Connected At Sea - My Family Travels

FTF's cruise expert analyzes the best and most cost-efficient ways to stay in touch on the major ships.

Half the fun of going on a cruise is getting away from it all, but sometimes you just need or want to stay connected to the world around you. Cruise lines realize this, and in the last decade the options for keeping in touch have morphed from the creakily slow email at the Internet café to WiFi and, most recently, cell phone – and yes, Blackberry — service.

In May, Disney Cruise Lines, which held out against the cell phone trend for awhile, joined most other mainstream cruise lines – including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, NCL and Celebrity – to offer cell phone service at sea. The line uses Wireless Maritime Services, a joint venture of Cingular (now AT&T) and Maritime Telecommunications Network, to offer the service.

Roaming rates vary according to your home network, but in most cases they should come in at less than the egregious $9.95 per minute rate many ships offer on stateroom phones. It’s a good idea to check with your service before sailing to make sure.

On my most recent cruise – aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas – I had occasion to put connectivity to the test.

I had just finished the latest Harry Potter book, which I’d been reading obsessively since I picked it up at midnight the night before the cruise, and looked around for someone to discuss it with. There was no one. My long-suffering daughter had long-since abandoned me for the teen club, and the other passengers on the ship who were reading it (and there were plenty) were still mid-book. Not a Blackberry user, I was stymied.

Since I had forgotten to check with my service provider before the trip to check the rate, I was reluctant to call my 17-year-old son at home who, I knew, had been up all night reading the same book. What if we couldn’t stop ourselves from talking for a half-hour?

So instead I sent him a text message and got a reply within an hour. “I finished, too,” he wrote. “It couldn’t have been any better.” Thus satisfied, I was free to move on and enjoy the rest of the cruise.

The price for our two-message chat? 45¢. Such a deal.

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