ship for a day or two. I’m definitely the former: The more sea days, the better.

That said, if there’s one downside to all these sea days, it’s that they can make for a fairly dull trip report. So before we get to details of the day (Spoiler alert: It involved a lot of drinking and gambling), let’s talk a little bit about the Norwegian Gem.

The last of the Jewel-class ships (which also includes the Norwegian Jewel, Jade and Pearl), the Gem first sailed in 2007. One of my favorite little “factoids” about this ship is that when it came time to pick a Godmother for the ship, Norwegian asked passengers who’d sailed with them before to submit videos… which is how Cindy Cardella of Fairfield, New Jersey wound up being picked! Remember the amazing Garden Villa we took a tour of yesterday? Well, Cardella and five of her friends got to enjoy a week long cruise livin’ it up in that lux pad!

The ship underwent a pretty major refurbishment in November of 2015, and this was the first time I’ve been on board since she underwent the transformation. Now, I’ll fully confess that there’s one aspect of the modernization that I absolutely hate (but nearly everyone else on the planet loves), and that’s where the Bliss Nightclub is concerned. When I originally sailed on the Gem, Bliss was — and there’s really no other word for it — gaudy. There were giant beds and odd, metallic statues and the whole thing felt like some kind of weird bordello from a badly dubbed 70s horror movie.

In other words, it was unique and awesome.

Don’t get me wrong: The new and “improved” Bliss is beautiful. It has lots of comfy couches (although I’m not sold on the weird chainmail supporting posts which dot the room) and a roomy dance floor… but dang, I really miss the gloriously tacky club that once existed in this space.

Bliss is now a gorgeous space… but I miss the tacky glory it once featured.

(It’s worth noting that I’m not a fan of the version of Bliss they have on the Breakaway, either. That one lacks any personality whatsoever, being basically a big, box shaped room with uncomfortable tables and chairs. The Gem‘s take on Bliss is far more stylish and comfortable.)

And Now, Back To Our Regularly-Scheduled Day

After sleeping in, I wandered around the ship to enjoy this absolutely beautiful day. The music was thumping by the pool, sun worshippers were soaking up the rays and I was headed to my very favorite spot on the ship, the Great Outdoors bar.

The view from my barstool at the Great Outdoors Bar.

It was a picture-perfect day, the drinks were flowing far too easily, I met several interesting people who, like me, could think of no better way to spend a sea day than conversing with a stranger.

Translation: Life was good.

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I eventually ducked into the buffet to pick up some nibbly bits before heading to La Cuchina for our daily game of Left, Right Center. After that, my friends Dianne, Aldo and I went down to Magnum’s to play the card game Phase 10. Magnum’s, located in what’s called Bar City, is one of those spots on the ship that people gravitate during the day if they want a place to read or play cards or simply take a nap on one of the comfy couches.

After about an hour or so of play, the three of us went our separate ways. My intention was to take a nap before meeting them for dinner at Cagney’s… but my intentions went right down the tube when I, still slightly buzzed from my afternoon at the bar, wandered into the casino. My rationale for skipping the nap? “I need to go to bed early, because tomorrow is our first port day, and we have big plans!”

I couldn’t get on my beloved Lock & Link Diamond game, but I found a sort of standard real reels (as opposed to computer generated reels) slot and played for a couple hours. And by “a couple hours” I mean right through my scheduled dinner with Dianne and Aldo. Whoopsie. When finally I’d given all my money to the casino, as is tradition, I headed back up to the buffet for a bite to eat.

Let’s talk about the buffet for a second: When I cruise, I tend to eat most of my meals in the specialty restaurants, especially on Norwegian. The package I’d purchased gave me four nights in specialty restaurants, plus — because I’m Platinum with the line — I got two additional nights, which meant that at least six out of the 10 nights I’d be eating in specialty restaurants. Even when not doing so, I tend to avoid the buffet as much as possible for one simple reason: I’m not the type of person for whom “all you can eat” is a good idea. In the restaurants, even if I order two appetizers, there’s still some modicum of portion control. In the buffet? Not so much. Suddenly, mashed potatoes and French fries and fried fish and fried chicken and a slice of ham seems like a perfectly reasonable meal. And while there are plenty of healthy options at the buffet (including, on this particular ship, a really great selection of vegetarian options), I am self-actualized enough to know that my head isn’t going to be turned by the lettuce when there’s fried food crying out, “Eat me!”

Is there anything better than sunsets at sea? (That’s a rhetorical question.)


In any case, after doing a half-way decent job of eating relatively healthy, I headed back to my room. I’d skipped dessert at the buffet… only to have even that mild attempt at dieting derailed by the nightly treat left in my room, which happened to be a delicious array of chocolates courtesy of the hotel director.

I mean, it would be rude not to have eaten them…

And with that, I called it a night, realizing just before falling asleep that tomorrow would be the first time in five days that I’d set foot on dry land!


DRINK OF THE DAY: Painkiller. I have to imagine that after two of these, you’re definitely feeling no pain. I took a one-and-done approach with this one!

HIGH POINT OF THE DAY: The casino finally gave me some play! I spent a good three or four hours gambling on a pretty small amount of money.

LOW POINT OF THE DAY: You know where this is going, right? I eventually — stupidly — gave all my winnings back. But hey, I don’t mind losing (much) as long as I get some good play in!

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