What is OceanMedallion on Princess Cruises?
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Royal Caribbean and MSC Cruises have long been at the forefront of technological advancements in the cruise industry, but Princess Cruises‘ OceanMedallion has made that line a contender also, much to my surprise.
The first time I sailed with Princess was on Grand Princess — the line’s oldest ship — and, to be frank, I was underwhelmed. It seemed like the perfect brand for a trivia-and-afternoon-tea demographic who didn’t care too much about flashy bells and whistles.
Fast-forward a few years, and, following a significant investment from parent company Carnival Corporation, the line’s entire fleet is now outfitted with OceanMedallion technology (and the fastest Wi-Fi I’ve experienced at sea in order to support it). Here, I’ll explain what OceanMedallion is and how to use it.
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What is an OceanMedallion?
Princess’ OceanMedallions are small, magnetic, wearable discs given to passengers for use onboard. They replace the traditional cards used by other lines and allow cruisers to open their cabin doors, make onboard purchases and identify themselves when leaving or returning to their ships in port. They are also printed with each passenger’s name and the sailing date, and the color of the medallion each cruiser receives indicates their Captain’s Circle loyalty status with the line.
Each OceanMedallion comes with a free case (about the size of a credit card) and lanyard, but passengers can also carry them loose in a pocket or purchase one of several accessories — wristbands, bracelets, necklaces, lapel clips — that allow them to be more stylishly worn.
What is OceanMedallion technology?
The platform on which OceanMedallions operate and the functionality it provides is known as OceanMedallion technology. It involves the use of thousands of onboard sensors on each ship that read the medallions and track your preferences, such as your favorite drink at the bar. (You can either feed it information before or during your sailing to make your digital profile more robust, or you can simply allow it to gather the info as you sail. If you’d rather opt out and use a regular keycard, one can be made for you at the front desk.)
Although Princess isn’t the first to implement wearable tech — think Royal Caribbean’s WOW Bands and MSC’s MSC For Me bands — its system is, by far, the most advanced.
Note that Princess’ MedallionClass app is also necessary for the OceanMedallion experience to function properly during your sailing. You can use it onboard, even if you don’t purchase a Wi-Fi package, by putting your phone on airplane mode, turning on Wi-Fi and connecting to your ship’s network. However, if you don’t plan to buy Wi-Fi for your voyage, you should download the app before leaving home.
Via the app, you can view the daily schedule, including your personalized activities, such as dining times; check your onboard account spending; complete the muster drill; make dining, shore excursion and spa reservations; play games and even gamble. The app also allows passengers to chat with one another; those on separate bookings can link their accounts for things like dining and shore excursion planning.
Throughout each vessel, you’ll also find large digital screens in public areas and near the stairs and elevators. You can use them to access real-time digital deck plans and view the daily schedule. You can also personalize the experience by touching your medallion to each screen’s medallion reader.
Further, each passenger is assigned something called a “tagalong” — an animated sea creature that serves as an avatar. They show up on the screens as passengers move throughout the ship and are detected nearby. If cruisers choose to do so, they can customize their tagalongs, selecting the type of creature, the color and even its markings.
What does Princess Cruises’ OceanMedallion do?
Identifies you: Just as your keycard would be on a cruise with any other line, your OceanMedallion will be linked to your security photo. When you disembark and reboard your ship in port, you’ll scan it at the gangway so the crew knows who’s onboard and who’s ashore.
Your medallion will also be detected when you make onboard purchases, prompting your photo to pop up so the crew member handling the transaction can verify you’re not using someone else’s medallion fraudulently. It can also allow crew to greet you by name as you approach — a feature I found somewhat creepy but also nice at times.
Opens your cabin door: As you approach your cabin, if your medallion is properly worn, a digital screen near your stateroom door detects you and unlocks the door for you. You’ll still have to have a free hand to turn the handle in order to enter, but it eliminates any fumbling you’d have to do for a keycard stored in your pocket or purse.
Allows for onboard purchasing: As mentioned above, you simply scan your medallion to make all onboard purchases, including those in the ships’ shops, spa, casino and bars. It’s convenient because, since everything is recorded electronically, it eliminates the need for passengers to sign physical paper receipts. It does make additional tipping a bit cumbersome, though, as you have to request it to be added instead of just writing it in.
Tracks your location: This might sound a little odd, but what it means is that you can place food and drink orders for delivery just about anywhere on the ship. It’s convenient when you’re lounging by the pool and feeling particularly lazy. What’s neat about it is that if you order something while sitting by the pool but then decide to move elsewhere in the meantime, the person delivering it knows to bring it to your new location. (You can also order retail items like sunscreen and clothing!)
Additionally, it allows your cabin steward to see when you’ve left your room so there’s no more awkward knocking before he or she enters to do morning cleanup or evening turndown service.
Further, although it’s not the most pleasant of topics, the medallions allow for contact tracing, which is necessary in the event someone onboard tests positive for COVID-19. It’s one of the easiest ways for Princess to determine who was near those who test positive so they can be swiftly contacted, quarantined and tested.
How do I get an OceanMedallion for my cruise?
Anyone who books a Princess cruise will automatically receive an OceanMedallion, but where and when you receive it will depend on how early you check in for your sailing. If you check in via the MedallionClass app (free download available for iPhone and Android), fill out all necessary paperwork, scan your passport and provide a security photo at least two weeks in advance, your medallion will be sent to you in the mail.
If you check in less than two weeks out or if you opt to do in-person check-in, you’ll pick up your medallion at the terminal on embarkation day.
Bottom line: Is OceanMedallion worth the hype?
I found the technology to be glitchy at times. My tagalong didn’t always register when I walked by the digital screens, I wasn’t able to place a food order the two times I tried (but fellow cruise writer Gene Sloan was able to a couple of years ago when he sailed), and if I had my medallion in my pocket, it took much longer for my stateroom door to unlock than if I wore it around my wrist.
I also find it to be less convenient than a keycard, which fits nicely in a wallet and doesn’t require you to wear it for it to be effective. (Plus, I keep my keycards as souvenirs each time I sail. You can keep the medallions, too, but they’re more difficult to display.)
However, the experience is constantly improving. Just a couple of years ago, as many as seven different smartphone apps were required to access all of the functionality now offered by the single MedallionClass app. There are still some kinks to be worked out, but it’s well on its way.
I would say to give it a try. You might find it fun, and if you don’t, you can always request a keycard instead. Just note that you can’t have both activated at the same time, so if you switch to a card, your medallion will no longer work. And don’t worry: your data is safe, as nothing is actually stored on the medallions themselves.
Featured photo by Ashley Kosciolek/The Points Guy.
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