How to Use Your Cell Phone on a Cruise Ship

use cell phone cruise ship service
Plan ahead, or even a short call from the beach could rack up big charges. - Photo by travnikovstudio / Shutterstock

If you plan to use your cell phone on a cruise ship, it’s important to know that once you sail away from the embarkation port, your cell phone will go into roaming mode, which translates into higher rates and extra fees. While it’s impossible to avoid these charges altogether, there are ways to lessen the costs.  Here, the cheapest ways to use your cell phone while you’re at sea:


Download Ship Mate.

With over 1,000,000 downloads, Ship Mate is the undisputed leader in mobile cruise apps. Ship Mate gives users access to reviews, tips, roll calls, and cruise countdowns, but the best part is that many of its features can be used offline. Once you punch in your sailing, you can find your way around the ship with deck plans, learn about all the onboard entertainment and dining, and even get info about the ports you'll be visiting, all without using a single byte of data or racking up roaming charges. If you do purchase a Wi-Fi package (step 4), you'll have access to the app's full list of features, including direct messaging (which you can use instead of texting) and thousands of user photos and tips. Ship Mate is available for iOS and Android devices.


Check what your cell phone provider offers.

Major wireless providers have a cruise ship plan with lower rates than regular roaming rates. Contact your provider to sign up for the plan before you depart. AT&T, for example, supports all lines except MSC Cruises, while Verizon and Sprint support all of the major cruise lines. Visit your carrier’s website for pricing information, and to make sure your phone is compatible. 


Decide if you want a data, messaging, or calling plan.

Wireless carriers offer data, messaging, and calling plans for cruise ships that are similar to on-land packages, so you can pick the one that best suits your needs. Data plans cost around $25 for 100MB, and text messages costs as much as 50 cents per text. But, where carriers really get you, is on phone calls, charging $2.49 per minute.



Consider buying a Wi-Fi package onboard.

If you only need the Internet for your smartphone, turn off the phone’s data usage and roaming so that your phone will only connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. Purchase a Wi-Fi package, which typically costs from 65 to 95 cents per minute. And don’t forget, Apple’s iMessage® service is sent over a wireless signal, so if you use that function to communicate with other iPhone® devices while connected to Wi-Fi, you can still “text.”


Know how to post to social media via text.

You can Tweet by sending texts to your Twitter account, which — depending on your Twitter habits — may be cheaper than a data plan. Just text “start” to 40404 and follow the instructions. Once finished, you can text your Tweet to the 40404 short code, and it will post to your Twitter account, no Internet needed. Facebook has a similar feature, allowing you to text your updates to a short code.


Download the Connect@Sea app.

This app uses the ship’s wireless service, so you’ll still have to buy a package. But the app allows for ship-to-shore, shore-to-ship, and onboard calling and texting. If you want to be accessible at all times, download this app to your Apple or Android device. To use it, you must purchase calling credits, but that’s cheaper than purchasing a calling and data plan from your provider if you intend to use your phone frequently. 


Think twice about using your phone while off the ship.

If you buy the cruise ship plan from your wireless provider, those rates only apply when you’re in international waters. Once you’re within 12 miles of a port, the roaming rates for that country apply. 

Join the discussion

Do you completely unplug on your cruise?
Cynni's Avatar

Posted by Cynni 2 months ago

T-Mobile has unlimited Data and Texting in most ports for free if you have the simple choice plan. We have 6 ports on our next cruise and Belize is the only port that I won't have service. LOVE T-Mobile!

rohrbethany's Avatar

Posted by rohrbethany 7 months ago

My husband left his phone off for the most part. He only turned it on when we went back to the room and I was cleaning up or something. I know it isn't exactly like carrying on you at all times, but that was kind of nice. We, after all, did go to our room several times through the day.

CrusinTim's Avatar

Posted by CrusinTim 7 months ago

Thanks rohrbethany and Simon. I think I will be getting the temp international plan rohrbethany described. We had done that in the past and it worked well except for the phone going nuts when we arrived at a port and the phone downloaded texts and posts to facebook. One heck of an alarm clock since we arrived in port in the wee hours of the morning!!! :D

rohrbethany's Avatar

Posted by rohrbethany 7 months ago

We paid $40 for an international package. That was just on my husbands phone and it allowed us unlimited incoming texts and 100 outgoing. We also had 100 min talk time and 10 gb data. We didn't use most of that but it was peace of mind for us. We left 2 dogs and 1 cat at home and we also have cattle that were calving so we were able to receive daily updates from our farm hand and from the people taking care of our animals. We just told our carrier what ship we would be sailing on and on what dates and they set it up.

SimonCommunity's Avatar

Posted by SimonCommunity 7 months ago


Airplane mode is the way to go. Once you activate Airplane mode, you can manually turn wifi back on, which will likely be necessary to access the Princess app. No internet connection is required for offline Ship Mate app use. If you don't go into airplane mode and leave cellular data on, there's always at least a small risk that you'll incur data roaming charges.

CrusinTim's Avatar

Posted by CrusinTim 7 months ago

Ok so here's a question....I am planing on using my cell aboard the ship but only for the offline Shipmate app. We will be sailing on the Caribbean Princess and they have their own, free offline app that is kind of like a mobile copy of the "Patter". Now, when I board, should I put the phone in "Airplane Mode", turn off "WiFi" or both?

Novelee's Avatar

Posted by Novelee 11 months ago

Remember the local businesses that offer wifi and phone services. Recent visit in Nassau, Bahamas has local business at the port offering plan starting at 20 min for only $2.00...much more affordable than carrier or ship charges. Learn to relax without communications when at sea! If an emergency comes up, make arrangements with cruise line for being notified before you leave on your trip. Many lines have ways for you to be contacted by family during an emergency.

CommunityMangr's Avatar

Posted by CommunityMangr 1 year ago

Thanks for sharing these helpful tips deaniam2! Using walkie-talkies is certainly becoming a popular workaround for no cell phone service at sea.

deaniam2's Avatar

Posted by deaniam2 1 year ago

We take a phone for extreme emergencies. We are on vacation and do not want to stay in tune with every little thing from back home. We can catch up with the normal stuff after debarkation. Key is to have texts sent with lots of info on each text. Texts are $.50 each but no limit on the length. |Many are $.15 to receive and $.50 to send. Your phone carrier can help set up your phone to ensure you are not going to access international internet. Your phone may do it automatically if not set up to stop it. My wife goes into airplane mode and uses her phone for a camera I keep mine for a camera and once or twice a day to see if I have any texts. Take a pair of walki-talkies for onboard and on island communications with each other or with your group. Talking is free on them..

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