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October 29, 2007

Staying Connected at Sea

Using the cabin telephone on a cruise vacation is now as passe as the midnight buffet. For that matter, $10 a minute satellite phone calls are also nearly extinct, thanks to the cruise industry's efforts to embrace the very latest satellite and wireless communications technologies.

Personal cell phones, BlackBerries and other digital communications devices keep people connected with home and the office on many of today's cruise ships. The cruise lines have made this possible by teaming with Wireless Maritime Services (WMS), which has roaming agreements with more than 300 carriers in 180 countries, to provide this service. These include U.S. carriers AT&T (Cingular), Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and Alltel. SeaMobile, a WMS competitor, also provides this service to the cruise industry.

International roaming charges apply when calling or text-messaging from sea, ranging from $2-$5 per minute. But, this still beats what one pays if the stateroom telephone is used up to $25 per minute on some cruise lines. Once a ship comes within 12 miles of shore, local land-based cellular operators with their own roaming charges and airtime rates take over.

For those guests who want to stay connected with the outside world via the Web, Internet cafes are now considered standard on ships and a great place for grabbing a coffee, checking e-mail and mixing with other passengers. Today, most ships also offer Wi-Fi access for guests bringing their own laptop computers or renting them from the cruise line.

Onboard wireless Internet locations typically include lounges, bars, clubs, cafes, atriums and select open decks, including poolside locations. Some ships offer Wi-Fi access in the staterooms. Guests can pay up to 75 cents per minute for wireless access, or they can pre-purchase minutes in bulk at lower rates, typically $40-$55 for 100 minutes; $75-$100 for 250.

The following summarizes the Internet services offered by a number of the most popular cruise lines:

Azamara Cruises All shops feature Wi-Fi service bow-to-stern, including staterooms, for those travelers with personal laptops. Each ship also features an Internet cafe.

Carnival Cruise Lines Wireless access aboard its entire fleet in areas adjacent to its 24-hour Internet cafes . The Carnival Valor, Liberty and Freedom offer 100-percent bow-to-stern Wi-Fi service, including staterooms.

Celebrity Cruises Internet access and shipboard e-mail services are available in each ship's cyber cafe. For guests with their own laptops, Celebrity's Millennium-class ships offer Internet access in staterooms. Certain ships have Wi-Fi hotspots, including all staterooms on the Celebrity Century.

Disney Cruise Line In addition to Internet cafes on its ships, Disney offers Wi-Fi hotspots in most public areas for people with wireless laptops.

Holland America Line Guests can access the Internet 24/7 in the Explorations Cafe, plus guests with their own laptops can use Wi-Fi zones throughout the public areas on the ship.

Norwegian Cruise Line - All of its ships have Internet centers and offer wireless access in most public areas and some staterooms. Guests are provided with their own cruise-line e-mail addresses with their trip documents.

Princess Cruises Internet access is available on all of its ships via Internet cafes and wireless networks.

Royal Caribbean International Guests with their own laptops can access the Internet from their staterooms, plus all of the fleet's ships have at least six Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas and workstations with 24-hours Internet access. The new Freedom of the Seas offers wireless connectivity everywhere.

Regent Seven Seas The cruise line has improved Internet connectivity fleetwide, offering digital satellite and Wi-Fi hot spots in select public areas. On three ships, suite PCs can be connected to phone jacks for Internet service.

Seabourn Cruise Line Most public areas and all suites on the luxury yachts are Wi-Fi hotspots. Each ship also offers a computer center with desktop computers connected to the Internet and printers.

Silversea Cruises The cruise line offers wireless Internet access in designated public rooms for guests with their own laptop computers, plus shipboard Internet centers feature state-of-the-art computer workstations.

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