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Cruising Tips & Tech Cruise Tips

Cruising And Cellular Telephone Service

While on a cruise most people would like to be able to stay in touch with family and friends back home by telephone or texting. But before you take that cruise it is really important to check with you cellular phone service concerning cruise ship roaming costs. Being forewarned can save you a small fortune.

Using the ships in cabin telephones as a calling service isn’t any better with a $5.99 per minute charge being typical. Those charges are placed directly on you cruise account. In cases where there is a family or personnel emergency where you need to call the recommendation is to go discuss the situation with the ships Guest Services. In most cases they can provide calls free of charge.

While cellular telephone calls while on ship can be expensive there are a few communication work-arounds and alternatives.

  • Subscribe To A Cruise Package With Your Carrier
  • Use Wifi Calling For Voice Connecting
  • Set A Schedule Where You Place Calls While In Port
  • Consider Texting As Your Primary Communication

Cruise Cellular Packages

Generally cell phones while on a cruise can be very expensive. The major U.S. cell services range in cost between $1.79 to $5.99 a minute for regular telephone service.

In order to provide continuous cell service most cruise lines contract with a marine cellular service that operate for ships at sea. The dominate provider in marine cell service is Cellular At Sea. While cruising on this service charges are passed from Cellular At Sea through to your cell service to appear on your monthly bill. Because it is based on future billing for current service most prepaid cell phones simply won’t work onboard a ship.


CURRENT RATES FOR THE THREE MAJOR U.S. CARRIERS

Based on research in April 2022


T-MOBILE CRUISE TALK & TEXT


T-Mobile ONE and Simple Choice Plan Customers get these rates automatically.

  • Talk: $5.99/min
  • Text: Sending $0.50/txt, Receiving free
  • Data:No data

AT&T CRUISE TALK, TEXT & DATA

One-time charge for 30 days $100

  • Talk: unlimited
  • Text: unlimited
  • Data: 200MB overage $2.00/MB.

CRUISE TALK & TEXT

One-time charge for 30 days $50

  • Talk: 50 minutes, overage $2.00/min.
  • Text: unlimited

VERIZON TALK, TEXT & DATA

You can talk, message, and use data on more than 400 cruise ships. 

Cruise ship Pay as You Go pricing.

  • Voice Pricing. $1.79/min.
  • Text Messaging. $0.50/message sent $0.05/message received.
  • Pay as You Go Data. $0.002/KB or $2.05/MB.

Using Wifi For Calling

There are a number of apps and services that use VOIP (voice over internet protocol) that can provide for calls using the ships wifi. Most cruise ships offer Wi-Fi for a fee or as part of a cruise package. Cruise lines can charge a per-minute or a per-megabyte rate while onboard to access the web on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. The biggest issue in this approach is the wifi speed being able to support clear VOIP.

Some cruise lines will offer unlimited internet packages. These can be as low as $5 to $10 per day for casual internet surfing and email speed to $20 or more per day for “premium” packages with fast connectivity.

In many cases you will need to work out combinations of apps with your family to use wifi. Good choices include Skype, Messenger, Google Duo and WhatsApp. Another approach is a VOIP telephone service like MagicJack where you actually place calls to telephone numbers.


Place Calls When In Port

If you wait until you are in a port to place calls the service switches to the regional carriers in that ports country where costs are based on your cell services roaming charges. International roaming charges vary depending on your selected 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 and data is free (VOIP is the option here as well). 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 international service. Without subscribing, international pay-per-use data rates for both carriers costs over $2.00/MB.

Relying On Text Messages

Receiving and sending text messages usually are pretty inexpensive while at sea. Typically incoming texts are free and outbound costs are 25¢ to 50¢ per text depending on your provider. Be cautious of MMS and ask your carrier for rates as MMS texting actually involves data charges.

Years ago most major carriers all had reasonably priced cruise ship plans through Cellular At Sea. Several years ago AT&T acquired Cellular At Sea and changed the rate structure making their network the only inexpensive user. That’s why only AT&T currently has cruise rate packages at reasonable prices.

A final caution about using cell phones on ship. When you’re in port, your cell signal will switch to a carrier in that country where your services international roaming rates apply. You need to be very aware that the service switches as you enter and leave port. If you are on a call as the ship sails out and it switches to the marine service – so will the rates in mid call.

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