The world's largest theme park operator has reinvented the theme park experience with wearable tech, and now the planet's biggest cruise line operator is following suit on the high seas. Carnival (CCL -1.32%) is unveiling Ocean -- a small quarter-sized medallion that allows guests to enhance their cruising experiences -- during this week's CES expo.
Ocean is short for One Cruise Experience Access Network, and like Disney's (DIS 0.16%) MyMagic+ technology that powers MagicBands through Disney World, it uses portable tech to open room doors and works with a smartphone app to set up vacation experiences.
However, while Disney's MyMagic+ is presently limited to letting guests enter theme parks, claim in-park photos, and waltz through expedited queues -- with resort hotel guests having charging privileges and the ability to unlock room doors -- Carnival's Ocean uses the embedded NFC and Bluetooth technologies to do so much more.
Guests can use Ocean's app to order poolside drinks, and the bartender can track them down with the medallion. Sensors on the ship can turn on your lights and air conditioner when you're approaching your berth. You can use the tech to locate where your friends and family members are on the boat. Dining and activity preferences can prompt suggestions during the journey.
Disney will get there. The media giant reportedly invested roughly $1 billion in MyMagic+, and it's just scratching the surface. It's in the process of rolling out the second generation of its MagicBands, a medallion-shaped chip that can be accessorized in bracelets, key chains, and jewelry.
It wouldn't be a surprise if in the near future Disney guests can use MyMagic+ to be greeted by name when meeting Disney characters (like Carnival's crew will be able to do with Ocean) and to be notified when reserved ride times arrive (as we will see with Disney rival Universal Orlando when the Volcano Bay waterpark opens).
In the meantime, Carnival is going to have a distinct tech advantage over its smaller rivals. Carnival's namesake line offers cruises at more affordable price points than the competition, and that's something that is compelling to younger passengers who may be more tech savvy than their more seasoned counterparts that don't crave on-board connectivity. If Ocean is able to roll out without any major snags, it could give Carnival a distinct marketing advantage. The Internet of Things has hit the high seas, and now it's time to see if Carnival's Ocean can make waves.