The Medallion promises the sort of personalized vacation millennials crave, and what passengers on the Love Boat always somehow seemed to get. Padgett says this level of service is normally available at only the most expensive hotels and spas, but the technology has the potential to democratize it for the masses. “It is similar to what Uber did for black cars,” he says.

Technology, especially AI, is normally presumed to replace people and face-to-face connections. But the Medallion does something different. Instead of replacing personal connections between passengers and human staff, the technology is being used to turbo charge those connections. Ideally, Padgett says, vacationers will feel known by crew members they just met. “Our goal is for technology to disappear in the entire equation and empower next level human interactions.”

Harder than it looks

Donald announced the Medallion with much fanfare in a keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last year, and he and Padgett greeted the first Medallion customers aboard the Regal Princess in November 2017.  But the rollout is going very slowly. So far, the technology is only available on one ship to select customers.

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald holds up the Ocean Medallion wearable for cruise ship passengers, during his 2017 keynote at CES in Las Vegas
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald shows off the Ocean Medallion at CES 2017.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking

A passenger on one of the first Medallion-powered cruises wrote in a review on that she had to upgrade her room to become eligible for the Medallion, and found the technology to have limited functionality and its share of bugs. That said, “Macusr” remains excited about the technology, writing on that “we still got a thrill as IT geeks at being the first Princess cruisers to have a Medallion. We know the next time we cruise on a Medallion class ship that we’ll get to have the full experience.”

The MagicBand rollout by Disney took four years; Carnival is only three years into the Medallion. But in many ways the technology is more complicated. The Walt Disney World Resort is close to 48 square miles, but it does not move. Cruise ships are in constant motion, all over the world. The Medallion needs to be in constant contact with the cloud, something that cruise ships aren’t powered to do. Carnival had to come up with the technology that made it possible. And even though the infrastructure is in place, the company is taking a a low-risk approach by phasing it in very slowly.

Carnival plans on having all of its Princess ships fully wired to handle the Medallions within the next several years. When it will be available on its other cruise lines remains unclear.

“When you are transforming a floating city, you have to consider the training of your crew, the communication to your guests, the staging of all the products and services, the coordination of all the technology—it is endless, all the factors you have to consider,” Padgett says.

In many ways the Medallion is a beta launch of the first fully wired smart city. What it takes to make it work could one day be used on land. Padgett says the technology is innovative because the preferences you reveal are updated in real time. You order a Martini and every crew member on the ship instantly knows more information about you, and is that much closer to determining whether you might enjoy trying scuba diving—or just kicking back in your stateroom with an old episode of The Love Boat.

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