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Can you get connectivity on cruise, and how to stay connected?

Ways to stay connected while on a cruise trip

· 4 min read

Cruise ships have always been a popular choice for vacationers looking to disconnect, relax, and explore new destinations. However, one of the common challenges encountered by passengers onboard is limited and expensive connectivity, especially when you enter international waters. While this would be great for those looking to completely disconnect, it could also be very inconvenient for those who might still need to keep in touch with their family and friends back at home, or those that might need to keep up with work. In this post, we will explore the different ways that you can stay connected while on cruise.


Limited Connectivity on Cruises

Before we look at the options of how to stay connected while on a cruise, let's first understand why data is so limited and expensive on cruises.

On land, cellular and data connection is provided to you by the operators via networks of cell towers. This network divides geographic areas into cells, each served by a tower, and allocates radio frequencies to facilitate voice and data transmission. Cellular connections enable users to make voice calls, send text messages, access the internet, and use various applications while on the move.

Cellular signal strength decreases with distance from cell towers — that is to say, the farther you are from the tower, the weaker the signal strength. As your cruise ship leaves the coast and enters into international waters, it typically falls out of range of any cell tower, hence the lack of connectivity; and even in cases where connection can be established, they are often weak and unstable.

However, there are ways that you can still stay connected when in international waters — that would be via satellite connection (which by the way, is also what airlines use to provide in-flight WiFi). Satellite connections typically offer lower bandwidth and higher latency compared to cellular connections, resulting in slower internet speeds. Furthermore, due to its high infrastructural and operational costs, satellite connections are typically much more expensive than what you would expect on land.

In recent years, with the advancement of technology, although the cost of satellite connectivity has gone down, and speed has gone up, making connectivity on board a cruise (and flight) much more affordable. However, to manage expectations, it would still be more expensive than what you would typically pay for data, and the experience would not be as seamless either.

How to stay connected on a cruise?

Now, with an understanding of why connectivity on a cruise is limited, we can now explore options to staying connected.

On-board WiFi

Cruise companies understand the importance of allowing their guests to stay connected while on cruise, and today, most cruises offer WiFi onboard. Often, the cruises would sell WiFi packages that allow guests to access the Internet while on the ship. Onboard WiFi would leverage primarily on satellite communication, and as mentioned earlier, it is likely to be costly. Bandwidth could also be limited, especially when there are many devices connected to it at the same time; and if the ship travels through an area with no coverage, then we can also expect connectivity to be cut off.

Despite the limitations and price tag associated with on-board WiFi, all things considered, if you really do need to connect to the internet during your cruise trip, this would be your best bet.

Dedicated spaces

Some ships may contain Internet cafes where they provide computers for you to surf the web. These are good options for those who wouldn't need to be connected as often, and even though it comes at a cost, would likely be cheaper than getting a WiFi package. However, do note that the computers in these spaces are public computers, so you might want to be careful about the things you use the computers for. It is also recommended to clear your cookies and browsing history after you are done with your session.

Will international roaming work on a cruise?

Your home carriers primarily make use of cellular networks to provide connectivity - and that extends to international roaming. If the ship is near the coastline and your device can hook on to the cellular tower, then yes, international roaming could work. However, as you enter international waters and your device is no longer able to connect to any cell tower, then even if you had international roaming enabled, you wouldn't be able to connect to the internet.

However, it is important to note that as you travel through international waters, your device will try to hook onto the nearest cell tower where possible. That is to say that depending on the route of your cruise trip, it is possible that you will end up being connected to networks across multiple countries (if the signal from those cell towers are stronger) and you might end up raking up higher roaming charges than you might have expected.

💡Tip: To avoid unnecessary roaming charges, it is advisable to disable roaming for your primary SIM or turn on airline mode while on a cruise!

International eSIM as an alternative to roaming

Instead of enabling international roaming, perhaps consider getting an international eSIM instead. Providers of international eSIMs offer plans and packages that allow you to connect to networks across multiple countries internationally, at much more affordable prices than roaming.

Just like roaming, international eSIMs also rely on cellular connectivity to provide data, so it faces the same limitations as that of international roaming — meaning if you are out in the waters and out of range of a cell tower, then you are not going to get coverage. However, the added advantage international eSIMs have over roaming is that you wouldn't have to worry about incurring unnecessary roaming costs even as the ship cruises through multiple territories. And once you are close enough to the coastlines, especially when the trip makes multiple stops, you will be able to seamlessly get connected to the local network!

Get a Nomad international eSIM

Nomad offers data plans in over 165 countries, and you can be sure to find one that is suitable for your travel needs. If you will be cruising through multiple countries and continents, Nomad's global plan which covers 139 countries might just be what you are looking for! Or if you will be traveling within a certain continent, consider checking out the regional plans that are available.

How to get a Nomad eSIM?

Getting a Nomad eSIM is very easy. Simply create an account with Nomad, select the plan that you want, and check out! Or, download the iOS or Android app and you can easily purchase and manage your data on the go!

After you purchase your eSIM, you will receive an email containing information on how to install and activate your eSIM. Remember that you will need a stable internet connection to purchase and install your eSIM, so remember to do that in advance before your cruise trip! Depending on the plan that you purchase, advanced activation might also be required - so do check the installation email that will be sent to you for more details!