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  • Writer's pictureJay Hicks

Wi-Fi at Sea

Let’s face it. Wi-Fi at sea is very expensive. Internet on cruise ships, when away from land, is provided by satellite. Therefore, Cruise ship Wi-Fi can be super costly. Usually, cruise ships must pay for satellite access to provide Wi-Fi serviced for passengers. Inmarsat is one such company providing satellite voice and data services. Due to a monopoly on the satellite technology, maritime communications companies charge whatever they desire. Cruise companies fork over millions of dollars, usually passing the expense directly to the customer (with a premium).

In August of 2022, Elon Musk's SpaceX announced the availability of Starlink satellite service for maritime vessels. With Starklink, cruise ships will soon cut their satellite costs dramatically and be able to provide much faster service, at a more reasonable cost. In the meantime, you will pay dearly for unlimited internet usage at sea. Let’s look at some options to potentially save a few dollars.

How to get Wi-Fi Free on a Cruise

Satellite Internet - Final Blow for Ship-to-Shore Calling!

Calling home has never been easier. Long gone are the days of Ship-to-Shore Calling. However, if you are economically minded, you may want to look for free internet access. There are several ways that you can access the internet for free on a cruise!

First, some sailings may offer free Wi-Fi as a perk for signing up for the cruise. Look for these if Wi-Fi is extremely important. However, my experience tells me that you will be paying a premium for the sailing when perks are included – like Wi-Fi, drinks and excursions.

Second, depending on how far and long you will be at sea versus port, may enable you to do without. If you are sailing next to shore in places like the Northeastern United States, you may be able to rely on cellular service. If you are island hopping in the Caribbean, you may be able to find Wi-Fi hotspots and make your calls and surf from those locations.

Third, there may be locations on board your ship that have free Wi-Fi available. These may come and go, be available for limited time – like when you are at port or as a special incentive in a club or coffee shop. Also an open deck when close to land may very well provide you with the cellular connection.

Save Big and Wait Until Port, if You Can!

Finally, if you can, wait until you are at port and use a Wi-Fi service. You can use Wi-Fi calling to catch up with loved ones, check mail, text and other capabilities. However, do not use any account numbers or passwords unless you have some sort of VPN installed on your phone.

*** Please Note: If you do not have cellular service for the country you are going, data rates will be crushing, should you turn your cell phone on at port. If you do not know about your service, leave your phone or device in airplane mode.***

Bottom line, if you need reliable internet at sea, you will probably have to purchase it. So how do you get the best deal? Generally, you will find your best deals before you cruise. When purchasing, you need to be aware that pricing for Wi-Fi is highly variable. Most major cruise lines have there own pricing structure, but it is generally costly.

As an example, Royal Caribbean Wi-Fi pricing is not fixed. There are lots of variables such as the ship, where you are sailing, number of devices, when you purchase, and whether you want to get mail and text, browse or stream. Look for sale prices prior to sailing. You will see discounting at 10-30% off this way. You will be offered a whole cruise price, and it will be cheaper than trying to buy a days’ worth. However, if you think you can get away with out internet and change your mind, you can buy Wi-Fi toward the end of your cruise and save a good bit of money.

If prices for Wi-Fi look expensive, you can wait to see if they run a better special. Sometimes you can get a better value by waiting, but usually you will save money buying the package before you go.

You can Swap Devices on a Single Plan!

If you are going on a trans-Atlantic cruise, and you want to buy a package for the duration, Wi-Fi could cost you several hundred dollars. Tax will be added onto every purchase. To understand your cruise pricing of Wi-Fi service, you will probably have to log in to your cruise company’s website. For generalized information from Royal Caribbean, check out their site Cruise Ship Wi-Fi.

If you are just wanting to chat, some cruise companies offer a chat app to text with other guests. This will probably not allow you to chat with folks back home, but your group can stay connected on board. On some boats, this was a free capability on Royal Caribbean a few years ago. Today, Royal Caribbean usually charges $1.99 a day.

Surf versus Stream

One of the questions I am often asked “Is the faster speed worth it on Royal Caribbean?” The two speeds offered are Voom Surf versus Voom Surf and Stream. Some would say fast or faster, others would say both are pocky. Speed depends on the ship. So which should you buy?

By any standard, staying connected on Royal Caribbean cruise expensive. The services allow for unlimited internet access during your cruise. In addition, the cost per device, per day, comes down with the higher device count plans.

Picking the package can be challenging, but if you price it right you can often get the faster speeds at the cheaper rate for surf only packages. Here are the key differences between Voom Surf and Voom Surf & Stream packages.

Voom Surf

This is the base package and offers what you need to do basic web browsing, email, social media and more.

Royal Caribbean's Voom Works, but can be Expensive.

Royal Caribbean is known to throttle the Voom Surf package to keep the speeds lower allowing for basic web browsing, but will not work well with more bandwidth intensive applications, such as music and video.

Voom Surf & Stream

Advertised as the full internet experience, Voom Surf & Stream is faster than Surf. This package should allow for audio and video streaming while onboard, anywhere at sea. In addition to the capabilities for Voom Surf, video calling, voice calling, music and video streaming are usually all available. Gerneraly, Voom Surf & Stream will cost 20-30% more than the Surf package.

Faster Speeds may be Found in Common Areas.

Remember that there will be variability depending on weather and ship. Some ships are older and have not been renovated. Just like your home computer, this means that some ships have older technology – satellite equipment, Routers, and Wi-Fi antenna and repeaters. Generally, Oasis class ships will have better internet than an older Radiance class ship that has not been renovated.

Satellite location is also a factor. Generally, you can expect to find internet speeds better in Caribbean than in Northern Europe or Alaska. Speeds also vary from spot to spot on the ship. You may find your state room to be faster or slower than a common area. Results vary, but you can expect Surf and Stream being much faster usually holds true.

Sharing a Single Wi-Fi Packages While Onboard

Royal Caribbean does not advertise there policy on sharing, but while onboard you can share internet access with anyone you want. You simply swap between devices, and you can do this as often as you like. You are limited to the number of devices under your plan, but it is a great way to let others take some time to catch up on email or use their applications.

It is not simple at first, but you will soon get the hang of the “device swap” after a few times. Therefore, buying multiple devices may not be necessary for some groups. Also be aware that per-device cost drops dramatically as you add more device.

I also aware that Diamond loyalty members with Royal Caribbean Crown and Anchor Society may obtain additional discounting onboard.

Have fun and good luck with your surfing!

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