"If you went on a cruise liner in the 1970s, you would have expected a relatively amateur production in the main theatre, and probably a live band or two around the ship. Then there was Ship-Shape, where you’d do different activities, get ship-shape dollars and turn them in for a T-shirt. And, you know, that was about as entertaining and as fun as it got for our guests," says executive vice-president of Royal Caribbean International Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, reflecting on the entertainment scene aboard cruise-liners when she started out in the industry 30-odd years ago.

Fast forward to 2013, and the company is about to launch a brand new class of ship that will once again up the stakes for on-board entertainment. After offering guests the opportunity to rock climb, ice skate, surf and zip line aboard previous ships, Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum class is now adding sky-diving to that list. From free T-shirts to free falling, Lutoff-Perlo is right when she says that "the industry has evolved to a point that probably none of us would have expected when we started 30 years ago".

Entertainment: a new definition

Due to set sail on its inaugural transatlantic voyage in November 2014, Quantum of the Seas – a 1,141ft cruise liner with capacity for just shy of 5,000 guests – continues the company’s rich legacy of industry-leading on-board entertainment. It will be swiftly proceeded by Anthem of the Seas, a second Quantum-class ship launching in early 2015.

Following on from its Oasis class, which launched in 2009, the Quantum class will add to and improve the company’s already impressive entertainment portfolio. On top of already existing adrenaline-fuelled offers such as rock climbing, zip line and surf simulator, visually spectacular aqua theatre and 220ft outdoor cinema, and usual spa treatments and sauna, the company is set to offer guests two onboard firsts. While the sky-diving simulator will allow guests to simulate a free fall parachute jump in the safety of a wind-tunnel, the North Star is a jewel-shaped, glass capsule that lifts passengers 300ft above the ship to deliver 360° views. On top of which, there is Two70°, a new space that offers 270° views by day and a robotic-screen-backed performance space by night, and brand new bumper car and roller skating opportunities.

"Staying ahead of the competition is vital – and harnessing new technology plays a big part in that."

"When you look at some of the shows that are on board, whether it’s aerial shows or Broadway or DreamWorks, or some of the great new things that we’ve got coming on Quantum, it’s pretty amazing how entertainment has changed," says Lutoff-Perlo. "You name it now and we’ve got it. I don’t even know how to contrast it to entertainment back when we began. I think that the definition of entertainment has completely changed to include all of these terrific features and things guests can do on board. Some of it is passive, through sitting down and viewing a show and some of it is very interactive, as they participate in all of the great features that we put on board the ship."

The new sky-diving experience – called RipCord by iFly – is arguably the most impressive, and continues a trend for on-board adrenaline sport activities, such as rock climbing and surfing, that has proved so popular on previous ships. Before taking flight, passengers are required to participate in a training course where they are shown an overview video, and taught correct flight position and hand signals from trained instructors. They are then outfitted in their flight gear, including a jumpsuit, goggles and helmet, before enjoying two one-minute flights with an instructor.

New cruisers

Much of this 30-year entertainment evolution has been driven by the changing demographics of cruise vacationers.

"When we first started in 1969, it was probably more of a vacation for older couples. The average age of a cruiser, from 30 years ago to today, is probably 15-18 years younger," says Lutoff-Perlo. Not only has the company’s median age of passenger lowered to the early 40s, but families have also become a huge target market for Royal Caribbean.

She continues: "A long time ago we determined that families were a market that were undisturbed by the industry, and one that we felt we could host and accommodate really well on our ships. A lot of the things we’re doing relate to the fact that families have become a huge market. You see many, many more families vacationing together because you couldn’t find a better vacation for families than cruises."

"The more experiences we can offer, the more we can ensure them that a cruise vacation is as meaningful as any other vacation."

It was with this market in mind that Royal Caribbean – which currently operates 21 ships with a total capacity of almost 60,000 – set out to define its brand.

"For at least the last decade, probably longer, we’ve set out to ensure that we are the cruise line of choice for the adventure-seeking family," says Lutoff-Perlo. "I think every brand needs to determine what are the things that are going to set it apart, and what are the things that they are going to focus on the most, and so over the last 20-something years’ entertainment has been that for Royal Caribbean. We continue to look for new and exciting ways to deliver things that people don’t expect. Whether it’s passengers, other cruise lines or other cruise brands, we want them to look at us and say, ‘holy crap, look what they did now’."

Today, with three quarters of its passengers having cruised before and a quarter having cruised with Royal Caribbean, impressive new entertainment offerings are vital in bringing in new customers: "We’re really going after the general vacationing public that either have, or haven’t, considered a cruise before. And the more experiences that we can offer, the more we can ensure them that a cruise vacation is as meaningful as, and in many ways a heck of a lot better than, any other vacation."

However, it’s not just about chasing demographics, but making sure that everyone on board has an entertainment offering geared towards them. "We always know who are guests are, so we have a lot of information available to us as to the different age groups and we understand what we need to cater for. We want to make sure that we look at the totality of our experience and ensure that we have something for every age group, from Dreamworks entertainment and live DJs through to the adults-only solarium and golf course."

Turn up the volume

Of course, to maintain its brand space, staying ahead of the competition must be vital – and harnessing new technology plays a big part in that.

"We are an entertainment brand and it’s very important for Quantum class, just like it will be for any class beyond Quantum, that we continue to look at ways that we can ‘turn up the volume’, if you will," states Lutoff-Perlo. "We have a couple of things going on here to make sure that happens. Number one, we go everywhere, so we know what’s going on and so that we see the different things that are happening in the entertainment world. And then we work with the best companies that are out there."

For example, she explains, when the company was developing Two70°, the idea of 270° floor-to-ceiling windows, that turned into LED-screens complete with state-of-the-art robotics, was a far from simple brief. Royal Caribbean approached over 30 companies – some of the biggest in entertainment – and asked them how they would bring about the idea, then narrowed it down to four or five that could best deliver. "We look at trends, then go and find the best in class for the types of experiences that were thinking about," she adds.

Of course, as technology moves forward at a relentless pace, so the company will have to constantly refresh and evolve its entertainment offering. Is Lutoff-Perlo able to predict what sort of options a Royal Caribbean cruise will have ten years hence?

"I still see Royal Caribbean at the forefront and I think we will have continued to push the envelope. We continue to do things others haven’t and I don’t know where we’ll end up, every day is a new adventure and every new ship is a new opportunity. Who knows where we’ll go in the future, but something I would say is that, if you’re a betting man, bet that we’ll come out with something even more spectacular in the future, because that is what we do here."