Can I Use My Phone? Guide to Cell Phone Access on an Alaskan Cruise

Can you use your phone on an Alaskan cruise?

Phone usage during a cruise is one of the most common questions that people have when they are ready to board the ship. These days our phones are so much more than just a way to call back home. They represent a way to keep up with our lives back in the real world, whether that be just checking email, posting on social media, or even checking in on work.

Phone access on an Alaska cruise
Cruising Alaska offers stunning remoteness with beautiful views. But if you need to keep in touch, will your phone work?

For most cruises — like those that go to the Caribbean — the answer is pretty simple. Yes, your phone will work, but you either have to pay for and connect to wi-fi, use the expensive cellular networks on the ship (more on these later) or often pay international roaming charges when in port.

However, sailing on an Alaskan cruise is a different animal. Since you are traveling within the United States, that means your cell phone plan likely offers some service while in port. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as using your phone as you would at home.

Given that you will be traveling through international waters, rugged territory, and out of range of land-based towers, when and what service you have will be constantly changing. 

Here’s more information about us cell phone on an Alaskan cruise.

Traditional Cell Service While in Alaskan & Canadian Cruise Ports

Let’s start by discussing your cell service while in port. Alaskan cruises stop in ports like Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway. Since these are U.S. ports, your cell phone will work just as it would anywhere else in the United States — and have the same charges for data, texts, and calls.

Where you might run into an issue is with coverage. Within the port cities themselves, you should be fine on coverage, even getting high-speed data in many areas. Traveling outside of the ports will likely cause you to drop signal quickly, especially if taking an excursion to the wilderness.

In addition, your coverage is going to depend on your cell service provider. According to their coverage maps, each major company offers service in the Alaskan ports. You can see, however, that coverage definitely varies, with AT&T seeming to offer the widest service.

Cell service extends to the populated areas of Alaska, meaning you should be able to use your phone in port.

One thing to note, however, is that even if the map above shows service, it could still be spotty. For example, we personally use Mint Mobile, which is a discount carrier that’s part of the T-Mobile network. During a recent cruise our phone did not have coverage in some ports. However, we noticed that passengers with major carriers seemed able to connect.

Service in Canada
In addition, pretty much every cruise from Seattle to Alaska makes at least one stop in Canada. If you are in a Canadian port such as Vancouver or Victoria, then you will be connecting to Canadian cell towers and should have plenty of coverage as these are major cities.

Unless you have international plan or a provider who allows you to call in Canada at no additional charge (many do), then you are going to be charged for international roaming.

The good news is that cell phone companies seem to be adding service in Canada and Mexico to some plans for no extra charge. If not, keep in mind as well that cell providers have international plans that you can purchase for one month which will help bring your per-minute prices down.

It may be that for a one-time monthly fee of only $5-10, you are able to use your phone in a Canadian port when you visit. Just check with your provider before you sail.

Cell Service While on the Cruise Ship

Your coverage gets tricky when you are at sea, and it’s something you should be careful to notice before using your phone.

Since the Alaskan Passage is a relatively small area compared to the open ocean, there might be spots that you can pick up cell service while you are at sea. You’ll want to check at the top of your phone for the name of the network to make sure it’s your carrier before using.

When out of range of land-based cell towers, you can still use your phone if needed, but it will be through service provided on the cruise ship. 

In this case, your carrier bills you at special international roaming rates. We’ve looked up the rates for the big three carriers:

Rates for pay-as-you-go service on the ship (subject to change). Providers also often have international/bundle plans for ships that can make prices less expensive.

Don’t want to pay these high rates? Some cell providers also have cruise packages that are designed to work on the ship. By paying a set amount ahead of time, you can get service on the ship without worrying about your bill. Just know that it can be pricey.

For instance, AT&T offers a $100 plan that gives you 200MB of data and unlimited talk and text on most cruise ships. You’ll want to get in touch with your provider for more details of their specific plan.

However, given the cost of the plans and service, it’s usually better just to wait until you can connect to a land-based tower in the U.S. or Canada, which is already part of your plan.

Smarter Option: Using the Ship’s Wi-Fi to Use Your Phone

If you’re on an Alaskan cruise, we’d actually suggest using the wi-fi on the ship to keep in touch.

One big change that’s come to cruising in the past decade is the proliferation of wi-fi. What used to be a novelty on cruise ships is now a near necessity. Every major cruise line and ship will offer wi-fi service, usually costing about $15-25 per day.

With online access, there are a number of phones and apps — such as WhatsApp — that allow you to send texts and even make calls through your wi-fi connection.

In other words, instead of expensive per-minute cell service or worrying about roaming, connecting to the ship’s wi-fi gives you an opportunity to keep in touch back home without paying high per-minute rates.

Then, when off the ship in port, you can use your phone as normal assuming there is service and your plan includes the area you are visiting.

How to Avoid Surprise Charges

Unfortunately, we have heard horror stories of people being surprised by high bills on their cell plans after cruising. Whether it be calls made on one network that switches to another network during the call, or apps sucking up data without the user knowing, there are ways that you can get a much higher bill than you expected.

For that reason, we suggest turning your phone into airplane mode while you are aboard the ship (wi-fi will still work when the phone is in airplane mode). When you are on shore in Alaskan ports, then you can use your phone as normal without having to worry about overages.

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