all 102 of Carnival’s vessels across 10
cruise lines, from the mass-market
Princess ships to the legendary
ocean liners of Cunard.
The Ocean Medallion is Carnival’s attempt to address a problem
that’s become increasingly vexing
to the $35.5 billion cruise industry.
Driven by economics, ships have
exploded in size: In 1996, Carnival
Destiny was the world’s largest
cruise ship, carrying 2,600 passengers. Today, Royal Caribbean’s MS
Harmony of the Seas carries up to
6,780 passengers and 2,300 crew.
Larger ships expend less fuel per
passenger; the money saved can
then go to adding more amenities—
which, in turn, are geared to attracting as many types of people as
possible. Today on a typical ship you
can do practically anything—from
attending violin concertos to bungee jumping. And that’s just onboard. Most of a cruise is spent in
port, where each day there are
dozens of experiences available.
This avalanche of choice can bury a
passenger. It has also made personalized service harder to deliver.
“People might be so overwhelmed
that they don’t want to take a cruise,
or they might not understand what
a cruise is,” says Jan Swartz, group
president of Princess Cruises, the
first Carnival brand to adopt the
Ocean Medallion platform.
For John Padgett, Carnival’s chief
experience and innovation officer, the project is the culmination
of a decade spent thinking about
the divide between mass appeal
and exclusivity in travel. “It
galled me that in the vacation industry, people call it
innovation when they do
something special for one
tiny group,” he says. “Our
goal is to democratize the
elite vacation.” Before landing at Carnival, Padgett spent
20 years at Disney, where
his last big project was the Disney
MagicBand and MyMagic+, a six-year, $1 billion innovation that
replaced tickets, money, and lines
for rides at Walt Disney World with
a wearable wristband and an app.
The Regal Princess intends to
do all that and more: Thanks to the
ship’s sensors, anything a passenger wants can be delivered on demand. If she opens
up her app and orders suntan lotion and a mai tai, a server will find her. What’s more,
each interaction with the app will be crunched three times a second by a bundle of 100
algorithms, designed to predict what she might want next. (All Ocean Medallion data
is encrypted and isn’t stored in the Medallion. Guests can opt out, but will not receive
the new tailored services.) By bringing the kind of anticipatory intelligence that Netflix
and Amazon offer customers to a real-world environment, Padgett and his experience
team are attempting to transform the cruise industry.
Padgett, who has an aw-shucks grin, neatly parted hair, and a hard-charging confidence, grew up in Seaford, Virginia, near the naval shipyards. Most of his neighbors
built aircraft carriers and submarines. “Early on, I learned that building big things
wasn’t scary,” he says.
Padgett’s work with Carnival began with a mandate from CEO Arnold Donald, who
wanted to find a way to tailor his company’s cruises to offer travelers more authentic
and personalized experiences. When Padgett started, he promised Donald a presentation that would change the company. He soon delivered a full-blown simulacrum of a
cruise ship, jammed into a nondescript building once occupied by the Miami Herald,
where the platform is being built and tested. This “experience center” includes a full-size guest room, a casino, a bar, even a mundane, suburban living room—a nod to the
passenger’s home—where the cruise-booking process begins. Just behind the walls,
cheek by jowl, sit hundreds of coders and designers.
During a tour of the space last summer, I walked around a rigged-up sundeck with
the app in hand, watching as the options for nearby entertainment shifted in real
John Padgett helped
$1 billion MagicBand
“OUR GOAL IS TO DEMOCRATIZE THE ELITE VACATION,” SAYS JOHN PADGETT, CHIEF EXPERIENCE AND INNOVATION OFFICER.
TECH FORWARD I CARNIVAL CORPORATION