>  Cruising   >  Mobile phones on cruise ships: beware of bill shock!
mobile phone

Do mobile phones work on cruise ships? While you can use your mobile phone on a cruise ship overseas or in Australia, it’s worth thinking twice about it before you do. Because there’s one souvenir you don’t want to bring home from your cruise and that’s a huge phone bill. Cruise ships use satellite services to provide mobile coverage when the ship is out of range of the mobile phone towers onshore. Call charges start at around $5 per minute and data rates are even more expensive. However, it’s possible to stay connected without spending a fortune with the following tips.

Download essentials before you leave port

Don’t waste time and money downloading cruise line or messaging apps, games or software while you’re away. Think about what you’ll need for your trip and set up your phone so it is ready to go before you leave the port.

Switch your phone to aeroplane mode

The best way to avoid unwanted mobile phone charges on your cruise is to switch your phone to aeroplane mode when you get onboard. If you want to connect to wi-fi on the ship or in port, you can activate wi-fi only access without the risk of incurring data roaming charges.

Activate global roaming on a cruise

If you want to be contactable by phone in case of an emergency, you may like to activate global roaming on your phone even if you aren’t planning on using the data. Simply switch off the mobile data in your mobile phone’s settings. This allows calls to come through but prevents your phone connecting to the internet.

Keep calls short or text instead

If you have your global roaming mobile service turned on and mobile data turned off, keep calls short if someone does ring you and ask them to text you instead. It will cost you around $1 a minute to chat with them, even though they’re paying for the call. Receiving texts doesn’t cost anything, provided it’s a standard text message and not an MMS. Texting people from the ship costs around 50 cents per message, much less than the cost of a phone call.

Be careful if you’re close to shore

On some Australia cruises that sail up the coast, you’ll be able to connect to mobile phone towers onshore for much of your trip. But you need to be careful. If you’ve got global roaming activated, it can automatically switch over from your regular provider to the ship’s satellite service without you realising. Most providers send a text to stay you’ve activated global roaming but this can take a while to come through. If you’ve got automatic app updates turned on, missing this message can be an expensive mistake.

Use free wi-fi in port

It is usually possible to find free wi-fi at the cruise terminal, in the city centre, or at a café when the ship is in port. Ask the crew where they go to use the free wi-fi as they’re experts at knowing the best, most convenient, and fastest hotspots in port.

Purchase an International Roaming Pass

International Global Roaming passes do not apply on a cruise ship. However, you can use them when the ship is in port. This can be a good option for cruisers who want to maximise their port days and get online without wasting time hunting down free wi-fi hotspots.

Buy a cruise line internet package

Some high end lines such as Viking Cruises include internet in their fares. Other lines offer a variety of packages, ranging from social media only packages to Royal Caribbean’s Surf & Stream which supports movie streaming. Beware of plans which offer access by the minute. You’ll probably waste most of those precious minutes getting online if the connection is slow.

Use wi-fi for voice calls

If you have an onboard internet package or plan to use free wi-fi in port, use a free voice and video calling app such as Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime to stay in touch. Make sure you download the relevant app, get it set up and learn how to use it before you leave home.

Consider your usage

Consider what you want to do online and purchase only what you need. For example, if you only want to stay in touch with friends and family, a social media only plan can save money. Along with being able to access popular social websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, you can also use messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Keep your expectations reasonable

While some onboard internet packages support movie streaming, don’t expect the same download rates and speeds you get back home. Cruise ship internet can be impacted by how many other cruisers are online, how close the ship is to land and even where you are on the ship. Splurging on the most expensive internet package could end up being a waste of money.

Disclosure: The writer is an expert when it comes to using a mobile phone on a cruise ship without racking up a huge bill.

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Please click here to view our disclosure policy.

Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.