Can You Use Cell Phones on Cruises?

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There used to be a time when I enjoyed being totally disconnected from the outside world while I cruised.  But technology has advanced so much that it’s easier (and has gotten cheaper) to use cell phones on cruises and stay connected while you sail the ocean blue.  Phone calls, text messages, and data usage can all be done while cruising.

Fashionable man holding a mobile phone on the empty deck of a cruise liner against the backdrop of the sea waves.

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Can I make phone calls while at sea?

The short answer is yes, you can as long as a signal is available.  Depending on where your ship is at any given time, a signal may not be available.  If a signal is available, it’s usually coming through the cruise line’s cell provider (i.e. CellAtSea or Cellular At Sea).  Connection to that provider will be considered roaming by your cell phone carrier.  Roaming rates at sea can be very high.  Verizon charges $2.99/minute for voice calls, while T-Mobile charges an exorbitant $5.99/minute ? (I mean really!  Who’s paying that?!).

Giphy of a woman saying Oh My God.

AT&T charges $3.00/minute unless you purchase one of their cruise ship calling packages that can be used on 20+ cruise lines.

Can I make Phone calls in ports of call?

Yes, you can.  When you’re in port, you’ll use the carrier of that country or island.  This will be considered roaming by your carrier.  Be sure to check your carrier’s website for roaming charges in the ports you’ll be visiting.  Some carriers, like T-Mobile, include Mexico and Canada at no additional charge on some of their plans.

What about sending and receiving text messages?

You’ll be able to send and receive text messages while connected to the ship’s network.  You’ll usually be charged the pay-per-text international rate unless you purchase a package from your carrier.  You’ll be charged either by deducting from your monthly limit or a set fee per message.  You’ll also pay for incoming messages you receive while on the ship’s network.

Can I use the internet on my phone?

Using data while roaming can be quite expensive.  I recommend putting your phone in airplane mode as soon as your ship sets sail.  Even when in port, the costs can quickly accumulate.  Checking with your carrier for an international data plan will be your best option.  You may be limited by the amount of data you can use per day and may be charged for any overages.  Most cruise lines now offer data packages.  Carnival offers unlimited access depending on the package you choose, but MSC offers a finite package of data.  Check your cruise line’s online planner to see what internet options they offer.  I usually only need enough for social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.  Check to see if your cruise line’s internet package will allow voice calls on Facebook and Whatsapp.

Some ports will have free Wi-Fi in the plaza area and some bars and restaurants will offer free Wi-Fi to their patrons if you decide you don’t want to purchase any of the ship’s internet options.

Can I use apps without paying extra?

As long as the app does not require data and is not connected to the internet, you won’t pay extra. Here are a few things you can do that won’t cost extra:

  • Use your phone as an alarm clock
  • Take photos/video (but they will not be backed up to the cloud)
  • Play music that resides on your phone (not streaming apps like Pandora)
CRUISE TIP: Before your trip, put your phone in airplane mode and try to use your favorite apps to determine which ones require data. Group them separately so you can easily access the apps that do not require data on your cruise. Click to Tweet

Most cruise lines have their own app that passengers can use.  Most functions are free (i.e. deck plans, dining reservations), but some will offer features like chat for an additional fee.  Check with your cruise line to see if they offer an app and what features are available.

Can I video chat or use VoIP (like Skype or FaceTime)?

Only a few cruise lines offer the ability to Skype or FaceTime.  It requires a huge investment in high-bandwidth, high-speed internet capable of supporting those platforms.  An internet package that allows you to Skype will cost more than one that only gives you access to social networks.

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Can I Call Home on The Ship’s Phone?

You sure can!  But it will cost you anywhere between $1.99 per minute to $7.95 per minute for the privilege.

Giphy of Homer Simpson spitting out coffee when looking at a $5000 price tag.

If it’s not an emergency, I recommend waiting until you’re in port to use Wi-Fi calling or purchase a phone card.

Your Cruise Girl’s Phone Recommendations:

  1. Decide how much you want to be connected while cruising.
  2. Research plans from both your cell phone provider and your cruise line.
  3. Figure out which of your favorite apps doesn’t require data.
  4. Put your phone in airplane mode as soon as your cruise sets sail.
  5. Have fun! ☺

There you have it – the quick and dirty of basic cell phone usage on cruise ships.  I personally like to disconnect, but I know some cruisers need to stay in touch with family and sometimes even business (what a bummer!).

How much do you use your phone while cruising?