Cell phones have come a long way from their early days of being just simple devices for making phone calls. They’ve become so ingrained with our daily lives that it’s hard to disconnect – even while on vacation.
So it’s no surprise that people want to use them while on vacation, including when they’re on a cruise ship.
But do cell phones work on cruise ships?
The good news is that you can use your phone on a cruise ship. Unfortunately, cell service might be expensive, and the coverage might be spotty while you are sailing.
Here’s everything you need to know about using your phone on a cruise ship.
Cell Phone Service on Cruise Ships
Yes, you can use your cell phone on a cruise ship. But it’s a little complicated.
There are no cell towers in the middle of the ocean. And even the strongest cell towers won’t be able to reach the ship.
Fortunately, cruise ships are equipped with cellular service and onboard wi-fi, but it will cost you.
For traditional cell phone service, cruise ships rely on satellite service providers such as “Cellular at Sea” or “Wireless Maritime Services.”
The phone services provided by cruise lines work for any phone that allows roaming, which means you will be paying hefty fees to make calls or text – but we’ll cover that more in a bit.
As you might expect, the cell service provided by satellite providers is costlier than land-based phone service.
If you decide to make calls using the cruise ship’s phone service, it is considered a roaming charge by your mobile carrier.
So while you can make traditional calls and texts, it’ll cost substantially more than your typical phone plan.
Cruise Specific Phone Plans
Many carriers offer cruise ship-specific phone plans.
But they are costly.
These plans allow you to use your cell phone on a cruise. But they charge a premium for using the ship’s satellite phone service.
For example, Verizon offers a cruise and airplane plan at $2.99 per minute and $0.50 per text message.
AT&T also offers a couple of cruise-specific plans starting at $50.
Unsurprisingly, the plans usually have hidden terms and fees. The hidden fees typically take the form of capping usage rates. They’ll charge your account a higher price if you surpass the limit.
Before purchasing any cruise roaming plan, it’s important to note that these plans rarely provide data usage on the ship.
If you need internet access on the ship, you’ll have to purchase an internet package from the cruise line.
In other words, you’ll need to connect to the ship’s wi-fi and cellular service if you require a traditional cell phone and internet.
Bottom line: Before you purchase any cruise cell phone plan, ensure you understand the terms and conditions for the cruise lines and the cell phone provider.
Using Your Phone in a Port of Call
When you are in port, you can use your cell phone just as you would if you were on any other vacation.
But a word of caution – international roaming rates might differ from cruise ship rates. And they may change by country.
Below are links to the international roaming rates of major US and Canadian cell phone carriers:
- AT&T Cruise Ship Roaming Rates
- Verizon International Plans
- T-Mobile International Roaming Plans
- Rogers Roaming Rates
- Bell Roaming Charges
- Telus Easy Roaming Charges
If you plan on using your phone while in port, check with your provider’s international roaming plans for each port you visit.
As a side note, double-check where your phone is connecting before using it in port. Some ports don’t have land-based reception.
And depending on your proximity to the ship, your phone may connect to the ship’s service rather than the port’s cell tower.
Land and cruise-based roaming charges differ, with land-based reception often less expensive.
Can I Use the Ship’s Wi-Fi?
Nearly every major cruise line offers wi-fi onboard the ship.
The internet service is slow and costly but often cheaper than roaming rates.
You’ll immediately notice that web browsing is slower than you are used to backing home.
However, depending on your plan, you can text, call, video chat, check email, browse the web, and access streaming services.
The internet package is our preferred method for using our phone on a cruise.
Many cruise lines offer mobile apps that connect to the ship’s wi-fi for free.
The app offers a few basic services, including viewing the activity schedule, deck plans, and making reservations.
But, our favorite feature of the app is the ability to message your travel party.
Cruise ships are so big that it’s easy to lose track of your family and friends once you’re onboard. The free messaging service allows us to keep in contact and meet up at activities and events without purchasing an internet package.
How to Avoid Roaming Charges?
If you’re reluctant to pay the exorbitant fees for using your phone on a cruise, we recommend purchasing the ship’s wi-fi package.
Packages are typically less than $15 per day. And many cruise lines offer unlimited use.
The wi-fi packages are usually cheaper than cell phone service, but internet speeds are far slower than you are probably used to back home.
That said, you can use the wi-fi package for video chat, messaging, and online calls. It’s a great way to stay connected with loved ones back home without accumulating roaming fees.
If you want to avoid roaming rates, do yourself a favor and keep your phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it.
Even if you’re not actively using your phone on a cruise, it still performs background tasks that may connect to phone services.
Avoiding roaming charges is a big topic. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve written a whole article on how you can avoid roaming charges on a cruise ship.
Phone Service on Cruise Ships FAQs
Do You Have Cell Phone Service on a Cruise?
Yes. Cruise ships are equipped with phone service so you can receive calls and send text messages. But, the service is expensive.
You can save money by purchasing the ship’s wi-fi package and using messaging apps instead of traditional phone service.
Can You Make Calls on a Cruise Ship?
Yes, you can use the ship’s phone service to make calls back home.
Can You Text on a Cruise Ship?
Yes, you can make and receive text messages using the ship’s onboard phone service.
How to Text on a Cruise Ship for Free?
Many major cruise lines offer mobile apps that allow guests to communicate with friends and family onboard. The app makes it easy to keep in touch with fellow cruisers, as long as they are on the same ship.
Can You Use Mobile Data on a Cruise?
Most cruise lines don’t provide mobile data usage on their ships. It’s important to note that using mobile data through cruise ships is expensive, as it’s considered roaming by mobile phone carriers.
Will I Be Charged for Unintentional Phone Use By My Cell Company?
You can be charged for using your phone while on a cruise ship, even if it’s unintentional.
Most carriers will send a text message alerting you when you are roaming. Aside from that, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you have adjusted your phone settings to avoid roaming charges.
Do yourself a favor, and set your phone to airplane mode before you step on board.
Can I Call Home From a Cruise Ship?
Cruise ships are equipped with phone service that allows guests to call home and keep in touch with loved ones.