I have good news for those of you who assume the only way to stay in touch with home from a cruise ship is via a message in a bottle: Cruise ships come equipped with internet, and cruise Wi-Fi connections have been getting faster at a rapid rate — and cheaper, too.
While checking emails and surfing the web on some vessels still requires the patience of Job, onboard technological improvements on many ships combined with new satellite and direct ship-to-shore systems is making cruise internet access much more like what you find on land (or even in the air).
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If you’re a first-time cruiser, you’re likely most concerned with the basics: Do cruise ships have Wi-Fi and how much does Wi-Fi cost on a cruise? Repeat cruisers who have paid the price for finicky service may be wondering the best way to access fast connection speeds across their devices while avoiding unnecessary charges.
I can guide you through the ins and outs of Wi-Fi on cruise ships. Here are five things to know about onboard internet before you set sail.
Wi-Fi on cruise ships will never be as fast (or reliable) as home
Yes, all cruise ships today offer an internet connection, but it might not be the seamless experience you’ve come to expect on land.
For most of the many years I’ve been writing about cruising, the typical internet connection at sea hasn’t just been slow. It’s been glacial. You’d click on a website only to experience many seconds of frustration. Maybe the page would come up. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe the cruise would end while you were still sitting there.
Related: 16 mistakes cruise ship passengers make on disembarkation day
Why the slow speeds? To start, there is no Comcast cable wire running to your cruise ship. On cruise ships, every packet of data you are downloading onto your phone or computer, for the most part, is coming over a satellite, which is not a quick or inexpensive proposition.
The maritime communication companies that specialize in providing internet connections to ships have been trying to speed things up in recent years. Solutions have included adding more satellites and linking their systems to land-based towers that connect with ships as they near shore.
But, in the end, there are limits to just how well a satellite system can work. For starters, a ship needs a clear “line of sight” to a satellite to exchange data, something that isn’t always the case. Cruise ships traveling through the famed Norwegian fjords, for instance, can lose their satellite signal due to the height of surrounding mountains.
And there are certain parts of the world where satellite coverage is too thin or nonexistent to allow for internet access on cruise ships. During a sailing in the Russian Arctic on a Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ship, I was forced to live without internet for a good part of a week due to a lack of satellite coverage in the area (something, I must say, was kind of wonderful).
So while onboard cruise Wi-Fi speeds are getting better, they’ll never be as fast as at home, where a hard wire brings the signal straight to your router.
Onboard internet speed is getting much faster
On some cruise ships, the signal has become so much faster you now can stream Netflix from the comfort of your cabin — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
New satellite systems, paired with multimillion-dollar investments in shipboard technology, really are making things better in a big way. A turning point came in 2014, when cruise giant Royal Caribbean partnered with satellite company O3b Networks to create a new onboard internet system that it claimed was six times faster than anything else at sea. Called Voom, the system tapped into new Medium Earth Orbit satellites operated by O3b that can shoot their beams directly at ships as they move.
When I ran a speed test of Voom on Adventure of the Seas, I found the line’s fastest option, the Surf + Stream service, usually offered download speeds of just around 3 megabits per second. I never found download speeds exceeding 4 Mbps, but I did see it drop as low as 1.5 Mbps. While still significantly slower than many home connections, that’s fast enough to enjoy Netflix and other streaming video services, though I did experience grainy video and buffering issues on occasion.
Royal Caribbean still claims Voom is the fastest and best Wi-Fi option on cruise ships today. But we’re a bit skeptical – not because the Wi-Fi is slower than stated, but because other cruise lines, like Carnival Cruise Line, are quickly catching up.
Carnival cruise Wi-Fi is also fast enough to support Netflix streaming on some ships, the company says. The cruise line uses a hybrid system that combines faster satellite connections at sea with a network of less-expensive land-based towers that take over as its vessels near coastal areas.
On a sailing on one of the Carnival ships outfitted for faster internet, Carnival Sunrise, I did notice a significant improvement in cruise Wi-Fi speed. But the promised access to Netflix streaming wasn’t quite as smooth as I had hoped. Clicking on a favorite show, I only could watch for a few minutes before the connection inevitably froze.
Related: How fast is the internet on a Celebrity cruise? We put it to the test
Cruise internet costs have gone down
Just a few years back, you had to pay a small fortune for the privilege of accessing the internet on a cruise ship. The base rate for onboard Wi-Fi for years started around 75 cents a minute. That’s $45 for a single hour online!
The old pay-by-the-minute system, which could leave even modest internet users with sky-high bills, is now giving way to simpler and more affordable “all you can browse” plans on many lines.
How much does Wi-Fi cost on a cruise today? Well, the highest-speed version of Royal Caribbean’s Voom connection currently costs $24.99 per day for one device. In the old days of 75 cents-a-minute pricing, that same amount of money would have gotten you just 33 minutes of web time.
Royal Caribbean also offers a slower-speed version of Voom that can’t support streaming for $19.99 per day for one device. For both cruise internet packages, there are discounts for adding more devices and purchasing a package online before your sailing.
Related: 15 ways that cruising newbies waste money on their first cruise
Another line bringing down internet costs dramatically is Carnival. At the very low end, it now offers a Social Wi-Fi plan that allows access to all the key social sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) as well as messaging services such as WhatsApp, for just $8 a day. A slightly more expensive Value Wi-Fi plan, at $12 per day, adds access to email and most websites.
The line’s top-tier Premium Wi-Fi plan, at $17 per day, triples the speed of the Value plan and adds access to VoIP calling on messaging apps and Skype (but not FaceTime). Passengers who pay for a Carnival Cruise Wi-Fi plan in advance of sailing get a 15% discount. That knocks the price of the top-tier Premium plan to just $14.45 per day.
But perhaps the biggest development in cruise internet costs in recent years is that many higher-end lines have begun offering internet access for — get this — free. Celebrity Cruises, Viking, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises are among lines now including unlimited internet time in the base cost of a voyage. At some of these lines, such as Regent and Celebrity, you can pay extra for faster service.
Another way to get free or cheaper internet time on ships is to join cruise line loyalty programs. Many offer free cruise Wi-Fi or discounted package pricing to customers who hit mid- to upper-tier levels.
At Celebrity Cruises, for instance, the top Zenith tier in the line’s Captain’s Club loyalty program comes with unlimited free internet (the faster plan since everyone gets the basic). At Princess Cruises, customers can get 50 percent off MedallionNet internet packages after reaching the Platinum level in the line’s Captain’s Circle loyalty program (to qualify, you’ll need to complete either five cruises, or 50 cruise days).
On Royal Caribbean, the path to free Internet on a cruise is through its high-end suites. Book a room in a Sky Class or Star Class suite (all suites above the junior suite level), and you’ll receive free Voom.
Apps offer an alternative to paid cruise Wi-Fi
In recent years, a growing number of cruise lines have rolled out free apps for your phone that will let you make reservations for onboard restaurants, spa treatments and other services without ever leaving your pool deck lounge chair. On some ships operated by Carnival, you even can order beer and pizza to wherever you happen to be using an app.
Many of these apps also will show you a schedule of daily activities, offer ship deck plans and sometimes port maps to help you get around, and let you check your onboard account statement in real time. On Celebrity Edge and other Celebrity Cruises Edge-class ships, you can even use an app to remotely open your cabin door, change channels on the television and turn off the lights.
While all these apps work off cruise ship Wi-Fi, the good news is they don’t require the purchase of a plan to use. Nor do they come with any other sort of fee — at least for most features.
At Carnival, you’ll pay $5 per cruise to add a “chat” feature to the line’s otherwise free HUB app that will let you communicate via text-like messages with other app-enabled passengers. Norwegian Cruise Line also requires passengers to pay a fee (currently $9.95 per cruise) to use a messaging and calling feature of its Cruise Norwegian app.
Cruise internet tip: Use airplane mode to avoid unwanted charges
Whether or not you’re purchasing a Wi-Fi plan on a cruise ship, I have one very strong piece of advice: Put your phone in airplane mode the moment you step on board the vessel and leave it that way for the duration of the sailing.
This is the safest way to avoid unwanted data charges, which can be enormous. (Remember the story of a family that recently racked up $14,000 in data charges on a cruise?)
As many cruisers have found the hard way, international phone plans such as AT&T’s $10-a-day International Day Pass do not apply to cruise ships at sea. If you let your AT&T phone roam while you’re on a vessel, you’ll pay $2.05 per megabyte of data — even if your base plan at home offers you unlimited data. You’ll also pay $3 per minute to make a call, $0.50 per text and $1.30 to send a photo. All that adds up very quickly.
AT&T does offer a “cruise talk, text and data” plan for a flat fee of $100 that allows unlimited talk and text during sailings up to 30 days in duration. But it only comes with 200 megabytes of data, with any overage billing at a still-hefty $2 per megabyte. It’s also not available on every ship. More than 170 vessels are part of the program.
If you insist on leaving your cellular service on during a cruise, you should at least disable any apps running in the background (as they’ll be eating up data, and running up your bill) and disable email auto-check.
Personally, I find it easier to just hit the airplane mode button. Once in airplane mode, I reactivate the Wi-Fi feature on my phone to access the cruise Wi-Fi, and sign up for a shipboard plan that will let me stay in touch by email or a VoIP service like WhatsApp.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
- The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A beginners guide to picking a cruise line
- The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
- 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
- 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
- What to pack for your first cruise
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
How does Wi-Fi work on a cruise ship? ›
Internet on cruise ships is provided primarily by satellites, though some cruise ships have technology onboard that allows them to switch to land-based signal towers when sailing within a certain distance from land.Is it worth getting Wi-Fi on a cruise? ›
Yes, you may get a connection, but at-sea roaming charges can be exorbitant. Horror stories of cruise passengers receiving bills from cell phone companies in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars are not uncommon. Logging onto the ship's Wi-Fi is really your best, and cheapest, way to stay in touch.What type of internet do cruise ships use? ›
While every cruise ship might have Wi-Fi available, you will not have the same reliability that you're used to on land. To start, the internet onboard relies on satellites while you're out at sea. Cruise lines team up with maritime communication companies to provide Wi-Fi on their ships.How do you pay for Wi-Fi on a cruise? ›
Use onboard credit to pay for a Wi-Fi package
You can use your credit to pay for onboard internet access, thereby getting Wi-Fi on your cruise for free!
These “free” internet packages may be limited to one device per stateroom, with the option to pay for additional devices. The other way to get free internet access on cruise ships is to join one of the cruise line loyalty programs—many reward loyal guests with lower costs and even free internet packages.Do cell phones work on cruises? ›
Yes, you can make calls, text, and even video chat from a cruise ship. In port, you can connect to local roaming networks. At sea, you can either make calls via a satellite connection or pay for the ship's Wi-Fi (also via satellite) and make Wi-Fi calls, text or video chat via the internet.Should I turn off cellular data on a cruise? ›
But, please be aware that cellular data used on the ship or in certain ports of call will result in charges from your cell phone provider. As you sail into international waters, these expenses can add up, so we recommend that guests turn off their cellular data and connect to the ship's Wi-Fi instead.Do I need Wi-Fi to text on a cruise ship? ›
It's possible to send and receive text messages at sea on a cellular signal, as long as you have a signal through your ship's roaming network. (Just make sure you turn on data roaming in your settings.)Can I use Wi Fi calling on a cruise ship? ›
Download any apps you need before leaving
For large parties, the Ripple Connect app allows you to call and text other cruisers with the app as long as you have access to the ship's Wi-Fi signal, without having to pay for an Internet plan. Chomp SMS, a good choice for overseas texting on Android devices.
Do Hotspots Work on Cruise Ships? Portable wireless hotspots do work on cruise ships but only when the ship is docked or VERY close to land. Your phone's hotspot will also work on a cruise ship as long as you have cell service, are docked or close to land and roaming is included in your plan.
Can you bring a Wi-Fi router on a cruise ship? ›
There are some ships that are known to interfere with specific travel routers. These are the cruises – Radiance and Liberty. Travel routers that can clone a MAC address of another device continue to work fine on them. Most cruise ships have a limit on the number of devices that can connect to their WIFI connection.Do all cruises have free Wi-Fi? ›
If you're going on a cruise for the first time one of the first things you might be worried about is no wi-fi. Well, don't worry because wi-fi is available on most cruise ships and if you're lucky you could even use it for free at times.How do you get cellular data on a cruise? ›
To use your cell phone on your cruise, you have two options — either connect to the ship's cellular service or connect to the ship's wi-fi. Both will cost you extra. For traditional cell service, today's modern cruise ships use providers such as “Cellular at Sea” or “Wireless Maritime Services”.How can I text for free on a cruise? ›
Can You Still Text for Free in the Cruise Line's App if you Bring Your own HotSpot? Yes, of course! As long as you have the app downloaded on your phone and you're on their free wifi, you can use the app to text on a cruise ship for free.How do you communicate with someone on a cruise ship? ›
If you are trying to reach a guest onboard the ship, you can make a call to their stateroom and optionally leave a message. Use of the phones for calls to a guest's stateroom is complimentary. Of course, it requires the guest to be in the room to answer the call and/or check the voicemail.Should I put my phone on airplane mode on a cruise? ›
Make sure to put your phone on airplane mode to avoid expensive roaming charges. Cellular rates at sea can sneak up on you, and you can easily rack up a $500 roaming bill. Even if you're not actively on your phone, most are still using data, so make sure to set yours on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges.How much does Royal Caribbean charge for Wi-Fi? ›
|Packages||Surf||Surf & Stream|
|1 Device||$15.99 per day per device||$19.99 per day per device|
|2 Devices||$14.99 per day per device||$18.99 per day per device|
|4 Devices||$12.99 per day per device||$16.99 per day per device|
|24-Hour Pass||$22.99 per day per device||$29.99 per day per device|
If you're cruising in a cabin that has 3 plug sockets, 1 of which uses the plugs that you have and two that don't you might as well bring a couple of the other adapters. Travel adapters are one of the most important things that you'll bring on a cruise.What is the best floor to be on a cruise ship? ›
You want to be as close to the pivot point as possible to feel the least movement. Avoid cabins near the front (bow) or back (stern) and on decks higher than the middle deck of the ship. So, on a ship with fourteen passenger decks, your best options are below deck seven.What should you not wear on a cruise? ›
T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps, and pool wear are not allowed in the main restaurant or specialty restaurants at any time. In addition, shorts and flip-flops are not permitted during the evening hours.
What is the first thing you do when you go on a cruise? ›
- Drop your bags in your cabin. Depending on your cruise line, you may be able to access your cabin as soon as you board, at least to drop off your bags. ...
- Put away your valuables. ...
- Freshen up and change your clothes.
- Turn your data roaming off;
- Make sure the Airplane Mode setting on your phone is turned On; and.
- Turn your WiFi on. This will allow you to use the internet on your devices when Airplane Mode is on and you are connected to a WiFi network.
Do: Turn Off Data Roaming. Before you get on that plane (or train) to leave the country, turn off both data roaming and cellular data on your phone. This will prevent your device from connecting to towers or networks along your journey, leading to pricey roaming charges from your carrier.Do I need to turn off mobile data when using Wi-Fi? ›
Smartphone or tablet users should turn off mobile data when the device is expected to remain within range of Wi-Fi access point. Also consider turning off your cellular data if your Wi-Fi coverage has dead spots, when cellular service is weak, or you use a prepaid mobile plan with data caps or limits.Which is the best portable Wi-Fi? ›
- Best Overall. GlocalMe G4 Pro 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot. ...
- Best Budget. Alcatel LinkZone 4G Mobile WiFi Hotspot. ...
- Best for AT&T. Netgear Nighthawk MR1100 Mobile Hotspot 4G LTE Router. ...
- Best for T-Mobile. Inseego 5G MiFi M2000. ...
- Best for Verizon. Verizon Jetpack MiFi 8800L. ...
- Best for International Use. ...
- Most Durable. ...
- Best Router.
Guests can upgrade from one plan to another and use multiple devices, per plan, including their smart phone, laptop or the shipboard internet café, but only one device can be used at a time.How do you get internet in the middle of the ocean? ›
You will first need a satellite internet provider who can provide access even while you're at sea by installing a satellite dish. This provides the most flexibility since you can access it whenever you need or want it. You can also get the same type of internet that's accessible on a smartphone or a laptop.How do you text on a cruise? ›
- Let your phone connect to a maritime network and send text messages as normal. ...
- Connect to the ship's wifi and use a messaging app. ...
- Use a cruise line app to message other people on the ship. ...
- Wait until your ship is in port.
Typically charges will appear on the next monthly bill, but depending on your carrier it may occasionally take up to 60 days for charges to appear on your phone bill. Please note that most cell phone carriers do not allow their unlimited rate plans to apply to cellular calls, texts or data used while onboard ships.Am I being charged for cellular at sea? ›
All billing is handled by your cell phone carrier and you will be billed for any charges incurred while onboard a ship on your next monthly cell phone bill directly from your carrier. There are no additional charges or billing from Cellular at Sea or the cruise lines.
How do I keep my phone from roaming on a cruise? ›
The key to avoiding data roaming charges on a cruise is to always have your phone on airplane mode as soon as the ship leaves port, whether you use the ship's wifi or not.Can you text on a cruise ship without Wi-Fi? ›
It's possible to send and receive text messages at sea on a cellular signal, as long as you have a signal through your ship's roaming network. (Just make sure you turn on data roaming in your settings.)Can you use Wi-Fi on airplane mode on a cruise ship? ›
Put Your Phone in Airplane Mode
You can still use the ship's WiFi while you are in airplane mode. You can also take your phone out of airplane mode when docked at a port of call if you want to use your cellular coverage at that time.
Can you use Wi-Fi calling on cruise ship? For large parties, the Ripple Connect app allows you to call and text other cruisers with the app as long as you have access to the ship's Wi-Fi signal, without having to pay for an Internet plan. Chomp SMS, a good choice for overseas texting on Android devices.Do cell phones work on a cruise? ›
Yes, you can make calls, text, and even video chat from a cruise ship. In port, you can connect to local roaming networks. At sea, you can either make calls via a satellite connection or pay for the ship's Wi-Fi (also via satellite) and make Wi-Fi calls, text or video chat via the internet.How can I avoid cell phone charges on a cruise? ›
To mitigate this risk, it is a good idea to put your phone on airplane mode and enable wi-fi when embarking on a cruise ship. In fact, cruise lines often suggest this to cruisers to avoid unnecessary charges.What happens if I don t put my phone on airplane mode on a cruise? ›
Missing the ship at port or booking excursions with outside operators could be costly and risky. If you don't set your phone to airplane mode, you may rack up overseas roaming charges.