ONBOARD DISCOVERY PRINCESS — If my experience sailing on the inaugural voyage of Princess Cruises’ Discovery Princess last month was a harbinger for the cruise industry’s embrace of cutting-edge technology, I can’t wait to see what’s next as the line’s MedallionClass tech platform matures.
In fact, what Princess calls the ‘MedallionClass Experience’ focuses on what has been – up until now – a critically missing component of the cruise experience: easy, contactless transactions for guests onboard and ashore. And another recently-announced – but no less important – major initiative promises to result in enhanced cuisine across the Princess fleet.
But first, a little housekeeping. The 3,660-passenger Discovery Princess, the last newbuild in Princess’ six-ship Royal class, features guest-favorite food-and-beverage venues (Crown Grill, Sabatini’s, Bistro Sur La Mer), while boasting copious open deck space, comfortable accommodations and the gorgeous, three-deck Piazza, which sparkles day and night as the ship’s social hub. But alas, at least for me, the software stole the show.
Princess took advantage of the pandemic pause to refit every ship in the fleet with the MedallionClass technology. As a new-build, however, Discovery Princess was designed to incorporate the platform from the get-go, resulting in seamless integration. With the quarter-sized Medallion, which can be carried in a pocket, purse or worn in a clip, watchband or lanyard, guests breeze through embarkation to their first impressive encounter aboard as their cabin door unlocks automatically upon approach.
MedallionClass designer and Princess Cruises president, John Padgett, who, not incidentally, also created Disney’s MagicBand, told me that the beauty of the MedallionClass Experience is that “it makes the technology disappear,” effectively allowing guests to experience many of its benefits without effort.
Working in tandem with a companion smartphone app, hundreds of touchscreen portals throughout the ship and cabin TVs, the platform allows for easy restaurant reservations; touchless payments onboard and ashore; wayfinding (which is very helpful on a large ship like Discovery); locating kids and other family members; remote casino and sports betting; and the ability to order food and drinks virtually anywhere aboard – without the need to flag down a waiter.
Encompassing this functionality, though, is a wider, even more impressive capability: the ability to deliver personalized service at scale – a feat heretofore impossible on large ships. Crew members can now immediately greet guests by name, noting their preferences, dietary restrictions and other desires as they approach.
But it’s the OceanNow delivery-on-demand functionality that I really loved using. Putting it to the test, I sat in a remote corner of an upper deck and ordered a dessert (which was free, by the way) via the MedallionClass app on my phone. While watching the progression of my order in the app – similar to a Doordash or Grubhub app that confirms the order receipt, then shows its progress through preparation and delivery – I moved to another deck near the main pool. At no time did I deliberately reveal my new location (my Medallion took care of that). After about 15 minutes, a waiter appeared in front of me, confirmed my identity (via my photo on his device), then served me my hazelnut chocolate mousse – which was delicious, by the way.
Shipboard payments using the Medallion are easy and seamless, with nothing to sign and no need to even tap the disc on a payment pad. And the company has recently extended MedallionPay to select shoreside bars, restaurants and retail establishments in a few Mexican and Caribbean ports. In those locations, guests can forget about bringing their wallet or phone ashore, and just pay using their Medallion, which is tied to the credit card associated with their onboard account. And as an added bonus, guests receive 7% of every shoreside MedallionPay purchase back in onboard credit.
Another substantial fleetwide upgrade was also put into motion shortly before – and fleshed out in more detail during – my sailing.
Newly named as Princess Cruises’ Head of Culinary Arts, veteran chef Rudi Sodamin, an indefatigable culinary talent and arguably one of the cruise industry’s top chefs, is already making his presence felt with new dishes designed expressly for the upcoming Alaska season under the ‘Wild for Alaska Seafood’ banner.
Sodamin, familiar to travel advisors as Holland America Line’s Master Chef, will be doing double-duty as he applies his vision, creativity and culinary know-how at Princess, where he told me he plans to focus on “synergizing and optimizing the culinary offerings” in all Princess dining venues.
When we spoke onboard Discovery Princess about his latest endeavor, he enthused about the scope of the task, while acknowledging the challenges ahead as he described his mission “to build a culinary brand” at Princess. And after following the arc of his illustrious career – and enjoying his delicious creations along the way – I have no doubt that Sodamin is not only the right person, but the only person for the job.
Discovery Princess will sail Mexican and California coastal itineraries this spring, then reposition to Seattle for the summer Alaska season.