It’s a valid question – can I use my cellphone on a cruise ship? Especially when one of the very first things you are advised to do when stepping onto any cruise ship is to put your smartphone into airplane mode.

But there’s a very good reason why you should: to avoid a massive phone bill when you get home.

Animated gif showing how to enable airplane mode

Here’s the thing. Your mobile phone WILL continue to work on the ship. You can make and receive calls, surf the internet and stream videos using the ship’s onboard cellular network. So no, you don’t have to buy the (usually expensive) WiFi package.

Cool right? But…

Your bundled minutes and data don’t count

The onboard cellular network has its own price list. And it is not included in your roaming bundle or inclusive minutes. You will pay for every call you make and receive. You will also pay for every SMS you send and every webpage you access.

The costs are potentially huge. Expect to pay around £2.50 per minute to make voice calls and £5 per megabyte for data.

What does that actually look like? The animated gif showing how to enable Airplane Mode above is 75KB in size – so it would cost you £3.75 just to see that image. Streaming a 60 second video on YouTube would be even more expensive. A full episode of a show on Netflix could cost hundreds of pounds.

Don’t forget, smartphones do all kinds of clever stuff in the background when they are not being used. Syncing photos over the ship’s mobile network could cost hundreds of pounds/dollars – and you would never even know it is happening until you get your next phone bill.

Can I claim a refund from my mobile provider?

No. It’s your device and your responsibility to make sure you are in control of it. There are no refunds, even if your phone does a whole load of stuff in the background without you knowing.

What about on-shore?

If you have a mobile contract that includes international roaming (we recommend Smarty), feel free to disable Airplane Mode when you get ashore. Just don’t forget to re-enable it when you come back to the ship.

If you don’t have an international roaming contract, you can sometimes find free WiFi in the cruise terminal. You’ll know where it is when you see large clusters of crew members making video calls to their family back home.

Ask for help with Airplane Mode on your cruise ship

Because the call charges are levied by your mobile operator, your cruise line has no interest in ‘tricking’ you into using the cellular network. Princess Cruises openly recommend that their guests enable Airplane Mode – you’ll find guidance printed in the Princess Patter in your cabin stateroom.

If you’re still unsure, pay a visit to the ship’s internet café. The staff will help you check your phone is in Airplane Mode and they’ll also help you get connected to WiFi too.

It’s also worth noting that the Princess Medallion app does not work properly if Airplane Mode is not enabled.

One more tip

This advice is not just for your phone. You must also enable Airplane Mode on every device that has cellular capabilities, including iPads, tablets and laptops that have their own SIM cards.

If you need to get online, seriously consider buying an internet package – it will likely be much cheaper than using your phone’s data connection.