Can I make calls from my mobile phone on a cruise?
Technically, you can, but it's not always possible. Depending on where your ship is at any given moment, you might or might not have a phone signal. When you do have one, it's coming through an at-sea provider (Telenor Maritime for P&O Cruises and Cellular At Sea for Royal Caribbean, as examples) and is considered a roaming charge by your mobile carrier.
Rates are typically exceptionally high, with phone calls often costing upwards of £1.80 per minute. EE, for example, charges £2.40/minute for voice calls, while T-Mobile charge the lesser amount of £1.80/minute. Some network providers charge different rates for pay-as-you and monthly contracts, though, so make sure to check the correct tarrif. For example, EE charge £3/minute for pay-as-you go, while Orange charge less -- £1.30/minute.
When you're in port, your mobile signal will typically switch to a carrier from the country or island you're visiting. Roaming charges in these areas vary; you'll want to check with your carrier for the pricing for each country you're visiting. At the moment, member countries of the EU benefit from no roaming charges in Europe. This might change for Brits once the UK leaves the EU, however it will all depend on mobile providers and whether or not they decide to levy roaming charges on customers.
Can I send or receive text messages? Is texting less expensive than making a phone call?
It's possible to send and receive text messages at sea, as long as you have a signal through your ship's roaming network. (Just make sure you turn off data roaming in your settings.) Texting costs a lot less than a voice call -- usually in line with standard, international "pay-as-you-go" rates. Most major carriers charge around £0.50 to send and receive a message.
Many carriers also offer discounted international packages, where you can either prepay a flat fee for a set amount of text messages and/or data to use overseas or pay a flat daily fee for unlimited text messages and data usage. Check with your specific provider for details. On the flip side, you have no control over incoming text messages, so if you receive any while you are using your phone via the ship's signal, you will be charged. (Note: Internet is not required to send and receive text messages.)
How much does it cost to use the internet on my phone if I'm roaming?
Data use onboard is ridiculously expensive, especially because it tends to add up quickly. Always remember to put your phone in airplane mode or turn off data roaming before you head out to sea.
Even in port, the rates get pretty high. Most carriers, however, offer special plans or travel passes (for an additional fee) that allow you to use your domestic plan allowances while in port. Vodaphone, for example, charge £6 per day to use its UK plan in up to 104 countries abroad as part of its Roam-further package. Vodaphone also offers Roam-free on any of its plan (excluding Vodafone Basics), which means you can use your plan in up to 48 destinations with no extra charge.
Bear in mind that there also might be a limit to how much data you can use, per day, while in port, and you'll be charged an overage fee each time you exceed it. If your plan doesn't include international data and you don't want to purchase a travel pass, you can always look for Wi-Fi at a local restaurant or bar.
If you do wish to access the internet while onboard, you can connect to the ship's Wi-Fi. Note that most ships charge for Wi-Fi usage, so you'll need to compare data roaming prices against the ship's internet charges to see which is a better deal.
How can I make sure I am not charged by my phone company for unintentional phone use?
To ensure you are not charged by your phone company, you have two choices: turn off your phone as soon as your cruise ship leaves port, or, if you want to use offline applications, put your phone into airplane mode.
What about the apps on my mobile phone? Can I use them without paying extra?
You won't pay extra for using any app that does not require data or is not connected to the internet. Apps such as games, food diaries and music players that have music already downloaded onto the phone can be used while your phone is in airplane mode without racking up any charges. You also can use your phone as an alarm clock, but you'll have to manually set the time if the time onboard changes. You can use your phone to take pictures, but they won't be backed up to the cloud. Any apps that must be connected to the internet to work -- such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify -- won't work without data or WiFi, and if they're connected to data, they will quickly rack up charges you don't want to pay.
Are there any apps provided by my cruise line that I can use on the ship?
Most cruise lines provide at least one app for their passengers; not all are for use while on your cruise ship. Some are targeted at people still researching and planning their cruise holidays. For those apps designed to be used onboard, you do not need to pay to use them for functions like looking at deck plans, making restaurant reservations, looking at shore excursion choices, checking your onboard spending and other similar activities. Some apps provide communication features like texting or calling other people on the same ship who also have the app. This feature can cost money, depending on your cruise line. Check with your cruise line to find out which app(s) it offers, which ships support app functionality and if there are any costs associated with using them.
Can I use the WiFi on my mobile phone?
Yes, you can use the WiFi feature on your mobile phone to connect to your cruise ship's WiFi, but you will have to purchase an internet package. Many ports offer free WiFi to cruisers, but be aware these are open networks with limited security in place.
Can I video chat like Skype or FaceTime?
Only a handful of cruise lines -- including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Princess -- have invested in high-bandwidth, high-speed internet capable of supporting Skype, FaceTime and other video chat platforms. You'll also have to pay more for the internet package that enables this type of use.
If I don't want to spend the money to use my mobile phone, can I use the ship's phone to call home?
Yes, you can use the ship's phone to call home. Prices are often high but can be a little less than what your mobile phone company will charge you. For instance, P&O Cruises will charge £2.49/minute, regardless of your location in the world. If you really need to make a phone call during your cruise, your best bet, budget-wise, is to wait until you're in port and use WiFi (WhatsApp or FaceTime -- which will allow you to show off your exotic destination, too!) or buy a phone card. You can also check with your phone carrier to see if there is an international calling plan you can purchase for the duration of your trip for use in port. An international calling plan will often significantly lower the per-minute cost of any phone calls you make while travelling.
You are able to make telephone calls from the ship to home by calling directly from your cabin telephone, full details of how to dial can be found in your on-board services directory found in your cabin.
How can I learn more about using my mobile phone on a cruise ship?
You might like the following articles:
- Quick Tips for Using Your Phone on a Cruise Ship
- Connecting at Sea: Internet and Phone Use Onboard
- 19 Cruise Apps You Need Right Now
- Texting on a Cruise: 7 Cruise Line Messaging Apps
- 5 Free Photo-Editing Apps to Download Before Your Next Cruise
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.