If you were traveling by ship in the old days, there were only two ways to stay in touch with the people back home. Ship’s radio, or a message in a bottle.

Now, we live in a world of WiFi and Skype and Blackberries.  Staying in touch anywhere and everywhere has become second nature to us all, but there are still some important things to know about staying connected on the high seas.

Internet Cafés only started appearing on cruise ships in 1999, so the idea of easy-access communications on board a cruise ship is relatively new.  Now, most ships feature Internet access, cell-phone connectivity and even WiFi wireless hot spots for your convenience.

Ask How Much It Costs

The most important thing to know is what it costs.

There are two ways to stay connected to emails from friends, family, and even work (if you want to).  You can use the computers at the onboard Internet Cafés, or on some ships, you can bring your laptop and set up in one of the wireless “hot spots”, which are generally in a number of lounge areas.

Either way, there will be a cost involved.  The cost is per minute, but you can buy prepaid packages for 60 minutes of connectivity or more.  Check with your cruise line about how much it’s charging for Internet service, and ask what computer requirements you may need, such as a Windows operating system on your laptop and access to web-based email.

If you don’t have web-based email, most cruise lines will help you set up a temporary email address to use while you’re away.

Your other option is to wait until you’re in port, and find an Internet Café in town, where the rates are cheaper and the connection faster.

Using Your Mobile Phone at Sea

Calling home on your cell phone is also an option, but again, you need to check on the costs.

In terms of service, most cruise lines have a deal with a wireless network that enables full service while out at sea.  You should be able to call and text while you’re out in the ocean, just as you would back at home.  The ship acts as a mobile cell phone tower while it moves, and is generally shut down when docked.  While in port, your cell phone should pick up whatever local service there is.

The key here is knowing whether you have international roaming enabled by your cell phone provider, and how much you’re being charged for it.  Your provider will bill you for this, and you will be charged roaming fees.  You may also be charged international roaming rates.

It is critical that you check on how much this will cost before you leave, so you don’t come home to thousands of dollars in cell phone bills that you weren’t expecting.  Check your rates for both calling, and texting, so you know ahead of time what you’ll be able to afford to do.

Remember to check your teenager’s cell phone plan as well, and either set strict limits, or have them leave their phone at home. (Despite their protests, they won’t actually die without it.)

Modern technology has enabled us to be in touch 24/7, no matter where in the world we are.  What it hasn’t done is figure out for us whether we really need that level of accessibility all the time.

It’s great to have your cell phone with you, so you can get in touch in case of emergency.  It’s also fun to send a quick email home, checking in on friends and letting them know you miss them.  Just don’t forget that part of the fun of every vacation is leaving your cares behind, and getting away from it all.

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