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The Internet at Sea

Young lady browsing the InternThe biggest appeal of taking a cruise used to be getting away from it all.  With smart phones and social media playing such a large role in our lives now an inability to share your photos and your status, and to see what’s going on with friends back home, can be maddening.  Fortunately, the internet has been available at sea since Norwegian sent the Sky to sea with an internet café back in 1999.

Mostly though the internet available aboard ship doesn’t compare with what you have available to you ashore.  On land the internet is provided to you by your local internet service provider through a direct connection via fiber optic cable only a few miles away, or by your local cellular network which likely has a tower a few miles away.  In comparison when you’re at sea the cruise internet is routed via satellite and your status update or selfie has to reach orbit 22,000 mi (35,000 km) above before it can make it to your front page and vice-versa for your newsfeed.  This means that by and large the internet aboard is slower than what you’re used to and because you’re sharing the satellite uplink, and its bandwidth, with thousands of other passengers it is subject to slowing down even further.

 

Space satellite orbiting the earth. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.It is also expensive.  The cruise lines pay a premium price for their internet access and they are in business to make a profit.  Traditionally, internet access aboard most major cruise lines has been paid for by the minute at a rate that varies from $0.75 per minute to nearly a dollar per minute.  That rate adds up very quickly when you’re used to hours long perusals of news stories or social media.  There are options to buy a set amount of internet time in advance for a lower per minute price, but its’s likely that most passengers will find themselves blowing through their minutes faster than expected.   Disney Cruise Lines offers similar plans, but limited by data, measured in Megabytes (MB), rather than minutes.  An unlimited time option is available from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Lines that charges on a per day basis and must be purchased in advance.  At anywhere from $5 to $25 dollars per day of cruising these can still be expensive, $125 dollars for a 5 night Carnival Cruise for instance, but are still more economical than a Carnival per minute plans which charge $159 for only 8 hours of internet time.

This infographic gives the rates and plans of cruise lines that operate out of Port Canaveral for your convenience.  Click to enlarge.Infographic-data-prices header

 

GPC BIG STOCK

Technology is always moving forward.  Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian’s new pricing plans that aren’t limited by time are enabled by new and better communications technology.  Royal Caribbean’s Voom Internet is comparable to what you would find on land, but it is only available on Oasis and Quantum class vessels which are the newest ships in the fleet.  Similarly, the sort of internet service that’s available on your cruise will be determined by what ship you’re cruising on and what cruise line operates the ship.  Carnival boasts of its bow to stern Wi-Fi.  Norwegian has internet cafés and wireless hotspots with stateroom Wi-Fi available in most, but not all of its ships.  The Spirit is one where it is available for those sailing out of Port Canaveral, and the Norwegian Epic which will be replacing it next year.

Finally, when a cruise ship pulls into a port of call it changes its internet service from satellite to the local cellular towers if they are available or in range.  You may wish to do something similar.  In port there will be many different establishments that offer free Wi-Fi with or without a purchase.  The crew makes these ports of call often, and are the people who are best able to help you find a comfortable place to check your email or just do browse for a while.

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