It wasn’t that long ago that having Internet access was a nice perk, but hardly a necessity. Today, most people must have wi-fi — even if they are on a cruise in the middle of the ocean.
Of course, there are some challenges to providing online access for thousands of people on a cruise ship that can be hundreds of miles of miles from the nearest land. That’s why in general you should expect the service on a cruise ship to be more expensive — and slower — than what you’d find back home.
Still, all cruise lines now provide wi-fi on their ships so that you can stay in touch back home, whether it be for work or just checking on the kids. You can also access social media sites, check email, and even stream movies in some cases.
But before you head out into the middle of the ocean, there’s likely a few things you want to know about getting online on a cruise. We’ve answered some of the biggest questions so that you know what to expect once you board your ship.
How Much Does Internet Cost on a Cruise?
At your home, things are pretty simple. You pay one amount for your Internet service and connect as many devices as you want — and they all have access to the full Internet.
On a cruise, things are a little different. The cruise lines charge different amounts for different tiers of service. They also charge based on the number of devices used at one time. So if you want to connect two devices at once (such as a husband and wife both surfing the Internet), then you’ll pay twice as much.
All that said, expect the price of service on a cruise to be much more than you pay back home. We’ve rounded up the costs of Internet for several major cruise lines below.
Carnival offers three different tiers of service: Social, Value, and Premium wi-fi plans. Each offers different levels of access to the Internet. One tip to save money: purchase your plan ahead of time to save 15% off the rates on the ship.
Social Plan: Carnival’s Social plan offers access to social media sites, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and airline sites. However, most of the Internet (such as email and news websites) are blocked. You also can’t stream music or movies. The cost is $8 per day for one device once you are on the ship.
Value Plan: The Value plan offers access to much of the Internet, including websites for news, weather, sports, and most importantly — email. The service is also faster than the Social plan. For the extra access, you’ll pay $12 per day if you wait to purchase once you are on the ship.
Premium Plan: If you want the entire Internet and you want the fastest speeds on Carnival, the the Premium plan is ideal. It offers full access at triple the speed of the Value plan. Depending on which ship you sail, streaming might be available. Currently Carnival Vista and Horizon have Netflix enabled, according to the company. The Premium plan costs $17 per day. You can also buy a 24-hour pass for $25.
When it comes to Internet on a cruise, Royal Caribbean is trying to position itself as a leader. The cruise line offers VOOM Internet service, which it bills as “the fastest Internet at sea.” VOOM offers two different levels of service at two price points. If booked ahead of time, you can get up to 30% off the rates you’ll pay on the ship.
Surf: As the name says, Surf lets you enjoy the Internet. This includes your favorite websites, email, social media, and more. As with most things on Royal Caribbean, expect the rate to vary depending on the ship (the cruise line seems to constantly test prices). We found a rate of $15.99 per day for the entire cruise or $22.99 for a single day.
Surf + Stream: The higher tier of service is Surf + Stream. As you can guess, this offers Internet access, plus the ability to stream music or movies. On a recent cruise the rate was $19.99 per day for one device when purchased on the ship. The cost was $29.99 if purchased for a single day only.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian offers a different take on Internet access. That’s because the cruise line has a popular “Free at Sea” sale that allows passengers to get free perks with their booking. One perk is Internet access. Still, if you book a cruise without the free Internet, you have three different levels of service you can purchase.
Unlimited Social Media: As the name implies, if you just want simple social media access, then it will run $14.99 per day if you purchase on the ship. This rate applies to the package bought for the entire cruise — not just a single day. As with other cruise lines, you can get a discount if you book a package before you board.
Unlimited Wi-Fi: This plan provides full Internet access, outside of streaming. It also includes access to email providers, which is not the case with the Unlimited Social Media package. The cost runs $29.99 per day for one device.
Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi: Want to stream Netflix, Hulu or other services? Then you’ll need Norwegian’s highest-level package. It allows streaming movies and music and costs $34.99 per day.
Celebrity Cruises offers its Xcelerate Internet service to its passengers across the fleet. Instead of having different speeds and levels of access, Celebrity has one level of service that’s fast enough to stream movies and music. Costs will vary based on the length of your trip (for instance, a 7-9 day cruise has an Internet cost of $249), but expect it to cost about $25-35 per day for one device. More devices can be added for a discount.
MSC may not be the biggest cruise line in North America, but it’s gaining in popularity. The cruise line has several tiers of service, depending on what you need. Note that it is also one line that has data caps explicitly stated on its packages.
Chat & Social Apps: Offers social media access during the cruise for up to 1.5 GB worth of data. The cost is $49.90 for the cruise for one device.
Standard Internet Package: Provides access to the web (including social media, email and websites) for two devices. The cost is $99.90 per cruise for 3 GB of data, but you can book before you sail for 20% off.
Premium Internet Package: Similar to the Standard package, but offers access for up to four devices and 6 GB of data. The cost is $159.90 for the cruise and a discount is available for early booking.
Unlimited Internet Cruise Package: This package is only for one device, but provides and unlimited amount of data. For that, you’ll pay $199.90 for the entire cruise.
Note that MSC does not allow streaming on any of its packages.
Other Cruise Lines
If your cruise line isn’t listed above, that’s ok. Most lines have prices that vary based on the level of service, but most are in the $20-30 range for one device.
How Fast Is Internet on a Cruise?
Expecting to have blazing fast Internet on the ship like you would back at home? Well, it’s time to lower your expectations a little bit before you get online. While the cruise lines love to boast about the speed of their service, the actual speeds you see can vary.
For instance, we tested Royal Caribbean’s VOOM Surf + Stream service, which claims to be the fastest Internet at sea. In our tests, the speed of the service varied, but was consistently in the 3-5 Mbps range. For reference, many broadband Internet services you see back home are in the 30-50 Mbps range — or about 10 times faster.
While this doesn’t speak for every cruise line, considering this is said to be the fastest service, it is telling.
In other words, while you may find service fast enough to meet your needs, but be prepared for slower speeds than you are used to.
Can I Post to Facebook, Instagram or Other Social Media Sites?
Absolutely. In fact, the cheapest plans usually have access only to the social media sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Instagram and more. If this is the main way you keep in touch with people back home, then it’s a cheap way to stay connected.
Why allow access to these sites but not the rest of the Internet on a wi-fi package? It’s our opinion that the cruise lines want to encourage people to post pictures of their vacation as a way of advertising how much fun it is to take a cruise.
Can I Stream Movies or Music on a Cruise?
Usually, however there are some caveats. First, you must purchase a plan that allows streaming. Many cruise lines offer lower tiers of service that are less expensive, but do not offer streaming capabilities. Those packages with streaming are higher-priced.
Second, given the Internet speed, you could see some lagging or lower-quality pictures. Many reports from users complain about streaming troubles. We’ve personally have had issues as well in tests we’ve done on cruises.
Bottom line: yes you can stream while on a cruise, but don’t be surprised if there are times where it doesn’t work well… or doesn’t work at all. If you want to watch a show, it’s a good idea to download it before you arrive on the ship. That way you don’t have to rely on Internet access to watch.
Are There Data Caps on the Plans?
Most of the cruise line plans these days are “unlimited” plans that don’t put a cap on your data. There are still some plans out there that charge by the amount of data used, but they are becoming rare.
That said, we wouldn’t push it by trying to download the Lord of the Rings trilogy. First of all, it would take forever at the connection speeds. Beyond that, the Internet is being provided by satellite for thousands of passengers at any given time. It’s likely that you would be asked about using such a massive amount of data. If you’re doing what the service is designed for — streaming shows, checking email, etc. — you likely won’t be running into issues. But if you are using a ton of data, you might be asked about what’s going on.
Do I Have to Buy Internet for Every Day of the Cruise?
When we mentioned pricing above, you noticed that it was on a per-day basis. Most plans are sold this way (similar to drink packages). You pay a set amount per day, and the plan is purchased for the entire cruise. So if it’s $20 per day, you’ll pay $140 for a seven-day cruise. This gives you access for the whole trip.
But what if you want to only occasionally check email or post to Facebook? In that case, the cruise lines usually sell a smaller package. It can either be a 24-hour pass (unlimited access for 24 consecutive hours) or a number of minutes. For example, Norwegian sells 100 minutes of access for $75 or you can choose to “pay as you go” for $0.99 per minute.
This allows you online access without the cost of paying for service the entire cruise.
Are Websites Blocked or Filtered?
As you might expect, there is some blocking and filtering of websites while on the ship’s wi-fi. Of course, if you buy a lower-tier plan that doesn’t allow full access to the Internet (such as Carnival’s Social plan) then you won’t be able to access the full Internet. Even if you do have full online access, you can still expect some content filtering.
For most people this will never be an issue. However, if you are trying to look at pages with adult themes, then you’ll likely find you’re unable to connect. For example, Carnival says that “access to certain sites such as mature or violent content is blocked” over their network.
In other words, expect to use the Internet like you would at your local library. You’ll be able to access everything you need… but maybe not everything you want.
Can I Use a VPN on the Cruise Ship?
In many cases, the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) won’t work. Many people use a VPN in order to access their work privately. Unfortunately, these don’t always work on a cruise.
Carnival, for instance, states clearly that “VPN connections are not supported” on their network. Royal Caribbean doesn’t explicitly state one way or the other, but we’ve seen several reports that using a VPN can be hit or miss for passengers.
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is one of the few we’ve found that will let you access via a VPN. If you purchase their Unlimited Premium package, you are allowed access using one. Lower tier packages do not allow VPN access.
In other words, unless you are sailing on Norwegian, then you should just assume you can’t access with a virtual private network. You might get lucky and be able to, but chances are slim.
Internet Seems Expensive, How Can I Save Money?
You are right that getting online access is pricey on a cruise. The good news is that there are ways you can save. We’ve covered them in more detail here, but here are some ideas:
Book a Cruise With Free Internet as a Perk
Norwegian and a number of other lines have started to offer sales that provide free perks for cruising. One of those perks is usually free wi-fi during your cruise. Book one of these and you don’t have to worry about the cost of access.
Wait Until You’re in Port to Get Online
If you don’t need access every day, there’s a free way to get service: wait until you get to port. In many cruise ports there are stores or restaurants that offer free wi-fi to customers. You can sit down, have a bite to eat, and check email, etc. Now you might not be able to spend all day loitering while you watch a movie on your phone, but it’s a good way to check your email for free.
Pay For a Smaller Package
While the Internet is most widely sold in a package that lasts the length of your cruise, there are options for smaller amounts of time. Head to the ship’s Internet Cafe and you’ll find that you can access the Internet by the minute. It can be pricey on a per-minute basis, but still much cheaper than buying a package for the length of the cruise.
Have more questions about getting online during your cruise? Let us know in the comments below…