How The Internet Is Set Up on a Cruise Ship
Is There Free WiFi on a Cruise Ship?
The short answer is yes.
With some caveats.
It is possible to go on a cruise and have internet access for free. You can accomplish this by planning ahead, by knowing what to look for, by taking advantage of specific loopholes, and by straight up hacking. We’ll cover all these options.
Just because you’re in the middle of the ocean doesn’t mean you can’t have internet access; on the contrary. The captain has access to the internet, the crew have their own network for going online, and you also have the ability to access the internet, usually for a price. Typically your cruise company will offer data and internet packages for sale. Some phone companies also offer cruise packages that you can purchase. But why buy what you can have for free?
When you’re in the middle of the ocean the only line-of-sight internet connections you’re going to get are via satellites. Because most people don’t have a satellite plan – let alone want to pay the costs associated with a satellite connection – your cruise company takes care of the technical details for a price.
Even relatively slow internet access comes at a premium on the high seas. Examples of what cruise lines are offering as of 2018 include:
- Carnival’s $14.88-per-day premium WiFi plan
- Celebrity’s Xcelerate program offers unlimited WiFi for about $140 for a five-to-nine day trip
- Disney’s Connect@Sea offers a variety of pricing options like 25 centers per megabyte
- Holland America offers WiFi at prices like 75 cents per minute
- Norwegian Cruise Line has a $29.99 onboard price per day for unlimited WiFi
If you’re fine with severing virtual ties from your life ashore, many cruise companies offer their own “chat app” that you can download and pay a few bucks in total to send text messages to a select group in your party throughout the duration of your cruise. Cruise companies will also typically offer a general cruise app that comes with free WiFi for a limited amount of time or data.
If you need more than just local chat and don’t want to pay a premium for internet access then you’ve come to the right place for tips on how to get free WiFi.
Common Sense Free WiFi
Before we get into hacking, free WiFi could be within range of your mobile device by just using common sense.
Search different areas of the ship – Try looking on different decks, especially near restaurants, pools, or around other areas where people congregate. If a restaurant offers its guests a secured network that requires a password, you can often find the password displayed somewhere prominently within the restaurant, at the front desk, or even on a discarded receipt.
It’s also possible other passengers on the ship might have their own hotspot or satellite connection. Maybe they would be willing to share it with you.
Free WiFi when you’re docked in port – When you’re stopping in a US port – including US territories – your usual cellular network plans most likely apply. When you’re docked in a foreign port and especially if you go ashore, chances are good that you can find a local free WiFi network.
Free WiFi Hacks And Tricks
There are also some tricks that most people don’t know about.
Remote Control Hack – This trick requires a little planning ahead, research, and investment. Typically the remote control you get for the TV in your room will not have a feature to change your TV’s input. However, if you know the brand of the TV your cruise line uses, you can go to any store that sells TV remotes and buy one new starting at around $10 that should work for the TV in your stateroom. If you have a universal programmable remote at home that will probably work too, but remember that you must pre-program it for the brand of TV that’s in your stateroom.
Once you’re on board, try changing inputs and other menu options to see if you can get online through your TV. As a bonus, if you have an HDMI cable you can also watch movies from your phone or laptop on the big screen.
Bring a portable router and hotspot it – The internet packages cruise companies sell are typically limited to a certain number of devices. If you plan ahead and bring a portable high-speed router (these start at around $40) you can make this the device that connects to the ship’s network. Buy the unlimited data plan from your cruise company and then hotspot your portable router. Most smartphones and laptops can also hotspot or bluetooth tether, albeit with slower speeds.
But wait, this isn’t free; you still need to buy an unlimited data package. True, this is where your entrepreneurial skills come into play. Charge anyone who wants to connect to your network $5 a day and depending on how many people you find you might even come out ahead. If you’re traveling with a group of 10 people and everyone goes in on one unlimited data plan, you just cut your WiFi cost to a tenth of what it would be otherwise.
Free YouTube Hack (and Google Hangouts and even WhatsApp?) – Most cruise lines that sell data or internet packages let you access a version of their website through a secured WiFi network before you’ve bought one of their packages. This trick takes advantage of a bug in that system.
First put your phone or laptop in airplane mode, but keep your WiFi activated if you can. Next connect to your ship’s WiFi network. If you can’t connect to networks in airplane mode then at least make sure your data is turned off (you don’t want roaming charges). Once you’re connected to the network try and go to any website; it will redirect you to your cruise company’s website about logging in or buying a data package.
On this page, go down to bottom where the social media icons are located. You will recognize the icons for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and so on. Click on the YouTube icon and bam! You’re in. You can watch YouTube videos for free. Some users report this only works on an iPhone. Others report you can do a similar trick with Google Hangouts and even WhatsApp. Another way of finding these social media icons is to find a “free links” option on your cruise company’s homepage.
Hack the WiFi password – We don’t recommend or encourage this, but it’s a reality for technically-minded hackers who know how to crack WiFi passwords with programs like Wireshark and Ettercap. Other options include clearing your computer’s temporary internet cache, which allows you to repeatedly gain access on free WiFi that has a time/data limit.
5 Tips For Cruise Ship Internet And WiFi
WiFi Pro Tips
Any discussion about free WiFi wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the following, starting with good WiFi hygiene. Remember that when you’re using public WiFi or someone else’s network, don’t do things like check your bank account or email compromising selfies.
Boost Your WiFi Reception – Once you’ve found a free WiFi source your next challenge will be staying within range. If you have a WiFi antenna this can greatly enhance your choice of free WiFi options. You can find USB WiFi antennas starting at around $10, and for a few bucks more you can find WiFi signal boosters and repeaters.
Technically which antenna you buy depends on what radio frequency your ship’s WiFi is broadcast on. Usually it’s on the 2.4 GHz band, and unless otherwise specified this will probably be what any WiFi antenna you buy is tuned for.
Tap Into Satellites – If your cruise ship gets its internet from a satellite, why can’t you?
Because you don’t want to pack a three-foot satellite dish into your carry-on, plus you are always moving at sea, which would make lining your dish up with a geostationary satellite – and internet access – unfeasible. However there are some appealing alternatives.
Satellite or shortwave radio is an obvious one, but that’s not WiFi internet. In today’s market there are actually some products you can buy for around $100 that get you access via satellite to internet content, with no subscription fees. Look around for things like Raspberry Pi satellite receivers or products from the company Othernet Inc. The satellite receiver looks like a portable WiFi router, and you can use it as a hotspot and connect other devices to it.
But the catch with this is you’re connecting to the outernet, not the internet. Othernet Inc broadcasts news, all Wikipedia articles, computer software, games, music, and movies over the outernet via satellite. You can select what you want for free from this wide range of content, but it is still more limited than what’s available on the internet.
Right now satellite internet is a hot technical field, and companies like Google, Facebook, Nokia, and Samsung are all developing new and innovative ways to connect via satellite which may revolutionize WiFi internet choices on board cruise ships.