Until recently, taking a cruise forced us to disconnect.
At sea, cell phone service was spotty, expensive or both, and in-cabin TVs showed just a handful of channels — most of them advertising things to do on the cruise.
For entertainment, passengers had to participate in live events like karaoke contests, bellyflop competitions, shore excursions, or — yikes — chatting with strangers.
Not anymore. Major cruise lines have announced rapid expansion of onboard high-speed wireless internet availability thanks to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.
On Twitter, Royal Caribbean Group said on Saturday that all of its ships would be equipped by the end of March with the low-orbit satellite technology pioneered by Elon Musk. The announcement followed a successful trial aboard Freedom of the Seas. The company owns the lines Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises.
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Carnival Corp. followed that announcement on Wednesday with a news release stating that ships across its brands would soon have high-speed Starlink internet service. The service started rolling out on Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises ships in December, and the company plans to expand it to Princess Cruises, Holland America, Seabourne, Costa Cruises, Canard and others in the near future.
“For many of our guests, it has become more and more important to maintain the type of connectivity at sea that they’ve become accustomed to at home, and of course to share the unforgettable experiences of their cruise with friends and family,” Carnival Corp. CEO Josh Weinstein was quoted in the release as saying. “We are in the business of delivering happiness, and Starlink makes it as easy as possible for our guests to share all their great moments and memories, giving them even more joy out of their cruise vacation.”
Disclosing its plan last June to partner with SpaceX, Royal Caribbean Group’s vice president for operational excellence, John Maya, told the Federal Communications Commission that slow onboard internet speeds were providing “negative guest experiences” and slowing the company’s “desired business advancements.”
Of course, staying connected with high-speed satellite internet won’t be included with your base fare. Cruise lines have long charged a premium for internet access, but as with home service, prices have remained constant even as speeds and bandwidth have sharply increased.
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The technology website ZeroHedge.com reported last June that Starlink would boost available cruise ship internet speeds from 3 to 5 megabytes per second to between 50 and 250 Mbps. The average household, it said, runs at about 43 Mbps.
According to cruise-focused websites, prices vary according to ship, destination and cruise length. Packages purchased for large families sailing for a week or more will naturally cost less per day, per device, than access purchased by the day for one or two users.
Royal Caribbean’s highest-priced service, Voom Surf & Stream, costs around $27 a day for up to four devices, the website Cruisefever.net reported on Jan. 10.
Reactions to news of the high-speed rollouts on Twitter have been generally positive. “It’s about time,” one user said. Not everyone is convinced. “Oh joy,” said another. “Now I can sit in a room on a boat and surf the internet.”
In an emailed statement, CruiseCritic.com editor-in-chief Colleen McDaniel wrote that more travelers are looking for faster online access. “Travelers today are more connected than ever — whether on social channels sharing their experiences live, or even working from onboard their ships (something we’re seeing as a bit of a trend as of late).”
On the other hand, posted a Twitter user, “I thought one of the main selling points of a cruise was to get away from it all — not to take it with you. You can tell your boss, ‘No internet, so I can’t do work.’”
But according to McDaniel, “Cruise lines’ continued improvement of their Wi-Fi offerings is generally accepted with open arms among cruise travelers.”
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So on your next cruise, you’ll be able to camp out on a chair and stare into your screen just like at home.
You’ll be able to photograph and critique everything on the buffet line with friends on social media while sharing adorable videos of your kids’ burping contests.
Sunrises, sunsets, dancing servers, slot machine payouts, the occasional shark sighting — all shareable in real time with everyone back on dry land.
And streaming content: You’ll be able to go back to your cabin and catch up on unwatched episodes of your Netflix and Hulu faves. Just like at home.
Cruisers who prefer to disconnect will be able to opt out by simply not buying an internet package, McDaniel said.
They’ll be the ones extra vigilant in the small elevators, passageways and duty-free shops, trying to avoid colliding with fellow passengers shuffling around zombie-like and yelling into their devices. Just like at home.
Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected]