Princess Cruises’ Ocean Medallion launched on Caribbean Princess last September – so is it a game changer for the cruise industry, and how does it enhance your cruising experience? Cruise International Contributing Editor Sara Macefield tries it out

My friend let out a triumphant cackle as she watched her husband make his way from one of the cruise ship bars back to their cabin.

She couldn’t see him. In fact, we were at the other end of the ship in the nightclub, but she kept checking his progress on her phone and was all the more gleeful because he had no idea he was being tracked.

It reminded me of a high-tech version of the infamous Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter, which used magic to secretly locate protagonists around Hogwarts School, but there was no sorcery going on here.

This is one of the standout features of Ocean Medallion, a new initiative from Princess Cruises which claims to be revolutionising life on board for guests, having debuted on Caribbean Princess last September.

At its heart is a dinky little disc the size of a 10p piece that is starting to be introduced on the line’s ships in place of the traditional key card.

OCEAN Medallion Bracelet

Passengers carry a personalised medallion, inscribed with their name, around with them and use it in much the same way as the card, but there are distinct differences that promise to transform the way customers cruise.

The biggest change I noticed was on arriving at my stateroom door on Caribbean Princess. There was none of the usual fumbling around for my key card because a special device by the door automatically read my medallion, which I’d chosen to wear around my neck in a pendant.

Within seconds, my picture popped up on the small screen and the light on the door handle turned to green as a click signified that the door was now unlocked.

It was so simple and so straightforward, I couldn’t help wondering why no one had thought to do this before and it’s easy to see key cards soon becoming a relic of the past as this becomes the norm.

Another key feature of Ocean Medallion is being able to order food and drink from around the ship.

Admittedly, on my sailing this was still something of a work in progress with some of the most remote areas of deck (where this feature would be most useful) not covered, but with the new system still in its infancy I was assured this would be rectified.

But my most memorable moment came as I sat in the hot tub, having suddenly decided to test it out there. I reached for my smartphone, tapped in a request for a mojito and waited to see what would happen.

Rather amusingly, I spotted a cluster of waiters at the bar clearly puzzling over my request and looking around, wondering where I was. One even climbed up to the next deck overlooking the pool deck for a better view and spotted me sniggering amid the steamy bubbling waters.

Within minutes a barman appeared holding aloft a tray crowned with my freshly-made cocktail, which he directly served to me. I didn’t even need to move a muscle – sweet success indeed.

But I wasn’t alone on this cruise as I’d used the technology to create a new friend – an endearing seahorse that was my personal avatar which automatically popped up to greet me on screens around the ship as I walked past – aided by 7,000 sensors and 100 miles of cable that bring Ocean Medallion to life.

Princess says the new technology is all about enhancing the experience for guests and offering a more personalised approach, while cutting the hassle at “friction points” such as embarkation.

On top of that is MedallionNet which boasts the best wifi at sea, promising connectivity speeds that match those on land with the ability to stream movies and music.

But one of the good things about using Ocean Medallion is that passengers don’t need to pay for internet usage as it is contained on the ship’s own intranet system, meaning that users can download its features without going online.

So how exactly does Ocean Medallion work?

In its simplest format it replaces the room key card by automatically unlocking the cabin door, and doubles as a payment device around the ship. Guests don’t need to sign for anything; they simply slip the medallion into a specially-designed reader to complete their transaction.

However, the device comes into its own when combined with six related apps that can be downloaded to a phone or alternative mobile device.

Ocean Ready is the first one needed as this gathers pre-cruise information, including passport and credit card details, along with a photo, that passengers complete at home before their cruise. US guests currently benefit from the speediest embarkation as they are the only ones to receive their Ocean Medallion in advance, which means they can be checked through in less than 30 seconds by an official with a handheld tablet that confirms identity and readiness to board.

Non-US passengers, who are currently unable to be sent their medallion in advance, can still enjoy expedited embarkation, but need to queue for check-in desks to collect the discs, which are complimentary.

Ocean Now is the app that enables guests to order food and drink anywhere on the ship. Simply choose your drink from the dropdown menus and place your order. A status screen  confirms the order and as it is processed by the crew, a cartoon sailboat moves across the screen to “Preparing”, before moving to “Serving” as the crew member appears with the items, having been guided to the guest by their picture which pops up on the server’s device.

Ocean Compass is the wayfinder app which helps passengers to navigate their way around the ship (something they can also do on the screens dotted throughout the vessel too). However, the app also contains the “ShipMates” feature which enables passengers to locate friends or family and invite others to become their ShipMate too.

Play Ocean is where you can set up “Ocean Tagalong” – your own personal companion or avatar in the shape of a seahorse, turtle or butterfly fish that you can customise with different colours and patterns – and take part in Games Under the Stars sessions on the giant movie screen on deck when your smart device becomes your game controller. Alternatively, use the smaller portals in the ship to participate in various games and even an interactive digital scavenger hunt that sends players to screens at different locations.

Ocean Casino is aimed at anyone who fancies a flutter in games include slots, poker, lottery and roulette and even log into a live bingo game.

Ocean View lets users stream Ocean Originals TV shows from your stateroom TV.

Aside from new ships, Ocean Medallion represents the largest investment Princess Cruises has ever made in its product, and the line claims this new initiative is a game-changer that promises to redefine cruise holidays.

“With Ocean Medallion we are providing an experience that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet,” explains Princess Cruises‘ UK & Europe vice-president Tony Roberts.

“We already offer amazing experiences for our guests and Ocean Medallion adds an additional level, though we are only at the start line with this as opposed to the finish line.

“It is on a couple of ships – Caribbean Princess and Regal Princess – and we are announcing more all the time.

“This is just the beginning for Ocean Medallion both in terms of the number of ships and how we continue to develop and enhance it.”

Read about a Princess Cruises’ Alaska cruise here.