Free Wifi On Cruise Ships – is it possible?

Is it possible to get free WiFi on cruise ships? How do cruise internet packages work and are they worth the cost? Information about free WiFi and internet packages are some of the most popular questions by cruise travelers.

After all, there is a lot of information out there and sometimes it’s difficult to understand how it all works. Read on for tips, advice and the facts you should know before you cruise.

Connecting to the internet via WiFi

Some people just want to sign off and unplug during their cruise holiday.

But there are also some of us that want to have that connection to friends and family back home. For others there may be some urgent work emails that just can’t be left alone.

But connecting to the internet to keep in touch on a cruise, whilst moving from port to port, and country to country, can be expensive.

At home, we nowadays move around freely with our different devices. We seamlessly connect to our WiFi for access to all our favorite apps and programs.

Should we venture far from home our devices will instead connect to our ISP (Internet Service Provider) that today, in most places, also serves as your phone company.

And we move between these areas without a thought.

Why?

Because the cost is the same as long as we stay within our area of coverage. And today the region of coverage often extends to the size of countries and beyond.

But this behavior does not translate well when being on board a cruise ship.

Roaming charges and how to avoid them when on a cruise

Cruise ships at sea move from one area of ISP coverage to another. And most of the time you will not have an agreement with the ISPs being used while on board the cruise ship.

And this is where it can get really expensive if you are not careful. You will now incur what is called roaming charges. And you do not want that.

Roaming is, simply put, when you can make and receive phone calls as well as use the Internet while being outside your own ISPs area of coverage.

And for this “additional access” you will incur an extra cost. And it can be substantial.

When you are travelling overseas, turn off your data roaming. You do this via Settings on your mobile telephone. Usually you find this under Mobile Data or Cellular Data but this varies depending upon which phone you have. 

When you have turned off data roaming, this means that data will only be received and sent when you have access to WiFi. Thus avoiding heavy overseas charges and a nasty bill from your provider when you return home.

Activate Airplane Mode on your mobile phone. This disconnects you from cellular mode and turns off many of the battery-draining features on your phone. It will also allow you phone to charge quicker.

No internet connection with airplane mode activated
Trying to search with Airplane Mode activated to confirm no Internet connection on smartphone

We also recommend that you deactivate any apps that you do not need to use whilst on vacation. Or, at the very least, turn off notifications.

When you have turned off roaming or activated Airplane mode you should always verify that it works as intended. Try browsing the Internet and accessing apps and you should get a warning stating "No Internet connection" or something similar to that effect.

Talk to your provider before you leave home

Alternatively, you can of course talk to your provider before you leave home about an international plan.

But do let them know you are going on a cruise and have multiple destinations. Find out if they have an international plan to suit you and at what cost.

How to connect to the Internet when onboard

If you need to connect to the Internet you should always:

  • Connect to the ships WiFi service OR
  • Wait until you can use WiFi during excursions when on land OR
  • Wait until your are in the port and can find a cafe, hotel or venue that offers free WiFi

Cruise internet packages and using WiFi onboard

The easiest way to keep in touch with family and friends back home is by buying a cruise internet package. That way you can connect to the ships WiFi service.

When you connect to the WiFi onboard the ship you no longer have to worry about which ISP that is being used.

Much like when you are using WiFi at home, you are now simply connecting to a local internet connection onboard the ship.

But beware, these internet packages on board can by pricy.

Look at the price of your package and decide how much you really will use the internet. Only you can decide if you really feel that you will get value for your money.

Sometimes you can find the best prices around Black Friday, when the cruise line may offers special deals on internet packages.

  • When you purchase a cruise internet package, you can use the internet onboard the cruise ship via your smartphone, your laptop or your tablet. Cruise ship internet uses satellite technology. Depending upon where you are cruising, internet can be weak at times, so be patient if this happens.
  • Cruise internet packages are purchased for a certain number of devices per cabin. A device being your cell phone, your laptop or your tablet.
  • You choose how many devices you want to enable and the price varies accordingly. If only one of you needs to be online at any one given time, then you can share the password and login from any of your devices – but only one person at a time.
  • When I travel with my family, we are 2 adults and 2 teenagers, we find buying one internet package for 2 devices is enough for us. But that means only 2 of us can use our internet at any given time. That works just fine for our family, as whilst we want to stay connected we certainly don’t need to be online all the time.

Purchase before you leave home

Your cruise internet package can either be purchased before you travel through your cruise planner, or alternatively you can purchase it on board.

We strongly recommend that you decide what kind of package you want before you cruise and book from home. The packages are expensive, but most often the price will be more favourable if you book before you leave home than waiting until you are on board.

Also check with the cruise line regarding combination or package deals. For example there are, sometimes, savings to be made if you purchase a beverage package in combination with a WiFi package, instead of booking/paying for these separately.

Not all cruise internet packages are created equal

Most of us are spoilt. We have fast, easy internet connection when we are home and barely give it a moments thought.

Connection speed onboard cruise ships does vary. It depends on the cruise ship and also where you are sailing. If all you need is to read your emails, peak at your Facebook account or check in online for your flight, then the internet on board is usually sufficient.

Many cruise lines, however, still do not have the internet speed to support streaming or chat services.

Royal Caribbean’s ships are usually the best at sea with their internet connection. The fastest internet I have ever had while on a cruise is aboard Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas in the Mediterranean.

Even faster than on board Quantum class ships with high speed internet. You can forget about uploading long videos onto your YouTube channel or Instagram. Most likely the internet just won’t support this on board and it will be more frustrating than anything.

How to get free WiFi on cruise ships

Free is always better. The best option is to try and get a free internet package that offers free WiFi on cruise ships as part of your planning and booking. So look out for campaigns both before you book and even after you have booked your cruise.

If you are lucky enough to book with a package that offers free WiFi on cruise ships, it will stipulate exactly what it is you get (e.g. surf, social media etc) and for how many devices.

And if you want to upgrade it’s possible and you just pay the difference.

Alternatively see if you can get On Board Credit (pocket money to spend on board the ship) included free in your booking. This way you can use the credit to purchase an internet package.

Free WiFi in your port of call

To avoid all internet charges on vacation, instead of connecting to WiFi on cruise ships opt instead to connect to free WiFi when your ships docks at your port of call and you leave the cruise ship.

Often free WiFi is easy to find on public transport, in cafes, restaurants or in hotel lobbies. Just beware if you are in more remote places, out in Alaska or the Artic Circle for example, you may have zero connection at times.

Contact your cell phone provider and internet provider before your leave home

Do remember to speak to your cell phone service provider before you leave home. You may want to consider signing up for an international calling plan. Check what the plan includes and if it applies while in international waters and on land in ports.

Talk to them, tell them where you are going, and discuss the right plan for you or the right way when on vacation to avoid expensive international roaming rates.

There is mixed information on whether these plans work. Basically you are relying on your provider to offer internet coverage at sea, rather than going through the cruise line’s own service offered on board.

Download the cruise line app to stay connected on board

Always download the cruise lines’ branded app onto your mobile phone before you leave home. It is free of charge to use and can be used on board without WiFi.

It includes a free messaging system so that you can stay in touch with members of your family on board. Using the app you have all the information about your cruise at your finger tips – that includes on board activities, restaurant menus, excursion information and much more.

Royal Caribbean International App

Celebrity Cruises App

Norwegian Cruise Line App

Princess Cruises MedallionClass App

MSC Cruises App

P&O Cruises App

Holland America Line App

Cunard

Carnival

The need to connect versus the desire to switch off

While on vacation with family or friends, we all want to make the most of every minute. We all want to be in the moment, at all times, with a focus on having fun. Isn’t that what we have saved for and paid for? That all-important break from the ordinary everyday of worklife.

It’s healthy and it’s essential to our overall well-being to have a break, a change, and a different, slower pace. Even if only for a week or two.

There are ways that you can disconnect even if you are addicted to looking at your phone and checking for work messages at every opportunity. But it takes a willing to do so, and to want to. Here are some of the best tips to make that happen.

Best tips for really unplugging on your cruise

  • Ask yourself what you really need to stay in touch for. If it’s work, then of course delegating as much as possible before you start your vacation is essential.
  • If you do not have a private email address which is completely separate from work, then it’s time to set one up. That way you can set up an automatic Out Of Office response and then switch off the ability to check your work email from your cell phone.
  • You can use the private email address as somewhere to stash all your travel documents and booking confirmations from airlines, hotels and cruise lines.
  • Turn off notifications on your cell phone for just about everything.
  • Tell yourself that you will not miss not knowing what’s going on back home, with your friends on Facebook, or with events on Instagram. Because you won’t. In a few days you will soon forget the urge to check too. And it’s liberating.
  • Buy a paperback book from the best seller list that you haven’t read and pack it in your suitcase. Yes, a physical book with real pages. Or a book about the history of one of the many places you will visit on your cruise. Learn something new and enjoy being drawn into a whole new world of narrative.
  • Book a spa treatment. Or at the very least visit the spa on board. At least once.
  • Leave the laptop, tablet and iPad at home. A mobile cell phone is all you need.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..