Cruise lines may advertise a vacation that
gets away from it all, but many cruise passengers apparently are
less concerned with escaping the workaday world than with making
sure their cell phones keep them linked to their world while at
The cruise lines
are getting the message. Carnival Cruise Lines said last month it
would install technology enabling guests on its 22 ships to use
their own cell phones anywhere at sea.
with Wireless Maritime Services, a company whose client roster
already includes Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean
International, Celebrity Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
With the worlds largest cruise line in the game, by next year the
majority of cruise ships around the world will have this kind of
cellular phone service.
Just two years ago,
technology enabling the use of cell phones at sea was still in a
testing phase. Rapid deployment has been the result of
Mobile phones are a
fact of life, said Rob Marjerison, general manager of WMS. People
cant just disappear into thin air for a week.
connections are already as commonplace as balcony cabins, and even
wireless Internet access is increasingly an expectation.
In 2004, NCL became
the first cruise line to offer guests on North American cruises the
ability to use personal cell phones. Since then, lines have been
slower to adopt cell technology than the Internet. But it is
$10-per-minute satellite phone seems to be going the way of the
cellular provider, SeaMobile, is installing service on three cruise
lines this year: Silversea Cruises and Oceania Cruises ships are
already being wired, and the company signed a contract with Crystal
Cruises last month.
WMS was developed
as a partnership between Maritime Telecommunications Network, a
provider of satellite connectivity to cruise ships, and Cingular
Wireless. SeaMobile recently bought Maritime Telecommunications
Network and its 49% ownership of WMS.
works by having cellular antennae on ships relay calls to an
onboard base station that in turn relays them to a satellite. The
satellite then relays the call to a base station on land that
routes it through its cellular network. The service turns on once
the ship is 12 miles offshore.
Marjerison said it
costs about $250,000 to outfit a ship with the technology. The cost
is borne by the communications company, which recoups its
investment by acting as a local cellular provider, billing the
passengers cellular provider for roaming service. The cruise line
then takes a cut of what the communications company gets for every
call, and the charges show up on the passengers monthly cell phone
Calls cost the
passenger around $2 to $5 per minute, depending on their own cell
phone provider and, in the case of SeaMobile, on from where the
calls are placed. With Oceanias SeaMobile service, calls range from
$1.99 per minute in Spain to $3.99 per minute in Libya. The
passengers cell phone providers can then tack on additional
charges, depending on the calling plan.
MSC Cruises said
calls placed through its provider, GeoLink, run about $4 to $5 per
minute. Marjerison said calls made on ships with WSM service range
from $2.49 per minute for Cingular customers to $2.99 per minute
for Sprint customers. Each cell provider sets its own rates.
Right now, sending
e-mail via a hand-held device or a text message by phone is the
best value, Marjerison said. An e-mail sent on a BlackBerry costs
only a few cents, because it is billed by its size. Connectivity
can be a selling point for travel agents.
Mary Jean Tully,
CEO of Cruise Professionals in Mississauga, Ontario, said it is a
huge relief for families to know they can reach each other when
they are away for long periods, especially if they have aging or
sick relatives. And businesspeople feel they need to be
It used to be you
were out of touch on a ship, Tully said. People would say, I do
three or four short trips a year, because I cant be out of touch
for that long.
allows them the freedom to be able to get away. The reason they can
afford their cruise is they can check their portfolios.
that when incentive and business group travelers are on a connected
ship, they take advantage of it.
Usage goes way up,
he said. Business group travel is a billion-dollar industry. That
business was not a viable option to the cruise lines. Now it
Some veterans of
cruise travel say that this technology is a bonus, but not a
And some travel
professionals remain skeptical.
Its nice, but weve
been doing group charters for 24 years, and so far it hasnt stopped
people from cruising, said Josephine Kling, president of Landry
& Kling, a Miami-based company that specializes in corporate
charters and meetings at sea.
Kling said the
technology is not a deciding factor for her clients, but people do
want to know how to communicate if necessary. The ability to do so,
she said, signals to groups that cruise lines are up to date and
offer the amenities that resorts do. But in that regard, she said,
the quality of meetings facilities remains paramount.
Some cruise lines
still hesitate to enable calls that could intrude loudly upon other
Preston McKinney of
Odyssey Travel in San Antonio has heard no complaints from his
clients so far, but he thinks phone service on ships could become a
nuisance if cruise lines dont designate cell phone-free
[Guests] would be
very irritated if they were sitting and enjoying fine dining and a
cell phone goes off, he said. Also in the pool areas because people
like to sit there, relax and read.
It is fitting that
Princess, whose motto is Escape Completely, is among the cruise
Its a trade-off,
said Jan Swartz, Princess senior vice president of customer service
convenience of passengers using their cell phones weighed against
the ancillary passenger impact. Its all about striking the right
balance between those things.
currently in the process of testing WSMs service on one of its
ships, but Swartz said the line was looking into the possibility of
blocking service in certain areas.
that WSM can implement these so-called quiet zones with technology
but doesnt recommend it. He suggests instead that cruise lines
At a practical
level it can be done, but signals bounce around and go through
walls, he said. We can accomplish that 99%, but not
SeaMobile said it
can be done and that it has the technology to do it. According to
Nancy Brumfield, SeaMobiles chief marketing officer, the company
successfully deployed technology on Silverseas ships that created
It is so precise,
she said, that if you walk through a door into a quiet zone while
on the phone, the call drops.
That ability was
important to Crystal management when deciding whether to put
cellular service onboard.
Its much more
difficult to educate guests on the etiquette and encourage them to
follow the rules and speak in a hushed voice than to turn off the
antenna in certain areas, said Boban Dragojlovic, Crystals vice
president of computer services.
But on Oceanias
Insignia, which uses Seamobiles cell service without quiet zones,
passengers do follow the rules.
Rubacky said the restaurants and main lounge are cell-free zones.
The onboard daily says: We kindly request that guests using cell
phones be respectful of their fellow guests.
Rubacky said there
have been no problems.
including Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line and Seabourn Cruise Line,
dont offer cell phone service and have no plans to.
vice president of group sales and administration for Carnival
Cruise Lines, said people expect to be connected today and it is
important that Carnival meets that expectation. However, she
recalls a time when being on a cruise was an excuse not to be in
When I was on a
cruise I wouldnt expect to call anybody -- only in a dire
emergency, she said. It was nice. It was a true
contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].
For more details on this article, see NCL expands cell phone service