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Calling From The Sea Creates Hefty Fees

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Would returning home to find a $500 – $2000 cell phone bill waiting for you ruin your cruise?  This does happen, and, sadly, it happens to more people who’ve been on cruises than you can imagine.

Astonishingly, some people will pay more for their cell phone usage than they paid for their cruise!

I have covered this topic before, ( , but last week, while cruising in the Mediterranean, I was dumbfounded to see so many people speaking on their cell phones or texting, while the ship was out at sea, as though they were sitting  at home chatting for a half hour, catching up with grannie.

People must think they are covered by whatever long distance plan they have from their cell phone providers. That might be true while you are on some Caribbbean islands – but you should confirm that with your cell phone provider before you sail.

BUT it’s certainly not the case when you are on a ship and out at sea! The ONLY service you’ll find available for your cell phone is the ship’s Cellular @ Sea … which makes use of the ship’s satellite equipment to allow cell phone use. As soon as you turn on your cell phone, it will automatically connect through Cellular @ Sea and will begin charging International Roaming Rates. And when you make or receive a phone call you are paying exhorbitantly high long distance rates, as well as high rates for data or text messaging.

I’m unfamiliar with cellular plans available to Europeans, but I think it’s most likely that their plans would also only offer coverage on land. After all, for calls from a ship out at sea someone has to be paying for that satellite time; there are no cell phone towers to connect to.

I mention that because on our cruise in the Mediterranean there were a good number of Europeans on board.

However, the vast majority of people I witnessed sitting on deck, carrying on with chatty banter with friends or families at home, were English speaking, and likely from North America. I also saw many teens sitting out text messaging with their friends,  just as they would from home.

No doubt, now that all these people have returned home from their cruise, when they receive, or review their next cell phone online, they are going to be astonished. And, no doubt there will be very vociferous complaining to their cell phone providers. But really… how can anyone think that using their cell phones while at sea would not come at a substantial cost?

While I am of the opinion the cruise lines should do more to make guests aware of the costs of using Cellular @ Sea, via their printed information sheets onboard, it isn’t in their best interest, as no doubt, they are sharing in the profit of the cell phone providers. 

Still, it surpises me that people would expect it would be a free service. Why would a call to the other side of the world be free in an environment where you have to pay for a soda?

I understand there are cases where the cell phone providers will negotiate a settlement, allowing for a smaller payment than the original bill. However no one should count on that.

I do offer one tip for those who simply can’t be out of contact with their friends – If you travel with an IPad, you can access the ship’s internet (purchasing a time package to suit your needs) and “Face Time” will work even when the ship is out to sea. The per minute price will vary betweeen 75 cents and 35 cents, depending on the package you buy. Whatever the case,, the cost is much much less than using your cell phone!!

As the end of the month approaches and people see the huge cell phone bills they’ve “rung up”  on their cruise, there are going to be many voices raised in anger, and parents berating their children, when the fault really lies with themselves for not thinking about who would paying for them all to stay connected.

When you first turn on a cell phone, the name of the provider you connect to appears on the phone’s screen. If you see Cellular @ Sea, you had best turn it off. Though it will already be too late, if you leave it off, there will at least only be the one roaming fee charge.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –

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Comment from Paul Motter
Time July 18, 2012 at 8:25 am

One text message resulted in a bill for an additional $475 in data charges for one cruise I was on. ONE message, and I was near Canada.

It contained a picture of my dog, and must have been a 5 MB picture, which I ioned three or four times. I found out the cruiseline has a policy of charging $25 per MB for “data”.

Now, I had “data roaming” turned OFF, as everyone should while they are on a cruise ship, but for sone reason texting was not considered data – it was a phone call, so when I opened (and each time I opened it) I was charged.

Fortunately, when I complained I was offered a “post dated, prepaid data plan” for 25 MB for $30. I paid that and the $475 was taken off my bill – but what a ripoff.

And by the way – they would not tell me exactly what “data” the $475 charge was for without a court order due ti “privacy issues.” I said “this is MY phone and my bill, exactly whose privacy are we protecting here?”

So, I do not know if it was the picture but I assume it was because (as noted) “data roaming” was turned off. I suspect they don’t want people to know the loophole they have to still charge you for data even though you have it turned off.

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