December 15, 2019

MedallionClass Magic With Princess Cruises

Sample this carefree cruise experience on the Caribbean Princess

By Rebecca Matheson Ortiz

Vacations Magazine: MedallionClass Magic With Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises' new MedallionClass program takes the hassle out of vacationing, from the moment you book your trip until you disembark for home. Free apps for your phone or tablet help you organize travel documents, navigate the ship, order drinks, play games and track your shipmates. The quarter-size, waterproof oceanmedallion is your key to cruising, serving as your boarding pass, identification, wallet and room key.

While researching this new technology, I asked John Chernesky, Princess Cruises' senior vice president of North America sales and trade marketing, what he thought about the MedallionClass experience. He was quick to reply: "Everything is just easier! Boarding, ordering drinks, getting around, planning your day -- even finding your kids! MedallionClass takes relaxation to a whole new level by letting me enjoy even more of my time off."

After hearing the hype, I just had to try it out for myself, so, on a sunny Florida afternoon, my husband, toddler and I set off from Fort Lauderdale on the Caribbean Princess for a fun-filled Caribbean getaway. It's one of four ships that have received the MedallionClass makeover so far; a total of 11 Princess liners will feature the program by the end of 2020.

The enthusiasm started before we boarded. The anticipation that builds before you leave home is all part of the fun, but along with that joyful suspense comes pre-trip panic. Did I remember to pack sunscreen? Enough underpants? Don't forget the passports and travel documents!

Princess works to curb this stress and mails complimentary OceanMedallions and lanyards to passengers a couple weeks before embarkation. (Additional accessories like pendants, clips and sportsbands are available for purchase). The arrival of that little package sparked excitement and a bit of relief, as it offered instructions for getting OceanReady: the process of downloading apps to your phone and uploading documents like your security photo, cruise information and more. Once you get to the terminal, there's no juggling boarding passes and identification with arms full of carry-ons and children. Scan your OceanMedallion and it's "Welcome aboard" (though you'll have to remember to pack undies on your own).

As we walked down the corridor and approached our stateroom for the first time, much to my surprise, my picture appeared on the door's screen and the mechanism unlocked, no effort on my part needed. Sensors spaced throughout the ship interact with OceanMedallions to aid in detection that helps the technology and crew anticipate your needs, from accommodations that unlock as you draw near to servers knowing your usual order as you step up to the bar. Once we got past the door excitement (there was a lot), we made our way in to find spacious quarters, a wide balcony and a cloudlike bed, updated with the help of board-certified sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus.

Thanks to OceanCompass, a personal interactive navigator, we figured out the layout of the "big boat," as my daughter called it, in no time. Finding restaurants, pools and shops was a breeze. On the Lido deck, we couldn't resist the sizzling patties, all-beef hot dogs, chicken sandwiches (marinated in olive oil and rosemary -- yum!) and golden fries at The Salty Dog Grill, or the big-as-your-face pizza wedges and other Italian easy-eats at Slice Pizzeria.

Coffee and Cones dishes out soft serve with all the fixings and, at a la carte pricing, specialty ice cream sandwiches and caffeinated drinks. The Mix and Calypso bars pour ice-cold beers and tropical cocktails like my new favorite, the Dirty Banana, a chocolaty banana beverage with rum and Kahlua.

The OceanNow drink delivery app meant I never had to sacrifice my perfectly placed pool lounger in pursuit of an icy rum punch or suffer thirstily through baby naptime. This application lets you use your mobile device to order a beverage from basically anywhere on the vessel. But don't worry about picking it up -- the MedallionClass tech helps crew members locate you so they can hand-deliver your beverage, whether you're sunbathing by the Terrace Pool or lazing in your stateroom.

Entrees created by award-winning chef Curtis Stone grace the main dining room menu, and decadent Chocolate Journeys desserts, designed exclusively for Princess by world-famous chocolatier Norman Love, abound. Foodies also relish the ship's specialty restaurants: Sabatini's Italian Trattoria, the Crown Grill for steaks, Steamers Seafood and Planks BBQ.

We alternated morning meals between the World Fresh Marketplace buffet, with its fresh-squeezed juices and chocolate croissants, and enjoying coffee and pastries on our balcony. Ordering room service has never been more convenient, as you can pull up OceanConcierge on your mobile device, browse the menu and order away. This nifty resource also allows you to review the daily itinerary, check in on your shipboard account and plan events.

The recently refurbished Caribbean Princess, with a guest capacity of 3,140, is jampacked with amenities and activities. Sports courts and a mini-golf course call to those looking for a good game. A spa indulges with luxurious treatments like the frangipani scalp massage. Live music can be found throughout the ship at various lounges, and the Princess Theater puts on Broadway-style productions. The "Fantastic Journey" show wowed us with chart-topping hits, dancing and technological feats like a rising stage and light-up suits.

For some downtime, we enjoyed the evening poolside Movies Under the Stars, cozied up under plaid blankets on top-deck lounge chairs as box-office hits like "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" played. In our room, we were thoroughly impressed by the OceanView original shows and movie selection.

Outside, we spent time in The Reef Family Splash Zone, revamped in May to include an interactive water playground with a whale that spouts water from its blowhole. A conveniently located bar serves up cocktails to patient parents as families come together around the new Game Zone.

For a little peace and quiet, an added fee grants access to the adults-only Sanctuary, where Serenity Stewards pamper guests with alfresco massages and healthy snacks like smoothies and fruit skewers.

You can try your hand at gambling in the Grand Casino, but if you'd rather place bets from the comfort of your pajamas, MedallionClass has you covered. With OceanCasino, you can place wagers on slots, bingo, roulette, poker and more right from your phone or tablet. Game screens also are set up in various locations throughout the ship for quick matches while out and about. For kiddos and the risk averse, PlayOcean provides free, family-friendly gaming, also on your app or shipboard screens, that offers everything from solo contests to multiplayer scavenger hunts.

The ShipMates feature through OceanCompass navigation is revolutionizing group and family travel. Find your fellow cruisers with ease, whether you're keeping tabs on your teen's whereabouts or joining friends. ShipMates takes the stress of meetup times and locations out of the equation, so you can branch off and find your companions again at your own convenience. If you don't want to be found, simply switch it off and enjoy your privacy.

All of these features are powered by MedallionNet. Princess claims it's the best Wi-Fi at sea, and I don't doubt it after experiencing it myself. Along with glitch-free access to Princess apps, included in all MedallionClass sailings, we appreciated landlike connectivity that allowed me to video call family back home, post photos of our trip and even browse the web from shore while nearby in port without losing service. Affordable daily or package rates keep you connected with loved ones back home.

At each port call, my tiny tot would cheer, "Look, Mama! Never-never land!"

The OceanMedallions made it easy-breezy to race her ashore to these paradises. The simple touch of our sportsbands to a scanning pad gave us leave to make memories in the sparkling waters of Princess Cays in the Bahamas; among the old Spanish forts of San Juan, Puerto Rico; at an Aqua Zone in the Dominican Republic's Amber Cove; and buried in the powder-soft sand on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands. When it was time to return, another wave of the medallions gave us access to the ship.

We packed light for our day in Princess Cays. Princess owns this 40-acre private beach on the southern portion of the island of Eleuthera, which means that the OceanMedallion is accepted at the shops and four bars. Two grills serve up salads, hot dogs, chicken and burgers, all included in your cruise fare. We found a pristine patch of beach and snagged three of the 3,000 loungers before heading out to play in the surf and sand. We spotted tropical parrotfish and other creatures through the crystal-clear waters in this snorkeler's haven.

For an extra fee, visitors can reserve colorful, air-conditioned cabanas or head out on excursions to the town of Rock Sound to see its famed Ocean Hole, an inland rock formation filled with seawater that flows in through underground tunnels.

In the nearly 500-year-old neighborhood of Old San Juan, we flew kites at the 16th-century citadel of El Morro after noshing on heaping plates of fried plantain chips and savory mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish made of garlic and mashed plantains, at Cafe Manolin Old San Juan. The island, famed for its rum, is the birthplace of pina coladas, so we scooped up a couple to drink as we perused shops along the blue cobblestone streets. Tours to the only tropical rainforest in the U.S., El Yunque National Forest, can be booked, as well as to the world's largest rum distillery, Casa Bacardi, for spiced sips and mojito demos.

The 25-acre Amber Cove Cruise Center on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic offers a secure area for those who want to get off the ship but don't want to venture into town. A complimentary Aqua Zone is on-site, as well as a zipline, children's splash park and a restaurant and bar. Here we spent our day careening down waterslides, napping on loungers and soaking up verdant jungle views. A sprawling swimming pool features a swim-up bar and a lazy river. Adventure seekers can sign up for kayaking and ATV excursions, and movie buffs can see the famous amber-preserved prehistoric mosquito from the movie "Jurassic Park" in nearby Puerto Plata's Amber Museum.

Our last port call, Grand Turk, landed us on a white-sand shoreline along the bluest water I've ever seen. Splashdown Grand Turk at the cruise center commemorates astronaut John Glenn's splashdown here after completing his Project Mercury flight in 1962. We walked through the free exhibit to see a replica of his Friendship 7 space capsule as well as murals and monuments before parking ourselves on a little slice of sandy heaven farther north near Jack's Shack, an oceanfront pub where we gorged on spicy jerk chicken and buckets of Turk's Head Brewery's I-Ain-Ga-Lie Lager.

When it was time to go home, Princess eased the sting of our return to reality by making disembarkation effortless. For the last time, we tapped our OceanMedallions, grabbed our luggage and headed to the airport. And true to the line's slogan, after all the convenience of MedallionClass, we felt like we were coming back brand new.

The Caribbean Princess cruises the Caribbean through July 2020, returning to the region November 2020 to May 2021, on seven-, 10- and 14-night round-trip sailings from Fort Lauderdale. Prices begin at $609 for a weeklong getaway.

Sit back and let MedallionClass work its magic so you can have the perfect hassle-free escape from start to finish. And if you do forget to pack some necessities, don't fret, onboard shops and laundry services have you covered.

MedallionClass also is available on the Regal Princess, Royal Princess, Crown Princess and the new Sky Princess, scheduled to debut in October. Six more ships will receive MedallionClass in 2020.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Fall 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.


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