How to Avoid Roaming Charges on a Cruise Ship

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Woman using her phone on a cruise ship

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Imagine setting sail on a serene cruise only to return to land with a phone bill that costs more than your vacation. It’s a common story, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Staying connected at sea without breaking the bank is simpler than you might think.

You can avoid roaming charges on a cruise ship by turning off your phone, using airplane mode, purchasing a WiFi plan or international roaming package, or looking for free WiFi in ports of call.

Read on to learn more about using your phone on a cruise ship.

Can You Use Your Cell Phone on a Cruise Ship?

Absolutely! Cruise ships have specialized cell services such as Wireless Maritime Services or Cellular at Sea. These phone systems operate using satellites, ensuring you can still send texts or calls even at sea.

Remember, though, while they keep you connected, they’re not exactly budget-friendly.

Your cell provider will generally bill the on-ship cell usage as international roaming. Yes – that means high costs.

Before you board, it’s wise to contact your provider and ask about their cruise packages. Many phone providers offer special cruise ship roaming plans at cheaper rates than international roaming.

Cruise ship roaming bundles might seem pricey at first glance, but trust us; they’re often more affordable than the sky-high roaming charges that’ll pile up without them.

Remember, most of these packages don’t include data. So, if your needs don’t extend beyond internet services, you’ve got a more cost-effective option – the ship’s WiFi.

When staying online, your best bet is to purchase a WiFi package. For calls or messages, consider using internet-based apps like Signal and WhatsApp.

Cruise ship WiFi is much cheaper than roaming fees. And we recommend using the WiFi if you don’t require traditional cell phone service.

Put your phone on airplane mode with WiFi on to prevent unexpected roaming costs.

You might have heard that cruise ship WiFi is mind-numbingly slow. But that’s not the case on most cruise ships anymore.

Thanks to Starlink Internet, most cruise ships now offer high-speed internet. In fact, we recorded internet download speeds of 83 Mbps with Royal Caribbean’s Voom internet.

With speeds like that, you can browse the web, message, video call, and stream without interruptions or buffering.

How Much Does it Cost To Use Your Phone on a Cruise

When sailing the high seas, staying connected through your phone can come with a hefty price tag. The cost to use your smartphone on a cruise ship varies widely depending on your cell phone carrier and the cruise line.

Typically, you’re dealing with satellite technology, which increases the price considerably compared to your standard land-based mobile services.

Prices for cruise ship roaming are set by your carrier, not the cruise line.

So, checking with your carrier before your cruise vacation is always best.

Here’s the stinger: using your phone like you would on land can lead to eye-watering charges. Making calls can cost up to $6 per minute, and sending texts often runs around $0.50 per message.

Here are some average costs you might encounter:

ServiceApproximate Cost
Voice Call$0.99 – $6.00 per minute
Text Message$0.25 – $0.80 per message
Data Usage$15.00 – $20.00 per MB

To avoid these outrageous fees, exploring your options before embarking is essential.

Check if your carrier offers cruise-specific packages if you require traditional text messaging and calling. Some carriers provide daily rates, allowing unlimited calls, texts, and data for a fixed price. The packages are significantly cheaper than pay-per-use rates.

Cruise Ship Phone Plans

Below are several popular options for cruise ship phone plans.

Verizon: Verizon offers “Pay As You Go” rates ranging from $0.99 to $2.99 per minute for voice calls, depending on the call’s destination and originating country. Data usage costs $2.05 per MB, while sending an SMS costs 25 cents, receiving an SMS is 5 cents, and MMS messages are 25 cents each, whether sent or received. These rates apply to most cruise lines. For travelers on one of the 400 ships partnered with Verizon, Verizon offers a special $20 monthly plan with 50MB of data. However, be cautious, as there is a data overage fee of $20 for each extra 50MB.

AT&T: AT&T offers two non-recurring cruise package options. The AT&T Cruise Talk & Text package is priced at $50, offering 50 minutes of talk time with a $2 per minute charge for additional minutes. Their AT&T Cruise Talk, Text & Data package costs $100, providing unlimited talk and text and 200MB of data, and charges $2 for each additional MB of data used.

T-Mobile (including Sprint): T-Mobile, which now includes Sprint, does not have specific cruise packages. Instead, their standard international roaming rates apply on cruises without a data service option. Sending a text costs 50 cents, while texts received are deducted from your domestic text plan. Voice calls are notably expensive at $5.99 per minute.

US Cellular: US Cellular offers roaming services on select cruise ships, but only with standard plans. Their roaming rates are $4 per minute for voice calls and 80 cents for each sent text, with received texts costing 25 cents each and data priced at $20 per MB.

Metro by T-Mobile and Mint Mobile: Customers of Metro by T-Mobile and Mint Mobile currently lack roaming services on cruise ships. To stay connected and manage expenses effectively, I recommended purchasing a prepaid International SIM card that covers cruise vessels and international ports.

How to Avoid Roaming Charges on Cruise Ships

Taking a photo of a sunset on the beach

Now that you understand how roaming charges work, here is a list of tips to help you use your cell phone while on a cruise.

Turn Off Your Phone

The simplest way to avoid unexpected roaming charges is to turn off your phone. When your phone is off, it cannot connect to cellular networks, ensuring you don’t incur charges for data, calls, or texts.

However, it’s essential to consider the drawbacks.

Turning off your phone means you’re completely disconnected. Turning off your phone isn’t practical for those who need to stay in touch with family or manage work-related tasks.

Additionally, you won’t be able to capture photos or access offline apps unless you turn your phone back on.

Use Airplane Mode

Activating airplane mode is a convenient way to prevent roaming charges while using your phone for offline activities. In airplane mode, your phone won’t connect to cellular networks but can still connect to WiFi.

Airplane mode allows you to use your phone for offline apps, games, and photos. You can also access the internet in airplane mode when WiFi is available.

Using airplane mode is our preferred solution because it mitigates the risk of roaming fees while allowing you to use your device.

Remember that you’ll need to connect to a WiFi network to use any online services. You won’t be able to receive calls or texts, but you can use messaging apps over WiFi to stay in touch.

Purchase an International Roaming Plan

For those who need to stay connected, purchasing an international roaming plan from your mobile phone service provider can be a cost-effective way to manage roaming charges. Many carriers offer cruise plans, often providing a set amount of data, calls, and texts for a fixed price.

Cruise ship roaming plans allow you to use your mobile phone as usual without fear of exorbitant fees.

Always check the terms of your roaming plan. Exceeding the plan limits can result in high costs. Also, check that the plan covers your destination, as not all plans include cruise ships or specific international regions.

It’s also important to remember that cruise ship cell phone plans are more expensive than WiFi packages and don’t include data. Even with a cruise ship cellular plan, you won’t have access to the internet unless you purchase a WiFi plan from your cruise line.

Use the Ship’s WiFi

Cruise ships offer WiFi packages, allowing you to connect to the internet without using your cellular data. These packages vary in price and internet speeds, so choose one that suits your needs.

Using the ship’s WiFi is a reliable way to stay online, especially for activities that require a stable internet connection, like video calls or streaming.

Be aware that ship WiFi can be more expensive and slower than land-based WiFi. It’s also shared among many passengers, which can affect its speed and reliability.

Many cruise lines have upgraded to Starlink internet service. So, while the internet speeds might not be as fast as you’re used to, they are fast enough for you to browse the web, email, message, video call, and stream.

Look for Free WiFi at Ports of Call

When the ship is docked, you can often find free WiFi at ports of call. Cafes, restaurants, shops, and public spaces offer free internet access. If you can wait until you’re in port to access WiFi, you can save a lot of money compared to purchasing an internet plan.

Free WiFi is an excellent opportunity to download necessary documents, check emails, message back home, post on social media, or upload photos without incurring roaming fees.

However, exercise caution with public WiFi. Public WiFi isn’t always secure.

Avoid accessing sensitive information or making transactions over these networks. Additionally, the quality and speed of the internet can vary greatly.

Marcello De Lio
Marcello De Lio

Marcello's been cruising since he was 12 years old. He loves the freedom that cruising provides, meeting new people, and exploring amazing new ships. Marcello created High Seas Cruising to share his passion for cruising and travel with readers and grow a community of passionate voyagers.

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