News and reviews of travel tech, including electronics, apps & websites, and the occasional piece of gear.

Cruising on the Internet - Checking Email on the Balcony

Cruising on the Internet: Getting Faster, Better, Cheaper

Once upon a (not so distant) time, a cruise vacation was an ideal getaway for those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, unplug on a land-based vacation. Until recently, there was no such thing as internet or cell phone access at sea, and when it first became available, it was prohibitively expensive. When all we were escaping was work, it was easy for most people to shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s a cruise; I’ll check email when we get to port. Maybe.”

In today’s world, of course, we are not escaping so much as missing out on social media. Which presents an opportunity which some cruise lines are beginning to capitalize on. Traditionally, Wi-Fi access was modeled after telephone access: for a set fee you got x number of minutes of Wi-Fi access. Of course, anyone familiar with data knows it just doesn’t work that way; there is very little correlation between minutes and megabytes. You can spend an hour on a poor Wi-Fi network just trying to download a picture, or a few minutes on a good network downloading an entire movie. If you load a single web page and spend an hour reading it, without logging off the network, you’ve likely spent more money than if you had bought a magazine in the over-priced gift shop. All of which means you’re often paying for a system’s (in)efficiency rather than what you are actually using. While most cruise lines are still charging passengers per minute for Wi-Fi access, there are a few moving to a more guest-friendly model.

Better By the Megabyte

Cruise lines are beefing up their Wi-Fi, and some are adjusting their access packages, too.

Cruise lines are beefing up their Wi-Fi, and some are adjusting their access packages, too.

Disney Cruise Lines is a fan favorite for many reasons. We applaud their decision to charge for Wi-Fi according to what you actually use, starting at 25-cents per megabyte. Three packages are available: 100MB for $19, 300MB for $39, or 1,000MB for $89. Of course, it can be difficult to gauge just how much data you will use. Our rule of thumb is Small for occasionally checking email and social media; Medium is good for posting pictures to social media, and some web surfing; Large is for the social media power users, Skype or Facetime users, or those who occasionally need to download large(ish) files.

S-M-L = Social Media Love

Earlier this year, Carnival Cruise Lines unveiled their Social Media packages, designed to match Wi-Fi access to guest activities. Similar to Disney’s Small-Medium-Large approach, the Social package is the least expensive at $5 per day for unlimited access to social media networks, but not email or web browsing. For $16 per day, the Value package grants unlimited access to email and the internet, but restricts high-usage activities like streaming music or movies, or using Skype or Facetime. For access to those activities, the $25 per day Premium package unlocks the entire internet. We also like the per day approach, which can be easily upgraded when needed. Not all Carnival ships offer the Social Media packages yet; the entire fleet should be updated by early 2016.

Cruising on the Internet - available on the Carnival Breeze

The Carnival Breeze is one of many Carnival ships already offering faster services and streamlined internet packages. Photo: Carnival Cruise Lines

Nothing Beats Free!

Norwegian Cruise Lines has begun offering free Wi-Fi in their Freestyle Choice options. Norwegian still charges for Wi-Fi by the minute, so what you actually get is a 250 minute Wi-Fi package, worth as much as $129. Otherwise, guests can choose to pay as they go for 75-cents per minute, or opt for a package of 100-minutes ($55) or 250-minutes ($100), plus a $3.95 activation fee. Those charges are about the industry average. We don’t like the old-fashioned per minute charge, but we do like free!

Across the industry, Carnival Cruise Line’s new packages seem to be Best In Class. In addition to being affordable, they should help all guests enjoy a better experience through “walled garden” access. In addition to the new packages, Carnival has been busy improving its Wi-Fi performance across the fleet, promising fast and reliable access. Hopefully, other lines will follow suit.

One thing for sure, everyone seems to have a different opinion of internet access at sea. Are you hoping to completely disconnect on vacation, or have you been forced off-line by high priced plans? Would Carnival’s new approach make you more likely to use your tech at sea, or even to choose Carnival over the competition? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Featured Image © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

More from Travel Tech