Having fast and reliable internet connection has always been challenging onboard cruise ships, as vessels roam all corners of the globe and have to rely on satellites that orbit in space.
But Elon Musk's Starlink is changing all that, bringing high speed internet to cruise ships. And with social media, video streaming, and online gaming being such popular pastimes, cruise lines are forever looking for the most bandwidth and fastest speed to satisfy their guests’ needs for connectivity while at sea.
What is Starlink and which cruise ships currently have Starlink internet? Numerous cruise lines, led by Royal Caribbean, have invested in the technology, not just on new cruise ships, but retrofitting older vessels, as well.
Although it is never as fast as the internet on land, internet service onboard ships can now allow you to do pretty well everything you normally would back home.
Starlink is a division of SpaceX -- the spacecraft manufacturer and satellite communication company founded by Elon Musk. Starlink provides internet services for residences and businesses, but also transportation providers such as RVs, aviation, and the marine industries, with its first foray into the cruise industry sector in 2022.
Starlink also covers a large geographical area with its internet access, too. According to Starlink’s website, its satellite coverage currently spans the coastal waters of North America and some Caribbean islands, parts of South America, the Mediterranean, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Starlink’s network of Low Earth Orbit satellites fly approximately 340 miles above the earth’s surface, compared to standard satellites which orbit over 22,000 miles away. As a result, the time it takes for data to travel back and forth to Starlink satellites is significantly faster, resulting in much quicker upload and download speeds. A demo on the Starlink website shows that data can make 70 roundtrips between earth and Starlink satellites in the same time it takes to travel just one round trip to a standard satellite.
Starlink has launched over 3,500 satellites and has an aggressive plan to eventually reach 42,000. Since the company can launch satellites whenever and wherever it is needed, it is aiming toward global coverage within 2023.
All of this means in the near future, reliable and fast internet services will be available while cruising in remote destinations such as the polar region, deep along the Amazon River, or in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
Starlink is also easier to install on ships, requiring a series of flat panels affixed to the upper decks instead of the bulky satellite domes that use up much of the upper real estate surrounding the ship's funnel and radar masts.
Almost all of the major cruise lines and some niche brands have already announced their partnership with Starlink to provide internet services onboard their ships.
While all major brands have signed on to support Starlink at this point, most are still working their way through the installation process. Starlink internet may not be available on all ships in a particular cruise line's fleet.
Carnival Cruise Line, for example, now has nearly a dozen ships equipped with the faster internet. These include Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, Carnival Elation, Carnival Magic, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Pride, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Valor, Carnival Venezia, and Carnival Vista. The forthcoming Carnival Jubilee will be likewise outfitted with Starlink when it enters service.
Holland America Line announced in October 2023 that fully half of its fleet is now Starlink-equipped, with the rest of the fleet to follow shortly. Currently, Koningsdam, Oosterdam, Volendam, Westerdam, Zaandam and Zuiderdam all have Starlink capability.
Royal Caribbean was one of the first adopters of Starlink, and plans to roll the technology out to its sister-brands Celebrity Cruises and Silversea.
Scenic Group also added Starlink to its fleet of yachts (Scenic Eclipse, Scenic Eclipse II, Emerald Azzurra and the upcoming Emerald Sakara). Starlink is either already onboard some or all of the fleet, or will be installed by the end of the year.
Other cruise lines will no doubt be signing up soon, with Aurora Expeditions, Crystal, Hurtigruten, Lindblad Expeditions, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and niche line Aqua Expeditions all joining the Starlink wave.
Of course, internet services onboard ships come at a cost, unless it is included in a promotional fare or if it is part of a cruise line’s loyalty club perk. There is usually a choice of a basic package for emails and web surfing and a premium package that allows for social media, streaming, and gaming capabilities. Check with your cruise line for their package pricing.
While pricing may not be coming down, expect connectivity to go up, making staying plugged in at sea a true reality in the not-so-distant future.