Hopping aboard a cruise ship and sailing off into the sunset is a great way to get away from it all. In fact, a cruise ship may be one of the few vacation destinations left where your cell phone won’t keep buzzing during dinner! However, if you do want to stay in touch during your vacation at sea, there are lots of easy ways to do so, and many of them are free or reasonably priced.
Just about every cruise ship offers a free daily newsletter that is compiled from various wire services. The newsletter is usually two-to-four pages long and contains brief stories from the world of news, sports, business and entertainment.
On larger ships with international clientele, several editions of these newsletters are produced in different languages and with information aimed specifically at passengers from various countries including the U.S., Canada, England, France, Spain and Germany. Some ships deliver the newsletter directly to your cabin, while others leave them at various points around the vessel for pick up. The only downside is that the news can be a few days old by the time the newsletter is printed and distributed.
Most ships also have their own daily bulletins that list the various activities onboard as well as important information ashore in each port of call.
Some cruise lines such as Princess offer a mobile app where passengers can find the latest schedule of daily activities and events, from entertainment and dining to shopping and port information while onboard. You’ll even have instant access to your stateroom account.
Satellite Television News & Sports
Modern cruise ships come equipped with televisions in every cabin that carry a small selection of specialty channels via satellite including all-news stations like CNN and the BBC, and one or more sports station. Most ships will also carry broadcasts of special sporting events like the Super Bowl. While satellite service can be unreliable depending on weather and the ship’s position, it’s usually good enough to keep passengers up to date on breaking news at no cost.
Almost all cruise lines offer online connections via satellite in an Internet café or at Wi-Fi hot points throughout the ship (including in some of the most expensive cabins). You can bring your own device (laptop, iPad, etc.) or use one of the laptops in the ship’s internet café.
The service costs anywhere from 40 to 65 cents per minute depending on the type of Internet package purchased (the more time you buy in a package, the lower the per minute cost). Internet speeds can vary, and at times be unreliable (with some broken connections) depending on the location of the ship. Most cruise lines don’t offer speeds that support streaming services like Netflix. However, Royal Caribbean has a relatively affordable high-speed service called Voom that can support some video and music streaming, and which the line claims is the fastest Wi-Fi at sea.
If you want to send and receive email (including photos), make sure you already have an email account with a reliable supplier (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) as most ships will not provide you with one. If you do want to send photos of your trip back to loved ones, it’s a lot faster and cheaper to send them in a smaller pixel format.
Beware that the Internet service on most cruise ships requires you to log in to your account and start using your allotted time before you can draft an email. So consider drafting your email in advance and then pasting it into your email. Also, make sure you log out of your account when finished to avoid unnecessary charges.
Media Aggregation Sites
One of the best sources at sea for up-to-date news and information is a media aggregation site. These sites scan all the breaking news and business information throughout the day and night and then provide online links to the best stories, columns, blogs, and photos. This allows you to quickly find information that is relevant to you without wasting lots of time and money. You can also print selected information if you use the computers in the ship’s Internet Café.
Two of the best media aggregation sites in North America are: www.bourque.com which specializes in Canadian news, and www.drudgereport.com which specializes in American news. Both also carry a wide variety of international news and opinions.
Almost every ship has in-cabin telephones that can be used to access the maritime satellite network to call anywhere in the world. They also allow incoming calls if you provide the necessary contact information with friends and family (this information is usually in your cruise documents). But beware that satellite telephone service is expensive – usually costing anywhere from US$6 to $15 per minute.
I never thought of this until my daughter Lindsay tried it on a cruise our family took together. Using the Skype service on her computer and time from her Internet package, she was able to see and talk to people on their computer back home for no added cost. And for a flat fee of just US$10 per call, she was able to contact people on their telephones from her computer. The line clarity wasn’t great and she had several broken connections, but Skype proved to be much more cost effective than using the ship’s telephone service.
A number of ships offer cell phone service via satellite connection and external providers onshore. The cost of this service is about US$2 to $5 dollars per minute and is billed to your cell phone account. Make sure you have the right type of phone (check your cruise line’s website) and don’t forget to bring your charger. If you plan to do a lot of calling, my advice is to use a pay phone onshore.