At this point, it’s beyond the debate of taking 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 on the cruise ship they do all that, plus they are useful for the cruise line’s app, which features schedules, maps, and more, all right on your phone.
Of course, 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. This includes major cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian and more
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 — or the shipboard wi-fi — 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.
In This Article...
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, after 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
For traditional cell service, today’s modern cruise ships use providers such as “Cellular at Sea” or “Wireless Maritime Services”.
For the vast majority of plans, these services are considered international roaming plans by your cell phone company, and you will be charged accordingly for use. That said, if 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 sometimes data service isn’t available through this method. For data, you’re better off using a wi-fi plan (discussed below).
Cell providers offer packages you help cruisers better budget. For example, AT&T offers a couple of cruise ship packages, starting at $50 for a package of minutes and texting. Other carriers will have something similar.
Just be warned of high prices. On AT&T’s $50 plan, it includes only 50 minutes of phone calls, and a $2 per minute overage cost.
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. This applies to any carrier you have.
Luckily, there is a cheaper way to use your cell phone on the ship — wi-fi.
Cruise ships have cellular service that you can connect to. However, it’s usually considered international roaming and means you’ll be charged high rates to access.
Wi-Fi Service to Use Your Phone on Ships (Recommended)
You likely know that instead of using a cell signal, you can hook your phone up to wi-fi and use the Internet to make calls, send texts, and surf the web. Some apps like WhatsApp also let you make calls, chat, and even chat via video. You can use these features while 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 ($13 per day), Value (~$17 per day), and Premium ($19 per day) — which all offer different speeds and access.
Wi-fi allows you to connect just like you were at home. This includes doing things like making calls from within communication apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, texting, and surfing the web.
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. (For that reason, we suggest setting your phone to airplane mode once you get on the ship and then just connect through wi-fi.)
One other thing to know is that different cruise lines and even different ships within a cruise line may offer different online experiences. Some ships are updated with the latest technology while others can have slower service or more limited options of what you can do regarding video calling or streaming.
More details on specific ship wi-fi plans are featured later in this article.
We’d recommend accessing the ship’s wi-fi with your phone to use it as you would back home. This gives you the ability to access the Internet, send messages, use apps, and even make calls with some plans/cruise lines.
Using Your Phone in a Port of Call
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.
Cellular Service in Ports of Call
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 and Canada (home to several popular cruise ports) automatically in their plans. You can use the phone exactly as you would at home for no extra charge.
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.
You can read more about international service from the major carriers below:
Understand that this is only for service while onshore in a port. When you are on the ship and in the middle of the ocean, 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.
When in port, you’ll be connecting to international towers. Phone companies have international plans (sometimes you can simply pay for a single day pass) that allow you access just as you would have at home.
Wi-Fi Service to Use Your Phone in Port
Want to save some money? Then you may be able to skip dealing with international plans altogether and just connect to wi-fi hotspots in port. In fact, it may even be free.
To be sure, your wi-fi plan from the ship won’t work in port (unless you are at a private island; sometimes ships extend service to their islands.) But many ports of call offer wi-fi service.
Sometimes there is service sold that will cover the port area. Other times spots like restaurants or shops will offer free wi-fi service to customers as a perk for shopping there.
Either way, it’s a cheaper and easier way of using your phone in port if you are fine with having access on a more limited basis.
Many ports have wi-fi service at shops or restaurants that can get you access while you’re there. It’s an easy way to check in back home if you don’t need constant access.
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 messages, email, and browse the web.
To access Carnival’s wi-fi, you’ll have to sign up for one of three packages:
Social (~$13 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 ($17 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/FaceTime calling.
Premium (~$19 per day) — Offers the fastest speeds on the ship and full web access. While Carnival’s website says this plan doesn’t support video streaming (outside Netflix) or FaceTime calls, we’ve personally done both with this plan. If you are a heavy phone user on your cruise or want to make video calls, 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 one of the fastest wi-fi services 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”. Royal Caribbean calls Surf “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 $15-25 a day. Discounts are available for ordering online ahead of time.
Using Your Phone on a Norwegian Cruise
Norwegian offers two different levels of wi-fi access on their ships that allow you to connect with your phone. From there, you can use wi-fi to send messages, talk, and send email to keep in touch.
First is the Unlimited Wi-Fi Package ($30 per day) that includes access to things like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, along with the rest of the web. This includes apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, and FaceTime, allowing you to keep in touch. However, it doesn’t allow streaming services.
Second, there is the Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi ($40 per day), giving you full access to the web and streaming services — including YouTube, TikTok, and Netflix. With this level of service, making calls, sending texts, and video chats are no issue.
Using Your Phone on Other Cruise Lines (Disney, Celebrity, Princess, and Others)
As you can see, the easiest way to use your phone on a cruise is to use it to connect to the ship’s wi-fi. While we’ve spelled out more details for Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line, this method will work on any ship you sail.
Through the wi-fi offered on your cruise ship, you should be able to connect and use your phone just as you would on land. This includes web browsing, messaging, and calls through wi-fi. Just keep in mind that you might have to upgrade to the highest-tier service in order to get full benefits of the Internet like streaming and video calls. In our experience, lower-tier wi-fi plans are slower, meaning choppier connections on things like video calls.
Have more questions about using your phone on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.