When I first started cruising back in 1998, there were two ways for passengers to keep in touch with the outside world: send a telex, or use the stateroom telephone. Typically, passengers tended to use neither. One minute of phone time was the equivalent cost of a martini, and Telex wasn’t practical for most people. The first proper “internet cafe” onboard a cruise ship didn’t make its first appearance until 1999, when Norwegian Cruise Line featured one aboard the then-new Norwegian Sky.
That was just 15 years ago. Today, people can keep in touch over email, Facebook, and just about every other form of communication via the internet. And yet, shipboard internet access – from the cost to the relatively slow speed – is one of the largest and most enduring complaints among cruise ship passengers. I’ve seen analysis of some of those ‘end-of-cruise surveys’ that passengers fill out; believe it or not, the internet trumps nearly every other facet of operations in terms of complaints.
It’s not just specific to one particular voyage. Take a peek at the boards on CruiseCritic, and you’ll see people complaining bitterly about the cost of onboard internet, which can run into the hundreds of dollars on a typical weeklong voyage depending on how much time you want to spend online.
Few passengers, however, understand why that internet is so expensive.
In order to access the internet onboard a cruise ship, guests have to do so via satellites. There’s no high-speed fibre-optic uplink at sea – just satellites. And if you spend some time on the upper deck of your cruise ship, you can see those satellite domes looking like oversized golf balls, ready to be tee’d up.
MTN Satellite Communicationsis one of the largest providers of shipboard onboard internet. Chances are, if you look up at those satellite domes, you’ll see the company’s blue initials decaled on the side. They were the first company to place a satellite aboard a cruise ship (in 1991), and they continue to develop new satellite technology to this day.