It wasn’t that long ago that having Internet access at sea 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 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’ll 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.
In general, expect to pay about $15-20 per day, per device for wi-fi access.
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 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. (Streaming is often provided on newer ships.) 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 have found rates 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 $39.99 per day if purchased on the ship, or $34.99 if bought before sailing.
Celebrity Cruises offers its Xcelerate Internet service to its passengers across the fleet. This service comes with a “Stream” and “Surf” levels, depending on the speed of access you need and how much you want to spend. While Celebrity doesn’t list costs on their website, previous amounts varied based on the length of your trip (for instance, a 7-9 day cruise had an Internet cost of $249), so expect it to cost about $25-35 per day for one device.
One thing to know is that Celebrity trips often have a “Always Included” deal. With this offer, drinks, gratuities, and wi-fi service are already included in your fare.
Princess offers service known as MedallionNet, which is dubs “The Best Wi-Fi at Sea.” The cruise line says that it can reach speeds “often eclipsing 100 Mbps,” which is faster than the average broadband speed on land.
And while Princess doesn’t detail full pricing of all packages on its website, it says that access starts a $9.99 per day for one device when purchased before the cruise.
Like Celebrity, Princess also has special fares with things like drink packages, gratuities, and wi-fi already included. In other words, you may have to pay nothing extra for service if you book one of these deals.
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. 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, in our experience it is typical of what you can expect.
So when surfing the browser will often feel sluggish compared to back at home. For lower-tier plans that are less expensive, the speed is even slower.
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.
Even so, don’t expect the service to be blazing fast. You’ll have access but will still deal with the slower service you find at sea.
Can I Stream Movies or Music on a Cruise?
Usually you can stream, 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 offering 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. It’s possible, but there can be some hiccups.
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 better 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 to access the web.
This allows you online access without the cost of paying for service during 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, has stated clearly in the past 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 explicitly says they 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, Celebrity, Princess and 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. It’s already included in your fare.
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.
Buy Ahead of Time
Want to save? Book ahead of time. Cruise lines offer discounts to passengers who buy the service before they sail. This discount can be significant — often 10-20% off the price of booking onboard.
It won’t make the service “cheap,” but it can take the sting off the high price tag.
Share a Connection
Internet plans on cruise ships charge per device. So if you want to have two devices connected at once, then it’s double the cost. However, they also allow you to share a connection.
Say you have a wi-fi package with one device. Once a person is done with it, then another person can login to that account and access the Internet from their own device. So a husband can hop online to check email on his laptop, and then a wife can login later to surf the web on her phone without paying for an extra device. It’s just that only one device at a time is allowed.
Have more questions about getting online during your cruise? Let us know in the comments below…