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Using Your Cell Phone on a Cruise Ship

cell-phone-cruise-shipYou might have wondered how you are going to stay in touch while you’re on your cruise. There’s always email and internet, but as you may know, that can be pretty pricey. And sometimes you just want to hear the other person’s voice (or they want to hear yours).

Luckily, you more than likely can stay in touch on your cruise — right from your own cell phone.

How’s that possible? After all, there are no cell towers in the middle of the ocean.

Most (not all cruise ships) in the area have an agreement with “Wireless Maritime Services” for a technology that allows cruise passengers to place calls while on the ship — no matter where it is.

As the company’s website says, when you turn your phone on while on your cruise, you will see “a distinct name on the handset other than [your] home carrier. Once your ship is at sea, your handsets will read “Nor 18”, “cellular@sea” or “901 18”. The display show varies depending on the type of phone you have. Your home carrier (and not WMS) will bill directly you directly for using cellular services onboard your ship.”

In other words, you will automatically have service. And when you place a call, use data, or send/receive texts, you will be billed by your regular carrier.

Now, this technology works with all the major cell-phone plans, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint. (We would assume that other companies that use those networks could place calls too. For example, Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network.)

So how much does it cost to make a call from a cruise ship? That will vary. It depends on your carrier and their billing policies.

AT&T: AT&T wants its users to sign up for a special package that can allow calls only; calls and texts; or calls, texts, and data. The cheapest plan is $30 a month for 50 minutes of talk time (about $0.60 per minute). Overages are $1.00 per minutes. The cheapest plan with texts is $60 a month (this is in addition to your regular monthly charge.)

You can also call without the plan, but rates are $2.50 per minute/$0.50 per text/$1.30 for a picture text. You can learn more about AT&T cruise rates here.

Verizon: Verizon charges a simpler $2.49 per minute rate/$0.50 per text without any special plans. Click here to learn more about using your Verizon phone on the ship.

T-Mobile: The highest of all the rates we found, T-Mobile charges a staggering $5.99 per minute. Sending a text while on the ship runs $0.50. You can see T-Mobile charges for your specific cruise ship by visiting this link and selecting your ship from the drop-down menu (look toward the bottom of the list for cruise ships).

Sprint: Sprint’s rates run $2.99 per minute while using your cell phone on the ship, whether or not you have the $4.99 per month “international” plan. Sending texts is the normal $0.50 per message. Receiving texts is $0.15 per message.

You can view the rate schedule here (look for “Cruise Ship Roaming in the table).

Important Notes: We have heard of companies charging “connect fees” per call placed, however, we haven’t seen anything about this on either Wireless at Sea or the carrier’s websites.

We have also heard stories of charges for data with emails or text messages being sent to phones automatically. In that case, we recommend turning off automatic updates for emails/texts.

The rates above apply only when the ship is at sea. Once it is in port, the “Wireless at Sea” switches off and you will be placed on a carrier in that country. This is where international plans can save you money on calls.

Most of all, if you have any questions, be sure to contact your carrier — not the cruise line. The cruise lines have very little to do with your cell phone usage. All the charges will come from the phone company.

Photo: BFS Man