Often when people take a cruise they want to stay in touch with family back home by calling. Before you take that cruise it is advisable to check with you cellular service concerning your options and costs. Being forewarned is forearmed.
Using cell phones while on a cruise can be very expensive. The major U.S. cell services range in cost between $2.99 a minute up to $5.99. In order to provide cell service the cruise lines contract with a marine cellular service that operates while the ships are at sea. A number of the U.S. based cruise lines use Cellular At Sea for their service and the charges are passed from Cellular At Sea through to your cell service and it appears on your monthly bill. Because of this arrangement most prepaid plan services as well as most discount cellular services just won’t work onboard ship. Using the ships in-cabin phone service isn’t any better with $5.99 a minute being typical.
In an emergency most cruise ships will assist you in making calls at sea usually at no cost to you. Check with the service desk onboard.
If you wait until you are in a port to place calls the service switches to the regional carriers in that country where costs are based on your cell services roaming charges. Roaming charges vary depending on your service so you’ll want to check with your carrier for those rates. If you’ve got T-Mobile, check to see if the country visited is included in the Simple Choice plan. If it is, making phone calls will only be $0.25/minute while data is free. Calls from Mexico and Canada using T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan are free. Verizon’s TravelPass and AT&T’s International Day Pass charge $5 to $10 per day for travelers to text, call and use data based on the plan they have at home but you must sign up for the service before traveling. Without the pass, pay-per-use data rates for both carriers costs more than $2.00/MB.
Receiving and sending text messages are usually pretty inexpensive while at sea. Typically incoming texts are free and outbound costs are usually 25¢ to 50¢. Be cautious of MMS, especially if you use an iPhone and ask your carrier for rates as these messages involve data charges.
A number of years ago the major carriers had reasonably priced cruise plans but AT&T acquired Cellular At Sea and changed the rate structure. Now AT&T is the only company that currently has cruise rate packages with the lowest priced package providing 50 minutes and unlimited texts for a fixed price of $50 (overages are $1.99 a minute) but with no data.
When you’re in port, your cell signal will switch to a carrier in that country where international roaming rates apply. You need to be very aware of the service switch as you enter and leave port. If you are on a call as the ship sails out it often switches to the marine service without you being aware – so at sea rates will apply.
If you are looking to save money on calls most ships have data plans with some being included with the booking or reasonably priced. Often you can install an app on your phone that allows calling over internet that usually works well (MagicJack service is a popular option). While services that provide video calling like Skype may encounter internet speed issues voice only calls usually work much better.
Be careful and be sure and check with your provider before you cruise.