Internet access while on a cruise
This article is a travel topic
But cruises pose yet another challenge when it comes to accessing the internet. Not only will you have to address the cost of access on the ship out at sea, but very likely, one or more and possibly all ports of call will be in foreign countries. As most carriers will charge you to use your smartphones for internet access in a foreign country, you will have to separately address those fees if you wish to remain connected. See internet access while traveling abroad for more info on that topic.
The bottom line is, internet on a cruise is not cheap and is not the best in the world. If accessing the internet is necessary, which it is for many, planning in advance is key.
The basics of cruise ship internet
It is possible to access the internet on board a ships even when it is hundreds of miles out at sea, thanks to today's technology. It is possible to do use one's own WiFi-capable devices with the service. But for one who does not have their own device, most ships have no shortage of computers for your convenience.
There is a per minute fee to use the service, which on most lines is the same, regardless of whether you use the ship's computer or your own device. Very typically, it is around $0.50-1.00 USD/minute when you pay for individual minutes. But you can get lower rates when you buy a package of minutes. Sometimes, such a package can reduce the cost per minute to as low as $0.20. Additionally, loyalty programs may earn some customers free minutes.
Internet access at sea is much slower and less reliable than on land. Cruise ship internet access works by sending a signal 22,000 miles to a satellite, then 22,000 miles again back to earth. This limits what applications can be used. Generally, high-data applications, such as video and VOIP services do not work.
Depending on the vessel, internet access may or may not be possible in your cabin. On some vessels, access is limited to selected hotspots. Even on vessels where access is possible in cabins, it may work in some cabins but not others, and the cruise line will not be able to provide this information to you in advance. And there is no cost difference to the cabin based on whether or not internet access is possible.
Be aware that when you are not using minutes, to avoid letting your minutes tick away, type logout.com in the address bar of your browser. If you fail to do this, even if you cut the WiFi signal, your minutes may still tick away.
Costs per minute of various cruise lines
The following are the costs per minute to access the internet on some major cruise lines. The information below is here to give you an overview and is not always up to date and is subject to change at any time at the discretion of the line, so check with the line prior to departure so there are no surprises, and update as necessary.
* Euro prices converted to US dollars
Notes about pricing
The per minute prices listed in parenthesis are only that low if 100% of minutes in package are used, and are higher if not all minutes are used.
Most lines will charge an additional one-time fee, often $3.95, to start using internet.
In addition to the packages listed above, many cruise lines have more packages than what is listed above, discounts, and ways of earning more minutes. Some lines have loyalty programs that allow a certain number of free minutes after a certain number of sailings. Others give additional minutes to what is listed in the package if purchased in advance or by a certain day.
A package can be shared by two or more travelers, and can even be used on multiple devices, but cannot be used by multiple people at the same time.
Most cruise lines charge the same price for internet, regardless of whether you use their own computer or a laptop, tablet, or smartphone that you brought from home.
Companies offering unlimited internet access
Beginning in February 2015, Royal Caribbean began offering unlimited internet access for a fixed price. If purchased for each day until the end of the voyage, the daily fee is $20/daily for the first device associated with a stateroom and $10 for the second. If purchased for a single day, the daily fee is $39.95.
Ways to save minutes on a cruise ship
With minutes each costing so much, and the need to use them sparingly, there are ways you can save minutes.
For example, if you are checking and sending email, log on and let all your email download and become visible. Then log off. While offline, you can spend all the time you need writing your emails, and they will be saved in your outbox. When you are finished, log on again, and let your emails all send.
If you plan to read a web page, simply load that page. Then log off. After logging off, you will have plenty of time to read the page.
Other ways to access on a cruise ship
If you are on a cruise ship, your smartphone or data-enabled tablet may be able to access the internet. However, not all international data plans cover use on a cruise ship. Check with your carrier. Regardless, the device will most likely work. You will just be billed at the rate of $20/MB.
If the ship is in port or close enough to land, you may be able to utilize the land signal. On some routes, the ship will remain in close proximity of the land network, and with an international data plan, you can make use of the package you purchased. Likewise, if you have a Kindle, you may be able to reach the signal while out at sea.
If you are on a river cruise, the river will very likely be within close proximity of the land where there is a good chance there is a signal. If you have a device that has a plan with that country, you can use internet while on the vessel as much as the service allows.
In any case, you can obtain some form of access in port. If you have an international data package, you can use that while in the port in most countries. The Kindle may work in the port if it works in that country. And if you have a portable device, you may be able to find a WiFi zone while in port. Some ports even have their own WiFi access.
Accessing the internet while off the ship
If you choose to access the internet while off of the ship, you may have to purchase a separate plan, as there is a good chance you will be in a foreign country, and use of your device will come at a higher cost. It may be optimal to forego internet access on the ship and limit usage to land, especially if you can do without full time access and you don't mind limiting yourself to the ports. In many cases, data plans for land will cost less than minutes packages at sea, making this the cheaper option. Additionally, some ports have free wifi.
Why is internet access on a cruise ship so expensive?
Industry experts have questioned the high price of internet access on the vessel while out at sea, which on most lines is billed by the minute. While it is true that it depends on the satellite and is a slower signal, other modes of transportation, such as planes, trains, and buses, offer Wi-Fi via the same technology for little or nothing.
A major reason that is believed by experts is the lack of competition. The cruise line's signal, arranged through a company that has little competition itself, is the only method of connecting while at sea. Even a smartphone that establishes its own connection runs through this service. Cruise lines are therefore able to charge as much as they wish, seeing this as a means of additional profit. And it is not to the cruise line's advantage to offer data plans on one's carrier or via a rented device or SIM card from another company at a lower price when they have this means of profit available to them.