Cruise ship technology – staying in touch with the mainland

There is no denying that we live in a connected world – and cruise ships are no exception. What used to be an opportunity to get away from everything and just sit back and relax, has changed into yet another place where you can keep up with the latest in your Facebook account or Twitter page.

This past weekend, I took a 3 day trip on the Carnival Dream, and spent a little time going over its various technologies designed to keep you connected with the mainland.
Telephone service

Every stateroom on the vessel has a phone, and the ability to dial any normal landline or mobile number in the world. The calls cost a whopping $6.99 per minute, making it a last resort for real emergencies. Even when airlines still offered the Airfone service, they never dared charge this much.

Mobile phone service

Cruise ship cellular access has been around for a couple of years – very little is done to advertise it, because when people realize the actual cost involved, they’ll keep their phones turned off.

The ships cellular network broadcasts both GSM and CDMA signals, which means you can connect using almost any cellular phone system. Once connected to the network, some companies send you a welcome text message, describing the charges (of the four phones I tested, only Verizon was kind enough to send that message).

The system supports incoming and outgoing voice calls, as well as text messages and data.

The rates for ship-to-shore calls and messaging are as follows:

  • AT&T – $2.49 per minutes, home plan rate for incoming SMS, 50 cents for outgoing SMS and $19.50/megabyte of data
  • Sprint – $2.49 per minute, 20 cents for incoming SMS, 50 cents for outgoing SMS and $20/megabyte of data
  • T-Mobile – $4.99 per minute, 20 cents for incoming SMS, 35 cents for outgoing SMS and $15/megabyte of data
  • Verizon Wireless – $2.49 per minutes, 0.05 cents for incoming SMS, 50 cents for outgoing SMS and $20 per Megabyte of data.

Internet access

Getting online on the Carnival Dream (and most other ships) is simple – you can use public terminals, or you can connect using your own WiFi enabled laptop, PDA or smartphone. Access is charged in minutes, not actual data usage.

On the Carnival Dream, access costs $24.99 for 60 minutes, up to $199 for 240 minutes. The speeds are surprisingly decent, and when I did a basic speed test, I measured about 500kb/s. One thing you can rule out is the ability to make voice calls over the Internet. The “latency” of the connection is about 2 seconds, making it useless for anything that requires a low latency like gaming or VOIP.

The login procedure is pretty simple – when you connect to the shipboard WiFi network, you are first taken to the onboard Intranet. This page is where you can access the Carnival Dream social network, read news, check out the latest entertainment agenda and see the deck plan. To login to full Internet access, you click their link, enter your account and surf away. To disconnect, you point your browser to and you are given an overview of how many minutes you used, and how many you have left in your account. If you forget to go through the logout procedure, you run the risk of losing minutes.

One thing to keep in mind, is that the system will automatically “reload” your account when you run out of minutes, and with the cost involved, it pays to keep a close eye on the time.