Cruising for a (Better) Connection

Cruise Ship

Image courtesy of Microsoft

Cruising for a (Better) Connection
| published November 10, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


The next time someone at your office is trying to reach you via email, Skype, Facebook instant messenger your Linked-In account while you are on vacation, you may not be able to use the excuse that you were on a cruise ship deep at sea. Conversely, your when your mother asks why you did not post photos of yourself at the big banquet, you can’t use the excuse there was no internet service in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, or off the coast of Alaska.

Bending to continuing pressure to get into the digital age—and owing to the ubiquitous nature of social media—one of the world’s largest cruise ship companies is spending millions of dollars to improve and augment its internet service. In some cases, passengers will see internets speeds roughly ten times what they experienced they last time they took a slow boat to…well, anywhere.

Miami-based Carnival Corporation is upgrading its WiFi@Sea platform to include better connections to antennae and distribution systems placed on towers along the shorelines near many Carnival routes. Taller communications towers, coupled with better radio and transmission technologies, can then enable ships at sea to maintain faster internet service almost anywhere except at great distances from land.

Cruise lines have had difficulty attracting younger passengers for decades, but in the aught years many potential passengers in the under-40 range have eschewed cruise ships as a vacation option since access to services like Twitter and Facebook would be limited—if available at all.

“We believe it will also help us attract new cruisers,” Carnival spokesperson Ramon Millan said, “especially millennials who have made connectivity and social media an everyday part of their lives.”

Other cruise lines have already decided to make the jump—sometimes costly—to faster internet speeds and greater connection coverage. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is beefing up its WiFi with high-powered satellite systems on its newer ships, and retrofitting some of the older models as well.

Disney Cruise Lines already offers wireless internet access, but plans to continue to improve speeds as part of its ongoing upgrades to its ships. Disney’s cruise website offers the standard boilerplate language that “due to the technology and satellite connectivity, the onboard internet service may be slower that you may be accustomed to, and may be interrupted or unavailable at times.” But Disney’s program, called Connect@Sea, is priced based not upon time spent online or minutes using mobile apps, but instead the amount of data used.

Disney also has a service called Wave Phone, an onboard system which allows passengers to make cell phone-like calls within the ship—and to send text messages—but without using their own handheld device or smartphone. Each room comes equipped with two Wave Phone devices, and additional phones are available for a small charge. Some passengers who wish to disconnect from their work life and their other contacts on shore can simply leave their personal phone off, using the Wave Phones for onboard connections to family, friends and fellow travelers.

Royal Caribbean is also upping the ante by adding multiple wireless features and mobile apps, allowing passengers to use cell phones and tablets to make restaurant reservations or buy tickets to comedy shows.

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