Can I make calls from my mobile phone on a cruise?
Technically, you can, but it's not always possible. Depending on where your ship is at any given moment, you might or might not have a phone signal. When you do have one, it's coming through an at-sea provider (CellAtSea for Norwegian Cruise Line and Cellular At Sea for Royal Caribbean, as examples) and is considered a roaming charge by your mobile carrier.
Rates are typically exceptionally high, with phone calls often costing upwards of $2.50 per minute. If you have purchased an International Day Pass from Telstra or an International Global Roaming plan with Vodaphone, these travel passes will not apply when you call from a cruise ship.
When you're in port, your mobile signal will typically switch to a carrier from the country or island you're visiting. Roaming charges in these areas vary; you'll want to check with your carrier for the pricing for each country you're visiting and/or confirm whether they're included in your travel pass.
Can I send or receive text messages? Is texting less expensive than making a phone call?
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It's possible to send and receive text messages at sea, as long as you have a signal through your ship's roaming network. (Just make sure you turn off data roaming in your settings.) Texting costs a lot less than a voice call -- usually in line with standard, international "pay as you go" rates. Most major carriers charge around $0.50 to send a message or deduct messages from your monthly allotment.
Many carriers also offer discounted international packages, where you can either prepay a flat fee for a set amount of text messages and/or data to use overseas or pay a flat daily fee for unlimited text messages and data usage. However, as mentioned above, these do not include cruise ships.
Check with your specific provider for details. On the flip side, you have no control over incoming text messages, so if you receive any while you are using your phone via the ship's signal, you will be charged. (Note: Internet is not required to send and receive text messages.)
How much does it cost to use the internet on my phone if I'm roaming?
Data use onboard is ridiculously expensive, especially because it tends to add up quickly. Always remember to put your phone in aeroplane mode or turn off data roaming before you head out to sea.
Even in port, the rates get pretty high. Most carriers, however, offer special plans or travel passes (for an additional fee) that allow you to use your domestic plan allowances while in port. Telstra's International Day Pass costs $10 a day in more than 70 countries, or $5 a day in New Zealand, and includes includes unlimited talk and text and 200MB of data per day to use in eligible countries. Vodaphone's $5 International Roaming pass lets you use your mobile broadband plan for $5 extra per day in 80 countries, with the usual data, call and text inclusions of your plan. An Optus Travel Pack costs $10 per day for unlimited standard talk and text plus 100MB of data to use in eligible countries.
Bear in mind that there also might be a limit to how much data you can use, per day, while in port, and you'll be charged additional fees when you exceed it. Even if your carrier sends alerts when your allowance is getting close to running out, these can take some time to come through and you may have exceeded your limit by the time the message arrives. If your plan doesn't include international data and you don't want to purchase a travel pass, you can always look for Wi-Fi at a local restaurant or bar.
If you do wish to access the internet while onboard, you can connect to the ship's Wi-Fi. Note that most ships charge for Wi-Fi usage, so you'll need to compare data roaming prices against the ship's internet charges to see which is a better deal.
How can I make sure I am not charged by my phone company for unintentional phone use?
To ensure you are not charged by your phone company, you have two choices: turn off your phone as soon as your cruise ship leaves port, or, if you want to use offline applications, put your phone into aeroplane mode.
What about the apps on my cell phone? Can I use them without paying extra?
You won't pay extra for using any app that does not require data or is not connected to the internet. Apps such as games, food diaries and music players that have music already downloaded onto the phone can be used while your phone is in aeroplane mode without racking up any charges. You also can use your phone as an alarm clock, but you'll have to manually set the time if the time onboard changes. You can use your phone to take pictures, but they won't be backed up to the cloud. Any apps that must be connected to the internet to work -- such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify and Pandora -- won't work without data or Wi-Fi, and if they're connected to data, they will quickly rack up charges you don't want to pay.
Are there any apps provided by my cruise line that I can use on the ship?
Most cruise lines provide at least one app for their passengers; not all are for use while on your cruise ship. Some are targetted at people still researching and planning their cruise vacations. For those apps designed to be used onboard, you do not need to pay to use them for functions like looking at deck plans, making restaurant reservations, looking at shore excursion choices, checking your onboard spending and other similar activities. Some apps provide communication features for texting or calling other people on the same ship who also have the app. This feature can cost money, depending on your cruise line. Check with your cruise line to find out which app(s) it offers, which ships support app functionality and if there are any costs associated with using them.
Can I use the Wi-Fi on my mobile phone?
Yes, you can use the Wi-Fi feature on your mobile phone to connect to your cruise ship's Wi-Fi, but you will have to purchase an internet package. Many ports offer free Wi-Fi to cruisers, but be aware these are open networks with limited security in place.
Can I video chat or use VoIP (like Skype or FaceTime)?
Only a handful of cruise lines -- including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, and Princess -- have invested in high-bandwidth, high-speed internet capable of supporting Skype, FaceTime and other video chat platforms. You'll also have to pay more for the internet package that enables this type of use.
If I don't want to spend the money to use my mobile phone, can I use the ship's phone to call home?
Yes, you can use the ship's phone to call home but rates can be expensive. For instance, Royal Caribbean charges a hefty $7.95/minute. If you really need to make a phone call during your cruise, your best bet, budget-wise, is to wait until you're in port and use Wi-Fi calling or buy a phone card. You can also check with your phone carrier to see if there is an international calling plan or travel pass you can purchase for the duration of your trip for use in port. An international calling plan or travel pass will often significantly lower the per-minute cost of any phone calls you make while travelling.
How can I learn more about using my mobile phone on a cruise ship?
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The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.