New mobile communication devices are entering the market at such a quick pace that the number of cruise passengers boarding a ship with a smartphone, tablet, laptop or all the above in tow is higher than it’s ever been. As the cruise lines themselves catch up with new technologies, it’s important as consumers to be wise in how to use the systems onboard to connect.
As a quick primer, most ships have two wireless networks that can be joined onboard: Wi-Fi and cellular. Both predominantly utilize a satellite connection and, because of their bandwidth limitations, cost considerably more for travelers to use than shoreside equivalents. Many devices can join both, one or the other, or neither, and it’s important to know when and how to configure them accordingly.
Don’t Be Afraid
Reports of astronomical roaming charges are enough to scare anyone into keeping their phone exclusively on “airplane mode” as a precaution to avoid any such fees, but merely turning on your cellular or Wi-Fi antenna does not necessarily mean charges are automatically on their way. Cellular is the one you have to be the most careful with, though, as any unforeseen incoming calls and texts will incur charges as well as any you place out.
Only Join Cellular If You Intend to Call or Text Out
Turning your cellular antenna on and joining the network likes of “Cellular at Sea” on a ship is the equivalent of roaming internationally, and will cost accordingly when placing a call or sending a text. Therefore, this connection should be used sparingly. Apple users can iMessage other Apple users over Wi-Fi instead of texting as an alternative as well.
Interestingly, Wireless Maritime Services and the “Cellular at Sea” network are actually part of AT&T, and the company’s cellular customers can save by purchasing a discounted package as you might internationally. The tiered structures include varying combinations of included talk time, texts and data usage.
Take Advantage of Free Wi-Fi Services
Alternatively, there are no inbound nor outbound penalties for simply joining the ship’s guest Wi-Fi network. In fact, there are many services available via native and web apps that freely utilize the wireless network.
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