It is possible to get free Wi-Fi while on a cruise ship, but there may be some caveats to know about first.
Plan ahead of time, become a member of the cruise line loyalty programs, alert your network provider of the dates and locations of the cruise itinerary, tether a cell phone to a laptop, borrow someone else’s Wi-Fi, ask crew members for hotspots, local bars while docked, visit the top deck to try and find port Wi-Fi signals.
Being in the ocean does not mean there is no internet available. There are loopholes, hacks, and other things to look for when trying to get free Wi-Fi.
How The Internet Is Set Up on a Cruise Ship
The captain has access to the internet, the crew has their network for going online, and you also can 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 are in the middle of the ocean, the only line-of-sight internet connections you are going to get are via satellites. Because most people do not 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 wi-fi plan
- Celebrity’s Xcelerate program offers unlimited Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi at prices like 75 cents per minute
- Norwegian Cruise Line has a $29.99 onboard price per day for unlimited Wi-Fi
Suppose you’re okay with severing virtual ties from your life ashore. In that case, many cruise companies offer a “chat app” that you can download and pay a few bucks to send text messages to a select group in your party throughout your cruise. Cruise companies will also typically offer a general cruise app with free Wi-Fi for limited time or data.
If you need more than just local chat and do not want to pay a premium for internet access, you’ve come to the right place for tips on getting free Wi-Fi.
Common Sense Free Wi-Fi
Before we get into hacking, free Wi-Fi could be within the range of your mobile device by just using common sense.
Search different areas of the ship. Try looking at different decks near restaurants, pools, or other congregations. Suppose a restaurant offers its guests a secure network that requires a password. In that case, you can often find the password displayed prominently within the restaurant, at the front desk, or even on a discarded receipt.
It is also possible other passengers on the ship might have their hotspot or satellite connection. Maybe they would be willing to share it with you.
Free Wi-Fi will generally be available when you are docked in port, stopping in a U.S. port, including U.S. territories. Your usual cellular network plans most likely apply. When you are anchored in a foreign port, and especially if you go ashore, the chances are good that you can find a local free Wi-Fi network.
Free Wi-Fi Hacks and Tricks
There are also some tricks that most people do not 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 TV brand 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 TV brand in your stateroom.
Once you are 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 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 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 your cruise company’s unlimited data plan and hotspot your portable router. Most smartphones and laptops can also use a hotspot or Bluetooth tether, albeit with slower speeds.
But this is not 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; depending on how many people you find, you might even come ahead. If you are traveling with a group of 10 people and everyone goes in on one unlimited data plan, you just cut your Wi-Fi cost to a tenth of what it would be.
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 Wi-Fi network before buying 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 Wi-Fi activated if you can. Next, connect to your ship’s Wi-Fi network. If you cannot connect to networks in airplane mode, ensure your data is turned off (you do not want roaming charges).
Once you are 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 the 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 can watch YouTube videos for free.
Some users report this only works on an iPhone. Others say you can do a similar trick with Google Hangouts and WhatsApp. Another way of finding these social media icons is to find a “free links” option on your cruise company’s homepage.
Hack the Wi-Fi password. We don’t recommend or encourage this, but it’s a reality for technically-minded hackers who know how to crack Wi-Fi passwords with programs like Wireshark and Ettercap. Other options include clearing your computer’s temporary internet cache, allowing you to repeatedly gain access to free Wi-Fi with a time/data limit.
Tips For Cruise Ship Internet And Wi-Fi
Any discussion about free Wi-Fi would not be complete without mentioning the following, starting with good Wi-Fi hygiene. Remember that when using public Wi-Fi or someone else’s network, do not check your bank account or email compromising selfies.
Boost Your Wi-Fi Reception. Once you have found a free Wi-Fi source, your next challenge will be staying within range. If you have a Wi-Fi antenna, this can significantly enhance your choice of free Wi-Fi options. You can find USB Wi-Fi antennas starting at around $10; for a few bucks more, you can find Wi-Fi signal boosters and repeaters.
Technically, which antenna you buy depends on what radio frequency your ship’s Wi-Fi is broadcast on. Usually, it’s on the 2.4 GHz band; unless otherwise specified, this will probably be what any Wi-Fi antenna you buy is tuned for.
Tap into Satellites. If your cruise ship gets its internet from a satellite, why can’t you?
Satellite or shortwave radio is obvious, but that’s not Wi-Fi internet. In today’s market, there are some products you can buy for around $100 that get you access via satellite to internet content with no subscription fees.
Look around for Raspberry Pi satellite receivers or products from Othernet Inc. The satellite receiver looks like a portable Wi-Fi router; you can use it as a hotspot and connect other devices to it.
But the catch with this is you are connecting to the internet, not the internet. Othernet Inc broadcasts news, all Wikipedia articles, computer software, games, music, and movies via satellite. You can select what you want for free from this wide range of content, but it is still more limited than what is available on the internet.
Satellite internet is a hot technical field. Companies like Google, Facebook, Nokia, and Samsung are all developing new and innovative ways to connect via satellite, which may revolutionize Wi-Fi internet choices onboard cruise ships.