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  • Writer's pictureJason Leppert

Virtual Balconies Can Redefine Cruising

PHOTO: The Millennium Falcon passes by a Magical Porthole during Disney Cruise Line’s Star Wars Day at Sea. (photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line/Matt Stroshane, photographer)

It used to be you would close the hallway door of an interior stateroom to complete darkness with the lights turned out, but the tunnel effect is now passé thanks to new technology.

Balcony cabins may still be the most popular accommodation choice aboard a cruise ship, but virtual balconies and portholes are now making the once undesirable inside berths alluring.

Previously, an interior cabin may have only had a mirror where a window or veranda would have been placed on an outside variety. If ever there was a portal, it likely had a view of just a corridor or a courtyard within the ship.

Otherwise, occupants had to rely mostly on their stateroom televisions to pull up a live view of the outside of the ship from the navigation bridge—almost always at a very low resolution.

Then came Disney Cruise Line and its Dream-class of vessels led by the Disney Dream in 2011. The brand introduced the cruising world to its signature Magical Portholes. Inside staterooms now had a large view for the first time with a real-time digital display captured by camera outside the ship—in high definition. In 2012, the Disney Fantasy sister-ship repeated the technology.

In true Disney fashion, it’s not simply a vista of the horizon that guests see in these rooms. They are also surprised by animated characters superimposed over the view. In fact, the overlays are even galactic-themed for Star Wars Day at Sea cruises.

The concept presents an amenity that is uniquely available only by booking an inside cabin.

Of course, it was a brilliant idea that was sure to be imitated elsewhere, and Royal Caribbean International went even bigger with its Virtual Balconies. The company initially rolled them out to 81 interior staterooms on Navigator of the Seas before implementing them in every inside one on Quantum of the Seas.

Rather than portholes, Royal Caribbean employs 80-inch 4K-resolution screens turned 90 degrees vertically on end to simulate a veranda. Highly regarded Red brand cameras relay a live image that is overlaid with a graphic emulating the look of a balcony’s actual railing and a bit of its decking. Even comparable sounds are piped in.

Since then, Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas have also come to feature Virtual Balconies.

Also entering the fray is Norwegian Cruise Line with its latest Norwegian Joy. The new ship dedicated to the Chinese market sports many interior staterooms with virtual balconies, including larger ones outfitted specifically for families.

While it was not yet displaying an image when I toured the ship during final construction, a sample Concierge Family Cabin featured the largest virtual variety I’ve seen yet.

The hardware appeared to be comprised of two horizontal screens positioned on top of each other with a physical railing and glass panel to accurately emulate the balcony experience.

Norwegian Joy’s upcoming sister-ship, the Norwegian Bliss, will be headed for Alaska and the Caribbean in 2018. It’s anticipated to have many of the same amenities. For now, it’s at least confirmed its studio staterooms for solo travelers will have virtual ocean views.

Cruise lines are upping the bar when it comes to interior cabins by investing large sums of money on expensive display technology to simulate verandas. In so doing, they are actually crafting a cabin category previously unseen.

In the case of Disney, the character overlay adds a whole other level of interest. Just what the brand has up its sleeves for its next three ships will be interesting to discover come 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Even before then, it’s likely virtual views for interior staterooms will continue to trend and expand to more cruise ships.

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.



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