Staying Connected on a Cruise

Cruise ship Wifi is notoriously poor, leaving passengers to wonder how they can get reliable internet at sea. These are some of your best options for staying connected on a cruise.

WiFi on a cruise is typically slow and sporadic because ships primarily use satellite rather than cellular service to connect. In order for it to work well, there needs to be an unobstructed line of sight between the ship and the satellite and this is not always possible while cruising. When you are connected, you shouldn’t expect the same level of surfing and streaming you get at home with broadband, but you should be able to check your email and share vacation photos with friends.

Whenever I cruise I am constantly testing the best methods for getting online. If you can’t take an unplugged vacation, I suggest you try some of these.

Cruise Ship WiFi

Internet on a Cruise Ship

Most cruise lines offer a WiFi package but they can be expensive at upwards of $250 for an unlimited package. I was just on a Viking River Cruise which had complimentary WiFi which was great. However, the best access to the ship’s internet depends on where the router is located on the boat. Usually, it is somewhere near the reception area. Therefore if you want to be able to get online from the privacy of your cabin, be sure to book a room nearby. Otherwise, plan to bring your devices to the lobby.

Portable Hotspot

Purchasing or renting a mobile hotspot prior to your trip can be one of the most cost-effective ways to maintain an internet connection while you are away. Because they allow multiple users to connect at once, these palm-sized pocket gadgets get you online at affordable prices and are easy to use.

Cruise Wifi

Skyroam Solis (buy or rent)

They Skyroam Solis 4G LTE global WiFi hotspot fits easily into your bag. It promises unlimited WiFi in more than one hundred countries. For under $10 per day, you can connect up to five devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) at a time. You pay only for the days you use. With 16-hour battery life, take it with you for a full day of exploring and never worry about it running out of juice. Plus it acts as a power bank to keeps your devices charged wherever you go.

HippocketWifi (rent)

Staying Connected on a Cruise

Hippocket allows you to enjoy you high-speed internet connections over a 4G LTE network in forty European countries. It has six hours of operating time, and you can choose from plans that include either 1GB per day or unlimited data. With this device, everyone in your group and then some will have WiFi because you can connect up to 10 devices at the same time. Prior to departure, they will ship it to your personal or business address in the USA or Canada. When you are done with it, simply place it in the provided pre-paid return envelope and pop it in the mail. Great for group travel!

Phone, Video and Messaging Apps

Gone are the days that require you to purchase an expensive international calling plan from your cell phone provider, because voice calls over IP (VoIP) technology have come all long way. The market has now grown to include dozens of options. You can even have face-to-face video conversations using your internet connection without worrying about expensive calling charge. Say goodbye to expensive cell service and hello free phone calls.

Staying Connected on Cruise

WhatsApp

WhatsApp makes it simple to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world for free. It is available for iPhone, Android, Mac, and Windows. Third parties cannot listen to your calls or see your messages because the app has end-to-end encryptions.

FaceTime

This is a great alternative to cellular phone calls for Apple users. Use FaceTime to make free phone voice calls over any WiFi network using FaceTime Audio. Add in the video component when your signal is strongest so you can see your friends.

Skype

Skype is a free Microsoft telecommunication app provides an option for video and audio calls between users on a wide range of platforms. It can also be used for conference calls or up to five users. Coupled with Skype Translator, which is currently available in ten languages, this powerful tool is great for business travelers.

Facebook Messenger

Did you know that you can make VoIP or voice calls from your Facebook app? In addition to the instant messaging feature that most people are familiar with, these voice and video calls are free over WiFi.

Location Sharing Apps

These handy apps are great for sharing your GPS location for planning meetups as well as for safety reasons. Unlike other social media apps, you won’t be sending that information out to the entire world.

Wave

This app offers travelers a free location sharing solution. With Wave, you can temporarily share your location with others on a private map. Additionally, it has a chat feature, with voice or text messages, and you can create groups of up to ten people. Lastly, it allows you to set up meeting points making easy to find friends at your favorite restaurants or cafes.

To stay connected and safe, charge your devices every evening. Pack a universal travel adapter to make sure your chargers work wherever you travel.

Viking River Cruise Danube

As technology has improved, the number of options to get online while cruising has increased. Although this gives travelers more choices it can make it more confusing. The trick is figuring out which are the most reliable and economical for you!


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  1. Dear Dana,

    I hate to disagree. However your report is not right. First off, if you are cruising, you do that on a ship, not a boat. It is easy to understand. You can put a boat on a ship but you can‘t put a ship on a boat.
    Secondly, the WiFi on a river cruise ship or any ship in that sense is the best near the satellite receiver on the Open Upper Deck. With Viking the satellite is at the back of the ship. There are Access points or routers throughout the ship. Thirdly, there will be no internet access or call phone access while a ship cruises through high mountain valleys or moves between high rise building, under bridges or into a lock. Cellphone connection also comes through satallite connection. What would be your solution, if the ship travels along borders between France and Germany or France, Germany and Switzerland or Austria, Hungary, Romania etc..? There more then 3 different cell phone providers with different Hertz capacity. Do they all connect to the devices, you have suggested in your report? I doubt that. It is imorptant to sort what works ALL the time and so far, there is no device that does that or it will be heavily expensive at buying or renting plus the fees, one has to pay for finding the right connection and stay connected. Roaming charges should not be underestimated.

  2. Michael-
    Thanks for your feedback. I agree with you that there is no perfect solution at this point that works all the time. It would be hard to analyze which solution is going to be the best for any individual because it depends on many factors like your budget, your personal cellular provider, the cruise ships bandwidth and so on.

    For example, I have the Verizon Above Unlimited cell plan. It includes 5 TravelPass days per month, TravelPass lets you use your domestic talk, text, and data allowances while traveling outside the US in more than 130 countries. After that it is $10/day when I am using the service outside of the US, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, Mexico and Canada. Therefore if I can get cell service, I can use my phone as a WiFi hotspot to connect these devices. Because the devices support multiple users, I am the only one in my family who needs to pay for the travel pass service as part of my plan. This is a significant cost savings if you are traveling with friends or family. Additionally, once I am connected WiFi the above apps I suggested are free to use rather than paying roaming charges.

    I have just returned from a Viking River Cruise along the Danube. I had a different experience than you. I found my connection to the ship’s WiFi best when I was seated in the reception area or directly above the reception desk in the small library. I tried it several times from the top deck and my signal was not nearly as strong.

    Hopefully, in the not to distant future, there will an ideal solution once better communication infrastructures are put into place. Until then cruise passengers will have to piecemeal it together to make it work for them.

  3. Staying connected on a cruise…one of the trickiest things to do! These are great suggestions. I recently used a device called Roaming Man which was 4G LTE and provided the best coverage I have ever had (even over my cell phone carrier which is the same as yours). It even gave us wifi during our entire overnight stay in the Sahara Desert in Morocco! As far as the apps, I do love WhatsApp and FaceTime!

  4. We are still a couple years out from going location independent but I could see us using some of these devices then. I wonder if there is an international pager (does that show my age?) I would love to get incoming messages and then I know I would need to get online to respond (like walking down to the observation deck). I didn’t know about Wave. That would ward off a lot of miscommunication and stress meeting up in public.

  5. Ahhh, the big conundrum … staying connected while trying to disconnect. 😉 Of course, as a working blogger, one does have to weigh the options carefully. When not on the open ocean and in a place where we get cell phone signal successfully (such as anywhere in Europe), we rely on our T-mobile global plan and set up our phones are wifi hot spots … works brilliantly. When on the ocean, such a Antarctica, good luck! We found even on a ship that boasted about its wifi, the speeds were iffy at best and connection spoty … ok for email, not ok for data transfers of files. And watch out for those ship wifis on rivers too — protect your data and identity with a VPN!!!! Hackers are everywhere, especially when a boat docks for the night. Great tips though Dana and very comprehensive.

  6. Long term travel and connectivity go hand-in-hand, but sometimes I like to stay disconnected too and just take in the moment. The tips you mention all seem great. I would like to try to Skyroam.

  7. Depending on the length of the cruise, it might be a good thing to disconnect for a couple of days. I’m surprised every time I read how expensive the Wifi on the cruises is! Pocket WiFi sounds like a good option, especially when 10 devices can connect at the same time.

  8. This is a great post about cruise travel. Getting connected with the outside world is the biggest issue we face during long term travelin the sea. Very informative post, helpful for those who go for cruise trips.

  9. We have a hard time staying connected while we travel around America. We weren’t sure how we were going to stay connected when we start traveling internationally. Your article is a great help.

  10. It sounds like so much hassle – maybe one could just see a chance of disconnecting and detaching and just enjoy a couple of quiet hours with no connection whatsoever!? Aren’t you going on day trips at the destinations? There will be wifi everywhere, so why not just postpone connectivity to the shore leave?!

  11. I would love to stay disconnected while travelling. But again the practical needs of today asks me to connect atleast once a day. A helpful post for that 🙂

  12. Renata-
    I couldn’t agree more and when I travel personally I always try to put down the phone and be in the moment. Unfortunately for some, they can’t do that or they have to work. Technology can be a double edge sword sometimes.

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