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.

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 has introduced 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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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 on all Carnival ships. 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: The Social plan starts at $36 for a three-night cruise, and does not include access to other websites or apps. The Value plan starts at $54 for a three-night cruise, 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). The Premium plan starts at $78 for a three-night cruise, 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 these packages are purchased online before the 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.


iLounge on Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Cruises

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: Xcelerate, Celebrity Cruises' high-speed internet, allows for faster web browsing, less time spent waiting for pages to load and video-streaming capabilities with easier access to Netflix, YouTube, FaceTime and Skype. The internet service is available fleetwide with the exception of Galapagos-based expedition ships.

Fees: Several packages are available. The Browsing package costs $59 for 90 minutes and the Social package costs $109 for 240 minutes. Passengers can purchase a Day Pass for $59 which entitles them to one full day of continuous access. The Unlimited package costs $199 for a 6-9 day voyage and $299 for a 10-14 day voyage. Pay As You Go is also available for $0.79 per minute, but this is only available for purchase onboard.

Additionally, unlimited internet is available through Celebrity's "Go Big, Better, Best" (GBBB) fare bundles. When booking GBBB-eligible sailings, passengers get to choose one of four perks, including unlimited internet at no cost. (Additional perks can be added at extra cost.) This pricing is not offered for inside cabins, nor is it available for transatlantic, transpacific and Celebrity's Galapagos sailings.

Mobile Phones: Passengers on all Celebrity ships can use their mobile phones onboard. Roaming charges will apply.


Cruise & Maritime Voyages

(Prices quoted are AU$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: Cruise & Maritime Voyages Australia-based ships both offer Wi-Fi internet access in all suites and most public areas. Astor has internet equipped computers for passenger use; Vasco da Gama is Wi-Fi only.

Fees: Cruise & Maritime Voyages charges $19 for 100Mb, $38 for 200Mb, $69 for 500Mb, and $99 for 1,000Mb.

Cell Phones: Cruise & Maritime Voyages offers a mobile phone network that allows passengers to send and receive calls on their own compatible mobile phones while the ship is at sea. Your provider's roaming charges will apply.


Explorations Cafe on Noordam

Holland America Line

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: All Holland America ships have internet cafes. The line's Explorations Cafe, powered by the New York Times, is a cozy, coffee house-style area where passengers can either use the computers provided or a wireless internet device. High-speed terminals are scattered around the library and handily adjacent to a coffee bar. Satellite-powered wireless access is available fleetwide in most public areas and all cabins.

Fees: A seven-day Social Package is available for $69.99. There are also three per day packages: Social at $14.99 per day, Surf at $24.99 per day, and Premium at $29.99 per day.

Mobile Phones: All ships in the Holland America fleet are mobile phone friendly, and thanks to an agreement with Wireless Maritime Service, passengers can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, and access emails and surf the web with their phones. Phones must be activated for international calling with the passenger's home provider, but no special codes or software are needed. Roaming fees apply.

Norwegian Cruise Line

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: Norwegian Cruise Line offers 24-hour internet cafes, and shipwide wireless internet access on all of its ships. The free Norwegian iConcierge app allows users to tap into onboard passenger information, communicate with other passengers onboard and make their own dining and excursion reservations. The app is currently available on Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Pride of America, Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sun.

Fees: There is a per-day social media package available for $14.99 which allows access to popular social media sites. A general per-day internet usage rate of $29.99 is availble for sailings up to 12 days long. Premium unlimited costs $34.99 per day and includes streaming. All plans cost slightly less for longer sailings and if purchased online before the cruise. All ships except for Sky and Breakaway offer 250-minute blocks of usage time for $125. Laptop rental is complimentary with any time-plan purchase, but it's subject to availability.

Mobile Phones:  Passengers can make and receive calls and use data on mobile devices while the ship is at sea via a satellite connection. Roaming charges apply. 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.


P&O Australia

(Prices quoted are AU$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: P&O Cruises has a 24-hour internet cafe and shipwide wireless internet. The line offers a choice of packages, including social media only packages, starting at $12 per day.

Fees: For cruises four days and under: Platinum Unlimited $39 per cruise or pay $29 for First 24hr Platinum Unlimited; Gold Unlimited $29 per day; Silver Social Unlimited $24 per cruise; Bronze Social Unlimited $19 per day. For cruises longer than four days: Platinum Unlimited $99 per cruise or pay $89 for First 24hr Platinum Unlimited; Gold 500MB $69 per cruise; Silver 250MB $39 per cruise; Bronze 100MB $25 per cruise; Social Media Unlimited $12 per day.

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. Roaming charges apply.


Internet Cafe on Regal Princess

Princess Cruises

(Prices quoted are AU$)

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

Fees: Princess Cruises offers three different packages in Australia. Social costs $14.99 per day and allows access to the most popular social websites and applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Also includes WeChat and WhatsApp. The Social Package should be purchased for printing airline boarding passes. Surf costs $24.99 per day and includes the Social Package plus generic browsing sites, email, news, finance, sports and more. Premium costs $29.99 per day and includes Surf Package plus video streaming including YouTube and Skype.

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.


Royal Caribbean

(Prices quoted are US$)

Internet and Wi-Fi: VOOM is the name of the Royal Caribbean internet service that is available on all ships. Royal Caribbean’s VOOM packages can be confirmed pre-cruise, through the Pre-Cruise Planner tool or while onboard.

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 -- four devices or more -- start at $9.99 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, four devices or more from $13.99 per device per day.

Mobile Phones and tablets: Laptop rental is not available, however, each ship has an internet cafe with computers which can be used to connect to the internet. 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 is the only Australia-based ship with the 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).