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May 30, 2005

Staying Connected at Sea with E-mail, Voice Mail and the Web
While most cruise vacationers relish the thought of leaving their cell phones, pagers, laptops and Bluetooths at home, there are some travelers who just can't seem to leave modern communications tools behind.

Recognizing this, a number of cruise lines have wired their ships to accommodate even the most ardent Internet junkies and others who struggle with cutting ties to the outside world during well-deserved vacations.

"The cruise lines have done a nice job of outfitting their ships, especially the newer ones, with the latest Internet technology and other communications tools for passengers," said Bob Levinstein, CEO of Cruise Compete, LLC. "It's easy than ever to stay in touch with family, friends and the office."

Cruisers should be warned, however, there's a price to be paid for staying connected . up to $25 per minute when making a call from a cabin phone; up to 75 cents per minute for Internet access.

Here's a rundown of how people stay in touch with home on today's cruise ships:

Cabin telephones
Virtually every ship at sea today offers telephones in cabins to make ship-to-shore calls but, like hotels, they charge significant fees. Most cruise lines charge between $5-$8 per minute for the convenience of calling from your cabin. Resist the urge on Holland America Line ships, however, or be ready to pay $25 per minute.

Cellular Phones
Your typical cell phone is pretty useless on a cruise. In most cases, it will not be able to draw a signal at sea and only those equipped with international access capabilities will work in port. Traveling to Alaska, Hawaii or the U.S. Virgin Islands and your regular cell phone should work in port. But, for more exotic locations, you will need a GMS-capable cell phone. These phones are becoming more common with international travel.

GMS-capable phones range from $100 and up. Check with your cellular provider regarding availability. Make sure they enable the international roaming capability. This service is free, but the calls certainly won't be. International roaming charges range from 50 cents to $3 per minute and up. And the roaming charges don't even cover your long distance charges, which can range from 25 cents to $1.50 or more per minute. Persons should check with their cellular provider for specific pricing on international calls. Check with the cruise line, too. Cunard Line offers travelers the opportunity to purchase use of a cellular telephone with global capabilities.

Internet Access
It is just as easy to cruise the Internet as it is the sea on newer ships. Some have data ports in their stateroom cabins; virtually all charge a fee per minute online. Other ships have significantly expanded their business centers to include computers with Internet access. Passengers can purchase 30- and 60-minute prepaid Internet cards for between 42-75 cents per minute. Printing Web material costs up to 50 cents per page. Most ships offer wireless laptop connections in their business centers. Norwegian Cruise Lines even rents laptops.

Wireless Computers
Several cruise lines, including Holland America, offer "hot spots" throughout the ship to stay connected using your own wireless laptop. Upon boarding, just see the business office manager, who will assist you with the connections so you can lie by the pool and stay in touch. Don't have a wireless card for your laptop? They can be rented from some cruise lines. Norwegian Cruise Lines is one of the first to offer this service. Most Cruise Lines with wireless capabilities require 802.11B Wireless Protocol. This is standard with most laptops.

Internet Cafes
Most cruise lines cater to Webophiles with dedicated 24/7 Internet cafes. Carnival charges a $3.95 activation fee, plus 75 cents per minute online at its Internet Cafe. Travelers can purchase 100 minutes for $55. Printing is free in the Cafe.

On some ships, including the Queen Mary 2 and Cunard Line, passengers can send and receive e-mails for $1.50-$2.00 a piece . in addition to regular Internet usage charges. Passengers have to access and download their own messages. Princess Cruises will deliver emails directly to your cabin if the email is sent to a specific Princess email address. Your travel agent will always be there to give you more information.

Old fashion faxes are sent and delivered too, through shipboard business centers. Like hotels, however, doing so can get pricey . typically $5-$7 per page.

Specific services and pricing for such communications conveniences vary from one ship to the next. Passengers should check with their Cruise Compete agents for complete details on staying connected.

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