Internet access and cell phone service on the Norwegian Star?

Okay, so we’re planning a big adventure in the near future: we’re going on an 8-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Norwegian Star cruise ship. Should be fun, my parents and my sister and her husband are joining us for a true family reunion cruise!
Since I like to plan at least a bit in advance, however, I’ve been digging around trying to figure out both Internet and cellphone access, and, oh, how complicated they make everything!
Norwegian Cruise Lines does offer Internet connectivity on our ship, apparently at an Internet “cafe” on Deck 9, but it’s not cheap, and, frankly, it’s not easy to figure out these costs in advance either:

Internet Cafe on the Norwegian Cruise Lines STAR

Fortunately, that’s where Google comes in, as always. Instead of thrashing through the pretty, but only marginally helpful Norwegian Cruise Lines site, I just searched for norwegian star internet access cost

Ironically, the most informative article was from the ole’ mainstream media: The Honolulu Advertiser. According to that publication:
“Norwegian Cruise Lines was the first in the industry to offer remote wireless Internet access at sea in the Internet Café, always open on Deck 9. The system is very easy to use, there are multiple terminals and everyone gets an e-mail address (first initial, last name, cabin number) or you can use your own.
“All this reachability costs: a one-time $3.95 activation fee and 75 cents a minute (or as low as 40 cents a minute if you purchase a 250-minute package for $100). If you use the CruiseMail address, you’ll be charged $3.95 every time, plus the per-minute fee. You need WiFi software for your PC or AirPort for your Mac if you want to use your own laptop, then tap into their system to send data. Modem use is not recommended; besides the steep expense of ship-to-shore satellite phone time, the signal is unreliable.”
Okay, so I am not interested in getting an on-board email address, and frankly when my folks were on their last cruise I tried sending them mail but either they hadn’t registered properly or something, but they never got it and I never got any indication that the message had failed.
Norwegian Star Cruise ShipHowever, the bulk minutes plan sounds good, and since I am only expecting to upload/download email sporadically, I hope I won’t be eating up too many minutes anyway. In case you’re not doing the math, by the way, 250 minutes for $103.95 is $0.42 cents/minute. With a regular wifi connection, it takes me about 10 minutes to download my day’s email, so hopefully 250 minutes will be sufficient.
The other question is cell phone access, and it doesn’t take long for me to learn that while Cingular offers an expensive roaming plan for us American customers in Mexico ($0.99/minute), the rates on the Norwegian Star itself are well-nigh astronomical, at $2.49/minute. At those rates it wouldn’t take long to add a few hundred to your cell phone bill!
I called and talked to the Cingular folk about this and learned that the Star, like many cruise ships, has a fancy and sophisticated cellular service network installed, one that offers a GSM cell service everywhere but in the fancy restaurants (I wish local restaurants offered the same blocking service!). Primarily Norwegian Cruise Lines uses cellphones for internal communications on ship, utilizing devices that are apparently visible mounted on ship walls. For the steep service charge, you too can utilize their network and its satellite connection to use your cell phone on the ship.
Not me, brother. There are few calls I can imagine having to make that would be worth $2.49 per minute!
Apparently, however, when you’re within 8 miles of port, the NCL cell network shuts down and you can access regular Mexican roaming networks. which are $0.99/minute. Since we spend most days in port, that’s a pretty important item of data to know, I’d say!
Better than that, for $5.99/month, Cingular offers its World Traveler package which drops Mexican roaming costs to a reasonable $0.49/minute. With a difference of $0.50/minute, you’d only need to make a twelve-minute call to make the plan worth the cost.
Two interesting tips, though: first, the helpful chap at Cingular highly encouraged me not to cancel the plan until a month or two after we return, to ensure that all of our calls are billed at the lower rate. So figure that you keep the service for three months and it’s still only a single 36 minute call or 10 minutes per port 🙂
Since you have to pay the per-minute rate to access your voice mail (man, we better not get any of those annoying super-long messages!) I can easily see it taking 10 minutes or more just to keep up with what’s going on.
Second useful tip: if you have a Blackberry like me (I have a Blackberry Pearl), then beware that its automatic email notification service can cost you quite a bundle. Why? Because data rates are actually higher than voice rates, and while you can jump up a Blackberry always-on Internet program for a reasonable $25/month more (that gives you the Blackberry International rate), that still only applies when you’re within 8 miles of port.
More frustratingly, since I use my Blackberry as a bluetooth modem with my Mac, that’s apparently an even more expensive proposition that Cingluar calls “tethering”. I’m not clear that actually applies, however, since I didn’t explicitly sign up for Cingular tethering, I just figured out how to do it directly. I just don’t want to find out with a multi-hundred-dollar cellphone bill!
So that’s my data connection story, pre-cruise. If anyone has any tips or insight regarding data and cell connectivity on a Norwegian cruise ship or any cruise, please leave a comment, and I’ll also update things after our cruise.

4 comments on “Internet access and cell phone service on the Norwegian Star?

  1. I assume your kids are going too? If so, all your e-mail and voice mail would still be there when you got back. Honestly! I swear! 🙂 If someone really needed to reach you for a true emergency, they could reach you through the cruise line.
    It is really nice to TRUELY get away from it all. That is my favorite part of going on vacation. Give it a try!

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