How To Get Connected When Cruising

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We Want To Get Connected When Cruising

It is important to find ways to get connected when cruising!  We travel for about 6 months a year. And many years, a lot of that is cruising. We have written before about getting connected when we travelled internationally. But our recent trip cruising through the Nordic countries added some additional challenges.

While the internet onboard most ships has gotten better, it will never be close to what we have at home. Some cellular providers have roaming packages that you can turn on. Many people make do with wifi when they are on shore. But we found that when we added a KnowRoaming international SIM to our travel kit, we had expanded options to get connected when cruising.

With internet challenges, it was sometimes just easier to reconcile ourselves to disconnecting from the internet for longer periods of time. We stayed in the moment with each other. And enjoyed the amazing sights we saw in the Nordic countries. But the catch-up was sometimes quite painful. So much of the time we used a combination of methods to stay connected when cruising.

Cruise Ship Internet Options

The internet on cruise ships has gotten better over the year. But cruise lines still rely on satellite links with low bandwidth and slow speeds. When we cruised north of the Arctic circle, even satellite connections became unreliable. There were WiFi routers everywhere around the ship that made it look like there are lots of bars of capacity. But with people online for everything, it was often hard to get enough bandwidth to do much.

We got “free wifi” bundled with our cruise cost. This gave us unlimited access for one person. But we shared the login between us. And logged on and off on different devices. Our internet package included an option to upgrade to add streaming capability (e.g. Netflix). But that did not provide increased bandwidth or speed.

For people who had to buy internet, there was an unlimited daily package or various ways to buy capacity (in megabytes of total capacity). The daily rate for unlimited was about $25USD per day with a $10 top up for streaming. Every other option we looked at was much cheaper and better. But not available away from land!

Cruise Ship Internet Challenges

If I wanted to have any luck on the cruise ship internet, I was up early in the morning before the ship was stirring. The other option was to try the connection on days when we were onboard while other’s went off on excursions. Although that meant competing with staff for internet bandwidth.

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Basic email without attachments was ok when we could get connected. Social media access varied by channel. And how many pictures there were. Posting to social media channels really required us to keep the image size small. We never used FaceTime or Skype for video conferencing. But we often found people who could not resist doing this in the dining rooms!

There were three areas that were total failures on cruise ship internet and we were glad we had options to get connected while we cruised:

1) Accessing The Internet Safely

VPN access was impossibly slow. This meant we could not do any sensitive transactions like banking.

2) Synching Photos Across Devices

I was never able to synch my Apple Photos from my phone to the Cloud. And forget getting them back down to my computer. All of my editing and sorting was done on my iPhone until I got a good connection.

3) Posting New Content To The Blog

While I could access on my blog software offline, there was never enough internet bandwidth to send a new post with pictures up to the online blog site.

All of this made it virtually impossible to run a blog and social media channels from a cruise ship. I could use this as an excuse for why I posted so little to the blog during our 32 day cruise to the Nordic countries. But keep reading and you will see there were some ways we used to get better connected when cruising.

Roaming With Your Home Cell Phone

The easiest way to get internet once you are on shore while cruising is to use your cell phone and your home cellular data plan. You can Pay-As-You-Go or buy International Roaming. If you choose roaming, typically you will pay a cost per day, often capped. But you will be drawing down on the cellular data capacity of your base cellular plan. And pay that your normal monthly cost on top of the roaming charge.

I will now remind you that we live in Canada. Our cellular costs are some of the most expensive. And it has never been cost effective to use my home cell plan abroad. It cost me $10 for the first blip up to 20mB when I accidentally turned off Airplane Mode on my phone on in Europe. If I wanted a roaming option, it costs $12/day. And with that, I still pay my home cell phone monthly cost. And can only use up to my paid data limit before I am then charged at Pay-As-You-Go rates.

The other thing of concern was having your cell turned on (and off Airplane Mode) when you are at sea. I once thought I had cellular service off as we cruised from Miami to Key West. I accrued a $200 bill before the cell company texted me to say they had turned off my data access. If your cell phone accesses the satellite service, the costs will be extremely high. And not covered under Roaming plans.

I know that Roaming plans in the U.S. and other countries may be better than in Canada. And the daily rates are less than the cruise ship daily costs. But it can still be an expensive way to get connected when cruising.

WiFi On Shore To Get Online When Cruising  

A great option was to look for WiFi when you land. We usually followed the crew to find the best place for free Wifi. Often the cruise port had either open internet or the password was posted. We just made sure to use a VPN since these were often totally open networks. And when the cruise terminal was filled with staff connecting with home, the internet speeds were not great.

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When we visited the towns when we were in port, we often stopped at coffee shops for WiFi. I was so desperate to get decent speed when we visited Edinburgh that I even found a Starbucks for WiFi! At times we looked for hotel brands we knew had open WiFi. We usually got a decent signal sitting with others on the bench outside the hotel.

I used free wifi mostly to get my Photos synched across my devices. The ensured the photos were backed up. And I could work on them for blog posts. But we usually did not want to spend our time in ports just getting connected. So the WiFi stops were short to let the devices work while we paused on our explorations in the Nordic countries.

How The KnowRoaming International SIM Works

We have written before about getting connected when travelling internationally. I bought my first KnowRoaming SIM sticker many years ago. And it is one of my travelling gadgets that I won’t leave home without. We even got a second KnowRoaming SIM for our Nordic cruise to put in David’s phone. There was no need to shop for (and carry) SIMS for every different place we travelled. And David now had no excuse to miss a text message from me!

My KnowRoaming SIM sticker sits on top of my home SIM. The SIM sticker auto senses when I have moved outside of my home cellular network and switches the cellular service to the KnowRoaming international SIM. It was also easy to manually change to the KnowRoaming SIM to ensure there was not a blip back to my home cellular network.

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The new SIM we got was a full SIM and needed to be swapped with the home SIM. As soon as we took this phone off of Airplane Mode, it looked for the local cellular network.

KnowRoaming has agreements with cellular networks around the world. The KnowRoaming SIM looked for the local network and usually connected without interference. On our last trip, we found cellular service with data in every place we visited except Greenland!!

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Many of the places on this last trip we only got 3G speeds. But that was still enough to do everything we needed. We would connect when we got to port and use the internet from the ship in dock as we explored the ports in the Nordic countries.

We Purchased Cellular Service As We Needed It With KnowRoaming

With KnowRoaming, we purchased cellular capacity when we wanted it. For days when we had no major data needs, we paid as we went. Phone calls in Europe were between $0.10 and $0.20 per minute. We made several calls to make travel plans. Data was $0.15/mb. So our cost was $3 for 20 mB (not the $10 my home cellular provider wanted). We put $25 on David’s new SIM for casual use and still had money left when we returned home.

But if I really wanted to catch up, it was better to buy unlimited data packages. Typically I got one day for $4 or 3 days for $10. Not the $12 per day charged by my home cellular provider. And I was not limited to the cellular data plan capacity I had at home. We could even buy 30 day plans with 5gB of data for $100. There was a plan for any need.

With an unlimited data package I synched photos and managed all of my social media channels. Unfortunately, many of the local cellular service providers did not support hot spotting my phone so that my laptop could share the internet. So often I was still unable to work on blog posts.

Over 42 days we cruised the Nordic countries, I spent less than $50 with KnowRoaming and got connected while cruising whenever I needed it.

KnowRoaming Customer Service Is Excellent

The KnowRoaming service is supported by an app on my iPhone. Most of what I needed to do was done through the app.

But every now and then I had an issue. To ensure that my phone would connect in all the places we travelled on our Nordic country cruise, I emailed in advance to get the local network information in each port. It was then a simple task for me to set the network properties to avoid any connection issues.

Any time I had an issue and emailed KnowRoaming, I was blown away with the customer service. The auto-responder says they are staffed 7×24. And I have seen this in action! Responses to problems or questions were always prompt. And often there was follow up just to check that things were ok. I sure wish my home cellular provider was half as responsive.

If you follow our blog, you know that we normally do not endorse products. But our experience with KnowRoaming has stood the test of time. It is always with us when we travel!

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Take A Break From Being Online When Cruising

We can’t finish this blog post without a word about the value of disconnecting when we travel. It may seem that we chased all of the methods to get connected when cruising. But we did that to get our online stuff done quickly and have it done and over. When we found a good and fast internet connection, we spent less time watching the spinning wheel of doom.

We had many days at sea with no or limited cruise ship internet. We just stopped fussing about it. It was nice to not be tied to our “phones” at all times. I started to write “to our computers” but then remembered how much time we spent on blog writing and picture editing.

We had time with each other. And when we visited the ports, we focused on the destination. Of course, with camera in hand!

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Not All Ways To Get Connected When Cruising Are Equal

There are many ways to get connected when cruising. Cruise ship internet may get the basics done. But it may often be slow and frustrating. Having WiFi when we stopped in ports and visited towns often let us do a quick catch up. But buying cheap and fast internet capacity with our KnowRoaming SIM ensured we could have the capacity and speed when we wanted it. And at a reasonable price.

Have you found other ways to stay connected when cruising? Or do you just use cruising as a way to disconnect?

Note: I do receive a small wireless credit if you purchase through the link on this blog. All opinions are mine and based on total satisfaction with KnowRoaming.

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About TravelAtWill 494 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

16 Comments

  1. That is good to hear that the internet is getting better and better on cruises. I have heard its not good. I had no idea a VPN could really slow it down. Great tips.

  2. Great tips here. Havent been cruising yet but when I do, still not sure if I want to be online. From a blogger side of things, I want to, but there are days where I want to be disconnected and cruising seems to be an ideal way of doing this. 😀

    • Elaine, I am sure I used my KnowRoaming SIM when I was in Japan. And China! There have only been a few spots where I have had no access. And I can accept that Greenland was one of those 🙂 Linda

  3. Oh my, that sounds like it was a lot of drama and work to get wifi! I certainly understand about wanting to seek photos. KnowRoaming international SIM sounds like a great solution to roaming charges.

    • Sherianne, It does sometimes seem like we get a bit obsessed with getting connected in some ports. I need to get better at just letting it go. But nice when I can just switch my phone on and have a connection. Linda

  4. That’s such a good tip to wake up before everyone else to use the wifi. I’ve done that a few times at hotels with bad wifi. Although sometimes it helps us disconnect a bit!

    • Nicole, It is a good thing we are early risers anyway. I am sure some people take advantage of late nights. But I agree that it is nice to disconnect for awhile. I even read some books on this trip. Linda

  5. I haven’t been on a cruise before so this is great to read about your experiences. Glad internet connection is getting better, though I can imagine it can be frustrating when you need to quickly check on something important. The flipside is that you are forced to disconnect, which is isn’t so bad either. Regardless, good to know about the KnowRoaming service and will keep it in mind when I do eventually take my first cruise.Thanks for the tips, Linda.

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