Cruise lines are finally coming around to the idea that not all passengers are cool with completely disconnecting while at sea, and every year brings better bandwidth and lower Wi-Fi fees on ships.
Here's how five popular ships measure up when it comes to onboard Internet access.
Cruise ship Wi-Fi arrives via signals from satellites 22,000 miles above Earth. It's slower and more restricted than what what you're used to at home or work, and thus it's not an amenity ships are eager to brag about. But when you're stepping onboard for any number of days and intent on having the time of your life, you may want to share a photo or two on social media, read up on ports, check email, and monitor any onward travel.
1. Anthem of the Seas (2015): 4,180 passengers
Anthem is the fourth of Royal Caribbean’s ships (following Quantum of the Seas, Allure of the Seas, and Oasis of the Seas) to sail with the absolute newest at-sea Wi-Fi technology onboard. Using O3b Communications’ Ka-band satellites and what Bill Martin, Chief Information Officer for Royal Caribbean, calls “fiber from the sky,” passengers on these ships can access social media, websites, apps, and streaming services as fast or nearly as fast as it would be on land. “The new, O3b satellites are in low, mid-Earth orbit, roughly five times closer to Earth, and they actually orbit. It’s a much more concentrated signal...access can be unlimited and high-speed,” says Martin.
Speed tests on a preview cruise, with every passenger provided complimentary access, measured an average of 5.00 Mbps download and 4.33 Mbps upload. Anthem of the Seas offers surprise “WOW Hours” of free Wi-Fi, but otherwise pricing ranges from $20 for an hour to $400 for a “Premium Plus” (fastest possible speed) plan for unlimited access for the duration of the cruise.
2. Carnival Breeze (2012): 3,690 passengers
Carnival Cruise Line has sensed the wave of things to come (pun intended), and is pioneering the use of "WiFi@Sea," a hybrid system of land-based antennas and geostationary satellites. Its newest ships are now testing out $5-a-day and $25-per-cruise “social” plans, which offer unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Beyond this, Carnival is testing “value” and “premium” plans for unlimited daily Wi-Fi, but the standard is still a timed plan, from pay-as-you-go $0.75 per minute to a block of 480 minutes for $159.
3. Celebrity Reflection (2012): 3,046 passengers
There's an entire "iLounge" onboard the Reflection, which has, in addition to Mac desktops, Macbooks, and iPads, an authorized Apple dealer case of products available for purchase. Suites are equipped with widescreen, internet-enabled TVs, and even iPads. All of this onboard tech requires a connection to support the tech focus, and the Reflection and other Solstice–class ships use a satellite connection with enough bandwidth to support normal social media and internet use.
Access plans have recently seen a lowering of prices, and Celebrity now offers a $59 all-day unlimited plan, as well as unlimited plans for the entire sailing ($299 for a six- to nine-day voyage, $349 for a 10-14 day voyage).
4. Azamara Journey (2000, relaunched 2007): 686 passengers
The Azamara Club Cruises duo of ships, Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, are proof that old dogs can be taught new tricks. Beginning in January, the line upgraded their Ku-band satellite access and brought the overall price of access down for passengers, from what was once $75 for 150 minutes to $69 for 24 hours of unlimited access.
Although it is still a Ku-band connection with a geostationary orbit, the line has enough bandwidth to provide regular web access, whether if the ships are sailing around islands in the Mediterranean or through the straits in Antarctica.
Learn more about Internet access while cruising.
More from Conde Nast Traveler