Keeping in Touch: Internet Facts at Sea

People sign up for a cruise to get away from it all—as long as they can still go online. Today, folks cannot imagine not getting their email, taking calls, or updating their social network accounts for a day, let alone the 7 they will be out at sea. But first-time cruisers that expect availability of the Internet will be the same out in the water as on land are in for a rude awakening.

Cruise ships have been web-connected sine as early as 1999 when German cruise ship Norwegian Sky added an Internet café to its amenities. Today, most cruise ships have Internet service but it can be a frustrating, and expensive, experience for landlubbers.

For one thing, Internet connection on a cruise ship is typically via satellite, and that’s a heck of a lot farther than the substation that your Internet cable has to travel to receive and transmit data. When a cruise ship’s satellite antennae sends your email to the service, it first has to bounce it 22,000-odd miles into space, which is then beamed back to Earth to a land-based substation. That’s a lag you don’t get on land.

There is also the question of bandwidth. The larger the bandwidth that the cruise ship company pays for, the faster the transmission. Unfortunately, such satellite-dependent technology is expensive, and even the typical fixed bandwidth costs way more than what you would pay for on land. Cruise lines that shell out the cash for better Internet quality will inevitably pass on the costs to those who want access. This can translate to a big wad of cash at 75 cents a minute for a typical connection. Most cruise ship offer packages for heavy users, but still, considering that the typical Internet connection on land is just $30 a month…

And to add insult to injury, the connection is generally unreliable even that at those prices it may not be worth it in the end. It is not (usually) the ship’s fault; some things such as obstructions to the line of site (needed for satellites) are beyond their control. With a moving ship and the need to keep the antenna pointing steadily at a satellite, it is no wonder that the connection gets broken. Cruise ships that travel near the equator usually have the most reliable connections.

But don’t let these Internet facts discourage you from cruising. It may not be a bad idea to be disconnected for a short while. At the very least, you will have a lot of interesting things to come back to at the of your vacation.

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