Carnival Wants to Make Onboard Wi-Fi Worth the High Price

For the cruise industry, the ardor with which travelers post their trip photos on social media sites is clashing with expensive, laggardly Internet connections. We love to share—and that can be nearly impossible from the middle of the sea.

The largest cruise line, Carnival, says it has a solution for this mess: a new “smart hybrid” mix of technologies that will offer speeds 10 times faster than current ship connections by merging a variety of wireless signals such as satellite, long-range Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi from ports. Carnival introduced the new “WiFi@Sea” service on Monday, following 18 months of tests, and plans to have it on all the company’s nine cruise brands and 101 ships in the next few years. Officials say the speed will be comparable to what is found in restaurants and bars that offer Wi-Fi access.

A decent Internet connection “is becoming a more important part in having a good experience,” says Ramon Millan, Carnival’s chief information officer. “Year after year the number of people who want to be connected … is increasing.” In August, Regent Seven Seas Cruises said it would begin offering free Internet access in 2015 to passengers booked in most of its fare classes.

Carnival isn’t competing on price. It charges a $3.95 connection fee and 75 cents per minute on the largest of its 11 brands, with packages that cost $55 for 100 minutes and $100 for 250 minutes. “As more and more passengers begin using the service, we expect it to have a positive impact on onboard spending,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said. The company declined to speculate on future pricing but said the new service is likely to lead to further Wi-Fi packages and other promotions.

Carnival says the long-range Wi-Fi it’s having installed in various locations is effective at transmissions as far as 40 miles out at sea. More than 50 percent of Carnival’s cruising is conducted within 50 miles of shore, Millan said. Far at sea, the service will be handled entirely by satellite. The new service is scheduled to begin with Alaska cruises next summer and then expand to the Mediterranean, Baltic, Western European, and Asian regions in 2015 and 2016.

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