I've been cruising in the South Pacific the last couple of weeks. It's the kind of holiday you take when you want to disconnect, although, as is customary these days, there's technology everywhere. But satellite internet costs a motza. On top of that, there's restrictions in place that are designed to encourage cruisers to purchase entertainment through the provided services.
Thankfully, that's where the Switch comes in.
Tegan and I took a nine-night cruise on Royal Carribean's Voyager of the Seas, leaving Sydney and stopping at some islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Knowing that we'd have at least four full days of sailing to occupy ourselves, I loaded up on fresh apps, podcasts, board games and some offline movies and shows through Netflix.
But obviously, I also packed the Switch.
I hadn't intended to play it solo: I thought it'd be a useful tool before bed, something for Tegan and me to unwind to before tackling another day of ... well, whatever it is that you do on a giant boat with a bunch of drunken Aussies. We had Mario Kart. Nine Parchments seemed cool. I'd gotten the new Scribblenauts. That should do for about a week, right?
As it turns out, it was more than we needed. Because the Switch's best function wasn't its portable ability, or even the joy of wondering what our neighbours thought every time I red shelled Tegan mid-jump.
Let me explain.
I'm on a boat.
Cruise liners are massive operations, and they don't get refitted very often. The last refit for Voyager of the Seas cost $80 million back in 2014, which enabled WiFi across the ship for all passengers, and information services on every deck powered by Apple TVs. (That last bit isn't advertised, but I happened to spot it when one was undergoing maintenance.)
The TVs inside all the cabins have been modified since 1999 as well, replaced with small Samsung LCDs. They have the functionality you'd expect for a 21-22" screen: a couple of HDMI ports, a USB 2.0 port at the back, and so on. There's a special box that plugs into the back of the TV, which connects the TV to the ship's digital services, cable channels, and so forth.
Most of the regular programming consisted of American cable networks - MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, SKY News. So like any sane person, I grabbed my laptop and plugged it into the back of the TV for some sane, enjoyable content.
Small problem: the input button on the remote wasn't working.
The monitor had been picked up by my laptop as a second screen, but I couldn't get it to display on the Samsung TV irrespective of what settings I chose on Windows. The remote was no help - deliberately disabled, I later found out. I tried unplugging the cable box at the back of the TV, both the network cable and the power cord (even replacing the power cord with a spare that I'd packed), but that didn't unlock any extra functionality beyond disabling horrific cable ads.
Night one: no success.
Undeterred, I gave the TV a crack the following night. After flicking through all of the channels, I came across channel 41 which continued to display the warning: scrambled channel or weak signal.
Maybe I could get something going here.
Plugging the laptop in changed the warning but didn't produce a picture. The TV popped up as a second monitor, however.
So perhaps I just needed to try something different.
What about the Switch?
As soon as the dock was powered up and plugged into one of the two HDMI ports - success! The error message was replaced with the bright unlock screen of my Nintendo Switch, working magically.
Beauty, I thought. At least that works if nothing else. So I plugged the laptop into the other HDMI port and tried changing to one of the other channels.
A prompt appeared: "Disconecting Anynet+ Device."
No. Don't do that. No. I want my movies, dammit.
So while I could get the Switch to work, I couldn't get anything else to broadcast on the TV. It would detect USB sticks, but the remote wouldn't let me switch over to the USB port as an input to view any of the content. Similarly, Tegan's Macbook Air and my Surface Laptop could detect the TV as a second monitor, but a black screen still remained. Changing the channel disconnected the Switch, too.
Day two passes. The only happy thing on the TV is Waluigi.
The night of day three arrives. We're exhausted from walking up and down an endless flight of stairs, swimming, a surprisingly brutal pilates class and ... food. So much food.
But there's a bit of energy left in the tank.
This Samsung TV will not defeat me.
I fire up the Switch in the dock. The black screen fades, replaced with the sight and sounds of Nintendo trumpets.
Given that changing the channel disconnects an Anynet device, the Switch working must mean that an Anynet device has been enabled. So maybe I don't need to change the channel - maybe I just need to change what's connected to the HDMI port after that device is enabled.
Grabbing my laptop, I unplug the Switch after the screen appears. I cross my fingers, and plug my laptop's HDMI cable into the slot where the Switch was previously plugged.
If this doesn't work, I will be defeated. My nights will be filled with nightmares of ads for NRL shows and Chris Hayes rattling on about Watergate.
Fortunately, the Voyager of the Seas did not defeat me. The background of my laptop screen appeared in full glory, allowing me to broadcast anything I wanted (which I surmised could include Cricket 97, although I wisely opted not to test this to ensure my safe return home).
I can understand why cruise liners deliberately lock off ports and inputs. It means that if you want to share some movies on a screen that's larger than a laptop or a tablet, either watch the poolside movie with everyone else (and brave the weather outside) or purchase something through the supplied channels.
But you're looking at around $US12.95 for movies outside of the free selection. Understandably, people have been looking for ways around this silly restriction.
One popular alternative is to take a second Samsung or universal remote. That will get around the restrictions applied to the one in your cabin, although if you're nice enough you could probably convince housekeeping to kindly ask IT for an unlocked remote on the ship.
That's a risky ploy, though. You're better off having a universal remote app or two on your phone just in case. And if you don't want to muck around with any of that, there's the ultimate option: just take your Switch and the Switch dock.
You'll have plenty of room after all: the luggage limit on the basic cruising package was 90 kilograms. And given that the Switch dock and a HDMI cord (because you don't get any in your cabin) isn't too hard to stash away, it's an easy fix to make the late hours pass away a little more comfortably.
Until you switch back over to Mario Kart and start swearing loudly at one in the morning, confusing your geriatric neighbours.