• Behind the scenes

What frontend development has to do with cruise ships – by Gero Zahn

Christina Siegler Christina Siegler Oct 15, 2021

What types of frontend applications need to be programmed on a cruise ship?

“You’re working in the cruise industry? I so envy you! You are probably traveling on cruise ships all the time, right?” An assumption like this almost inevitably follows after I am being asked about what I do for a living. Spoiler alert: no, I typically don’t enjoy the posh maritime life on the high seas. Occasionally setting foot on a cruise ship usually takes place while it is undergoing maintenance in the dock, meaning such a stay is certainly a lot less glamorous than one might imagine.

What frontend development has to do with hotel rooms

In fact, I earn my livelihood being a frontend developer. Which obviously rises the question about what frontends need to be programmed on a cruise ship. To answer this, let me take you down memory lane on dry land. Back in the days, hotel rooms got hugely upvalued as soon as every bedroom had its own TV. A few years later, I vividly remember opening a hotel room door, which automatically triggered the Smart TV to turn on, and which then promptly greeted me with a personalized welcome message. I was utterly impressed by that, while I soon realized that someone must have written a program to perform this magic trick, so that the TV knew that I had booked that particular room for the night and to greet me by name afterwards.

A cruise ship is like a huge swimming hotel

Now let us establish the fact that a cruise ship is, among a variety of other things, a huge swimming hotel. Each room, or better each stateroom, houses one or more (Smart) TVs. On a cruise ship, they are part of a proprietary technological ecosystem, which is maintained by the cruise line. As a result, you won’t find your usual media apps like YouTube or Netflix on them, but what I playfully call a “holistic user interface, featuring all things digital that are relevant to the cruise guest.” I would now like to present to you an extensive, yet non-exhaustive overview.

 

Entertainment like on an airplane but better

The first thing that comes to mind is digital media. Similar to a typical headrest display on a long-distance flight, cruise guests can expect a variety of recent movie titles to be available as Video on Demand on their stateroom TVs. Often, there are also multiple channels of Live TV available via satellite, seamlessly integrating live and on demand entertainment on the same device. In many cases this is complemented with Audio on Demand and electronic editions of newspapers and magazines.

 

Not just entertainment but also information and service requests

However, this is just the beginning. The TV is supposed to be a convenient source for a manifold of information related to the ship and its current cruise. It has replaced all sorts of printed booklets, as it can provide safety instructions, deck plans, information about the captain and crew, and much more. Secondly, there is most recent, frequently updated information. Of utmost interest are details about the current cruise’s itinerary. Where is the ship going to be e.g., the day after tomorrow? What kinds of shore excursions are scheduled? How is the weather going to be?

Which leads to the possibility to place reservations and bookings. Guests can book their slots for shore excursions, onboard activities, or spa treatments after informing themselves about these offers – right from their Smart TV. In case they feel hungry, detailed information is available about the cuisine, as well as the opening hours of the various ship restaurants, with the option to book a table at any desired point in time. If a guest doesn’t feel like dining out, he or she can as well order the desired choice of food via room service – to be delivered right to his or her stateroom.

 

Internet – almost like at home

Cruise ships are typically equipped with a satellite internet link. Cruise guests can choose from a number of data plans, which will enable them to surf the web or stay in touch with their loved ones at home over social media. As this could turn rather inconvenient, using even the most advanced Smart TVs, guests can bring their own personal mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or laptop computers, which will connect to the shipwide Wi-Fi network. Subsequently, guests can access all the information and booking features listed above right at their fingertips.

It’s not all about frontend but almost 😉

Please excuse me if my list of cruise ship Smart TV capabilities might have sounded like a blunt advertisement, but I wanted to make you realize what I noticed years ago, when my hotel TV greeted me by name. Someone needs to develop the necessary software components to perform all that “digital magic.”

As stated above, I am a front-end developer, so if you press a button on your remote control and something happens on your Smart TV, like if you reserve a table at your favorite restaurant, or if your TV starts to play a movie, chances are that I (or one of my fellow front-end teammates) had something to do with it. However, I certainly wouldn’t want to take all the credit. Front-end development is only one part of what Getslash does for cruise ships: Every member of our crew has a certain amount of so-called “full-stack mentality.”

We are involved in pretty much everything – hardware, technical infrastructure, backend, middleware, and front-end. Our back-end servers communicate with the ship’s hardware and third-party software components, which requires a great deal of know-how about network infrastructure and protocols, both wired and wireless. We recommend which types of Smart TVs the cruise lines should install in their staterooms, or, in case of pre-existing “dumb TVs,” we suggest suitable set-top boxes, for which we supply our custom-tailored Linux-based operating system. We train the cruise line team to be able to enter content into our specialized content management system, which holds all the information that guests might search for. At the end of this chain, powered by the latest web technologies, operates our front-end software.

The magic behind the scenes – a summary

In conclusion: A cruise ship is so much more than “just” a swimming hotel. It is also a swimming data center, implementing a diverse, inhomogeneous conjunction of intertwined hardware and software components. It is my profession to create functionality for Getslash’s front-end software, which represents the touchpoint for the valued cruise guests – who really don’t want to know and neither should they need to know every little cog and gear that works “under the hood.” We strive that every booking process for shore excursions, onboard activities, services, and virtual or physical goods provides the best possible user experience and ultimately contributes to a unique guest experience.

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