Princess and the Medallion
Janet and I just completed our first cruise with Princess Cruise Lines since 2008, which was also our first since Princess introduced their medallion program. I wrote a decidedly unflattering post about the Princess medallion program in early 2017, back when it was first introduced. Now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I figured it was time for a medallion report card.
As a refresher, the Princess medallion is a wearable token that contains an RFID chip with a unique ID keyed to you and, more importantly, to your onboard account. Once you board the ship, sensors and software allow you to use the medallion to order food or drinks, track your fellow cruisers’ locations on the ship, and even unlock your stateroom door, all without having to bother with a key card.
The Princess medallion can be worn around your neck on a lanyard, on your wrist like a watch, on a necklace as jewelry, stuffed in your pocket, or left in your cabin. I don’t recommend leaving it in your cabin because, well...you won't be able to open your door if the medallion is in the cabin and you aren't. The medallion is accompanied by an app that you download to your phone allowing you to take advantage of the full range of capabilities Princess has programmed into their medallion system.
What Works Well, Works Very Well
I have to eat crow here and say the technology behind the Princess medallion worked far better than I expected. Perhaps the most convenient feature is access to your cabin. A proximity scanner on your cabin door detects your medallion as you approach and signals the lock on your door to release. You still have to turn the handle, but at least you don’t have to fumble around for a key card when your hands are full of plates from the buffet. I LOVED that feature. Your door only responds to your medallion, and only when you stand right in front of it, making it every bit as secure as the key card.
The medallion also enables streamlined check-in at the port. As with most cruise lines, Princess encourages guests to pre-register online. With medallion equipped ships, your pre-registration includes providing all the details necessary for your personalized medallion to be programmed and sent to you before the cruise. When you show up at the cruise terminal you place the medallion on the sensor plate to be scanned and you are greenlighted into the boarding area. You do have to show your passport, but you do that while your medallion is being scanned. Checking in for your cruise doesn’t get any easier.
If you forget to register online in advance you can still pick up your medallion at the cruise terminal. You will have to go through the process of checking in pier side, which adds time to the check-in process, but with most passengers pre-registering that doesn’t take long.
If you travel with younger children you won’t be able to take advantage of expedited boarding…Princess does not provide medallions for children 2 years and younger for security reasons. You can still pre-register, but you won’t get your medallions until you check in at the pier, and you’ll get the standard key card to use for children two and under when checking on and off the ship.
Another feature the medallion offers, through the accompanying cell phone app, is the ability to see where other members of your cruising party are located throughout the ship. That is particularly useful if you are traveling with a group, as Janet and I did on this trip with our son and his family. Each passenger chooses who they allow to track them, and we found the capability helpful, particularly when trying to meet up during at sea days.
An unexpected advantage to the medallion is that it eliminated the need for bartenders to print out a tab for me to sign. That greatly streamlined service at the bars. Just don’t be freaked out when the bartender you’ve never met before greets you by name…they see your identity on their display as soon as you approach the bar.
What Works Poorly, Works Very Poorly
I found the medallion disappointing in a few important areas. When Princess first launched the program, the concept was to offer you the medallion and all services that go along with it for no additional cost. It seems anytime the travel industry rolls out a new feature, monetizing it isn’t far behind and the medallion is no exception. The basic medallion is still offered at no additional cost, but if you want the convenience of pre-registering for expedited boarding, you have to pay to have the medallion shipped to you. If you don't, you'll have to check in for your cruise in the terminal to pick up your medallion.
The medallion comes with a free lanyard that you can use to wear it around your neck. If you prefer to wear your medallion as a fashion accessory, there is a cost for the optional wristband or necklace. I opted for the wristband initially and paid for it. Ultimately I decided the lanyard would be the easiest way to wear it, and it was. Janet went with the necklace, for an additional fee, and it required her to awkwardly bend over to place the medallion on the scanners used for checking on and off the ship or ordering a drink at one of this ship’s bars.
The scanners that the ship’s staff used when charging drinks to the room, or when checking on and off the ship during port calls, were finicky. You had to plant the medallion squarely on the sensor pad, and it usually took a few adjustments to get it scanned. If you wear the medallion as a necklace or wristband, that can be challenging. Once the bars got busy, most bartenders didn’t bother with scanning my medallion…they just asked for my cabin number which was still faster than having to sign a printed bar tab.
The biggest failure of the medallion was with its promise to deliver food and drinks wherever you are on the ship. It was a feature that was supposed to be free when the medallions were introduced, but it has become another way for Princess to make money. If you want to take advantage of ordering food or drinks through the medallion app on your phone, it will cost you a one-time fee of $14.95. Once you pay the initial fee, you can order through the app as many times as you wish during your cruise, and ordering through the medallion keys to any drink package you’ve purchased so at least you don’t have to pay extra for drinks. Unless the drink you order exceeds the allowance for your drink package, but even then, you only pay the difference.
The app makes ordering food and drinks easy enough, but the two times I ordered food the medallion failed miserably. That was was one of the concerns about the program I expressed in my 2017 post and I was disappointed to find that my concerns were well founded. First off, you can’t order food to be delivered anywhere on the ship…there are limits to where service staff will deliver. The app defaults to delivering food to your cabin, so if you are out and about you'll want to be careful to change that.
The biggest failure for the medallion, beyond the cruise line monetizing it, was using it to order food. And what a failure that was. When you order food through the app it advises you to allow up to 30 minutes for your order to be delivered. I tried to order lunch from the limited grill menu to be delivered to my cabin. I was ordering for four people. The first time I tried the app it took close to an hour for my food to be delivered, and the order was wrong. The second time I ordered through the app, I got a phone call in the cabin an hour after I placed the order advising me it would be at least another hour before my food could be delivered. I cancelled the order and went to the grill where I got burgers and fries for four people in 15 minutes. Orders through the medallion app that were limited to drinks came within the promised 30 minutes.
Overall, I like the medallion program. I wish Princess didn’t monetize it as much as they have, but they aren’t alone in that. The technology works, the software on the ship and in their app was useful once I figured it all out, and except for the food delivery, it was convenient and enhanced my cruise experience. Overall I'd give it a solid B.