Calling all cruisers: Tips and tactics for onboard cellphone use
Embark on almost any cruise, and you’ll return with many memories, including midnight buffets, poolside cocktails, once-in-a-lifetime shore excursions and, if you’re not careful, an astronomical cellphone bill. While many cruise lines offer budget-friendly options for cellphone users, most carriers charge massive roaming fees for customers traveling upon the high seas. But don’t toss your cellphone overboard just yet – there are still plenty of ways to stay connected while cruising without breaking the bank.
Onboard cell service
Passengers have access to onboard cellphone service, including incoming/outgoing calls, SMS and data, if their providers work in conjunction with at-sea networks, which are available in international waters. Cellphone providers set the rates for usage while onboard, and roaming fees are typically very high. When docked at a port or on a shore excursion, travelers connect to a country’s local network and incur standard roaming fees.
Internet packages and free calling apps
Many cruise lines offer internet packages for portable devices, although the service is not always available on every ship. Onboard internet service is usually very slow, and cruise lines may restrict high bandwidth content. Internet packages are available for purchase ahead of time or once onboard. Packages are also sold by the day, minute or bandwidth, depending on the cruise line. Some packages are based on the level of accessible content. For instance, the least-expensive plans may grant access to social media sites but little else, while the most-expensive plans may include free text messaging and calling apps, such as WhatsApp and FaceTime, respectively.
Ways to cut cellphone costs
Passengers who don’t purchase internet packages and want to avoid high roaming fees should turn their phones completely off or set them to airplane mode. Unanswered phone calls, voicemails or text messages or scheduled app updates may result in roaming charges. Internet package users should also set their phones to airplane mode while connecting to the Wi-Fi network. Phones on airplane mode remain connected to the internet while avoiding roaming charges.
Some cellphone carriers offer special cruises packages, in which calls, texts and voicemail service are available over the internet with reduced roaming fees.
Many cruises give personal devices free access to the cruise line’s website, where passengers can text their fellow shipmates, view onboard menus, find information on shore excursions and explore various ship activities. The Disney Cruise Line also offers the Wave Phone, a complimentary device that allows phone calls and text messages between passengers throughout the ship and on Castaway Cay, Disney’s privately owned island in the Bahamas.
Other things to consider
Cellphones will work onboard for simple, non-Wi-Fi-enabled tasks, such as taking pictures, setting the alarm or listening to previously downloaded music or podcasts.
Not all providers grant roaming privileges to prepaid plans, and most do not include international roaming fees as part of an unlimited data or calling plan. Toll-free numbers also are not free while onboard a cruise ship and qualify for roaming charges.