If you’re a first-time cruiser, understanding the basics of cruise ship wifi is essential and can be eyewateringly expensive if you don’t get to grips with how it all works. Repeat cruisers who have paid through the nose for poor wifi services in the past are becoming savvier and discovering simple ways of accessing cruise ship wifi without paying sky-high charges. This article deatils our best cruise ship wifi tips and advice.
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Surfing the web, engaging with your favourite social media channels or simply checking emails on some cruise ships still requires patience (and some skills).
Onboard technological improvements on many vessels combined with new satellite and direct ship-to-shore systems improve internet access on your cruise, but it is still not close to what you would expect at home.
Hopefully, this article will guide you through all the ins and outs of wifi on cruise ships. Here are 10 things you should know about the Internet onboard before you set sail.
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Cruise Ship WIFI is not as Fast as at Home
All cruise ships today provide access to the Internet via onboard wifi services. But you should not expect the experience to be as smooth and reliable as you have come to expect at home.
The typical internet connection has been poor and very expensive for most of the years we have been cruising. You would try to access your favourite sites or download your emails and then wait and hope something would happen.
Worse still, this poor experience cost lots of money. You would often give up and try again, feeling frustrated and robbed of your hard-earned cash.
Speedy Internet or Not?
So why is it that internet speeds are so slow?
Firstly, there is no cable connection running to your cruise ship. For the most part, every packet of data you download to your phone, iPad, or computer is provided via a satellite connection, which, due to bandwidth limitations, is inherently slow and more expensive.
The maritime communication industry has steadily improved internet connectivity over the past few years. Some novel innovations include linking systems to land-based towers connecting with ships near shore and adding more satellites.
Up to a point, satellites are fine, but several limitations affect their performance. Firstly, a cruise ship needs to have a direct line of sight to a satellite to access data, which is not always possible based on the ship’s location in relation to the nearest satellite.
Ships can lose their satellite signal due to the local terrain or close to surrounding mountains or glaciers. There are also some areas in the world where satellite coverage is almost non-existent, which prevents internet access for cruise ships. We were recently on a cruise in the Arctic, and there was no internet access for five days due to no satellite within range.
Internet connectivity on cruise ships is improving, but the reality is that it will never be as fast or reliable as your home broadband service.
Cruise Ship wifi internet speed is getting faster
On some cruise ships, wifi has become so much faster that you can now stream Netflix from the comfort of your stateroom, which could only have been dreamt about a few years back
New satellites and improved technology are really leading to vast improvements in the wifi service offered to guests.
Royal Caribbean Group has announced a plan to implement SpaceX’s Starlink product, an ultra-high-speed system which will offer a better onboard experience for guests and crew fleetwide.
Carnival Corporation has also announced an agreement to bring next-generation of internet connectivity across its global fleet, the latest in a series of moves that have nearly tripled ship bandwidth since 2019.
The company has signed a new agreement with SpaceX’s Starlink, the leader in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology, to provide faster service, greater capacity and more reliable Wi-Fi on a global scale.
Fleet roll-out of Starlink began in December 2022 with Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises ships, with plans to expand Starlink to several of the company’s other world-class cruise brands, which include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, P&O Cruises (Australia), Costa Cruises, P&O Cruises (UK) and Cunard.
Cruise internet costs have come down
Not so long ago, you had to pay a small fortune to use the wifi to access the Internet on a cruise ship. For years, the base rate for onboard wifi started at around 75 cents a minute which is close to $50 for a single hour online!
This old pay-as-you-go-by-the-minute system, whereby even the most modest of users could end up with a sky-high bill, has made way for more straightforward and affordable plans on many lines.
How much does wifi cost on a cruise today? Like most cruise-related costs, this does vary all the time, so it is essential to check this before you travel.
As a rough guide, on a Royal Caribbean Cruise, you should expect to pay $26 for a single-day pass for the Surf package or $33 for the Surf + Stream Package.
Free Internet for Some
One of the most common questions asked by new cruisers is how to get internet on a cruise ship for free. Good question. Perhaps the most significant change we have seen in recent years is that many Luxury Cruise lines have begun offering internet access for free. Celebrity Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises are among the lines now, including free internet access as part of the cruise fare.
You can pay extra for faster service at some of these lines, such as Celebrity Cruises, Regent and Silversea. 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.
Apps offer an alternative to paid cruise wifi
The recent introduction by many cruise lines of free apps that allow you to make reservations and view your onboard account and other services is taking off in a big way.
As these apps develop, you will find more and more innovation with what they offer, including deck plans, daily activity schedules, port maps and much more. The good news is that although these apps use the ship’s wifi, you don’t need to purchase a package to use them. They are free!
You Might Also Like: Download our FREE Cruise Packing List
How to Avoid Unwanted Charges
Whether or not you’re purchasing a wifi plan on a cruise ship, I have one solid piece of advice. Always make sure you set your phone to ‘airplane mode’ the second you step on board your cruise ship; it is best to leave it there throughout your voyage,
Important: This is the one thing to do to avoid enormous, unwanted data charges.
If you must leave your mobile/gsm service on during your cruise, you should at least turn your mobile data off, which will stop apps from running in the background and burning through the data
I find it easier just to hit the airplane mode button. Once in airplane mode, I reactivate the wifi option on my phone to access the cruise wifi, depending on your plan, as this lets you stay in touch via email or WhatsApp. FaceTime calls can be a challenge as they use a lot of bandwidth.
Use Free Shoreside wifi
Free wifi is usually available in each of the ports your cruise ship calls at, and it’s generally straightforward to find. A telltale sign that there is free wifi is when you see many crew members ashore in the cruise terminal on their phones. They generally know where to find free wifi services.
If you’re ok with checking your social media accounts and email whilst your ship is in port, this is an excellent option to get free Wi-Fi on your cruise.
Ways to save wifi 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 emails, 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, which you can save in your outbox. When you are finished, log on again, and let your emails all send. Suppose you plan to read a web page, load that page and then log off. After logging off, you will have plenty of time to read the page.
Other ways to access wifi on a cruise ship
If the ship is in port or close enough to land, you may be able to utilize the local 4G/5G network on your mobile phone. On some routes, cruise ships will remain close to the land network, and with an international data plan, you can use the package you purchased.
If you are on a river cruise, the river will generally be close to a local mobile phone network service, so there is a good chance there is a signal with access to data services.
You might like to consider using a Mobile Hotspot device like the GlocalMe Triforce 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot.
With built-in data and no need to insert a local SIM card – simply turn it on, set it up, and use! However, if you do want to use a local SIM card, the GlocalMe 3 has two SIM slots. It offers connections to the high-speed internet connection in more than 140 countries around the world. You do need to be close to land for these devices to work.
Cruise Ship Wifi & Internet Final Thoughts
Understanding how cruise ship wifi and cruise internet systems work is essential if you are to avoid some potentially high charges. Hopefully, this article will help you enjoy the benefits of cruise ship wifi without the heartache of unexpected bills on your phone or while onboard the ship.
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Last update on 2024-03-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API