By Rosemary McClure
I had been looking forward to an upcoming cruise for weeks. But timing is everything, and mine wasn’t good. I had a deadline looming as I boarded the ship. I knew I needed to get busy right away or I’d never make my deadline.
Then the on-board Internet crashed, and the prognosis wasn’t good. A shipboard tech in the computer room suggested I disembark and use land-based Internet. “We aren’t scheduled to depart for hours,” he said. “You probably can get a lot of work done.”
As much as I hated leaving so quickly after I’d just arrived, I did so, made my deadline and reboarded the ship.
I was disheartened. Would I spend the rest of the cruise worried about the Internet or being forced to live without it? Fortunately, no. The ship’s connection soon returned, and there were no more problems.
“In our increasingly connected world, it has become incredibly important for travelers to stay connected,” said Thomas P. Ostebo, president and chief executive of Cruise Lines International Assn.
The cruise industry, it’s said, has turned a corner in terms of connectivity; it’s reliable and prices are coming down.
I still hear of users who can’t get Internet connectionsESTION: not: can’t get Internet connections yes, that’s fine too?, especially those who assume they can keep tabs on work or home without any problems. I also hear about fees so high that they make other shipboard purchases seem like a bargain.
But better times appear to be on the horizon.
“Historically, cruise line Internet has been notorious for being slow and expensive,” said Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of CruiseCritic.com. In times past, the connectivity “wasn’t really an issue for travelers — it was understood and accepted that you’re at sea and will likely be a bit disconnected,” she said.
“But today, as the Internet becomes more and more ingrained — and expected — as part of the travel experience, cruise lines have invested greatly in improving the quality of their on-board Internet.”
Leading the charge, Carnival Cruise Line’s new social media Internet packages offer access to a variety of popular websites such as Facebook and Twitter for $5 a day.
The line’s new mobile app is expected to be available fleetwide by summer.
“Fast, affordable and reliable social media channels and the Internet have become essential on today’s cruise ships,” said Gabriela Gonzalez, Carnival technology expert. “We have thoughtfully approached this area to ensure we are providing options that guests sailing throughout our fleet find truly valuable and reliable.”
Disney Cruise Lines is also changing the way passengers access the Internet. Its Connect@Sea service doesn’t count the number of minutes you’re online; it counts data use, which is good news for cruisers who just want to stay up to date with tasks that don’t consume much data, including simple email.
Many cruise lines offer Internet cafés where charges accumulate by the minute. These Wi-Fi hubs are available on major lines, including Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, that offer a variety of other packages as well.
The charges can add up quickly. One way to defray the cost: You might find Internet deals through a plan that’s a perk of a line’s loyalty program.
Many, such as Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor Society, give members discounts on Internet use. Some, such as Silversea, grant unlimited free Wi-Fi to guests who have suites or penthouses. Other guests may get an hour daily of free Wi-Fi.
Many lines are upgrading their Internet Systems. Norwegian Cruise Line will quadruple current bandwidth for NCL, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleets by July to meet rising Internet expectations of passengers, it announced last week.
Rates vary on these fleets, with Norwegian offering an unlimited plan that costs $29.99 a day for cruises up to 12 days or per-minute plans from $75 for 100 minutes. On Regent Seven Seas, the corporation’s high end line, passengers receive complimentary WiFi.
CruiseCritic.com managing editor McDaniel likes the changes.
”As a travel journalist who constantly has to stay connected at sea, I can vouch that the improvements lines have made in the past couple of years truly are making a difference,” she said. “Prices in general are falling, especially among the mainstream lines, and some luxury and river brands offer free Internet to everyone, which is a trend we love.”
Be sure to check the fine print on Internet use before you set sail next time. It can make a huge difference in your bottom line.
Cruise tip: While onboard, lock in rate for next trip
Do you love the cruise you’re on so much that you’re contemplating another? Many cruise lines offer to lock in a low rate for passengers who book a future cruise while they’re still onboard. Talk to the booker on your ship; you’ll probably be offered some very low rates and perhaps some perks as well.