These days, we live in an increasingly connected world allowing us to communicate with friends, loved ones and even coworkers while on the go virtually anywhere in the world, even while on vacation. Instant communication is now only a few button clicks away. Social media, text messaging and face to face video applications are now the standard as the most convenient way to stay in touch with family and friends across the globe, but these services often require access to the internet and sometimes demand a reliable and consistent high-speed connection on your cruise. As demand for connectivity and technology steadily increases, we're finding internet availability growing just as quickly. From the top of Mount Fuji to destinations across the globe and yes, even while cruising the ocean and waterways of the world, you're never too far from getting your internet fix. That being said there’s quite a bit that travellers should know about internet access at sea.
While some may embrace a week or more at sea completely disconnected from hustle and bustle of life on land, others have a difficult time waiting an hour or two without checking emails, texts and refreshing their various social media timelines. Our cruise partners work extremely hard to cater to guests every request so it’s no wonder, each wants to be known as the best connected at sea. There’s good news on the connectivity front, there have been huge advancements in Wi-Fi at sea and almost every cruise line and ship that navigates the waters of the world will have some form of Wi-Fi or internet available.
Cruise Lines: Investing in Internet
Many of the cruising industry’s biggest players are investing millions into onboard connectivity enhancing infrastructure to provide the best possible experience for all guests on all their ships. Depending on your chosen cruise line or even your location on the ship, internet at sea may not be quite as speedy as you would find in the comfort of your own home and will likely be different from supplier to supplier and even ship to ship. Connection issues on your cruise could simply be due to geographical location or bandwidth availability on board, meaning the ship is too far from the closest internet service tower or too many people on the ship are attempting to use the internet at the same time thus creating a slower internet experience. Currently, the majority of cruise lines won’t be able to offer the kind of internet speeds required to stream video services like Netflix or Hulu but this could, and likely will change in the coming years as technological improvements show no signs of slowing down.
The Cost of Surfing while Cruising
The cost of accessing the internet while at sea will typically vary greatly from one cruise line to another. Some may offer internet access by the minute while others may offer daily or entire trip length packages. Many lines will incentivize passengers to go to more premium suites and staterooms by offering allotments of free internet time (the other luxurious extras offered with a suite don’t hurt either!). There does seem to be a growing trend of cruise lines offering tier-based internet packages based on how the passengers are using the internet. Similar to the onboard drink packages already offered by many cruise lines (stay tuned for another CruisePlus Compass topic on this very subject!). For example, there may be a package just for texting or email usage and another for heavy use such as video streaming services. Packages like these are bringing the onboard connectivity cost down for cruisers although they’re still not as wallet-friendly as land-based internet fees.... yet. The tier-based system provides convenient and cost-effective option for those who really don't use the internet very often while others might use it at every convenience to ensure they’re sharing their travel experience more ready and in real time.
Cellular Connectivity: When in Roam
Cell phone connection on a cruise is another challenge entirely. While signal will likely be available by connecting with the cruise lines tower on most ships, cellular rates for phone text and data will usually reflect international roaming rates at sea and country-specific roaming rates while in port, which is often very expensive. It is strongly advised that you speak to your cell phone provider for information on country-specific call, text and data packages prior to departure, these packages typically have allotted time frames that can include week by week bundles or even a month at a time. It's worth mentioning that some cruise ships provide their own smart device applications allowing passengers to communicate with each other onboard for no extra cost and without reliance on your home cellular provider.
If you’re like most of us and don’t want to risk finding a shockingly large cell phone bill when you return from a nice relaxing vacation, its best to turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode while travelling and only use it when absolutely necessary (or you have a prepaid roaming package) and of course during an emergency. Airplane mode is meant to restrict data from being transmitted between cellular towers and your device thus saving you unexpected “roaming” fees (even if you didn’t place a call or access the web). Airplane mode also allows you to snap photos of all the beautiful scenery on your trip without risking any extra charges! It's also a good idea to turn off roaming if you don't have a roaming package. By turning off roaming, you're mitigating the chances of accidentally joining a local cellular network and incurring those nasty roaming fees. Often, depending on the type of cell phone you own, you can still make and receive calls and texts whenever you're logged into a Wi-Fi network like those onboard your ship (if so, you can always turn off texting and just rely on apps like iMessage for Apple products. When in doubt, turn off your roaming, data and put your phone in airplane mode as a catch-all to avoid unnecessary usage.
Quick Tips for Connectivity
If you find you're struggling to connect while at sea, attempting to connect while fewer people are likely to be online such as late at night or in port when many passengers have gone ashore. The ability to have a strong connection also goes way up when the ship is near shore connecting to land-based services. Here are a few more tips on accessing (or not) the internet while at sea:
- Work offline as much as possible and use the internet only to receive and send important communications.
- Set your email to fetch, rather than to automatically download.
- Turn off non-vital apps and make sure they're all set to NOT update automatically or refresh in the background.
- If you’d like to use the internet frequently you might consider buying a package that fits your needs. Packages are often priced at a reduced rate compared to pay-per-use fees.
- Avoid peak times. For the best experience use the internet when others are not. Early morning or during the day when others are on excursions and you’re relaxing in your stateroom are often the most optimal times. The fewer people using the internet the faster and more consistent it will be.
- Turn your mobile phone off or switch to “airplane mode” as often as possible. This will stop calls and texts from reaching you, yet still, allow you full use of features like the camera
- Check with your service provider well in advance of your trip about roaming charges and potential packages for when your ashore in various countries
- Ask your friendly CruisePlus Travel & Tours Consultant for more details about your cruise & connection to cell service and the internet while vacationing with your favourite line!