Whether you’re a text addict or want to share your exciting trip with all your Facebook friends, internet access onboard cruise ships has moved onwards and upwards since Norwegian Sky was the first cruise ship to feature an Internet cafe in 1999. Although video calling and streaming are still limited and using the internet between ports can be pricey, nowadays nearly all ships provide WiFi at the very least in an internet lounge.

What you’ll often get is WiFi in rooms for a fee, high-tech satellites that allow you to use your mobile phones at sea, and apps that you can use for everything from booking shore excursions to calling people on the ship. When it comes to which cruise line to choose for the best internet services you might choose Carnival for some of the best all-inclusive packages or Celebrity Cruises®, whose ships come equipped with top-end internet lounges.

Read on to find out who to cruise with to suit your internet needs and discover some helpful tips for staying in touch in the most economical way. Please note that prices are in US dollars as this is how the majority of cruise lines provide them.

Internet lounges

Having an internet lounge on a cruise ship is considered standard these days. Many are available on a pay-per-use basis and if the ship you’re travelling on has a 24-hour internet area, you might want to use it at quiet times to get the best internet speed. Try early morning, late evening and at ports.

One of the smartest cruise lines when it comes to internet lounges is Celebrity Cruises, which has introduced the Celebrity iLounge to many of its ships. Here you can use the latest Apple technology to access the internet, or even complete a short course to help you get to grips with the technology.

As well as this, all Celebrity ships except Galapagos-based Celebrity Xpedition®, feature Xcelerate high speed internet and, unusually, allow access to Netflix, YouTube, FaceTime and Skype. As a guide, unlimited internet use on Celebrity sailings of five to nine days costs $140 per person.

WiFi

If you’ve ever wondered what those big golf ball-shaped domes are on top of cruise ships, they house satellite antennae used to get an internet signal. Nearly all ships have WiFi now but internet speed is still slower on a cruise than on land. The popular cruise destinations of the Caribbean and Mediterranean have some of the highest connectivity. The internet on riverboats travelling in the United States and Europe also tends to be good as most boats are connecting to land-based signals.

Cruise ship WiFi is usually chargeable unless you have a special package. You can either pay by the minute, which is generally added to your on-board account, or purchase a block of access for a reduced fee if you plan to use the internet regularly. Your cruise line will let you know how much WiFi charges and bundles are once you’ve booked. Some of the most affordable packages are available with Carnival who have social, value or premium deals at $5, $16 and $25 per day. Each are suitable for social media, surfing and Skype respectively.

There are some exceptions to these charges, as Regent Seven Seas provides free WiFi in all areas of its ships and river cruises almost always include WiFi in the price of the package. Silversea Cruises’ WiFi is free for those in Medallion and higher suites, while everyone else gets an hour free per person per day. Princess Cruises also provides free minutes for certain loyalty program members.

Cruise lines that provide WiFi in their cabins include Fred. Olsen, Holland America and Princess, but generally the internet is faster in public areas and the outer areas of the ships. In order to save time and money, try drafting your email in a word processing program and then pasting it into an email when you log on.

If you can’t do without video calling or downloading files while you’re away, choose to travel on a newer ship that was built with high-speed connectivity in mind. A limited selection of ships have high-bandwidth, high-speed internet, including Carnival BreezeCarnival Sunshine and Carnival Freedom. There are also a few Royal Caribbean® ships to choose from, including Allure of the Seas®Oasis of the Seas®Quantum of the Seas® and Anthem of the Seas®Princess offers Royal Princess and Regal Princess, while connectivity is also good on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway.

Phone

Most cruise lines’ satellite-based roaming systems allow your phone to operate as if it were in a foreign country, while in port your phone will generally scan for a usable network. Both will require you to activate international roaming on your phone.

Although the cruise line will not charge you anything, make sure you know how much your mobile company will charge for calls, texts and data roaming made abroad as it can be very expensive. Simply compare it to the ship’s WiFi charge to see which is preferable.

Also make sure any automatic data services on your phone are switched off so that you don’t download anything inadvertently and leave yourself with an unexpected bill. To do this, either switch your phone off in-between ports or put it on airplane mode, which basically means your phone won’t send or receive any data. You can still turn WiFi on even when your phone is in airplane mode.

If you can get signal, it’s usually much cheaper to send a text message than make a voice call. If you do have to make a call however, the phone in your cabin could be a more cost-effective way of ringing land lines. Always check how much it is first as Royal Caribbean charges a sizeable $7.95/minute, while Carnival only charges $1.99/minute.

Taking photos and using your alarm clock doesn’t require any data so these will work fine and not cost anything – just remember to manually change the time if you travel into a different time zone. You can also play any games or music you already have downloaded to your phone without being charged. This can all be done on airplane mode.

Ship apps – how to text on a cruise

There was a time when writing notes on cabin door whiteboards was the only way to stay in touch with fellow passengers onboard. However, another internet first from Norwegian Cruise Line in 2014, the iConcierge app allows passengers to text and call people onboard the same ship for a nominal fee that’s far smaller than paying to use your phone’s roaming service. Plus you can view onboard activities, restaurant menus, book shore excursions and get low rates to call home.

Many other cruise lines have followed suit and offered their own apps. These can do everything from show deck plans to allowing you to check onboard spending. Carnival Cruises’ Carnival Hub even has a group chat function for keeping in touch with all the family in one go.

Connecting ports

If you can wait until you get close to port, using land-based WiFi is by far the cheapest method of keeping in touch when on a cruise. Even before you’ve docked you should be able to pick up a WiFi signal and the port terminal will almost certainly have one. Otherwise, most destinations have internet cafes – just ask a member of the crew where the best places are, as they’ll be familiar with the destination. However, you have to factor in whether you want to take time out of your excursions in order to keep in touch this way.

Emergency contact

If you’re concerned about a lack of internet in case someone back home needs to reach you in an emergency, never fear. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian and Silversea provide an emergency number you can give out before you go, with a fee for using the number. Other lines including Carnival will relay a message to you if an emergency message comes in to their call centre.

With cruise companies improving their internet provision all the time, it may not be long before onboard WiFi catches up with that on land and is provided for free as standard. In the meantime we hope you’re set for your next cruise with more confidence in keeping in touch while onboard.

Images by 1950sUnlimited and Celebrity Cruises

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