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Beware roaming ship network charges when taking cellphones on a cruise

One of the services we try to provide you with if you're going on a cruise — in addition to good deals, interesting personality pieces, a personal look at the news and so on — is what you might call "tips for cruising." Today is one of them, and one that never occurred to us until we read about a couple on a Transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Europe on the Emerald Princess.

It's about cellphones.

The couple, Ronald and Donna Schmidt, told Melanie Payne of news-press.com in Florida that they were hit with $47 in roaming charges incurred while NOT iPhone copyusing their phones on a cruise. The Schmidts were gone 17 days, put their phones in the stateroom safe and decided to let the batteries drain throughout the cruise.

That cost them.

When they explained this to their carrier, Verizon, they were told there is a big sign on the gangplank telling passengers to turn off their cellphones.

In all our cruises, we have NEVER seen such a sign.

But that's not the point, which is that leaving your cellphone "on" when cruising can incur roaming charges. Once you leave your carrier's network area, your phone searches for another network and another signal. It will likely pick up the ship's network and if somebody calls you, send a text or transmits a photo, you will probably pay for roaming…whether you see the call/text or not. So the best thing to do is turn off the phone.

If on the other hand your phone is a "smartone," you can put it on "airplane mode" and you'll be able to use its other functions without ever connecting to the ship's network, which has been known to cost $5 a minute for roaming.

Just remember the mode is "airplane" even though you're on a "cruise ship."

Carnival Glory
7 nights
April 27, 2014
Miami (return): CozumelBelizeRoatanGrand Cayman
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Alaska in Need of Cel Phone Help

Hold the phone, here comes a cruise ship!

That's the cry in Alaska these days, after residents discovered that the bandwidth used by cruise-ship passengers on their cel phones was impacting the bandwidth available to people who live in the 49th state.

Actually, not the whole state. Just Haines and Skagway, which both happen to be cruise ports.

What residents are experiencing are dropped calls, spotty Internet service and even a six-hour outage one day, according to a story in the Chilkat Valley News. Since most of the poor service is at eight in the morning and four in the afternoon, that day must have been one where most passengers stayed on the ship…and the phone.

Alaska's AT&T people are all over the problem and promising better service but don't know when. Nobody wants to rock the boat, or the cruise ship, because the presence of passengers in Haines and Skagway means so much to the economy.

Until things get better, they'll just put the cel phones away whenever they see a cruise ship.

Seabourn Sojourn
10 nights
November 17, 2013
Fort Lauderdale (return): San JuanSt. BartsAntiguaSt. JohnCatalina Island
Oceanview: $2,999
Cost per day: $299

Ship to Shore Partnership Helps

Where there's a bajillion of something, there's a market to be tapped. There is, everyone would agree, a bajillion cell phones, and AT&T has combined with Royal Caribbean to tap into that market at sea.

Everybody who cruises knows how expensive communication is when you're on a ship. Poor Internet connections at 75 cents a minute can be the norm. For phone calls from a ship once it reaches international waters, it feels like somebody wants your first-born in return.

The tide is changing.

AT&T wants to convince its subscribers to spend more, and its non-subscribers into signing up. As a result, any AT&T subscriber can purchase a cell phone plan to use on Royal Caribbean ships for $30 a month. That entitles the user to 50 minutes of calling time from the ship. For $60 a month, you get 50 minutes of talk and 100 texts (or pictures or video). Double that to $120 to add 100MB of data.

Royal Caribbean wants happy passengers. Unhappy passengers can feel like they've been ripped off when phoning home from sea…and this goes for all cruise lines. Plus, there's remuneration for the cruise line when making a deal like this with a telephone company, so it's a profit center, maybe one that will encourage passengers who ordinarily would spend nothing on cels at sea.

But for the passenger, it's a reasonable expense, one that requires only a one-month minimum.

After all, on a one-week cruise many passengers spend $75 just for a week of soda.

Celebrity Infinity
11 nights
August 26, 2013
London (return): Paris, Guernsey, Cork, Waterford, DublinLiverpool, Glasgow
Inside: $1,019
Cost per day: $92


Options for Phoning Home from the Ship

Our lives have become so dependent on the cel phone that being on a cruise ship means either suffering cel-phone withdrawal or having deep pockets. Talking on your cel from the ship can be extremely expensive. International roaming, it’s called.

Here’s a couple of options we discovered, although these are by no means the only way to avoid huge phone bills when cruising:

1. Wait until you’re in a port to make calls and find one of the ways to make international calls from a location near the ship. They’re in almost every port we’ve visited and the rates are usually cheap. We didn’t keep track of the cost but it was pennies a minute.

2. Buy a trac pre-paid phone. Two members of our family bought one in Panama — again very inexpensive — and loaded it with some minutes, at a cost of $10. They used it for many phone calls, gave it to us, and we made calls while traversing the Panama Canal. When last seen, the family’s “Panama Phone” still had time left on it.

Another possibility, one we haven’t experienced, is having an Internet phone that enables you to talk (by using Skype, for example) while paying for onboard connectivity — all the ships have plans, as you know.

All of it makes sense…to save dollars.

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