Cell Phones

How to stay in touch with someone on your Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
27Jul2016

We get a lot of questions about taking a Royal Caribbean cruise, and there is one question that gets asked a lot about how to stay in touch with those on the same ship as them.  Often, the question goes something like this, "I am cruising with several groups of people. How do you recommend we stay connected on the ship besides the room phone?"

Royal Caribbean cruise ships range in a guest capacity of about 2,000 to 6,500, so finding one person onboard is not always a simple task.  If you are also wondering the best way to get a hold of someone you are cruising with, here are some helpful means of doing so.  Each has its advantages or disadvantages, and price will vary as well.

Thanks to Billy Hirsch for contributing a lot to the writing of this blog post!

Royal Caribbean's phones

Utilizing Royal Caribbean's in-room phones and phones in common areas is a simple way to communicate with guests onboard your ship and onshore.

If you are trying to reach a guest onboard the ship, you can make a call to their stateroom and optionally leave a message.  Use of the phones for calls to a guest's stateroom is complimentary.  Of course, it requires the guest to be in the room to answer the call and/or check the voicemail.  This can result in "phone tag," where it seems like you are always missing each other.

If you want to get in contact with someone on land, there are two options.

Calls made from land to your Royal Caribbean cruise (shore to ship) can be achieved by calling (888) 724-7447/(321) 953-9003 to reach passengers.  The cost of this service is $7.95 per minute, and is chargeable to a Visa or MasterCard credit card.

Calls made from your Royal Caribbean ship to somewhere on land (ship to shore) can be made from your stateroom phone and also costs $7.95 per minute, billed to your SeaPass account.

Using your cell phone service

These days, almost everyone has a cell phone with them and your cell phone will function while on a cruise, although the cost of doing so will vary greatly.

Phone calls made while at sea and using Royal Caribbean's cell phone service will come with a hefty cost, depending on your cell phone plan.  Usually, calls cost $6-8 per minute depending on your carrier.

Text messaging, however, is far less expensive. Once again, rates will vary, but most SMS messages that are sent will cost anywhere from 25 cents to $1 per message, with incoming messages free or up to 50 cents per message.  

Using your cell phone's data plan can be prohibitively expensive, with costs of $1 per MB or more.  You are better off skipping this option and looking at Voom options (scroll down to see more about this).

Some cell phone providers offer a special international plan for use on a cruise ship.  For example, AT&T has a partnership with Royal Caribbean, where you can pre-purchase a plan that provides an allotment of phone usage at sea.

For $120 per month, this plan provides

  • 50 minutes of voice calls, with $1 per minute over.
  • 100 SMS messages, with $0.50 per message sent over.
  • 100 MB of data, with $10 per 10 MB over.

Voom for data services

Royal Caribbean's high-speed internet option it offers to its guests on all ships is known as Voom, and it provides an affordable means of using internet data to stay in touch with friends and family.

There are two Voom plans offered:

  • Voom Surf
    • This offers basic web browsing, with no streaming services allowed
    • Starts at $9.99 per day for 1 device
      • The price gets cheaper as more devices are added to the plan
      • Most guests can get a 30% pre-cruise discount via the Cruise Planner site
      • There is also a Crown & Anchor Society discount once onboard
  • Voom Surf + Stream
    • Full internet access, including streaming services
    • Starts at $12.99 per day for 1 device
      • The price gets cheaper as more devices are added to the plan
      • Most guests can get a 30% pre-cruise discount via the Cruise Planner site
      • There is also a Crown & Anchor Society discount once onboard

Use Voom Surf + Stream to make calls

Royal Caribbean's top-tier internet option not only can allow for web browsing, but also provides the ability for savvy users to make phone calls while onboard your cruise for significantly less than the other means listed earlier in this blog post.

WiFi calling

The easiest option is to use WiFi calling through your carrier.  Most major cell phone carriers these days provide a means of making phone calls via an internet connection instead of relying on a cell phone connection. 

WiFi calling has no additional cost and works just like you are at home and supports voice calls, text messaging (SMS and MMS).  It works with most newer devices, including iPhone 5C and later, Android and Blackberry devices.  Check with your carrier for exact devices that are supported.

At last check, these carriers supported WiFi calling

  • Verizon
  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • Sprint
  • GoogleFi

To make a phone call over WiFi, put your device into airplane mode and connect to Voom via WiFi.  If set up correctly on your phone, your calls, texts will be routed through Voom.

Free/low cost VoIP Services

There are many applications for your smart phone, computer or tablets that allow for free or low cost phone calls as well. There are a number popular applications we recommend using.

With all of these solutions, we highly recommend testing them out before your Royal Caribbean cruise to ensure you understand how it works and is set up correctly.

Skype

Skype is quite easy to use and offers voice, video and texting between Skype accounts for free.  All you need to do is install Skype on your device and have the person you are communicating with do the same.

Skype users can also make voice calls and text message between Skype and a phone for a low cost.  There is no contract or commitment to use this service, just load up your Skype account with Skype credit.

Google Hangouts

Google's messaging application, Google Hangouts, is completely free and supports free outbound domestic phone calls. Unfortunately, there are no inbound calls possible in most cases.

Google Hangout also allows for free messaging to anyone else with a Google account (which is everyone these days), as well as video chat.

WhatsApp

Another popular messaging application for smart phones is WhatsApp, which supports easy communicating.

Before your cruise, set up an account (you will need to verify your account via SMS messaging).  Once set up, WhatsApp users can message between WhatsApp users, conduct video chat and make calls to and from WhatsApp users.

Facebook Messenger

Another free option is to use Facebook Messenger.  This is totally free, and allows for messaging between Facebook users, as well as video chat.

Facebook Messenger also supports calls to and from Facebook users.

Your Thoughts

Which means of communicating with friends and family on your ship and at sea do you find to be the best option? Did we miss one you know about? Share your comments and suggestions in the comments!

How to use your cell phone on a Royal Caribbean cruise (and not come home to a big bill)

In:
Category: 
30Jun2016

Nearly everyone that goes on a Royal Caribbean cruise will have a cell phone with them.  These days, most adults and plenty of older children have a phone and odds are, they are bringing it with them on their Royal Caribbean cruise. With all of those phones on the ship, the last thing you want to do is come home with an unexpectedly large cell phone bill.

The nature of cell phones these days is they are constantly using their cellular connection to determine where the phone is, get updates, and update apps.  When you are at home or work, that is quite useful and functional, but on a cruise, it has the potential to cause a major headache when all that use leads to costly roaming charges.

Before we get into how to avoid a big bill, it is important to understand how and why an unexpected large bill can occur.

Understanding roaming

Before we can discuss strategies for avoiding big bills, we have to explain why these big bills can occur.

It is probably not a surprise to hear that your cell phone functions by communicating with cell phone towers that are set up and powered by the cell phone provider company that you pay each month.  When you are in your home country, your service plan allows for regular use of their network, under the service you signed up.

On a Royal Caribbean ship, you are outside your cell phone company's service area and that is what the cell phone industry refers to as "roaming."  Instead of using your cell provider's network, you use someone else's cell phone tower and network.  Royal Caribbean partners with Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN) to provide a cell phone signal at sea known as "Cellular at Sea."  MTN provides the ability to place and receive calls, text messaging and (slow) data at a relatively high cost.  

Even if you were to go on a cruise with your phone and never use it, most modern smart phones still use their cellular signal when not in active use to keep its apps up to date. Of course, if you actively use your phone to make a call, check an app or otherwise use your phone's cellular signal to do something, then you will likely have an expensive bill because of all that roaming.

Airplane mode

In order to avoid having your phone try to use its cellular connection, all modern phones have an ability to turn off its cellular signal by enabling something called, "airplane mode."  This refers to a function that was originally intended for people going on airplanes when phone use was prohibited.  

By enabling airplane mode, your phone is incapable of using its cellular antenna.  It can, however, still use its WiFi and Bluetooth connections to stay connected, if you so choose.

Airplane mode is a mode that can be easily turned on and off, so it is important to ensure it remains in airplane mode while you do not want your phone communicating with any cellular towers.

The advantage to using airplane mode is it is a kind of "master switch," which makes it very simple to know if your phone can or cannot accept a cell signal.

How to enable airplane mode depends on your phone model, but a quick Google search should be easy, such as, "How do I enable airplane mode on an iPhone" or "How do I enable airplane mode on a Samsung Galaxy", etc.

You will want to enable airplane mode as soon as you get onboard the ship on your first day.  A very common mistake is guests forget to do it until later.

Data roaming

There are additional ways to ensure your phone will not rack up extra charges and one of them is to disable data roaming.

Your phone roaming on another network is something that can happen nearly anywhere.  It can happen in foreign countries or even somewhere in your home country that your primary provider does not offer service.

Most modern phones have an option to enable or disable data roaming.  This is important, because while most folks know enough not to make phone calls or text while roaming, they may not be aware that their phone is using data even when the phone is not being used by them.

As we mentioned earlier, smart phones perform a variety of maintenance functions, even when the phone is not in active use.  Phones will check for app updates, grab local data and try to determine its location.  This is normal for smart phones, but if you are on a cruise ship, it can lead to unintentional data use.

A smart safe guard against your phone ever using its data connection while not on your primary cell phone provider is to disable data roaming. Just like airplane mode, it is a setting in your phone that you can toggle. Just do a quick Google search for the exact instructions for your phone model.

Voom

Royal Caribbean's high-speed internet, known as Voom, is available on all ships across the fleet and it is the key to staying connected without the big bills.

To use Royal Caribbean's Wi-Fi without endangering your financial future, here are the basic steps:

  1. Put your phone into airplane mode prior to your ship leaving your embarkation port
  2. Connect to the "royal-wifi" network
  3. Sign up for the Voom plan you prefer
  4. Keep your plane in airplane mode for the duration of the cruise while using Voom

Regardless of which Voom service you choose, this method is the simplest and most reliable way to avoid using your cellular antenna.

How to make phone calls

If you want to make a phone call while at sea, there are a few options.

  • Sign up for an international plan with your cell phone company. These tend to be expensive, but cheaper than trying to make calls without a plan.
  • Use an app: Many apps will allow you to make phone calls using the internet, instead of over a cell signal.  Skype is a common solution.
  • Wi-Fi calling: Some carriers (AT&TT-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon) support making phone calls over a data connection. In order to use Wi-Fi Calling, customers just need a compatible device with iOS 9 installed, a postpaid wireless account set-up for HD Voice and a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

How to send & receive text messages

If you happen to have an iPhone, you probably can send and receive texts quite easily using Apple's iMessage capability.  iMessage is a feature Apple offers that allows messages to be sent via data instead of the usual SMS text messaging service.  Since iMessage uses data, and not a cellular signal, you can easily use Voom to make it work.

If you do not have an iPhone, there are other popular (and free) apps that can help. WhatsApp, Google Voice, Viber and a host of other solutions exist that use data-only and will allow you to message from your phone. 

Other strategies

There are other ways to avoid a big cell phone bill without having to use Royal Caribbean's onboard internet.  We think Voom is the simplest and most convenient option, but other options do exist.

  • You can use the internet while on land via free or low-cost Wi-Fi hot spots.  Nearly every port you visit will have internet options, and many include the service if you buy something at the store/restaurant.  A good strategy for finding good Wi-Fi connections on land is to ask a crew member, since they are visiting these ports on a regular basis.
  • Buying a SIM card for your phone and using that in the various countries is another option.  It is difficult to do in the Caribbean, but in Europe and other regions were cell phone carriers allow use between countries, it can be a good strategy for staying connected.
  • Turn off the phone completely and disconnect for your cruise.  Some people enjoy this low-tech strategy for avoiding a big bill.  While we cannot argue with the results, we do enjoy sharing the vacation experience with family and friends.

Using your cell phone on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
25Aug2015

Cell phones are a way of life these days, with every guest bringing their phone with them onto a Royal Caribbean cruise, just like they would bring their wallet or identification.  The obvious question is can you use your cell phone onboard a Royal Caribbean ship and what are the costs.

Here is an in-depth look at what you need to know about using your cell phone while on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Calls, texts and data

Once you are onboard a Royal Caribbean ship and the ship begins to sail, Royal Caribbean operates a WMS mobile network, known as Cellular at Sea, that will work with any phone that allows roaming.

When the ship is sailing out of range of land-based mobile phone networks, mobile phone service will still be available. When the ship is in port, you can connect to local roaming networks as permitted by your home carrier.

Cellular at Sea is compatible with both GSM and CDMA technologies.

The exact rates will depend on your carrier and the cell phone plan you have signed up for.

As an example, AT&T charges

  • $2.50 per minute for voice calls
  • $0.50 per text message
  • $1.30 per picture or video message
  • $10.24 per MB ($0.0195 per KB)

Verizon Wireless charges

  • $1.79 per minute for voice calls
  • $0.50 per message sent
  • $0.05 per message received
  • $2.05 per MB ($0.002KB)

 Please note that calls to 800, 888, 866, and 877 numbers are not toll free. You will be billed by your home carrier for your international roaming usage on your regular mobile phone bill.

Not all prepaid phones are currently supported.

The bottom line is, using your cell phone on a Royal Caribbean ship while roaming can get very expensive, very quickly.

Cell phone plans for cruises

AT&T offers cell phone packages specifically for use on a Royal Caribbean ship.

There are three packages to choose from and they must be purchased prior to your cruise.

  • $30 package
    • 50 voice call minutes ($1 per minute overage)
  • $60 package
    •  50 voice call minutes ($1 per minute overage)
    • 100 text messages ($0.50 per message overage)
  • $120 package
    •  50 voice call minutes ($1 per minute overage)
    • 100 text messages ($0.50 per message overage)
    • 100MB data ($10 per 10 MB overage)

READ OUR REVIEW OF THE AT&T CRUISE PLANS

These cruise packages can be added by calling 800.335.4685 and a one-month minimum required.

Verizon Wireless offers Cruise Ship Preferred Pricing

  • $25 monthly access per line
    • 100 MB monthly allowance ($25 per 100MB overage)
  • For $15 more per line, add
    • 100 minutes ($0.25 per minute overage)
    • 100 sent texts ($0.25 per text sent overage)
    • Unlimited received texts

Sprint offers international rates for Royal Caribbean ships

  • $2.99 per minute voice calls
  • $0.50 per message sent
  • $0.15 per message received

T-Mobile offers international rates for Royal Caribbean ships

  • $5.99 per minute voice calls
  • $0.50 per message sent
  • Messages received deducted from domestic texting plan allotment
  • $15 per MB

Avoiding cell phone roaming costs

There are two simple ways to avoid the roaming costs that your cell phone provider may levy on you for using your phone while onboard.

Easiest and simplest is to turn your phone off before the ship leaves port.

Alternatively, if you would prefer to keep use of your phone in an offline mode, put the phone into "airplane mode".  

Airplane mode disables the phone's ability to communicate with cell phone towers and will ensure you can use your phone without incurring charges.

For instructions on how to put your phone into airplane mode, refer to your phone manufacturer.

Using WiFi on your phone

Many guests choose to put their phone in airplane mode but use WiFi signals onboard or onshore to retain data communication.

Nearly all modern phones allow you to put the phone in airplane mode while turning back on the WiFi signal.

Royal Caribbean provides internet service via WiFi on all of its cruise ships that can be purchased in increments or as unlimited packages.

Royal Caribbean ships with Voom high speed internet can pay

  • $15 per day, for one device for unlimited internet
  • $22.50 per day, for two devices for unlimited internet

Royal Caribbean ships without high speed internet can pay

  • $20 per day, for one device for unlimited internet
  • $30 per day, for two devices for unlimited internet

Staying connected with other guests

Often we hear from guests who want the best way to be able to communicate with other guests onboard their Royal Caribbean cruise.  Since voice calls are usually prohibitively expensive, here are some ideas for low cost ways to communicate with a phone.

  • Text messages are usually the least expensive option to use and may also be the simplest.  Depending on how much you text, the cost of this idea will vary.
  • If you purchase one of Royal Caribbean's internet data plans, you can use text messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber to communicate without any extra cost beyond the internet package.  iPhone users can use iMessage to also communicate for free with a internet package.
  • We have heard about the Ripple Cruise Communicator that purports to allow free communication on a cruise ship, but have also heard mixed results of how effective it is.