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Out to Sea But Not Off the Grid: How to Save on Cruise Ship WiFi

July 29, 2014 at 2:22 PM | by | ()

At-sea WiFI is a beautiful thing, but this beauty doesn’t come without a price tag. Cruise ships around the world have offered connectivity from sea to shining sea for several years thanks to Inmarsat’s satellites buzzing about in space, and yet the cost of using even one hour of internet is shocking and, dare we say it, turning travelers away from oceangoing vacations.

There is hope, however; onboard a recent transatlantic voyage of Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, we hooked onto an internet signal every day, at all hours, from all over the ship, despite our location of “somewhere in the North Atlantic Ocean,” and came away with scores of ideas on how to keep those WiFi costs down while still logging on:

Always buy a package

Never ever think “oh, I’ll just use a few minutes.” Those “Pay As You Go” minutes cost a scary $0.75 each without a package, and the frenzy for maximum usage in minimum time leaves you wide open to make stupid mistakes.

Cunard offers onboard internet plans at prices standard on cruises:
· $47.95 for 120 minutes
· $89.95 for 240 minutes
· $167.95 for 480 minutes

Choosing a package has the doubly positive effect of saving you money and cutting you off from overspending.

Treat an internet session like a sprinting run

Just as you’d warm up before a run, so too must you prepare accordingly for an internet session, in order to keep the online minutes (and your bill) low. Drafting emails, making a to-do list of sites to visit or online tasks to accomplish, and making decisions on which photos to instagram or Facebook are all ways of warming up.

Log on and send those emails, check off those tasks, and push those social media updates and you’ll be surprised how little connection time you really need, in a pinch.

For a cool-down, log off and make a list of what to check next time (example: comments on that Facebook photo album you just made) and perhaps an approximate time when it would be best. After breakfast and before dinner are our own favorite times to sit by a window and take care of online tasks.

Above: You're definitely going to want to log on to share sunset photos

Save up those onboard credits

Oftentimes cruise lines will offer a little extra incentive of onboard spending credit if you, for example, book during a sale or choose a certain stateroom level. Cunard is typically generous with credit if you book your next voyage while already on one. Onboard credit is a big deal, and you’ll want to squeeze as much of it out of your booking as possible. Credits usually average $200 - $400 per stateroom, and the assumption is that’s going to be drunk away at the ship’s many bars.

Here you have to make a choice: the internet or booze? Okay, you can have both, which is why we advocate looking for cruise specials with large onboard credit bonuses. Still, a $400 credit could get you approximately 24 hours of internet usage. Considering that’s all usable time, 24 hours of internet for a 7-day cruise means a healthy 3.5 hours online every day.

Choose a cruise with complimentary internet

With internet prices as high as they are, finding a cruise that offers connectivity for free may seem like a pipe dream. Mercifully, complimentary WiFi is slowly coming onboard cruise ships, and one of the first to pioneer this is Viking River Cruises, whose longships sail rivers around the world and yet somehow still manage to offer ship-wide WiFi free to all passengers. We’ve even used it ourselves and can vouch for its ease of connection and speed.

Another alternative is to book your cruise with an agent or deal promising free WiFi. Recently Onboard.com offered, in and amongst many featured deals, a complimentary onboard internet package if you booked a Royal Caribbean cruise through them. That deal has expired, but who's to say it'll never return?

Hopefully someday soon, more ships will understand that it’s only to their advantage to include free WiFi in the onboard amenities list.

Work your way up the loyalty chain

Just as high-tier members of an airline’s frequent flyer program receive upgrades and other little “thank yous” for their business, so too do frequent cruisers enjoy perks. For example, members of Cunard’s World Club are gifted more and more onboard internet time the higher they climb the loyalty ladder.

Those levels are calculated by sailing days or number of voyages, whichever is more in your favor, and the numbers are cumulative (as in they don't reset every year like airline programs). Taking two Cunard voyages is Gold level, which already includes 2 free hours of WiFi. The tier to aim for is Diamond (15 voyages or 150 nights), which rewards Cunard-happy cruisers with 8 free hours of onboard internet per voyage.

Have any cruise WiFi tips of your own to share? Please do!

Above: yes, a ship-wide WiFi signal typically stretches to your verandah

We sailed as guest of Cunard, but all photos and opinions here are completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher]

Archived Comments:

The Best Way to Save

The best way to save on internet charges during cruises: stay off the internet.

$50 FOR TWO HOURS?????



Keep in mind that the times are for full usage. So buying two hours means two full hours of internet time, whenever you choose to log into and out of it (instead of 2 running hours).