Cruise Ship Wi-Fi Still Pricey, But Getting Better


Travellers on land take quality Wi-Fi for granted, expecting its availability in hotel rooms, local cafés and attractions. But as travel industry website Skift reports, when they board a cruise ship, it’s another matter.

Connecting a ship to Wi-Fi comes with a unique set of challenges. Especially with today’s multi-thousand pax mega-ships, cruise lines need a connection that allows thousands of people at a time to stream video or update Facebook from a position many of miles out to sea - and getting that bandwidth that far out isn’t easy.

The costly packages available to cruisers reflect the difficulty of offering Wi-Fi that is reliant on satellite signals connecting with a moving target. Of the big 3 in cruising - Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian - the latter is the only line that hasn’t announced plans to implement enhanced Wi-Fi technology with increased bandwidth.

The majority of brands offer packages for certain timeframes of Wi-Fi usage, a pay-as-you-go practice more akin to international roaming fees or data plans. On any given cruise brand, pax can spend between $50 to $100 a day or more just on Wi-Fi. In a price-sensitive market, especially the mass market segment, this is seen as an add-on fee rather than something to include in the total cost.

Skift reports that lines do see the benefit of allowing connected pax to act as brand ambassadors. During Royal Caribbean’s launch of its new Quantum of the Seas in the fall, it showed off its industry-leading Wi-Fi speeds by giving it away for free on cruises for loyalty members and media guests, encouraging them to share photos, videos and messages across social networks.

Carnival started piloting social media-only plans on its Breeze, Freedom and Sunshine ships last month which for a fee let cruisers check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Cruise lines keep getting creative with how they sell Wi-Fi, even offering e-mail only plans or plans meant for Skype or other bandwidth-heavy services.

To date, Royal Caribbean and Carnival are the only brands with strong enough bandwidth to support Skype, FaceTime and other voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) calls, while Norwegian says bandwidths are strong enough for these calls on some of its ships.

The Skift story also includes charts detailing the cost and types of plans offered by Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian brands. Changes will likely happen frequently in the future, but for now, the charts make for a handy reference.

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