In today's connected world it may be hard to give up familiar habits like daily phone chats with friends and family, but staying in touch with a passenger aboard a cruise ship can be a costly proposition for both the caller and the recipient. Telephone calls via the ship's system or passenger's cell phone are expensive, so consider making them only in emergencies and certainly not before researching and comparing various methods and their costs.
Calling a Passenger's Cabin
Make a note of the passenger's shipboard address—the ship's name, telephone number and cabin number—before he or she leaves. Write down the dates and itinerary of the cruise, plus the ports of call and countries where the ship is scheduled to dock.
Call the cruise line's customer service number if you misplace or forget any of the details of the passenger's itinerary, or have difficulty making a call to the ship. In an emergency, customer services may be able to help get a message through quickly.
Check the cruise line's website or call customer service to see if direct dialing to the ship is possible. Some cruise ships do not have direct-dial systems, but route all calls through the ship's operator using the Maritime Telecommunications Network, a satellite system, at charges ranging from $7 to $9, billable to a credit card.
Call your land line and/or cell phone server to check calling rates to cruise ships that do allow direct dialed calls through the Inmarsat satellite system. There are four area codes in the system—871, 872, 873 and 874—depending on the ocean location of the ship (the areas are defined at inmarsat.com). The website also has a search function for locating a ship's telephone number.
Buy an international calling card that serves the Inmarsat area codes if the card rates offered are cheaper than those for your land line or wireless server. Inmarsat-enabled cards can purchased online at sites like callingcardplus.com and callingcards.com. "Inmarsat" will appear on the alphabetical list of countries served by the card if that option is available.
Calling a Passenger's Cell Phone
Ask the passenger if he or she plans to take a cell phone on board, but warn him or her to check the carrier's roaming rates. Adding an international roaming plan may save the passenger money. Onboard roaming rates are typically $2.49 a minute through cellularatsea.com, an AT&T company, which serves most U.S. cell phone providers.
Check with your cell provider to assess your international calling costs, and consider temporarily adding an international component to your plan to minimize them.
Compare rates for a call to the ship at sea with a call when it is in port. Typically cruise ships disable their onboard cell phone satellite connections as they approach port, and the calling rates to the country in question then kick in. In many cases these rates are cheaper. For example, a call to a Carnival cruise ship at sea via AT&T cell service is $2.49 a minute, while a call to Cozumel, Mexico, a popular port of call, is 99 cents a minute, or even less with an international plan.
Consider text messages or e-mail to stay in touch. Texting rates are much lower and most modern cruise ships come with stem-to-stern Wi-Fi, while older ships and many ports of call have Internet cafés.
If you do make a call, set a time limit beforehand so you don't run up unexpected charges.
Don't forget that charges like taxes and fees will be assessed and added to your bill on top of any international calling charges. Read the fine print on prepaid calling cards for extra fees also.
Be considerate by being aware of charges passengers may incur on their end, particularly cell phone roaming charges for calls and voice messages received.