Lose Your Loved Ones? Cruise Ship Communications

(Last Updated On: August 23, 2013)

Volendam P1180025 200pxScience Fact:

Cruise ship communications are impossible!  Our family just took a one-weeker from Vancouver to Glacier Bay, Alaska, with grandparents, grandkids, and everyone between.  We thought we would rather not lose our kids, or their cousins.  So how do we all stay in touch?  We could make plans of when and where to meet, but hey, we’re on vacation, we’d like to be spontaneous! What to do?

As soon as you get a few miles out to sea, cruise ship communications are extremely limited.  There are no cell towers, just whatever comm the ship provides, and that’s expensive.  What about walkie-talkies, you say?  Well, a big ship is full of metal, which blocks radio signals.  Reading the reviews, it seems that the radios that have the best chance of working cost $250 and up (that’s per person!), are clunky to tote around and may be illegal where your ship is cruising.  Not so hot.

The ship offers cellphone service, of course. For $2.49 a minute, rounded up to the next higher minute, you can place a call to your sister, which the ship routes to a satellite, to mainland US, back to the satellite, to the ship, to your sister’s phone. Presto, she can tell you she’s in the Crows Nest Lounge. Oh, by the way, she is also charged $2.49 a minute to receive the call. Pretty pricy.

My research turned up two approaches for cruise ship communications. Both involve using our smartphones (iPhones in this family), and there’s prep work to do: (1) before you leave home, turn on your phone for international service (a cruise ship is “international” even if it’s just one mile off the US coast); and (2) as soon as you get on board, turn off “Data Fetch” and “Data Roaming”, and forward your calls to a home phone or set your phone on “vacation” mode. Otherwise, data pushes and junk calls will give you an astronomical phone bill!

So here are the choices:
(1) Send text messages to stay in touch, which cost about $0.50 each to send and may be free to receive, depending on your phone plan.
Or, (2) Before you leave, get the same walkie-talkie app for all your phones, for example Voxer or Zello. Once on board, sign up for the ship’s internet service (on our ship, $3.95 set up plus $0.75 per minute). You can use the app just like a walkie-talkie (although it has an annoying time delay), anywhere on the ship where you can receive their Wi-Fi signal. However, Wi-Fi coverage may be confined to certain public areas.

Science Speculation:

Oh fact seeker, you missed the easiest option! (3) Bring sticky notes and use them on your stateroom door, saying “Find me in XXX on Deck ZZZ!”.  And this in fact is what the family decided to do.

But the need for cruise ship communications is an obvious business opportunity for someone: a cell service provider, an app developer or the phone makers. It’s an even more obvious opportunity for the cruise ships, to provide an affordable way for groups to stay in touch with each other. Where, oh where, are the Marketing departments of the cruise lines?

Cruise Ship Communications:  How would you stay in touch with your kids/parents/sweetie?  Join in!

Takeaway: You have to jump through some hoops, but you have options available to stay in touch.

Source: New York Times, 9/5/2012 and more recent app reviews

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