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Ships, Internet Connected For Cruisers

There are people who go on cruises because they want to escape from their daily routines, and these days daily routines almost always involve being online. When they’re cruising, they don’t want to touch a computer, read from an iPad or see a smartphone.

Well, as one of our friends once said: “Include us out.”

Even if we didn’t need to be online for writing about cruises, we would. The electronic era has captured us. We’re not in denial. We want to be on line when cruising.

If you’re like us, the good news is that being online when at sea is becoming easier, better and cheaper. The cost will still cause you to pause before making a decision, but here’s a few of the things that are happening…

• On half of Carnival’s ships, there’s a flat fee of $5 per day to access Facebook and Twitter.

Disney charges for data used instead of minutes used with its Connect@Sea plan.

• OnRoyal Caribbean’s oldest ship, Majesty of the Seas, the Internet’s free for all.

• More options are being offered at Internet cafes on ships at (we think) more affordable prices.

Silversea gives at least an hour of Internet per day, free, for all guests.

• In general, cruise lines are finding creative ways to satisfy (and yes, entice) customers with social media packages, discounts for loyalty members and options for just texting and tweeting.

Perhaps the biggest things the industry has to overcome is that Internet service on a ship is usually nowhere near as good as it is on land.

That, after all, may be in the hands of the satellite gods.

In the news…

• American Queen changes Mississippi schedule due to high water
• Princess all-inclusive beverage package Sip & Sail free on 350 cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian raising gratuities…again

Ruby Princess
3 nights
September 14, 2015

VancouverLos Angeles
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $49

World Cup No Economic Fit for Carnival

ON BOARD THE CARNIVAL FREEDOM — The largest cruise line in the world isn't carrying the biggest sporting event in the world this year on stateroom television…and there's a good reason why.

Passengers on Carnival ships sailing in waters surrounding North America are not glued to the The World Cup, as most of the world is, because the cruise line didn't purchase the rights to broadcast the month-long event to determine soccer bragging rights until 2018.

If you can believes this…soccer's powerful governing world body (FIFA) charges more than $1 million for the privilege!

Okay, a million bucks isn't as hard to swallow for a cruise line that carries 4.5 million passengers per year as it is for working stiffs needing a mortgage. However, 97 per cent of Carnival's clientele is from the U.S., and there are those who believe many World CupAmericans don't know a soccer ball from a watermelon…or at least a water polo ball. On the Freedom, this "scorecard" in Curacao was one way for them to get World Cup updates.

In theory, Carnival would have spent more than $1 million for three per cent of its passengers over a one-month period. In theory, that's fewer than 12,000 people.

The theory, of course, falls apart because there are Americans who do follow football — as the world-wide game is known — and there are Americans who jump on the patriotic soccer bandwagon every four years just like they do the Olympic bandwagon.

There's almost more interest this time because the U.S. advanced beyond the preliminary round. And here's the real kicker…the demographic of the typical American is ever changing with the influx of immigrants, especially soccer-mad Spanish-speaking immigrants.

When the Freedom prepared to leave Fort Lauderdale last weekend, there was a delay because some of the thrusters had to be cleaned. The ship was two hours late leaving. As it happened, the U.S. was playing at exactly that time, the game was being carried on ESPN and ESPN was on the stateroom TVs. 

The cruise director announced the good fortune to the ship's soccer fans, who voiced their approvals. And at least once during the cruise, Carnival's satellite signal picked up a Miami station that was carrying the games, giving passengers another brief look at what they ordinarily wouldn't have seen.

This may be the last time Carnival can afford not to carry on World Cup.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Weather worries different for rivers, oceans

Carnival Imagination
3 nights
August 7, 2014
Long Beach (return): Ensenada
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $86

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

Internet Issue Bound To Change

Remember when…

Every time you checked into a hotel and asked about getting on the Internet, the hotel was happy to provide you with an ethernet cable to connect, for a price?

Remember when…

WiFi was available at airports, at a cost that bordered on the ridiculous?

Today, almost every hotel provides free WiFi, if not in the rooms then in the lobby. Today, the diminishing number of airports that charge to let you go online do so for what seems to be a more reasonable fee.

What about cruise ships?

Often vilified for charging an average around 75 cents a minute — cell phones are more (up to $6 a minute) — and that's almost always for slow and often interrupted connections, cruise lines are surely going to have to get with the program. For too long, they have justified what could be described as gouging their customers by pointing out the exorbitant infrastructure required to connect their moving objects with the satellites.

There's a story making the rounds this month about a service  that will result in phone calls from cruise ships for about $1 a minute. It's called Connect At Sea, from MTN, the company that provides most cruise ships with satellite transmission, and AT&T. The partnership is called Wireless Maritime Services.

A lot of tekkie talk is involved in the story. The bottom line is you'll have a better connection on your phone from a cruise ship, and it will cost about the same as roaming does on land. Anybody who uses Vonage (as we do) or some other VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) connection will be familiar with the quality.

Meanwhile, will realistic Internet prices be next?

The appetite for it is ravenous. Last week, our colleague Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows attended a press briefing about the first ocean ship for Viking River Cruises and when company owner Torstein Hagen said there would be no charge for Internet on his Viking Star, the applause was deafening.

It seems to be such a sore point with passengers that cruise lines would be better off to build their Internet profits into the price of a ticket. Unless, of course, their profits are even bigger than what we all imagine.

Holland America Zaandam
7 nights
June 16, 2013
Anchorage, Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

What to Expect if Email Matters

One of the shocks for first-time cruisers, at least in the era when we were rookies, is that you have to pay for soda pop. Today’s surprise for first-time cruisers is the Internet.

Nobody expects Internet access for free on cruise ships, but the cost can sometimes seem outrageous. So as a public service, this is to prepare you for connecting your laptop — or the cruise ship’s — when you’re away from civilization for a week or so.

The actual fee seems to vary from cruise line to cruise line, but a ballpark figure is you can expect to pay between 50 cents and a dollar a minute. The more you spend on a “package” the less your per-minute fees will be.

But here’s the kicker…

Connections to the Internet from a cruise ship can be slow. Excruciatingly slow sometimes. As near as we can determine, it’s seldom the fault of the cruise line. The satellite signal can be sketchy, depending on the location of the ship…or the weather.

So when your planned two-minute connection to check email turns into 15 or 20 minutes, it can be a shock to the system. And the budget, of course.

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