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:

1. Download Ship Mate.

With over 2,000,000 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 3), 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.


2. 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. 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. 



3. 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 usually includes certain internet applications/access or you pay per number of megabytes. 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.”


How much does internet cost on cruise ships?

Since cruise ship internet is getting faster every day, it may be a better choice than a wireless plan for cruisers who want access to social media and email on the ship. See how much your cruise line charges for an internet package.


4. 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 shortcode, and it will post to your Twitter account, no Internet needed. Facebook has a similar feature, allowing you to text your updates to a shortcode.



Caribbean cruise deals from $


Cruise Plans

These rates are a general overview, and prices may change for certain ships, ports, or devices. Remember that 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. 



No Bundle - $3/minute, $.50/text, $6.14/MB
$50 Talk & Text - 50 minutes, $2/minute overage, unlimited texts
$100 Talk, Text, & Data - Unlimited talk and text, 200MB data with $2/MB overage

The plans include usage in Mexico, Canada, and select Caribbean islands at no additional cost.



T-Mobile ONE and Simple Choice Plan customers receive the following rates on cruise ships: $.50/received text, $5.99/minute talk, no data

Customers on other plans must activate these rates by adding the World Class service to each line.



Sprint Global Roaming - $2.50/minute talk, $.50/recipient text, $60/100MB data, $100/250MB data



Pay as You Go - $2.99/minute talk, $.50/text sent and received, no data

For time in port, sign up for TravelPass, and your normal plan will be extended for $5 per day per line in Mexico and Canada and $10 per day per line in other countries where TravelPass is available, including most Caribbean destinations.


Updated on May 3, 2018.

Join the discussion

Do you completely unplug on your cruise?


Posted by rohrbethany

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.

Posted by mikldom

buy the wifi plan, bring a little wireless gateway/bridge/extender like one by tripmate to rebroadcast signal to other devices. turn airplane mode on, but wifi on. dowload google voice, it can send AND receive texts using wifi. use skype or google voice to make calls. this worked well on disney as their wifi is good and strong, less so on carnival.

Posted by snowbirdrose

This information is very useful. If you're a Canadian traveller Rogers has a plan that will reduce your roaming costs while travelling.

Posted by Cynni

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!

Posted by rohrbethany

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.

Posted by CrusinTim

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

Posted by SimonTravels

CruisinTim, 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.

Posted by CrusinTim

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?

Posted by Novelee

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.

Posted by deaniam2

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..

Posted by mavidal

You can use Facebook messenger and make phone to phone calls using messenger. It uses WiFI so not minutes are consumed if you purchased a WiFI plan. I did on my last cruise and it was a great.

Posted by deconz

Having been court out with using my phone on cruise ship you need to watch how much data you are using so you dont get court out big phone bills when you get home

Posted by flexibleFreddy

Never thought about cell phone charges while on a ship. Great info, need to discuss with my carrier.

Posted by flexibleFreddy

Really glad I followed up with my carrier, AT&T, for $10 a 24 hr period you can use your phone as usual without additional costs in the ports.

Posted by travelbagplus

I am planning to take a river cruise sometime next year and just reading all the suggestions given by all these people is helpful.

Posted by NancyBiller

Be very careful with having your cell phone on while on the ship. It can be very expensive with the charges if you are not familiar with the internet package and how it works!

Posted by acholland

Carnival has the Carnival Hub app that can be downloaded to your phone and uses the ship's WiFi. It has a feature that allows texting/messaging among the members of your group. It costs $5 per person for the whole trip. We used it for a group of 11 in June and it worked great, especially for those of our group who didn't purchase an WiFi package. It doesn't allow for ship to shore communication but is good for onboard use.


I have staright talk service will I have service on my cruise

Posted by cocodog

what channel do we use if we take walkie-talkies on board ?

Post a comment