Going On A Cruise? Here's What You Need To Know About Using Your Phone

Setting sail on the high seas allows you to disconnect from everyday life and relax completely. However, travelers rarely want to be disconnected completely for days or weeks on end, and the thought of waving goodbye to regular cell service can be anxiety-inducing for many people. The good news is that nowadays, you can use your phone on a cruise ship and in the ports that you visit so you can stay connected with family and friends. However, that leads to the question of how.

We've all heard the horror stories: someone answers their phone on a cruise ship and comes back to a $1,000 from their service provider. Luckily, urban legends like this are usually just that. However, it is easy to incur hefty charges if you try to use your phone in the same way on a cruise as you do back home. When you leave the port behind and sail into international waters, your cell will do its best to keep you connected. At great expense to you, as you will begin to incur satellite roaming charges. In port, international roaming charges will apply. We've put together a few tips to follow if you want to use your cell on your cruise vacation and not head home to a pile of bills.

Using your cell on the ship

For most people, the best piece of advice is to put your phone on airplane mode before your ship sets sail out of port. This prevents your cell from trying to stay connected, thereby eliminating roaming charges. Of course, this also stops you from making and receiving calls and text messages. If that isn't an option for you, check with your service provider to see if they have a cruise package. As of this article's publication, Verizon offers a cruise data plan for $20 per month for 50MB on select cruise ships and offers pay-as-you-go rates for calls and texts. AT&T provides 30 days of unlimited calls and texts plus 200MB of data for $100. Because these rates may change at any time, do your research before committing. 

The other option is to use Wi-Fi to make calls and send messages while you're on board. You can still use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth while your cell is in airplane mode, so make sure they're switched on. Wi-Fi packages are available on cruise ships, but they tend to be expensive. The cheapest Wi-Fi package from Carnival Cruises costs $12.75 per person per day, which can add up. Unfortunately, on top of being expensive, Wi-Fi on cruise ships tends to be unreliable and slow. Some cruise lines, like Princess Cruises, offer an internet café (remember those?) where you can jump online too.

Using your phone in port

Days in port mean time to explore, and for most of us, we need our phones. Whether it's for navigation, translation, or finding a restaurant, most of us rely on our cell when we're on vacation even more than during life at home. But don't start Googling with abandon as soon as you step off the ship, as international roaming charges cost a pretty penny.

Before you leave for your vacation, look at where your cruise calls and then contact your service provider. If you're going to Mexico or Canada, you might be in luck. Roaming is included in many plans in those countries on both AT&T and Verizon. If you're going elsewhere in the world, both providers also offer an international plan that will allow you to use your phone in over 210 countries for $10 a day. Make sure to check the terms and conditions before buying or using these plans.

Other options are to use the free Wi-Fi that often exists around ports and in cities, though be aware that these networks are not secure. Alternatively, you can buy an international SIM card. There are a ton of options and these SIMs offer lower rates for calling, texting, and using data abroad. Finally, if you're cruising in one country or only in countries in the European Union (EU), consider buying a local SIM when you get to port. (Roaming is free between EU countries.) This will almost always be the most affordable option for data and local calling.