Is Virtual Reality the Future of Cruising?

It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of taking a cruise was linked in one’s mind with leisure: “getting away from it all,” sipping cool drinks in deck chairs, and watching tropical sunsets.

No longer. As cruise vessels get bigger and bigger (5,000 passengers is now routine) and the focus of activities turn ever inward—to what the ship has to offer rather than what the itinerary and ports of call provide—you’re going to need a lot of experience with technology to get the most out of your cruise. I’m talking about smartphones, apps, virtual reality headsets, and so on. Better bring your grandkids along.

Recently, Royal Caribbean Cruises previewed some of the super-high-tech plans it has for “enhancing” the cruise experience of the future, and it’s about as far away as you can get from the “romance” of the old tramp steamer sailing on the high tide for Trinidad and beyond.

The preview by Royal Caribbean was staged in Brooklyn for the travel trade, and it presaged on-board and even pre-boarding innovations that customers on some of its ships will be offered as soon as next year: facial recognition boarding (just send in your photo ahead of time), virtual reality dining (we’ll explain that one later), keyless cabin entry (thanks to a smartphone app), stateroom ceilings that show the sky (so you don’t really have to bother being embraced by the warm Caribbean air), or virtual reality shore excursions so you can decide if you really need to leave the ship at the next port of call or to just pass it up.

How about being able to order a drink wherever you are on board and have it delivered by a server with phone in hand, so they can be sure you are the right person for that drink?

Or being able to verbally command your stateroom lights to turn on or off, or turn down the temperature, or close the shades and dim the lights so you get just the right atmosphere for the movie you are watching?

Or—here it comes—how about having a Japanese dinner while wearing a virtual reality headset that allows you to look at cherry blossoms in Kyoto while sipping your miso soup? (The scenery changes with each course.)

In the Brooklyn show and tell, Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises, said (or warned): “The truth is, technology is simply something that people expect. It’s an entry requirement. It’s not an option.”

I’m not sure if that’s bad or good, but you can be sure, despite any of these innovations, one thing will not change—especially for Canadian cruise passengers—and that is the necessity for travel insurance bought from Canadian vendors, designed for Canadians whose basic coverage is their provincial health insurance.

Insurance bought directly from the cruise line or from an American insurer is not designed to co-exist with your provincial insurance, or to have benefit levels high enough to meet your needs if you become ill or need to be offloaded for medical assistance in a foreign port.

Canadian single-trip plans, the kind you normally buy when taking vacations out of the country, will cover you more than adequately: they generally offer coverage of up to $5 or $10 million, with air repatriation benefits and direct payments to hospitals or other health care providers included. The most that cruise ship insurance packages provide are up to $25,000 or $50,000, and they do not coordinate with your provincial insurance. So, forego the offers from the cruise lines or their American partners, and buy the coverage you’re used to—in your home province.


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