Cell Phones on Cruise Ships

| Thursday, 05 Jun. 2014

It’s easy to enjoy a great cruise, but it hasn’t always been simple for cruise passengers to stay in touch while at sea. Today we’re lucky enough to have satellite technology broadcasting cell signals to every ocean in the world, but this convenience can be far from straightforward or inexpensive. The sense of amazement at staying connected can quickly go from sweet to sour once you receive a $28,067 cell phone bill. To protect cruise travelers from exorbitant phone fees, here are some crucial tips to review before leaving for the next big trip.


Limit Automatic Updates: The default setting for most smartphones allows automatic synching and updates for many of your phone’s functions. While it’s convenient to have your email ‘pushed’ to your phone automatically, this puts a drain on both your battery and wallet as data charges will quickly add up. Review your phone’s settings and make sure to turn off anything that automatically updates.


You could also simply turn your phone off. But be careful of turning it back on too soon. If you turn it on by accident, or before disembarking the ship to a Wi-Fi friendly port, your smartphone may automatically download emails, text messages and other data while still being connected to the cruise ships’ network. That could quickly result in very expensive fees. It’s best to be safe and turn off all the automatic push settings.


Don’t Trust Just Any Signal at Sea: All your bars could be filled, but just because your phone has a great signal doesn’t mean it’s cheap to use. Once you are more than 12 miles off of the coast it’s likely that your signal is being sent through the cruise ship’s repeaters to your wireless provider. Each provider offers different rates, but a quick web search using your provider’s name and the terms “cellular at sea” or “cruise ship rates” will pull up your rates. It’s no surprise that they’ll be pretty expensive across the board.


All the more reason to use your smartphone when you are on shore rather than onboard. It’s typically not cheap to use your phone in a port, but it’s almost always cheaper than using your phone onboard – especially if you have set up an international calling plan or can find free Wi-Fi from a local shop.


Take Advantage of Wi-Fi: By using data-based communications like iMessage through Wi-Fi, users can communicate with your friends and family back home without running up fees through your phone’s service provider. Every cruise ship offers internet plans, typically through the internet café. Take advantage! While most offer plans based on time spent, some cruise lines (Disney as an example) offer plans based on the amount of data used. That’s when it’s good to know how much data you typically use.

Touch base with Your Provider: A quick phone call to your wireless provider’s customer service team before you leave for your cruise may surprise you. Today many large networks like Verizon and AT&T provide you with plans developed specifically for cell-phone use during cruises . They’ll review your typical uses, personal practices, and possibly recommend temporary plans that may be a better fit.

Even better, there are often alternative cell-phone plan providers who can give you a different simm card or handset for your personal use during the cruise that will still work like your own phone, but the reduced charges will be paid to a different provider.

Keep an Eye on your Data: Thankfully you won’t have to break out the calculator to track your phone's data usage. There are also plenty of apps available that will monitor your smartphone’s usage. If you set a data tracking app to zero at the beginning of your trip, it’ll be easy to keep monitor how much data you are using. This can be especially valuable if you are concerned about staying under a set limit.

By the way - many cruise lines now offer data plans for cell phones you can purchase after you get onboard (or before at the cruise lines' web sites) - however, it is possible to find less expensive plans if you shop around.

Stay Flexible: Predicting how often you’ll use your cell phone is always a challenge, but it’s especially difficult when you’re traveling. That’s why it’s great to have the flexibility to adjust your phone plan as you need. As an example, Consumer Cellular offers no-contract plans that can be scaled up or down at any point without penalty or long-term commitment. They’ll even let you know when you’re reaching your plan’s limits and allow you to switch to a cheaper plan. Check with your provider to see what they offer.

The main thing is to plan ahead - do NOT go to sea and just turn on y9our cellphone for email and watching YouTube videos without providing for a cheaper data plan first. If you do not pre-pay for this data, you can be charged in the neighborhood of $35 per megabyte.

By using these tips, cruise travelers can keep in touch and stay away from the excessive fees that many other unwary travelers get stuck with. Safe travels!


About John Marick:

John Marick is the co-founder and CEO of Consumer Cellular, the number-one rated cellphone service and exclusive wireless provider for AARP members. John launched Consumer Cellular in October 1995 when he noticed cellular operators were focused on providing cellular service to high-use business clients and early adopters, which left individuals with lower use needs struggling to find affordable cellular service. This is when Marick realized his vision for Consumer Cellular - a company that helps everyone obtain affordable cellular service that is easy to understand and use. 


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