At this point, it’s beyond the debate of having a cruise without bringing a phone. Phones are so much more than a simple device to call or text. Now they are our social lives, our entertainment devices, our cameras and more.
And while it’s a good idea to put the phone down for a while and enjoy your vacation, it’s also reasonable to wonder if your cell phone will work on a cruise.
The good news? Yes, you can use your phone on a cruise. The bad news? It might be expensive, and there are several details you need to know about how your phone uses cell service at sea before you get started.
Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about using your phone to call, text, and browse the web. In addition, we’ve added some specifics for certain cruise lines.
One thing to keep in mind is that Internet and cell phone service are regularly being updated on modern cruise ships. As time goes on, you can expect your access to improve.
How to Use Your Phone on a Cruise
First things first, you have to understand that there are no cell towers in the middle of the sea. Meanwhile, even the strongest cell towers with the best range in perfect conditions can only extend about 30-45 miles. In other words, in the first hour or two of your cruise, you’ll be too far away to pick up any reliable cell signal.
So what do you do in the middle of the water? To use your cell phone on your cruise, you have two options — either connect to the ship’s cellular service or connect to the ship’s wi-fi. Both will cost you extra.
Cellular Service on Ships
Today’s modern cruise ships use services such as “Cellular at Sea” or “Wireless Maritime Services”. There are service providers for cell signal. For the vast majority of plans, they are considered international roaming plans by your cell phone company and you will be charged accordingly for use. That said, you want to (or need to) you can simply make a phone call or send a text as you would back home — you’ll just be charged significantly more than usual.
Keep in mind that data service isn’t available through this method. For data, you’ll need to use a wi-fi plan (discussed below).
However, cell providers offer packages you help cruisers better budget. For example, AT&T offers several cruise ship packages, starting at $30. Meanwhile, Verizon offers pay-as-you-go pricing, which starts at $2.99 per minute.
In other words, if you use the ship’s cellular service, it’s considered international roaming and will cost you quite a bit of money. Luckily, there is a cheaper way to use your cell phone on the ship — wi-fi.
Wi-Fi Service to Use Your Phone on Ships
You likely know that instead of using a cell signal, you can hook your phone up to wi-fi and use the wi-fi service to make calls, send texts, and surf the web. You can do the same thing on a cruise ship.
Today’s cruise ships all come equipped with wi-fi, but there is a charge for passengers to use it. For example, Carnival offers three levels of service — Social ($5 per day), Value ($12 per day), and Premium ($17.70 per day) — which all offer different speeds and access.
Take Carnival’s cheapest “Social” wi-fi plan. It includes “[a]ccess the most popular social websites and applications including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, SnapChat and the most popular airline sites. Does not include access to most other websites or apps and does not support Skype calling or music/video streaming (such as Spotify, Hulu or Netflix). Cellular-network-dependent Wi-Fi calling, In-app calling, iMessage and Facetime services are also not supported.”
Higher levels provide more web access to all your favorite sites and higher speeds — including making calls from within communication apps like WhatsApp.
Just like at home, you can hook up to the ship’s wi-fi and use your phone as normal. Just keep in mind that you will want to ensure any calls you make are over wi-fi or else they will be considered international roaming calls if connected over the ship’s cellular service.
More details on specific ship wi-fi plans are featured later in this article.
Bottom line: Unless you want to talk with your phone, we’d recommend accessing the ship’s wi-fi with your phone instead. This gives you the ability to access the Internet, send messages, use apps, and even use in-app calling with some plans.
Using Your Phone in Port
While most of your time is spent on the ship, there will be large chunks of the day spent in port. You might wondering about using your phone during this portion of your cruise.
In port (and off of the ship’s cellular or wi-fi service), you phone will work just as if you had taken a flight to another country. That is to say you will be reliant on international cellular services.
The good news? Cell phone companies offer short-term international plans that are surprisingly affordable and provide calls, texts, and data.
In addition, many companies — such as T-Mobile — include calling in Mexico (home to several popular cruise ports) automatically in their plans. You can use the phone exactly as you would at home for no extra charges.
Below, we’ve charted out the cost for some international plans offered by cell phone companies. Remember that these prices could change, so you’ll want to contact your provider before heading out on your cruise.
Understand that this is only for service while onshore in a port. When you are on the ship, you will need to use the ship’s wi-fi or cellular service. It may be worth it to use just one service or another instead of paying for both during your cruise.
Using Your Phone on a Carnival Cruise
As mentioned above, we’d recommend using the ship’s wi-fi to use your phone. This will allow you to make calls (you may have to use an app like WhatsApp to do so), send message, email, and browse the web.
To access Carnival’s wi-fi, you’ll have to sign up for one of three packages:
Social ($5 per day) — Offers access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and more. It also provides access to airline sites. However, it doesn’t include access to most of the web, nor does it support in-app calling, streaming services (Netflix, Spotify, YouTube), or Skype.
Value ($12 per day) — Offers everything in the Social package, with the addition of popular news, weather, banking, finance, and entertainment sites. However, it still doesn’t allow streaming or Skype calling.You can use apps to call such as WhatsApp.
Premium ($17.70 per day) — Offers access to all websites and streaming services (including YouTube, but not including Netflix). The Premium plan does offer Skype video calls and the fastest speeds possible on the ship for your web browsing. If you are a heavy phone user on your cruise, then you’ll likely want the Premium package.
You can purchase a plan at a discount before your cruise starts or you can simply purchase when you are on the ship.
Using Your Phone on a Royal Caribbean Cruise
Just like with Carnival and other major cruise lines, we think you’ll be best off connecting to the ship’s wi-fi in order to use your phone on a Royal Caribbean ship.
The cruise line offers VOOM Internet access across its fleet, which is touted as the fastest wi-fi of any major cruise line. With it, you can hook up your phone to wi-fi and make calls (via wi-fi), text, use apps, and browse the web.
VOOM offers two levels of service — “Surf” or “Surf + Stream”. Surf is called “the best package for guests looking to simply surf the web, stay in touch via email, and share their vacation photos on social media.” Meanwhile, the Surf + Stream package also allows you to use streaming services like Netflix while on the ship.
Prices are not set in stone, but vary between around $15-20 a day. Discounts are available for ordering online ahead of time.
Using Your Phone on a Norwegian Cruise
Norwegian offers a little different pricing structure and service than the other major cruise lines. There is one level of Internet service and you pay for access time.
The “Ultimate Cruise Plan” is an unlimited plan where you can be connected as much as you like — so you can use your phone regularly for apps, surfing the web and more. It costs $30 per day for most trips (those less than 13 days). If your trip is 13 days or more, the per day price goes down to $25 per day.
In addition, you can also purchase minutes and sign on and off. This allows you to pay only for what you need, but it’s expensive. One-hundred minutes runs $75 on most ships.
Note that some Norwegian ships are testing out a tiered level of service similar to what Carnival offers.
Using Your Phone on a Disney Cruise
Disney allows you to connect your phone to its wi-fi and do everything from check email to stream movies and music. Connect your phone and you’ll have full access to the web. Unlike other lines, Disney offers packages based on the amount of data you use.
There are two options — you can pay as you go, at a rate of $0.25 per megabyte (MB). For comparison, a YouTube video set to 720p resolution (the lowest HD quality) uses about 15MB per minute. Uploading a photo to social media uses about 5MB.
Disney also offers packages depending on how much data you want to prepurchase. The advantage is that the packages offer discounts off the $0.25/MB pay-as-you-go pricing.
Have more questions about using your phone on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.