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The question of whether to pay the cruise lines’ price for internet access during a cruise or whether to look for free wifi while ashore often comes up. I did a post just over a year on this topic, but it’s time to revisit the issue.

For both P&O and Cunard the current position is that internet packages – of a set number of minutes – can be bought either in advance or on board. Confusingly, the number of minutes in the packages is different between the two lines and of course the cost is in GBP for P&O but in US$ for Cunard, but here goes:-

  • Cunard:
    • 120 minutes (plus 10 extra minutes free if bought in advance) – $47.95;
    • 240 minutes (plus 20 extra minutes free if bought in advance) – $89.95;
    • 480 minutes (plus 30 extra minutes free if bought in advance) – $167.95;
  • P&O:
    • 100 minutes (plus 20 extra minutes if bought in advance) – £35;
    • 250 minutes (plus 30 extra minutes if bought in advance) – £62.50.

Additionally, there’s a £2.50 ‘activation fee’ for the P&O packages, and quite possibly the same sort of thing for Cunard. (I always find these extras extremely annoying.) Finally, if you exceed your package time, they won’t disconnect you; instead, they’ll ‘helpfully’ continue to connect you for the remainder of your session and charge you a minute-by-minute rate. This is the most expensive way of connecting of all, of course.

Looking at the deals, the addition of the extra free minutes makes buying in advance a better deal than doing so on-board. It’s also the case (for P&O at least) that if you buy in advance the cost will be reduced by whatever rate of discount your Peninsular Club membership entitles you to, whereas if you buy on board it will be set against any OBC that you’ve still got, and of course purchases set against OBC don’t attract discount.

I’ll be honest and say that I always buy an internet package in advance. I enjoy writing this blog while we’re cruising, and it seems a good way to while away some time during sea days. I don’t think I’d ever want to spend time ashore searching out internet cafes; indeed, I think Val would throttle me if I did so. So I’ve never minded paying the money.

Since most of what I do is just blogging and checking emails, I generally find the (much reduced) speed perfectly adequate. However, I know that many people are unhappy with the bandwidth that’s available and feel reluctant to spend the money on a service that isn’t first-rate. There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon, however (with some caveats). First, Royal Caribbean have provided faster internet services on some of their ships – first the two Oasis class ships had the relevant equipment retroactively fitted, and since then the two Quantum class ships were built with the required equipment in place. It’s also possible that the new provision is being extended to other Royal Caribbean ships, but I don’t know about that. The caveat, however, is that the new technology that Royal Caribbean use only provides ‘optimal coverage’ between 45º N and 45º S. The whole of the UK is outside those latitudes, so cruises in northern waters (e.g. short cruises across the Channel, Fjords cruises, and Baltic cruises) will not be able to use the technology ‘optimally’. Cruises to the Mediterranean or the Canary Islands will do better, especially once they pass 45º N. Most of the Mediterranean is south of this latitude, but the far north of the Adriatic is north of it. Venice sits almost on that parallel (45º 26′). So cruises to the Mediterranean would start with slow internet on leaving Southampton; as the 45th parallel was reached on the run down the coast of France it would improve; but as the cruise ended with the return to Southampton it would deteriorate again. And as I say, this is as yet only available on some Royal Caribbean ships. Here’s a link to their provider’s webpage which explains the technology used.

There’s been a press release from Carnival Corp today in which they announced some new internet arrangements for AIDA. For €4 a day (€19 a week), AIDA passengers will be able to access ‘social media’ only – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. In addition, AIDA is altering the way a general internet package is charged. Instead of charging for time, the charge will be for data volume. So 250MB will cost €25, 500MB will cost €39, and 3GB will cost €99. This seems a sensible way to go. AIDA also say that “AIDA is also dramatically increasing the bandwidth and thereby the speed of Internet” but they don’t give any indication as to how they’re doing this. A couple of their ships (AIDAmar and AIDAvita) already have these enhancements, by July it will be extended to another four, and the whole AIDA felt will be covered by November. Here’s a link to the Carnival Corp news release.

I’d like to see P&O and Cunard make some changes in this area.


4 Responses to “Internet access on a cruise”

  1. Solent Richard says:

    Good evening Tom, I’m between dinner courses when I saw your email come in. Just to say that on Cunard there is always an additional amount of Internet time offered as an incentive in the first 24 hours on board.

    And would you believe that that offer includes members of the World Club who sign up for their ‘free’ minutes in the same time period.

    I luv it.😃

  2. Stuart Cameron says:

    Hello Tom, I had no option but to buy a package for my last cruise as I am a ‘mature’ student part way through an Open Uni module. I bought the package in advance and also took advantage of registering the package on the first day (still in Southampton). I got extra minutes for doing both.

    The way I use it is to download emails and book off, write my essays and emails, book on, upload and then book off again. Probably a total of 1 minute to download and 2-3 minutes to upload.

    £35 is a lot of money but I can easily eek it out to last two weeks.

    • Tom Burke says:

      Stuart: Thanks for the comment.

      That’s exactly the thing to do – work off-line as much as possible and go on-line just long enough to download what you need and upload what you’ve created. (There used to be a software package that worked like that – Lotus Notes – about 20 years or more ago when data communication was slow, difficult and expensive, even on land. Dial-up modems anyone? I made my living for over 10 years as Lotus Notes developer and administrator.)

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