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 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 cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.
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, they 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. They also offer “pay-per-use” rates.
Just be warned of high prices. On AT&T’s pay-per-use plan, phone calls are $3 per minute and texts are $0.50 per message.
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. You can find packages that less the price and better help you budget, but it’s still pricey.
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. Some apps like WhatsApp also let you make calls, chat, and even chat via video. 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 ($8 per day), Value ($12 per day), and Premium ($17 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, 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.
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.
Bottom line: Unless you just 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/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.
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 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.
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 ($8 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.
Premium ($17 per day) — Offers access to all websites and streaming services (including YouTube, but not including Netflix on many ships). 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 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”. 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 several 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 and keep in touch.
First is the Unlimited Social Media package ($15 per day) that includes access to things like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. However, beyond that, it doesn’t offer much access — including checking email or browsing.
A step above is the Unlimited Wi-Fi Package ($30 per day), which offers access to everything, including all apps like WhatsApp, allowing you to keep in touch. However, it doesn’t allow streaming, so FaceTime and video chatting are questionable.
Finally, there is the Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi ($35 per day), giving you full access to the web and streaming services — including YouTube and Netflix. With this level of service, apps like FaceTime or other video calling should be no issue.
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). (Note that rates can change.) 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 pre-purchase. The advantage is that the packages offer discounts off the pay-as-you-go pricing.
The cruise line does offer monitoring of how much data you use, but this sort of access can be stressful compared to unlimited packages you are used to at home.
Have more questions about using your phone on a cruise? Let us know in the comments below.