Internet At Sea: All You Need To Know
If you are interested in taking a cruise ship tour, I can safely assume that you are from the older generation. Now I would not be surprised if you remember the good old times without any buzzing smartphones, people reading a physical newspaper instead scrolling down their news feed on Facebook, kids playing together and not on their Nintendo Switch or PS Vita. The list goes on and on.
Nonetheless, the internet and the technological advancement has become a daily norm, not only in our private life but also at work. Years ago, you were unaware of the work piling up. Nowadays, most people have a hard time not checking their phones every 15 minutes. Checking emails, important calls or text friends/family for a quick update.
You'd like to take a cruise ship tour but you must use internet once in a while. The good news is that most cruise ships nowadays offer WiFi for internet at sea! Cruise ship companies and other maritime companies are working hard together to create a reliable internet network solely for cruise ships while reducing the price of their internet packages. Still we are far away from being on the level as our onshore internet as the cruise ship's WiFi can be slow and unreliable.
With only a few exceptions, all big cruise ship companies are planning to improve their service drastically by upgrading their fleet so you can send emails, Skype or use other streaming services while being on board. But still, and it won't change for a long time, the further you are out on sea, the worse the internet will be.
We don't want you to end up in frustration because of a bad internet experience. Here are the 6 things you need to know about internet at sea.
Internet at sea will never be as reliable as on shore
The internet at sea will never be as good as the internet at home at the current technological standpoint. Internet is provided by communicating with a satellite by an antenna on the cruise. The antennas transmit signals from the ship to a satellite and the satellite then sends a signal back to the ship’s antenna.
Cruise ship companies have been trying to improve the internet service for a while now. The bandwidth transmitted with each communication attempt with the satellite has increased and ships are now communicating with on-shore towers to provide internet if close enough. The biggest enemy of internet reliability is not having a clean path between the antenna and satellite. For a clean internet connection, the ship’s antenna needs to have a clear sight of the satellite.
Yes, the ocean is big and there should be enough place, but in countries like Norway, the mountains surrounding the fjords can be enough to obstruct the internet signal completely. On certain cruise ships, it can even be the own mast or funnel blocking the communication with the satellite. Additionally, if the ship has to suddenly change its course of direction, you will experience an abrupt loss of internet connection.
Bad weather can have an impact on the quality of the internet connection depending on the strength of the signal sent from the ship’s antenna. Bad weather has the additional side effect that most ship passenger will use this time to use the internet. Data congestion due to the high amount of passengers using the internet can significantly slow down the internet speed. This can be extremely frustrating if you are cruising along the shore thinking you should have a much better connection being so close to the civilization.
Prices are going but still...
Satellites are expensive! A single cruise line cannot afford to have their own satellite in space. Therefore, cruise lines are working together with other maritime companies that fully own satellites. Cruise companies are cutting down on the prices for the internet as they start to use hybrid systems in which expensive satellite connections are combined with cheaper onshore internet.
Some selected cruise ships are already able to offer Social Media Internet packages for as low as $5 a day. That's only Social Media though and it does not take a lot of bandwidth. Once you to use Skype or other data-heavy applications, you are expected to pay up to $25 per day for total internet access (Social Media, Email, Websites and Streaming Services). This bandwidth is only available for a few selected cruise ships as of right now as it will still take a long time for all the cruise companies to upgrade their existing fleet. Only those who actually focus on improving their internet service. There are companies out there that do nothing and actually increased their pricing.
How much can you be expected to pay for an internet connection that is mostly unreliable? The traditional charge by minute is still available and the industry standard is somewhere around 75 cents. On many ships, you can either buy packages (minute packages or MB packages) or simply pay by MB also. 1 MB costs you around 35 cents which would last 30 minutes browsing down your feed on Facebook or Skype with friends and family for about 4 minutes.
The smartest ways to get online on board
If you hate slow internet, the best solution for you is to use the internet when only a few passengers are online. Late at night or sitting in the port are the best times to do so. The first is especially important as know already that the bandwidth is limited for the whole ship. The more people want to use the same amount of bandwidth, the less the individual will receive resulting in a slow internet connection.
If possible, try to work as much as you can offline on your own laptop and wait for the cruise ship to be sailing close to the shore. Most likely, the cruise ship will switch from a satellite internet connection to the onshore internet connection. Meaning, it will be much faster and if you paid by the minute, you will get more bang for the buck. It will save you time & money. If you were thinking, that the LAN connection might be able to increase your speed, then I'm sorry to disappoint you. You won't feel any difference, not even the slightest.
The other option would be to simply just wait. Enjoy the internet-free time offshore and simply relax until you arrive back at the port for a short stop. In most cases, you will be able to find free WiFi access or much cheaper internet access on land. Best and cheapest option to quickly check if everything is okay back home. If you don't want to rely on your luck to find internet on shore, check out our Pocket WiFi's. We offer reliable internet on shore in over 100+ countries with up to 1GB daily data volume starting from 7,90€/day. If you don't know what a Pocket WiFi is, then you can learn more about it here.
Cruise ships are working hard to improve their service
Some cruise ships companies are trying really hard to improve their internet service and have come up with a few optimizing solutions for better internet at sea. A special device is recognizing which webpages are the most popular. Those frequently accessed webpages are being stored (Facebook, Newspapers, etc) offline. This helps to load the skeleton of the webpage much faster before it needs to connect to the internet. Therefore, this data is not accessed every single time some passenger decides to visit the page but instead it is stored already. This results in a much faster page loading time.
Other special devices are there to assign requested internet traffic into certain groups. For example, the passenger will have the highest priority on board and can use up to 80% of the total available bandwidth. The mail server only gets 5%, so that big attachments won't use up the whole bandwidth destroy the internet experience for others. Not only can they assign groups but also give certain traffic priority. For example, the sales office has the highest priority to always be able to quickly check the availability. It has been said, that these little innovations already helped the cruise ship companies to save up to 70% on the data consumption and faster loading times.
Don't expect quality streaming
There are data-hungry application such as Facebook or Skype. They are perfect for a quick chat with your friends, family, colleagues or clients. Some cruise ship companies are blocking these application due to their heavy data consumption. Both applications can detect limited bandwidth capacities and try to get as much as they can when used with the video function. It's due to their nature of how these applications have been programmed.
Only a few people using Skype can literally kill the internet connection on the cruise ship. Only a few cruise ships around the world do not block Facebook, Skype or YouTube as they can provide enough bandwidth but you get charged more to be able to use it.
Save money by saving mobile data on board
Just do not use roaming on board of a cruise ship for internet at sea. You will hate yourself afterwards. It is probably the most expensive way to rack up for your phone bill within the shortest period of time as you get charged by two companies. First you signal is being sent/received by a small tower on the ship. This signal is being sent to a satellite and from there redirected to the land. First, you pay for this service and then for the roaming charges.
You will not be able to tell from the bill you receive later but both companies will get their fair share. If you want to be 100% sure, that you won't collect any roaming costs, then turn off your phone completely. Otherwise, turn off mobile data consumption and only leave WiFi connection. Make sure that you will never connect to the mobile internet provided by the cruise ship. The paid internet on board will always be cheaper compared to your roaming charges. Last but not least, you can always connect to the internet when you are onshore again.
Quick Summary and Other Tips & Tricks
Turn off your mobile data while being onboard!
The cruise ship has it own cellular network antenna and turns on as soon as you are few miles offshore. There are many tips and tricks how you can save mobile data but data is always being use in the background. As explained before, the roaming charges are especially expensive when you are on board of a cruise ship.
If you are traveling with children, be sure to check their mobile data setting once in a while. There are instances where children accidentally turn the mobile data usage on again and the parents were surprised by the high phone bills when coming back from the holiday. Better be safe than sorry.
Find free WiFi
Every once in a while, the cruise ship will take a stop in the port. That's your chance to go and explore the city or to find free WiFi options. Ask the crew members where to find free WiFi and they will be happy to direct you into the right direction. Otherwise just ask locals that are walking around. Almost every time, you will be able to find something.
Take advantage of WiFi Calling
If your phone features the option, then use WiFi calling. In case, the cruise ship internet connection is fast enough, you can use WiFi calling to call and text someone onshore without using the cellar network. Be sure that this feature is enabled on your smartphone to take full advantage of it. Learn more about WiFi calling here.
Call your network carrier
Ask your carrier about the details of your contract. Different rates apply to different phones/contracts and can also differ from what is being advertise on the website.
Pack your bags, enjoy your once in a lifetime journey and don't forget to anything to bring along with you.
*Unlimited internet with Daily Fair Usage Policy applies. Europe & USA: 1GB in 4G/LTE - Mexico : 2GB - South East Asia, Japan & China: Unlimited 4G/LTE - Rest of the world: 500MB in 4G /LTE. Throttled speed of up to 512kbps afterwards.