Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cutting the cord(less)

One of the trickiest things about the cruise is getting by for three days without cell phones. (In my next post, I'll talk about how to keep in touch with friends on the boat without them, but for now, let's stick with the facts of cell and internet service.)

First things first: your cell phone WILL work on the ship. But think twice about using it. Case in point: Cruiser disputes $28,000 bill for wireless session on ship. And I'm not even going to talk about the in-room phones, which are about $10/minute.

While cell phone rates at sea vary by wireless company, they generally reflect international roaming rates, which can be breathtakingly expensive. On the cruise, your only connection is through the ship's provider "Cell at Sea." This on-board tower works with both GSM and CDMA. Once you are a certain distance from port, they will turn it on.

Here's what I found for calling rates, but don't take my word for it. Check with your provider!
  • AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint: $2.49/min 
  • T-mobile: $4.99/min
Text messages are generally $0.50/each for outgoing and vary for incoming. When the ship reaches port, pricing will switch to the country-specific roaming rate. (The rate for this should be listed on your wireless company's site.)

The problem is, if you have a BlackBerry or other smart phone that downloads e-mails and texts automatically, every time it scans for incoming messages, you are charged as if you are making a call. And some cruise lines charge extra for attachments or photos due to the extra bandwidth they consume. (There are lots of horror stories out there of $3000 phone bills for week-long cruises.) Some carriers will even charge for incoming calls that aren't answered.

There is usually an option to turn off data/e-mail on smart phones, but if you are sending texts, there's no way to turn off the phone service. So you risk the cost of receiving incoming texts and phone calls while your phone is on for you to send texts. I've also read stories of people who had their phones turned off but were somehow still picking up a signal and getting charged for roaming. That's why last time I left my phone in the room safe with the battery out.

But let's say you are okay with the rates and want to use your phone anyway. It may not be an option everywhere. Many people said last year they were unable to get a signal on the lower decks of the ship. And since Half Moon Cay is a private island, there's no cell service there. There's also no wireless there, so it's going to be a several hour stretch of no tweets for those at home.

There is, however, internet access on board. You can bring your own laptop/iPod/iPad/what-have-you or use the Internet cafe. The rates for both are the same: 75 cents per minute. You can also buy blocks of minutes. Last year I paid $24 for 60 minute blocks. There was a minimum charge of two minutes, which was about a minute and 45 seconds longer than it took me to send a tweet. I did not figure this time minimum out till Sunday night.

Cruise ship internet is . . . not the best. For one, it takes a good minute to get logged in and do anything. Once you're in, you can use it for sending a quick email or tweet, but don't plan to upload a photo album to Flickr or anything. Remember the internet in 1998? It's like that. Last year, I never once successfully got my email to load, even in basic HTML mode. But it's certainly better than nothing, and they do have wireless throughout the ship, which is nice.

What are your plans for phones on board? I'm going to do the phone in the safe/tweet with the iPod again. Seemed to work last time, even if I did spend about $60 on internet.

If you do plan to tweet, make sure you get Marliimarl to add you to this list: http://twitter.com/marliimarl/cruise-2010.


  1. I'm planning on taking my laptop with me. Mainly to transfer my pics to my computer. I'm also thinking of purchasing that internet option since i do want to tweet some info for those at home. I wont be using my cell phone though cos my provider is in Germany LOL so it wont get any cheaper if i do use it ;)

    Veronica aka @FrontDeskLady

  2. I plan on leaving my phone in the safe and probably won't use the internet access. I didn't use it last year and survived the 3 days without it so I should be fine this year.

  3. From StacyAnn:

    Verizon warned me as soon as I step on the ship I will start to be charged as if the ship was at sea. Was told to make any last calls on land!! Good warning from verizon!

  4. I will call/text anyone before we leave Miami and will tell them don't expect to hear from me until Monday! No room in the budget for this craziness!! Since they didn't want to come on this joyride with me, then they can wait for the details! Thanks so much for these blogs. First time cruiser loving the info!

  5. I survived not using my phone last year and I used the internet cafe for about 17 minutes. It wasn't too bad.

    This year, I'd like to use my iPhone to video some stuff, but I'm afraid I'll get charged for the phone being on with it scanning for emails & texts. We all know what happens when Donnie get's on twitter...my phone will blow up!

  6. Probably going to bring my laptop.. going to be gone a week, and that's too long with no email/twitter etc. LOL my cellphone won't work in the usa anyway. :)

  7. I was looking to upgrade to a smartphone specifically in time to utilize all their fun functions on this trip. However after finding out that I could pretty much meet all my basic communication needs with just my iPod Touch my plan will now be to keep my cellphone off with the battery out while keeping my iTouch handy if the urge to tweet arises and for quick emails home.

  8. I found my bill from last yr so I could be somewhat right haha
    I have Verizon and my phone worked till about 7pm ish on that Friday. To that point I was texting & sending pics at a normal rate. After that my phone was roaming..but I kept it on since I had no idea there wasn't a clock in the room & I had to use that.
    My HUGE error was in the Bahamas-my phone looked "normal" and said nothing about roaming-so silly me thought it was ok...SO WRONG WAS I! My 11 minute phone call home cost $56.00!! Plus another $50ish texting/picture sending. In all I was charged an additional $120ish on top of my normal bill.
    It looks that at about 2am Sunday/Monday the phone went back to normal again.
    I used the internet on the ship but I used there actual computer center. I dont have a laptop so I used what was on the ship & it was pretty easy/cheap.
    Katie you said you had some tips for calls on the boat next-I cant wait! I was told the rm phones could only call room to room..and that I couldn't use my calling card at all :( So I know you'll have the right info!
    Im going to bring the walkie talkies with me again this yr..if you get seperated from ppl it sucks haha Especially since we're going to be on that little island!
    Thanks for all the info Katie! Im glad the NKOTB ppl reconized you on Twitter!!!

  9. I'm planning to buy the internet bundle on board and use it with the wi-fi on my iPhone to tweet/email.
    The safe way to do this is to pop your phone on 'airplane mode', then enable your wi-fi setting (this will automatically be disabled when you choose 'airplane mode' but can still be switched back on). This way you will make sure that all other phone features will not work; calls/sms/data roaming.
    Another tip, if you want to leave 'voice messages' for family & friends, this might not work as the internet service is slow, but you can try, is to record them a message via the voice memos app or (if you have a 3GS) with video, and then email the messages over wi-fi. Your friends can respond the same way.
    So if you are an iPhone owner you will be safe from all potential nasty charges. I love the iPhone :)

  10. Oh, I need to add that if you are using an iPhone, it is also safest to switch off your voice mail BEFORE you put your phone on 'airplane mode', so that no one can leave you a voice mail whilst you are at sea. I think this is an explanation of why someone get charged even if they have switched their phone off. I'm no phone expert but my bf went over to the US (from UK) a week ago and our phone provider advised him to switch it off to avoid surprise charges.

  11. I am definitely leaving my phone in the safe with the battery out! I was in Aruba last year for 11 days for work, and was hit with a $10,000.00 phone bill, as my BB was downloading email and I was receiving texts!! I will not be making the same mistake twice!!!

  12. Last year. I kept my iPhone on airplane mode, but I forgot to turn it to airplane mode before I turned it off, and I turned it off as soon as I got on the ship. I did turn it on, to listen to my iPod, Friday night, and I realized it wasn't on airplane mode when I for about 8 text messages- all tweets from the guys- all of Jordans twitpics, and Jon asking who was on the ship...I wasn't sure of the rates for receiving texts, and (emails) but I wasn't charged anything extra. I have an iPhone 3GS now, so I may have my phone with me more to take videos on the deck and such. But I'll be keeping my phone on airplane mode. I did use the Internet on board, in the "Internet cafe" to send a quick tweet, it was refreshing for me to be iPhone/email/tweet free!

  13. WOW! Ill be turning my phone off. I want to take my comp to upload videos so how do I make sure it isn't trying to connect to the wireless on the ship? HELP!


  14. I was thinking of using my skype app on my itouch to make calls, but now hearing of the slow internet connection onboard I am wondering if it will work. Did anyone use skype on last years cruise ?

  15. @Anon

    I didn't try Skype, but considering I couldn't get my regular old email to load AT ALL, my guess is it won't work. The ship uses satellite internet, which is what my family has at home (as they live in the absolute boonies where there is no cable). I know Skype doesn't work at my step-dad's house. Nothing with video works. You can of course try, but have a back up plan.

  16. Thank God for Sim-cards.
    I'm going to remove the Sim card from the phone so that way I wont be charged anything ( specially since my phone is from Israel so a simple call will cost me a fortune) But I will be using the phone for wifi and such...
    I will also bring my laptop and hope for good I guess

  17. Thank you for the iPhone info Marliimarl, that's a big help! How do you turn your voicemail off? I'm not having luck finding that option on the phone...

  18. Oooh! Will that work? I can pull my sim card on my blackberry and still use the wi-fi? That would be great!

  19. I'll def bring my iTouch and laptop so I can use the wi-fi. I don't need to make any phone call but internet is def important for me coz I need to submit my weekly assignments to my university over the weekend.

    I may need to do that in the hotel before I board on th cruise but still, I'm happy to know there's internet on the boat for worst case scenario.

    Thanks for the info!

  20. Jacqui, how to switch off your voicemail on your iPhone depends on your network provider. Here in the UK I can dial a short code and it will switch off so you will need to contact your network provider or maybe you can check their website to find out. There is no button to push on the iPhone itself to disable it. You may even have to disable the voicemail before you leave your home network if that makes sense. Say if you lived in Germany, you would have to do it there before you boarded your flight rather than when you arrive in Miami.

  21. Jacqui, how to switch off your voicemail on your iPhone depends on your network provider. Here in the UK I can dial a short code and it will switch off so you will need to contact your network provider or maybe you can check their website to find out. There is no button to push on the iPhone itself to disable it. You may even have to disable the voicemail before you leave your home network if that makes sense. Say if you lived in Germany, you would have to do it there before you boarded your flight rather than when you arrive in Miami.

  22. I just bought one of those pre-paid phones from SmartTalk. It will be $45 for a month of service which includes unlimited talk/text/mobile web. I have no idea what/if any service will be available on ship, but they can't charge me any more than the card I have bought. I'm not worried about it working on the ship (although that would be a nice plus!), I just needed something to use in Miami. Guess we'll see how it goes!

  23. Thanks for the info Katie! Really helpful information for us first time cruisers!
    Phone in safe! Leaves me one more hand to hold another drink or take some great pictures! or....

  24. Thanks for all the info! I think I'll be leaving my phone in the safe as well. :)

    When I went to the UK a few years ago AT&T told me about the double charges for letting a call go to voicemail (since the signal had to first to go the UK and then BACK to the US to connect to voicemail) so I was sure to keep my phone off most of the time then too.

    I had told my family to send me a text msg if they needed me to get in touch with them since that would be cheaper & I was not about to check my voicemail. I'm not sure if I'll even be checking texts on the cruise since it's only 3 days.

  25. Has anyone thought about buying one of those prepaid phones to use on the cruise? Will they even work on the ship?

  26. I'm buying one of those phones to use all around the states since I'm coming from Israel. My guess is they work great on board BUT the price of each call/txt will be very high