Cellular At Sea: Know Your Rates Before You Go

Cellular At Sea: Know Your Rates Before You Go

While you might want to keep in touch with family, friends and business associates while on your cruise, it is important to know what you’ll pay for that access before you cruise.

I cam across a blog post from a man stating that his his teen daughter’s roaming cell phone bill during the cruise was over $800.  We are all so accustomed to unlimited minutes with our cellular phone usage plans, that many people don’t realize the surcharges associated with using a cell phone at sea.    Each cellular provider has different rates and charges, but most are quite a bit more expensive than what we are used to paying back at home.    It is easy to see how a man with a teen daughter could easily be charged $800. Billing is sent via your cellular provider, so you might not get hit with these hefty charges till you are back home and thinking about what a wonderful time you had on your bargain of a cruise. Then you open your cell phone bill to a hefty charge for the use on the cruise.

Here is an example general information from AT&T wireless about their cruise ship wireless plans:

Good to know while you’re on a cruise

  • The cruise ship network is turned on once the ship is at sea and usually shut down when the ship is within 12 miles of land. The network is turned back on once the ship is no longer near the coordinates of a port.
  • While roaming on the cruise ship, your device will display one of the following: AT&T, 901-18, Cellular at Sea, or NOR-18.
  • None of the discounted International Roaming voice plans apply while on a cruise ship.
  • The Business Data Global Unlimited plan is no longer available; however, customers who have this plan will receive the discounted international rates on cruise ships.
  • Domestic voice rates apply while aboard a cruise ship only when it is docked or tendered at a U.S. port.
  • Voice usage while aboard a cruise ship when it is docked or tendered at a foreign port is billed at the International Roaming rate for that country.

What Are the Rate Plans?

Every wireless provider has their own rates for cellular on cruise ships, despite the fact that that they use the same repeaters. I suggest that before you bring that phone on a cruise, that you do a web search using your provider’s name and the terms “cellular at sea” or “cruise ship rates.” It will likely turn up a page that with a few clicks will take you to the exact charges of your provider when you use your cell phone on a cruise ship. Some pages will even tell you what ships and phones will work with the Cellular at Sea program. Here are a few examples of the rate plans with different providers:

Verizon: Voice 2.59 per minute, incoming text .05, out going text 1.50, Data plans for purchase 100mb for $25

At&T (Celebrity Ship used for example):
Voice 2.50 per minute, income text, pictures and video at standard rate, send text $.50, send picture or video $1.30, data .0195 per kb

T-Mobile: list their charges as up to $5.99 per minute.

If you can’t find the rates listed clearly and concisely online, then be sure to call your cellular provider and find out exactly what they charge for the cruise ship roaming capabilities and what message will appear on screen when you are connected via the cruise ship roaming. Despite the information provided above from AT&T, when you are in US ports like Alaska, Key West, or Hawaii, the cruise ship cellular could still be on and you would not be able to make an in network call if you are on the ship in port. The ship’s signal may overpower the regular cellular tower on land.

Probably the best piece of advice I can give you is if you don’t want to be hit with a surprise bill at the end of your cruise, be sure your teen knows to turn off their phone while on the ship. If you need it for business purposes or to stay in touch with someone back home, make sure that you time your calls and know the exact rate before you turn your phone on and make that call.

Your phone should be a great tool for you to stay in touch and communicate important messages to your friends, family and colleagues, don’t make the mistake of over using them during a cruise and getting a huge bill when you get back home.