You obviously know something about the Internet, or you wouldn't be reading this article. You especially know that email is the cheapest and most convenient way to communicate with your loved ones from afar.
Internet access is becoming as ubiquitous on cruise ships as the dessert tray. The advance in the last few years for access to the Web from cruise ships and their destinations worldwide is nothing short of amazing. Not only are there Internet cafes on many cruise ships today, a cybercafe can be found in almost any port worldwide -- we've connected everywhere from Poland to Papeete, Tahiti in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! The newest vessels have direct access from your stateroom over wireless connections.
Whether onboard or in port, here are our recommendations on how to get the most out of the Internet while on your cruise vacation:
OUTLOOK AND OTHER EMAIL PROGRAMS:
Take a look at how you access your email. If you typically access your email through MicroSoft Outlook or another type of email software (Netscape Messenger or Eudora for example) then the Internet computers in the ship's Internet cafe may not be able to access your email account unless you know certain settings like your "pop3" and "smtp" server settings. Even if you know these settings, most Internet cafes do not even give you the programs that allow you to change these settings.
In those cases, your best bet is to use what most Internet service providers offering email servers also provide; "web-mail" web pages that give you access to your email account. For example, if your Internet provider is Cox Cable you can go to cox.net and log into your email account. If it is Roadrunner, go to roadrunner.com, if it is AOL, go to AOL.com.
If you do use Outlook on your personal computer, and want to be able to see it through "web-mail" on the ship, be sure to turn off your home computer before your leave home, or at least close down Outlook so it won't be downloading the mail from the very mail server you are trying to access on the ship. Once your messages are downloaded from the main mail server they are no longer accessible unless you change your webserver to leave a copy on the server.
Another problem is that many ships will not allow you to access your webmail page if it doesn't start with www (as in www.cruisemates.com). If it starts with the word "mail" many internet cafes block it. Why, I do not know, it is a troublesome practice that accomplishes nothing.
In light of all the above, concerning using Outlook for your personal email, the best alternative is to take a laptop on ships that offer wireless access. When you use your own computer, you do not have to worry about the cruise line putting any restrictions on what kind of Internet-based programs you can use.
For example, when I travel, on ships or otherwise, I commonly use my laptop's programs to update CruiseMates, including uploading video, pictures and managing my web pages. I am updating CruiseMates with this very article from a hotel in South Beach, Miami. (unfortunately, with some of the typing errors, it shows. I apologize)
OTHER EMAIL OPTIONS: WEBMAIL
The surest method to guarantee that you will be able to receive email aboard a ship is to use a "Web-based" email service that you can access through a Web site, for example Hotmail or Yahoo email services. If you are a registered user of Yahoo then you may already have an email address that you are not aware of which will be your firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to sign up for a Hotmail account (the service is owned by MicroSoft) all you need to do is visit the Web site at www.hotmail.com. You can arrange to have your office email forwarded to this Web based email address.
If you are an America Online subscriber, you'll find that the actual AOL service is rarely available on the computers of cybercafes outside of the United States. Some cruise ships have it on their computers on-board, but most do not. Access to your AOL email is still available at the AOL Web site http://AOL.com on the Internet. Before you leave, be absolutely sure or to write down your username and password to take with you on the cruise since you will need it to log in. I've seen many people on ships and in cybercafes who can't get into their email accounts simply because they have had AOL enter this information automatically for so long they can't remember it anymore.
If you have none of the above already set up, but you do use email at home, there is a website called www.mailstart.com that will try to connect to your email account regardless of your address. It is a very clever system and it works well, but although it used to be free, they now charge a fee after a short trial period.
EMAIL ADDRESSES, USERNAMES AN PASSWORDS:
This is important enough to merit a separate section. If you are using a web-based sevice instead of your usual email program, then please remember to take the email addresses of everyone that you will want to be contacting while you're on your cruise. You won't have access to your AOL or Outlook address book online when you are accessing mail from the ship. The same is true of all the usernames and passwords that your computer usually stores for you. Be sure to look them up and test them before you leave! Also, list the URLs of all of your favorite places on the Web. Be sure to write them down (for example, the URL for this Web site is cruisemates.com).
DIGITAL PICTURES: Everyone loves to see pictures but sending a digital picture by email can be complicated. You'll find that many of the Internet cafes on ships do not provide you with the method to load the picture from your camera into the computer that is connected to the Internet. There are many different ways to load a digital picture from a camera to a computer including floppy disks, USB connections and PC card inputs.
If your heart is set on sending vacation photos to friends and family, either take along your own laptop, or plan on doing it from a cyber cafe ashore that will allow you to use the floppy or CD-Rom drive. You might even invest in a portable SIMM-card reader to plug in to various computer's USB ports while in Internet cafes. But if you are in a ship Internet cafe, don't count on being able to input anything. On Royal caribbean, for example, the computers are completely enclosed in a locked box -- all you see is the keyboard and monitor. If you're not a pro at doing such things, just ask the cybercafe's employees for help -- in our experience, they're true geeks who are ready to lend a hand. But on ships, expect to be told it just isn't possible much of the time.
SAVING TIME ONLINE The final consideration when using the Internet on ships is the cost. Some of the best deals are the $50 packages that come out to about $.33 cents for minute - still VERY expensive. So, think ahead. If you are using you own laptop, log in just long enough to download all of your email, then log off. Answer all of your email and let the replies sit in your outbox. Then, the next time you log in all the replies will go out at once.
For message boards, copy all of the messages in a thread and then log off. Paste the whole thread into a word processing program. Then type out you answers on the same document, log back onto the internet, go to the message board and PASTE the replies in where you want them.
If you want to upload pictures, make them smaller in size before you upload them. For example, today's digital camera will take a picture with a resolution as high as 2592 x 1944 pixels. Either set your camera to take smaller pictures in pixels, such as 640x480 (which my camers refers to as the "email" setting). Or else, if you plan on printing them later, then set your camera to a higher resolution, but use a photo editing program like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or even Windows Paint, to reduce the size of the picture in pixels before you upload. Save the original copy of the picture,and save the smaller sized copy under a different name. This will save you many minutes when uploading, but you can still print the high resolution original version when you get home.
Connecting to the Internet from a cruise ship can be expensive: expect to pay between $25 to $60 per hour. A more affordable option is to visit a cybercafe in port. Finding a cybercafe is usually a simple process. Ask a crew member aboard the ship -- they often use email to keep in touch with friends and family. Ask at the local tourist information office. We have even seen cybercafes appearing on the list of recommended stores handed out by the cruise ships when they reach port. In the Caribbean expect to pay between $4 to $8 per hour.
Here is a link to a Web site that lists cybercafes around the world: The Cybercafe Search Engine http://cybercaptive.com. The site is excellent, but these cafes come and go so quickly it's impossible to keep up, so even if a port does not have a cafe listed here there is still a good chance one can be found.
Local hotels also often offer Internet access if they have a business center available to their guests. This is usually a more expensive option than a cybercafe, generally about the same price as on-board a cruise ship.
Happy cruising, and surfing -- the Web