Is There Wi-Fi and Internet Access on Cruise Ships? Comms at Sea Explained

By Alan
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Filed Under: Cruise 101

Being a first-time cruiser can be overwhelming. You have so many questions. How much are drinks? Do I need to tip and by how much? But usually, one major anxiety is how you can keep in touch with family at home while you are on a cruise vacation. It’s no wonder then that “Is There WiFi On Cruise Ships?” Is such a common question.

In the age where being online is nearly as essential as sunscreen for many, the question of Wi-Fi access onboard is more than valid. Cruises have evolved, and with this evolution, staying connected via Wi-Fi has become a standard service.

Yet, it’s important to know that while Wi-Fi is widely available across all major cruise lines, it’s rarely complimentary, and speeds can be significantly slower than you’re used to on land.

The main draw of a cruise for some may be to disconnect from everyday life. And I totally get that. But whether it’s to share vacation snaps, check in with loved ones, or perhaps attend to urgent emails, internet access can be crucial for many of us.

Cruise lines have recognized this need and offer a range of Wi-Fi packages tailored to different needs and budgets. But you don’t need to think just about the cost. You also have to consider reliability and speed. 

Internet access quality can fluctuate based on your location at sea, the weather conditions, and even the time of day, as onboard networks can get congested during peak usage hours.

Fortunately, the emergence of innovative solutions like Starlink Internet is helping this with faster and more reliable connections than were available before.

Given the relatively high cost, however, it makes sense to consider alternatives to Cruise WiFi,  including using cellular roaming plans or finding Wi-Fi hotspots in ports. 

So before we get into the nitty gritty of what different cruise lines have to offer, let’s cover the basics of what you need to know about Internet and WiFi on cruise ships.

Is there WiFi on Cruise Ships
My Favorite Remote Office View!

Is There Wi-Fi on Cruise Ships? The Basics of Cruise Wi-Fi

All major cruise ships offer Wi-Fi and internet, but it’s a bit different than your home connection. Cruise ships use satellite connections, which means stepping on board doesn’t cut you off from the rest of the world—but it does come with a unique set of pros and cons.

Pros

  • Stay Connected: You can keep in touch with loved ones, manage work, or simply update your social media.
  • Entertainment: Access streaming services for music and movies on select ships.
  • Information: Download reading materials or check important travel and news updates.

Cons

  • Cost: It doesn’t come cheap to surf the internet, and packages can add up.
  • Internet Speed: Although things have improved dramatically over the past year or so, you should still expect slower connections at sea than you might be used to.
  • Reliability: Connection drops can be frequent, and if too many people are on at the same time, things can slow down quickly.
  • Distractions: It can take away from the cruise experience – do you really need to keep in touch with work back home?

To get the best from your cruise internet experience, think about the following:

  • Choosing Your Package: Do your research. Compare the internet packages available for your cruise beforehand. You might find options like pay-per-day, pay-per-minute, unlimited data, or by-the-device plans. For example, Is it cheaper to have 2 devices on 1 user account or a 2 user account with 1 device each? Is it cheaper to purchase the package pre-cruise or is it cheaper onboard.
  • Timing Is Everything: If you’re a night owl or an early bird, you might enjoy better speeds when you log on to the internet when fewer passengers are online.
  • Conserve Data: Turn off any automatic updates and background apps to ensure nothing is slowing down your Internet access in the background.

By considering your need for Wi-Fi against the cost and quality aboard your cruise ship, you can find the right balance between staying online and truly relaxing on the cruise.

Starlink Internet Logo with silhouette of a person holding phone and image of the Earth in the background.
Starlink Has Changed Cruise WiFi Speeds Dramatically

You may have heard about Starlink Internet, a game-changer that has transformed how we browse the internet onboard many ships. Created by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Starlink uses a network of low-Earth orbit satellites, aiming to deliver high-speed internet across the globe, even on the open ocean.

Now at this point, I am sure you are going to say “But have cruise ships not always used satellite connections for Internet Access?”. And you would be right. But the service back then made use of a few limited satellites which were expensive to use and had very limited amounts of data that could be sent through them.

Starlink changed things. Starlink satellites are smaller, less expensive to build, and have a lower space launch cost than their predecessors. They also make use of modern technology and offer much faster speeds. You can almost think of Starlink as a “mesh” of connections in the sky, so location issues have mostly been resolved or minimized.

Watch this Video For an Explanation of How Starlink Works?

Starlink Benefits:

  • Speed: With Starlink, you can expect faster Wi-Fi on cruise ships, making it easier to stream videos or video chat.
  • Reliability: With multiple Starlink satellites being available, the system, is more reliable and the network connection speed (aka Ping speed) is much faster..
  • Coverage: Starlink is truly Global – check out this interactive map to see where the Satellites are.
  • Experience: This means you could have a smoother experience staying connected with friends or sharing your holiday snaps on social media.
  • Cost: Starlink should potentially lead to more affordable internet packages on ships – however with cruise lines still recovering from massive losses due to Covid, it might be a while before they pass these savings on to customers, if at all!

Several cruise lines are already on board with Starlink. For example, Carnival Cruise Line has completed the rollout of Starlink across all Carnival ships, as has Royal Caribbean.

Most of the other major cruise lines are not far behind either. In fact, for me it’s now one of my deciding factors on what cruise ships I will sail on – Do they have Starlink? If not, I might think twice.

A view of Wonder of the Seas top deck in the early evening
Newer Cruise Ships Have Faster Internal Networks

All Consumer Cruise Ships Have Wi-Fi – But Which Cruise Line is Best?

Each cruise line offers distinct Wi-Fi packages and services so that you can stay connected even while you’re sailing in the middle of the Atlantic. But what are the different offerings from each Cruise Line and what do they cost? And do any of them offer free internet?

Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival provides three different Wi-Fi plans, including a social wi-fi plan for accessing popular social media platforms, a value plan internet connection for more extensive internet use, and a premium plan that allows for faster connections and streaming. 

They also offer a 15% discount for purchasing the package prior to boarding, as well as the option to purchase services by the day rather than the whole cruise. Carnival has rolled out Starlink across its entire fleet.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean has always claimed to have the fastest internet at sea. If you ever experienced their Internet prior to Starlink, you’ll realize that wasn’t much to boast about. Fortunately, all ships in their fleet now have Starlink, so that boast now actually means something.

Since the rollout they have consolidated their Internet offering to just one service “Voom Surf and Stream”.  Royal does offer discounts pre-boarding, but this can vary wildly. You can also purchase 24 hour packages on board if you wish.

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises offers two internet packages, from a basic browsing plan for emails and social media, to a full “browse and stream” premium internet access plan that covers streaming and video calls.  At the time of writing, Starlink has only just started to be rolled out to their fleet. 

One other important thing to note: MSC does not allow you to “switch” your Internet plan from device to device – e.g. use the Wifi on your laptop and then switch to using it on your smartphone. Once you start using the service it is locked to that particular device – be careful not to get caught out with that one.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Like MSC, Norwegian Cruise Line offers two “unlimited Internet” packages, one for basic Internet and their Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi package for streaming.  They also include 150 minutes of complimentary Internet with their “Free At Sea” package, although this is on their basic unlimited wi-fi package.

Unusually NCL has been known to offer heavy discounts once you have been on the cruise for a couple of days, but again this can vary depending on the sailing. If you do upgrade from the Free At Sea package you will usually get a 15-20% discount off the price. 

Right now, Norwegian is slowly rolling Starlink out across their fleet, so if speed is important to you, you’ll need to do some research to find out if your ship has it installed.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line offers three Wi-Fi packages to suit varying needs. Their “Stay Connected” value wi-fi plan is meant for Social Media only while you’ll need Basic Surf if you want access to email and general website browsing.

For streaming you’ll need the Premium Surf package. Disney is one of the few major cruise lines that has not yet started installing Starlink on their cruise ships.

P & O Cruises

P & O Cruises have Starlink installed fleet-wide and they offer two Wi-Fi packages – Essential for standard surfing, social media, and emails, and Ultimate if you want to do any form of streaming.

Being a British cruise line, all prices are in British Pounds (GBP)

Celebrity Cruises

As part of the Royal Caribbean Group, Celebrity Cruises has also completed its Starlink rollout. They take a different approach to Royal in that they still offer a “tiered” access system.

If you purchase their “All Included” package at the time of booking you get free drinks plus free basic internet.  You can then upgrade to the Premium service for $9.99 per day. You cannot purchase the Basic Internet package separately.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises is known for its MedallionNet Internet WiFi service and also claims that it offers the fastest Internet at Sea, even publishing its download speeds as part of its marketing.

If you purchase an all-inclusive Princess Plus or Princess Premier, they offer free WiFi as part of your fare.

Other Cruise Lines

The vast majority of smaller or specialized cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania also offer onboard internet services, often tailored to the size of the ship and the typical voyager’s needs.

It’s always a good idea to check directly with any cruise line for the most up-to-date information on their Wi-Fi offerings before you embark.

Alan Huthison working on his computer on the beach at Labadee, Haiti with Vision of the Seas cruise ship in the background
Sadly there was no Cruise WiFi on Royal Caribbean’s Labadee Private Beach Area

Cruise Ship Wi-Fi Comparison Table (Including the Different Type of Wi-Fi Service Offered)

When you’re on a cruise, staying connected with friends or sharing your vacation photos on social media can be important to you. To make things easy, here’s a clear breakdown of what you can expect regarding Wi-Fi options on various cruise ships including the prices for internet packages as they currently stand.

Cruise LineStarlink StatusPackage NamePre-Cruise Price*On Board Price*24-Hour Internet Package
CarnivalFleet-WideSocial15.3018
Value19.552325
Premium21.252535
Royal CaribbeanFleet-WideVoom Surf and Stream$19.99-$25.99$24.99-$30$25-$30
MSC CruisesRolling outBrowse17.5921.9929.99
Browse and Stream21.5926.9934.99
NorwegianRolling Out“Free At Sea” WiFi
Unlimited WiFi25.529.9929.99
Unlimited Premium WiFi34.9939.9939.99
Disney Cruise LineNoStay Connected161618
Basic Surf242428
Premium Surf343442
P & O CruisesFleet-WideMy Wi-Fi Essential121218
My WiiFi Ultimate181824
Celebrity CruisesFleet-WideBasic Wi-Fi
Premium Wi-Fi31.535
Princess CruisesFleet-wideMedallionNet151520

*Prices are per day for one device and based on purchasing the internet for the duration of the cruise.

MSC Cruises Virtuosa ship docked at port in Norway.
MSC Cruises Have Been Slow to Roll Out Starlink

Alternative Services to Connect to the Internet Instead of Cruise Ship Wi-Fi Plans

If Cruise Wi-Fi seems too steep for your wallet, you’ve got some other choices to stay connected. Let’s go through them.

Cellular Roaming

It’s just like using your phone on land. But, remember, it can get costly. Pros? It’s super convenient and doesn’t require any new sign-ups. Cons? And this is the big one! You might face hefty roaming fees.

If you are close to land then any Internation Romaing package may work – but as soon as you get out to sea you will find yourself connected to the “Cellular At Sea” service which is MEGA-expensive. 

Fortunately, there is an answer to this – Cruise Ship Roaming Packages. Both AT&T and Verizon offer these. Read more about AT & T Cruise Package.

Free Wi-Fi Services at Cruise Ports

Many ports offer their own Wi-Fi, which can be a godsend. It’s often free or cheap. Pros? It’s easy to find – just watch to see where all the crew are huddled in port. Cons? It’s only good when you’re off the ship, and network security could be an issue. Don’t use the Wi-Fi for any financial transactions and use a VPN for peace of mind.

Get online at Local Internet Cafes

You’ll find these in most ports. Pros? They’re budget-friendly and you don’t need anything but some local cash or a card. Cons? They may not be super close to where you dock, and sometimes, they’re not open when you need them. Before heading out, do a quick Google search for the best spots, and always log out of everything once you’re done.

Have an iPhone? You May be Able to Text for Free Onboard

Believe it or not, you can usually Text free between iPhones using their iMessage App even if you have not paid for Cruise Wi-Fi! This article explains it all:-

Wi-Fi is now a staple onboard modern cruise ships, catering to the needs of cruisers wishing to stay connected. However, it’s crucial to manage expectations before you embark as internet access on cruise ships isn’t the same as your local cable connection:

  • Wi-Fi service is available on most ships, but most likely at additional cost.
  • Expect that speed and reliability may not match your home connection, varying by location and technology used especially if the ship does not have Starlink.

When choosing a Wi-Fi option, consider these tips:

  • Assess your internet needs. If you just want to check emails and social media, a basic plan may suffice.
  • For a higher demand on data, such as streaming, a premium Wi-Fi package is advisable.
  • Keep in mind that the service relies on satellite connections, which are susceptible to environmental factors.
  • Look out for innovations like Starlink, which are set to improve onboard Wi-Fi quality in the near future.
  • You may be able to Text on a cruise ship for free if you and your family have iPhones.

Remember, staying connected throughout the entire cruise is possible, but it’s about finding the right balance for your budget and connectivity requirements. For more cost-effective methods, consider using specialized cruise roaming packages or hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots in port.

Your experience matters, so please share your insights. Which plans worked for you? What Cruise Lines had good Internet and which had bad? Let us know in the comments.

Final Tip – Don’t Forget Airplane Mode

I will leave you with this one – Unless you have a Cruise Cellular Roaming package, always remember to phone in airplane mode when onboard to avoid roaming charges and connect to your ship’s Wi-Fi network. You don’t want an unexpected bill!

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AUTHOR

Alan took his first cruise in 1991 and has been cruising ever since. When he is not writing articles for CruiseNonstop.com you'll find him either on a cruise ship (he's the guy in the kilt), or on the golf course!

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