WiFi access on cruises has led to shrinking of Internet cafes

In 1999, the Norwegian Sky was the first cruise ship to have an Internet cafe. With the rise of WiFi-based devices, the Sky has reduced its high of 14 public terminals to four.
In 1999, the Norwegian Sky was the first cruise ship to have an Internet cafe. With the rise of WiFi-based devices, the Sky has reduced its high of 14 public terminals to four.

In a trend that appears to foretell an end to Internet cafes at sea, cruise lines are increasingly shrinking the footprint of their publicly accessible computer areas as onboard WiFi improves and more passengers bring their own mobile devices.

Once the cutting edge of electronic sophistication, computer stations are now seeing less demand, so cruise lines are cutting back on them and redeploying the space.

For Azamara Club Cruises, that meant replacing the Internet cafe on the Azamara Journey with two spa suites during a recent renovation.

“People are traveling now with their tablets and phones,” said Ryszard Gusmann, hotel director for the 690-passenger ship. “We didn’t need 12 computer stations any longer.”

Azamara cut back to two stations, which were relocated to a public room in another part of the ship. A crew member staffs the area during certain hours to provide advice.

New ships are also being designed with less space for computer stations. The Carnival Vista, coming in May from Carnival Cruise Line, will offer 10 stations, down from 28 on the Carnival Breeze, which entered service in 2012.

“I’d say it’s accurate to mention that guests are bringing their own devices as [the reason] there’s less of a need for these stations,” said Gaby Gonzalez, the line’s vice president of guest technology and photo operations.

After a ship renovation last year, the Internet cafe on the Carnival Miracle was moved from the ship’s library and has now become an Internet hot spot on Deck 2, close to the coffee shop, where passengers will find four laptop stations.

When Regent Seven Seas Cruises launches its $450 million Seven Seas Explorer in July, there will be only four computer stations, spokesman Jason Lasecki said.

That compares with 17 stations on the 13-year-old Seven Seas Voyager, 14 on the Seven Seas Mariner and nine on the Seven Seas Navigator.

“After dry dock, we will reduce the number of stations on the Seven Seas Navigator to four, as well,” Lasecki said.

One reason cruise lines can cut back on dedicated terminals is that the WiFi coverage on many ships has improved in recent years. There are fewer dead spots, and guests can consistently use their phones or tablets in their cabins.

Increasingly, what few terminals the cruise lines provide are not located in dedicated rooms but stashed in nooks and crannies or along corridors.

In its day, the onboard Internet cafe offered rows of hardwired terminals.

When Norwegian Cruise Line announced the first Internet cafe aboard the Norwegian Sky in 1999, it trumpeted, “Guests can send and receive email messages, check the stock market, get news updates, play computer games and more.”

The then-novel idea proved so popular that within four months, Norwegian had boosted the initial number of stations from nine to 14.

It also expanded the cafes to five other vessels.

Today, the Sky is Norwegian’s oldest ship, and it has four public computer terminals.

Yet even with the surge in personal mobile devices, public terminals remain popular for one reason, Azamara’s Gusmann said: On the last day of the cruise, passengers will flock there for online check-ins for their flights home and to print airline boarding passes on the ship’s printers.

Gusmann said he makes sure that passengers get the extra help they need and makes it a priority to have enough crew members staffed there to make the process smooth and efficient.

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