It's not exactly commonplace to see executives from a cruise line hanging out on the floor of one the biggest annual tech gatherings around. But Carnival Cruise Line  (CCL) CEO Arnold Donald certainly has a good reason for setting sail to the Consumer Electronics Show this year to give a keynote address: his company is about to upend how people experience a cruise vacation.

Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, will take the wraps off its new medallion technology at CES. The quarter-sized disk made of burnished aluminum essentially turns the hulking vessel into a smart ship. The medallion will be provided to passengers before they get on the ship and it will serve multiple purposes.

The most obvious is the ability to lock and unlock a stateroom as a passenger nears it. Passengers will be able to pay for merchandise and excursions. They can get information on how to navigate the ship's many amenities by interacting with digital displays on the walls.

The fascinating aspect here is that unlike other smart bands such as Disney's (DIS) MagicBand or Royal Caribbean's (RCL) Wow Bands, Carnival's medallion doesn't have to touch another device to work. It could be worn as a necklace or simply left in the pocket and the near-field communication and Bluetooth technology embedded inside communicate with sensors and readers positioned around the ship.

Unlike Royal Caribbean's Wow Bands that launched in 2014, which are optional purchases and haven't completely done away with annoying door keys and paperwork, Carnival's medallions will be given to everyone on board and totally remove layers of friction.   

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