Until recently, taking a cruise forced us to disconnect.
At sea, cell phone service was spotty, expensive, or both, and the in-cabin TVs showed few channels—most advertising things to do on the cruise.
For entertainment, passengers had to take part in live events such as karaoke competitions, belly contests, beach excursions, or — yikes — chatting with strangers.
Not anymore. Major cruise lines have announced the rapid expansion of high-speed wireless Internet availability on board thanks to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.
Royal Caribbean said on Twitter on Saturday that all of its ships will be equipped by the end of March with low-orbit satellite technology pioneered by Elon Musk. The announcement follows a successful trial aboard the Freedom of the Seas. The company owns Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea Cruises.
Carnival Corp. followed the announcement on Wednesday with a press release that ships across its brands will soon get high-speed Starlink internet service. The service debuted aboard Carnival Cruise Line and AIDA Cruises 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 very important to maintain the kind of connection at sea they are accustomed to at home, and of course, to share the unforgettable experiences of their cruise with friends and family,” the statement quoted Corp CEO Josh Weinstein as saying. “We’re in the business of creating happiness, and Starlink makes it easy for our guests to share all their wonderful moments and memories, giving them even more happiness during their cruise vacation.”
Royal Caribbean’s group vice president of operational excellence John Maia revealed his plan last June to partner with SpaceX, telling the FCC that slow internet speeds on board provide “negative guest experiences” and slow the company’s “desirable commercial progress.”
Of course, staying connected to high-speed satellite internet will not be included in the base price. Cruise lines have always charged a premium for Internet access, but as with home service, prices have held steady even as speed and bandwidth increase sharply.
Technology site ZeroHedge.com reported last June that Starlink would boost internet speeds available on cruise ships from 3 to 5 megabytes per second to between 50 and 250 megabytes per second. It said the average family throughput is about 43 megabits per second.
According to cruise-focused websites, prices vary according to the ship, destination, and cruise length. Packages purchased for large families cruising for a week or more will naturally cost less per day per device than access purchased per day for one or two users.
Royal Caribbean’s highest-priced Voom Surf & Stream service is about $27 per day for up to four devices, Cruisefever.net reported Jan. 10.
Reaction to the news of the high-speed posting on Twitter has been generally positive. “It’s about time,” said one user. Not everyone is convinced. Another said: “Oh, Farah.” “Now I can sit in a room on a boat and surf the Internet.”
In an emailed statement, CruiseCritic.com Editor-in-Chief Colin McDaniel writes that more travelers are looking for faster online access. “Today’s travelers are more connected than ever – whether on social channels sharing their experiences directly, or even working from aboard their ships (something we see as a bit of a trend lately).”
On the other hand, one Twitter user posted, “I thought one of the main selling points of the cruise was getting away from it all — not taking it with you. You could say to your boss, ‘There’s no internet, so I can’t work.'”
But according to McDaniel, “cruise lines’ continued improvement of their Wi-Fi offerings is generally accepted with open arms among cruise travelers.”
So on your next cruise, you’ll be able to camp out in a chair and stare at your screen just like you’re at home.
You’ll be able to film and swipe everything on the buffet line with friends on social media while sharing awesome videos of your kids’ burp competitions.
Sunrises and sunsets, dancing servers, slot machine payouts, and the occasional shark sightings – all shared in real time as everyone returns to dry land.
And Streaming Content: You’ll be able to go back to your cabin and catch up on unwatched episodes of your favorite Netflix and Hulu clips. Just like at home.
McDaniel said cruisers who would rather disconnect would be able to opt out simply by not purchasing an internet package.
They’ll be extra vigilant in mini-elevators, aisles, and duty-free shops, trying to avoid collisions with fellow passengers who are walking around zombies and screaming at their machines. 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@example.com.