using a cell phone on a cruise

These days, staying in touch with friends and family stuck on land -- and even fellow passengers at sea -- is easier than ever. Ships now have branded apps that allow cruisers to chat with each other onboard, super-fast high-bandwidth Wi-Fi and even tablets for use at sea. Whether you want to post selfies to Facebook or check out your ship's dinner menus on your iPhone, you'll likely be covered.

Internet speeds can vary significantly from line to line and ship to ship, depending on factors such as location and available bandwidth. Most cruise lines don't offer speeds that can support streaming services like Netflix or Spotify. Royal Caribbean, however, is changing the at-sea connectivity game with a relatively affordable high-speed service that can support video and music streaming. The line rolled out Voom -- the fastest Wi-Fi at sea -- fleetwide in 2016.

Just like connection speeds at sea, internet charges vary by cruise line. Some lines charge by the minute, and others offer daily or voyage-long packages. A few lines charge by bandwidth. Plus, a lot of major cruise lines are beginning to offer tiered usage packages that are priced based on the types of sites and online services passengers use. For example, Royal Caribbean has one package for those who just want to browse the web or send emails and another more expensive package for passengers intending to stream shows and movies. Carnival Corp., too, is improving the internet on all 10 of its lines and will be introducing tiered usage packages. River cruise lines typically offer free internet.

Mobile phone rates at sea vary by wireless company, but they will generally reflect international roaming rates, which can be breathtakingly pricey. When the ship reaches port, pricing will switch to the country-specific roaming rate -- also not cheap unless you've signed up for an international calling plan.

Below is a rundown of what the major cruise lines offer for internet and phone service.

For some background and tips, here's everything you need to know about internet at sea.

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P&O Australia

(Prices quoted are AU$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: P&O Cruises has a 24-hour internet cafe or shipwide wireless internet. New Wi-Fi packages encourage guests to get social with the launch of four new internet packages across its five-ship fleet priced from just $10 per day on cruises sailing for four nights and under, with prices starting from $10 per day for its bronze social unlimited package, which includes access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Fees: For cruises four days and under: Platinum Unlimited $29 per cruise; Gold Unlimited $20 per day; Silver Social Unlimited $19 per cruise; Bronze Social Unlimited $10 per day. For cruises longer than four days: Platinum Unlimited $99 per cruise or pay $20 per day; Gold 500MB $69 per cruise; Silver 250MB $39 per cruise; Bronze 100MB $19 per cruise; Social Media Unlimited $10 per day.

Mobile Phones and tablets: The plans mentioned above, include access to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp, Google+ and LinkedIn and passengers can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, read emails and surf the Web on their own phones and mobile devices while the ship is at sea, via a satellite connection. Roaming charges apply.


A social media logotype collection printed and placed on modern computer keyboard

Carnival Cruise Line Australia (Carnival Spirit and Legend)

(Prices quoted are AU$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: Although there are no onboard internet cafes, internet is available 24 hours. There are several price plans available, allowing choices depending on needs and usage. The premium plan covers everything from email to Skype, and offers the fastest possible connection.

Fees: Social plan is $15 per day, and does not include access to other websites or apps. Value plan is $30 per day, meaning you may surf all your favourite sites, including email, news, sports, weather, banking and finance, but it does not support Skype calling or music streaming (e.g. Spotify). Premium plan is $50 per day, from email to Skype, and offers the fastest possible connection, at speeds three times faster than the value plan. It also supports Skype video calling, where coverage allows. There is a modest discount when purchasing for an entire cruise.

Mobile Phones and tablets: Access is available for the most popular social websites and applications, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and top airline websites. Roaming charges apply.


Royal Caribbean

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: VOOM is this line's exclusive, high-speed internet service -- the fastest at sea -- available fleetwide on all 24 ships worldwide. It allows internet voice and video calling and streaming (such as Skype and FaceTime), and passengers may also access Instagram or Snapchat, or video-chat using FaceTime or Skype.

Fees: There is a flat price with two packages: Surf starts at $12.99 per device per day with additional devices added at a discounted cost. Family packages -- five devices or more -- start at $8.99 per device per day. Surf and Stream also allows streaming of movies and music from Netflix or Spotify, and connection via video chat apps such as Skype for $17.99 per device per day. Additional devices can be connected at a discount, and family packages, five devices or more from $11.99 per device per day.

Mobile Phones and tablets: Laptop rental is not available, however, each ship has a computer available for use. Roaming charges usually apply at sea -- depending on provider and service availability. All personal devices can be used to connect to the ship's Wi-Fi services.

Apps: Ovation of the Seas has a complimentary app, Royal iQ, which allows guests to view the daily Cruise Compass planner, book shore excursions, make dining reservations, schedule entertainment, reserve onboard activities, view onboard accounts, call and text others onboard (nominal fee) and make and receive calls to those on land (nominal fee).


Internet Cafe on Regal Princess

Princess

(Prices quoted are AU$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: There is a 24-hour internet cafe onboard and shipwide wireless internet. Fees are by the minute, and vary according to packages purchased. Mobile phones and tablets may be used while at sea.


Fees:
Internet is now 79c per minute without the purchase of a package. The cost then decreases depending on the package purchased: $69 for 100 minutes (69c per minute); $99 for 200 minutes (50c per minute); $159 for 400 minutes (40c per minute); $199 for 600 minutes (33c per minute).

Mobile Phones and tablets: Passengers can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, read emails and surf the web on their own phones and mobile devices while the ship is at sea via a satellite connection. Roaming charges apply.


Norwegian Cruise Line

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: From July 2016 this line has added new state-of-the-art satellite dishes, and EMC's patented SpeedNet program, quadrupling the previous bandwidth. The SpeedNet program delivers popular websites at speeds that mimic high-speed fibre optic networks, similar to those available in homes and offices. There has been recent deployment of high-speed shoreside connectivity in key ports of call. There is a 24-hour internet cafe and shipwide wireless internet access. In-stateroom access is available via wireless connectivity or with the use of ethernet cable (complimentary cables can be obtained from the manager of the Internet Cafe during posted hours.

Fees: Ultimate Cruise Plan provides Wi-Fi for US$29.99 per day on cruises of one to 12 days; or for more than 13 days at $24.99 per day. Time plan: covers 100 minutes for $75; 250 minutes for $125. There is the same charge for internet cafe workstations or personal laptops. Limited laptop rentals are subject to availability (laptop insurance -- $3 per day, is optional.

Mobile Phones and tablets: The iConcierge app has messenger/phone features allowing you to contact other guests during the cruise (nominal one-time fee during cruise) and make phone calls with family and friends at home (nominal per minute fee during cruise). Passengers can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, read emails and surf the web on their own phones and mobile devices while the ship is at sea via a satellite connection. Roaming charges apply.

Apps: The iConcierge phone app allows ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship calling capabilities using VoIP (Voice over IP technology). A per-minute fee applies for this service. It can access on-demand information and real-time services, including shore excursion previews and bookings, restaurant information with menus and bookings, general information, such as onboard services, spa services, and shopping, highlights of daily activities and cruise rewards information.

--By Sally Hammond, Cruise Critic contributor