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Free WiFi Crystal's Tip Of The Iceberg

Remember where you heard this first: Keep watching for free Internet on cruise ships.

The industry took another step in that direction this week when Crystal Cruises, near the top end of the luxury spectrum, threw WiFi into its all-inclusive packaging. Right now, it's for Crystal's First Society members (repeat cruisers) and it's possible because the cruise line recently completed a multi-million dollar upgrade.

Crystal SymphonyThe genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.

In this age of digital and satellite communication, cruise lines have realized how vital it is for their passengers to be able to "stay in touch" through their variousdevices. In fact, they've realized what a plus it is when you're the cruise line that makes it easiest and least costly…as in free.

Similarly, coffee shops and department stories and supermarkets and restaurants and any number of public places become more attractive when they offer free Internet. You can say the cruise line was slow in falling in line, but you need to realize the dominoes, as they say, are bigger.

Thousand of dollars on land can be millions at sea. That Crystal can offer 60 minutes of wireless service a day everywhere on its ships, to repeat customers who are two-timers or fifty-timers, means the cruise line has found a way to cover the cost. It may be more repeat customers, or it may be the one-timers who will pay 75 cents a minute to be online.

One day, it says here, the mass-market cruise lines will be…in the same boat.

Celebrity Constellation
5 nights
February 22, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Key WestCozumel
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $49

FAA decision just a sign of the satellite times

This weekend, the FAA — Federal Aviation Agency — declared that airline passengers will be able to use their electronic devices during take-offs and landings because they don't interfere with communications from the cockpit after all. Resisted was the urge to say passengers will be left to their own devices.

The message goes far beyond flight non-interference. The message is that we have all become so dependent on "devices" that Peter Public is demanding the removal of unnecessary firewalls. Where the philosophy applies to the cruise business is the unprecedented demand to be "connected" no matter where in the world the ship happens to be.

Connectivity from cruise ships has been both problematic and expensive. Times are a-changin'. Last month, several reports surfaced about how cruise lines are getting more bandwidth, presumably from the Great Bandwidth MTN-2 copyDistributor in the sky. The company that has dominated satellite communications, MTN, has slipped into second place behind the new kid on the block, Harris CapRock, which now has the contract for more than 100 ships from Carnival's family of cruise lines, along with Royal Caribbean's more modest collection of offspring.

The two satellite giants are duking it out to see who is fastest and most reliable. MTN's main strategy is to speed up the Internet by utilizing land-based carrier networks. CapRock's main strategy is to have more than one antenna on a ship (presumably MTN could easily do this, too) and, perhaps more significantly, to use satellites in lower orbits…i.e., closer to earth.

For those of us who are technologically challenged, it may sound as bit like VHS versus Beta in the old days of video tapes, but the bottom line is that Internet connections at sea are bound to get better.

The people insist. They also insist that it become more affordable and if you don't think that will happen…remember when that 40-inch flatscreen TV cost $2,800? The one that you can buy now for less than $500.

In the meantime, enjoy reading your e-book on the airplane!

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 17, 2013
Jacksonville (return): NassauCocoCay
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $37

Best Deal for Cruisers in Bermuda Just Might Be the Cost of Going Online

With ships spending overnights in Bermuda, which many people consider paradise on earth, it's also where you'll find one of the best Internet deals anywhere when cruising. How good does $15 for three days sound? That's what Bermudans have come up with in the Dockyard area at Kings Wharf.

WiFi sidewalkThe WiFi hotspot is marked on the sidewalk. It's a short walk from where cruise ships are moored and the signal, according to a story in the Bermuda Sun, is sometimes available from the balcony of a ship.

And if you're not on a ship that's staying for an overnight or two, there's a couple of options for day visitors, too.

One hour is $3. The whole day is $10.

Now you do have to wonder why anybody would want to spend hours on the Internet when there's such a beautiful place to see, but our lives are so intertwined with WiFi these days that everybody wants to have the option to email, phone or…watch a ball game! And to be able to call home or spend an hour dealing with email for $3 is a bargain almost anywhere.

An hour online from a cruise ship at 75 cents a minute is $45.

There are five ships that regularly visit Bermuda. All of them will visit over the next six weeks, with the end of October also marking the end — more or less – of Bermuda's cruise season. Two of them visit for extended stays.

Norwegian Breakaway is there for three days a week (Wednesday through Friday). Explorer of the Seas, which was spending a couple of nights in Bermuda every second week, is now on a three-day stopover that's identical to the Breakaway's for the remainder of the season. That's more than 7,000 passengers a week — not to mention crew members who can buy a monthly package for just $30.

None of them will find those Internet rates on the water.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
November 9, 2013
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. Thomas, Nassau
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $68

Will 3G At Sea for the Sun Princess have an impact for all cruise passengers?

The Maritime Executive reported this week that Maritime Communications Partner (MCP for short) is going to make the Sun Princess only the second cruise ship in the world capable of offering passengers 3G mobile communication services at sea.

The inference is that the improved quality or ease of use would revolutionize the cruise industry.

According to the supplier's managing director:

“The most important thing for us is to meet the needs of our customer’s passengers and ensure that their cruise experience is fulfilling and satisfying at all levels – especially when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family onshore and accessing the mobile internet in their usual way,” Fred Sorensen said in a press release.

For those of us who struggle with modern technology at times (or most of the time), the unanswered question in all of this was:

"What's the cost?"

In search of a different opinion or validation of ours, and not wanting to rain on anybody's parade, we turned to our son-in-law. He's our resident expert. He knows little about cruise ships and a lot about 3G. We asked him to read the report and tell us whether he thought this was as big a deal as it sounded.

This is what he said:

"It depends on the cost."

So now the question is: What really is the most important thing?

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 2, 2013
Jacksonville (return): Key WestNassau
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $31

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