Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Thu December 17 2015

The Great Cruise Line Internet Speed Race is On, But What’s Next?

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carnival Cruise Line | Chris Owen | December 17, 2015

The Great Cruise Line Internet Speed Race is On, But What’s Next?

PHOTO: Internet antennae on Holland America's MS Westerdam. (photos by Chris Owen)

I just returned from a very nice ocean cruise on the new Viking Star, the first of perhaps ten Viking Ocean Cruise ships in the pipeline. Viking Star has a more inclusive feel than many others, throwing in a nicely done orientation tour at every port, local beer and wine with dinner and unlimited Internet service.

This rarity bears repeating: unlimited Internet access.

Before looking down the road at what’s next from the cruise industry technology department, let’s take a look at the different Internet-related situations one might experience at sea right now.

Expensive, Does Not Work Well

This situation is commonly found on older ships, which could still have the same Internet system from 20 years ago that was installed during construction. No plan, just access for $.75 per minute and only in the vessel’s Internet cafe, because ship-wide Wi-Fi is not available. 

Here, we began learning skills to cope with the inefficient system (which all cruise ships had at one time) like uploading photos during dinner when most of the crew and passengers are eating more, tweeting less.

Nicely Priced But Slow

The Viking Internet system is about as good as any other shared Internet connection, faster when no one is on it, less so when they are. A new ship means new equipment, so that helps, at least in Viking’s case. The fact that Internet is included helps us cope when slow uploading of photos during peak usage times. This new system is faster but to make things even swifter, here’s an insider tip: downsize the photos before uploading, as to avoid unwieldy file sizes.

Super Fast Hybrid

This is the Carnival Corporation system being rolled out to its various brands that range from fun to luxury. It is a system we always hoped for: fast and comparatively inexpensive. This is where we step out of the past and simultaneously into the present and future.

The Carnival system uses any and all signals it can find to build a stronger, more stable network — triangulating signals to wring all the Internet they can out of those satellite balls that sit on top of the cruise ship. And this is just the first step. 

Wi-Fi Internet is also sourced from ports of call when docked and from land when in close enough proximity. The result brings a system fast enough to stream movies, live video chat and more. Pricing is reasonable too. 

Carnival’s Nicely-Priced Program Goes Like This:

• A $5 per day “Social” package includes the ability to access the most popular social websites and applications, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat and more. 

• A $16 per day “Value” package adds email, news, sports, weather and more … but not streaming.

• A $25 per day “Premium” package brings everything from email to Skype, Spotify and some other huge data eaters.

If offered, an unlimited plan is surely the way to go. We did just that on Carnival Freedom out of Galveston, then testing at $99 for the week and it was just wonderful. Just like on land. Even at the Premium Package price, $175 for a connection like you get at home is worth it. Time saved.

Beyond Fast Internet: What’s Next?

There seems to be about as many different versions of Internet package pricing as there are ships in the ocean. On one hand, the cruise industry is using the latest technology on some ships. Give me the fast Internet speed experienced on Carnival Sunshine or Carnival Freedom and I’m quite happy and probably would remain so … for a while. 

Like all things computer-based, speed and effectiveness are two big items that are constantly being improved from generation to generation. As time goes on, look for more cruise lines to add faster service out of necessity. A decade ago, it was appealing to see “No Service” on a device when at sea because those shore-based cares and concerns could not reach cruise travelers. 

That was a long, long time ago when travelers over 50 did not care if there was Internet access or not. Now they all walk around the ships with fully loaded iPads, iPods, tablets and other devices not even in existence way back when. 

The future of the Internet at sea will include unlimited free access … just as soon as hotels and land resorts start giving it away. The focus will move away from pricing and on to using, effectively, anywhere in the world. Surely, that won’t happen all at once but over time, highlighted by occasional events that just make sense then become commonplace.

A nice idea we ran across not long ago: Crystal Cruises gives passengers 20 complimentary Internet minutes on the last day of every sailing to print airline boarding passes and take care of last-minute travel plans, check email, etc. Classy. More of that please.

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