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, a lot of information is out there, and sometimes it isn’t easy 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 want to sign off and unplug during their cruise holiday.
But some of us want 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 while 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 to access 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.
Because the cost is the same as long as we stay within our coverage area, and today, the coverage region often extends to the size of countries and beyond.
But this behavior does not translate well when 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 costly if you are not careful. You will now incur what is called roaming charges. And you do not want that.
Roaming is when you can make and receive phone calls and use the internet while being outside your own ISP’s coverage area.
And for this “additional access,” you will incur an extra cost. And it can be substantial.
When you are traveling 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 on your phone.
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 serious 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 battery-draining features on your phone. It will also allow your phone to charge quicker.
We also recommend deactivating any apps you do not need to use while 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 talk to your provider before you leave home about an international plan.
But 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 you are in the port and can find a cafe, hotel, or venue that offers free WiFi
Cruise internet packages and 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 ship’s WiFi service.
When you connect to the WiFi onboard the ship, you no longer have to worry about which ISP is used.
Much like when using WiFi at home, you are now simply connecting to a local internet onboard the ship.
But beware, these internet packages on board can be pricy.
Look at the price of your package and decide how much you really will use the internet. Only you can determine if you feel that you will get value for your money.
Sometimes you can find the best prices around Black Friday, when the cruise line may offer special deals on internet packages.
- When you purchase a cruise internet package, you can use the internet onboard the cruise ship via your smartphone, laptop, or tablet. Cruise ship internet uses satellite technology. Depending on where you are cruising, the internet can be weak sometimes, so be patient if this happens.
- Cruise internet packages are purchased for a certain number of devices per cabin. A device is 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 given time, you can share the password and log in from any device – but only one person at a time.
- When I travel with my family, we are two adults and two teenagers. We find buying one internet package for two devices is enough for us. But that means only 2 of us can use our internet anytime. That works just fine for our family, as while 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 buy it on board.
We strongly recommend deciding 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 favorable 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, savings are sometimes 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 a fast, accessible internet connection when we are home and barely give it a moment’s thought.
Connection speeds onboard cruise ships do vary. It depends on the cruise ship and also where you are sailing. If all you need is to read your emails, peek at your Facebook account, or check in online for your flight, then the internet on board is usually sufficient.
Many cruise lines, however, still struggle with enough internet speed to support streaming or chat services.
Royal Caribbean’s ships are usually the best at sea with internet connection. The fastest internet we have ever had while on a cruise is aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships in the Mediterranean.
Now, with Royal Caribbeans planned onboard internet via SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, things are destined to improve significantly.
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 pay the difference.
Alternatively, see if you can get On Board Credit (pocket money to spend on board the ship) included 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 to link to free WiFi when your ship 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 hotel lobbies. Beware if you are in more remote places, out in Alaska or the Artic Circle; for example, you may sometimes have zero connection.
Contact your cell phone provider and internet provider before your leave home
Remember to speak to your cell phone service provider before leaving home. You may want to consider signing up for an international calling plan. Check what the plan includes and if it applies 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 when on vacation to avoid expensive international roaming rates.
There is mixed information on whether these plans work. You are relying on your provider to offer internet coverage at sea rather than going through the cruise line’s service provided 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 to stay in touch with family members. Using the app, you have all the information about your cruise at your fingertips, including onboard activities, restaurant menus, excursion information, and much more.
Royal Caribbean International App
Princess Cruises MedallionClass App
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 and paid for? That all-important break from the ordinary every day of work life.
It’s healthy and 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 willingness to do so. Here are some of the best tips to make that happen.
Best tips for really unplugging on your cruise
- Ask yourself what you need to stay in touch for. If it’s work, delegating as much as possible before you start your vacation is essential.
- If you do not have a private email address separate from work, 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. You will soon forget the urge to check in a few days. And it’s liberating.
- Buy a paperback book from the bestseller list that you haven’t read and pack it in your suitcase. Yes, a physical book with actual 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 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.