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mtp51
07-11-2006, 09:56 AM
Originally posted by Travel Weekly (07/11/2006)
Calling all ships: Keeping in touch while at sea no longer a hassle

By Johanna Jainchill

Cruise lines may advertise a vacation that gets away from it all, but many cruise passengers apparently are less concerned with escaping the workaday world than with making sure their cell phones keep them linked to their world while at sea.

The cruise lines are getting the message. Carnival Cruise Lines said last month it would install technology enabling guests on its 22 ships to use their own cell phones anywhere at sea.

Carnival contracted with Wireless Maritime Services, a company whose client roster already includes Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. With the world’s largest cruise line in the game, by next year the majority of cruise ships around the world will have this kind of cellular phone service.

Just two years ago, technology enabling the use of cell phones at sea was still in a testing phase. Rapid deployment has been the result of demand.

“Mobile phones are a fact of life,” said Rob Marjerison, general manager of WMS. “People can’t just disappear into thin air for a week.”

Onboard Internet connections are already as commonplace as balcony cabins, and even wireless Internet access is increasingly an expectation.

In 2004, NCL became the first cruise line to offer guests on North American cruises the ability to use personal cell phones. Since then, lines have been slower to adopt cell technology than the Internet. But it is catching up.

Meanwhile, the $10-per-minute satellite phone seems to be going the way of the midnight buffet.

Another maritime cellular provider, SeaMobile, is installing service on three cruise lines this year: Silversea Cruises’ and Oceania Cruises’ ships are already being wired, and the company signed a contract with Crystal Cruises last month.

WMS was developed as a partnership between Maritime Telecommunications Network, a provider of satellite connectivity to cruise ships, and Cingular Wireless. SeaMobile recently bought Maritime Telecommunications Network and its 49% ownership of WMS.

The technology works by having cellular antennae on ships relay calls to an onboard base station that in turn relays them to a satellite. The satellite then relays the call to a base station on land that routes it through its cellular network. The service turns on once the ship is 12 miles offshore.

Marjerison said it costs about $250,000 to outfit a ship with the technology. The cost is borne by the communications company, which recoups its investment by acting as a local cellular provider, billing the passenger’s cellular provider for roaming service. The cruise line then takes a cut of what the communications company gets for every call, and the charges show up on the passengers’ monthly cell phone statements.

Calls cost the passenger around $2 to $5 per minute, depending on their own cell phone provider and, in the case of SeaMobile, on from where the calls are placed. With Oceania’s SeaMobile service, calls range from $1.99 per minute in Spain to $3.99 per minute in Libya. The passengers’ cell phone providers can then tack on additional charges, depending on the calling plan.

MSC Cruises said calls placed through its provider, GeoLink, run about $4 to $5 per minute. Marjerison said calls made on ships with WSM service range from $2.49 per minute for Cingular customers to $2.99 per minute for Sprint customers. Each cell provider sets its own rates.* *

Right now, sending e-mail via a hand-held device or a text message by phone is the best value, Marjerison said. An e-mail sent on a BlackBerry costs only a few cents, because it is billed by its size. Connectivity can be a selling point for travel agents.

Mary Jean Tully, CEO of Cruise Professionals in Mississauga, Ontario, said it is a huge relief for families to know they can reach each other when they are away for long periods, especially if they have aging or sick relatives. And businesspeople feel they need to be connected.

“It used to be you were out of touch on a ship,” Tully said. “People would say, ‘I do three or four short trips a year, because I can’t be out of touch for that long.’

“[The technology] allows them the freedom to be able to get away. The reason they can afford their cruise is they can check their portfolios.”

Marjerison said that when incentive and business group travelers are on a connected ship, they take advantage of it.

“Usage goes way up,” he said. “Business group travel is a billion-dollar industry. That business was not a viable option to the cruise lines. Now it is.”

Some veterans of cruise travel say that this technology is a bonus, but not a necessity.

And some travel professionals remain skeptical.

“It’s nice, but we’ve been doing group charters for 24 years, and so far it hasn’t stopped people from cruising, “ said Josephine Kling, president of Landry & Kling, a Miami-based company that specializes in corporate charters and meetings at sea.

Kling said the technology is not a deciding factor for her clients, but people do want to know how to communicate if necessary. The ability to do so, she said, signals to groups that cruise lines are up to date and offer the amenities that resorts do. But in that regard, she said, the quality of meetings facilities remains paramount.*

Some cruise lines still hesitate to enable calls that could intrude loudly upon other people’s vacations.

Preston McKinney of Odyssey Travel in San Antonio has heard no complaints from his clients so far, but he thinks phone service on ships could become a nuisance if cruise lines don’t designate cell phone-free areas.

“[Guests] would be very irritated if they were sitting and enjoying fine dining and a cell phone goes off,” he said. “Also in the pool areas because people like to sit there, relax and read.”

It is fitting that Princess, whose motto is “Escape Completely,” is among the cruise line holdouts.*

“It’s a trade-off,” said Jan Swartz, Princess’ senior vice president of customer service and sales.

“There’s the convenience of passengers using their cell phones weighed against the ancillary passenger impact. It’s all about striking the right balance between those things.”

Princess is currently in the process of testing WSM’s service on one of its ships, but Swartz said the line was looking into the possibility of blocking service in certain areas.

Marjerison said that WSM can implement these so-called quiet zones with technology but doesn’t recommend it. He suggests instead that cruise lines implement rules.

“At a practical level it can be done, but signals bounce around and go through walls,” he said. “We can accomplish that 99%, but not 100%.”

SeaMobile said it can be done and that it has the technology to do it. According to Nancy Brumfield, SeaMobile’s chief marketing officer, the company successfully deployed technology on Silversea’s ships that created quiet zones.

It is so precise, she said, that if you walk through a door into a quiet zone while on the phone, the call drops.

That ability was important to Crystal management when deciding whether to put cellular service onboard.

“It’s much more difficult to educate guests on the etiquette and encourage them to follow the rules and speak in a hushed voice than to turn off the antenna in certain areas,” said Boban Dragojlovic, Crystal’s vice president of computer services.

But on Oceania’s Insignia, which uses Seamobile’s cell service without quiet zones, passengers do follow the rules.

Spokesman Tim Rubacky said the restaurants and main lounge are cell-free zones. The onboard daily says: “We kindly request that guests using cell phones be respectful of their fellow guests.”

Rubacky said there have been no problems.

Some companies, including Cunard Line, Disney Cruise Line and Seabourn Cruise Line, don’t offer cell phone service and have no plans to.

Cherie Weinstein, vice president of group sales and administration for Carnival Cruise Lines, said people expect to be connected today and it is important that Carnival meets that expectation. However, she recalls a time when being on a cruise was an excuse not to be in touch.

“When I was on a cruise I wouldn’t expect to call anybody -- only in a dire emergency,” she said. “It was nice. It was a true vacation.”

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected]

Get More!

For more details on this article, see “NCL expands cell phone service fleetwide.” (http://www.travelweekly.com/articles.aspx?articleid=52183)

[Edited by Ned to put article in quotes and give attribution]

silver cloud
07-13-2006, 07:33 AM
Truthfully, I DON'T want to use my phone at sea. I'm on the ship to get away from it all! I'd be so ticked if my daughter called me to find out where her favorite sweater is!

NO THANKS! (just my humble opinion.)

:) mary

BarkingLeopard
07-13-2006, 09:57 PM
We've had countless discussions of the necessity (or lack thereof) to be there for family and business associates while on vacation, but I agree with Mary: if we're supposed to be on vacation, shouldn't we be ignoring (as much as possible) our real life and obligations, if just for a week?

deangreenhoe
07-13-2006, 10:19 PM
if we're supposed to be on vacation, shouldn't we be ignoring (as much as possible) our real life and obligations, if just for a week?

I have a rather controversial (and slightly snarky) opinion about this subject.

It's been my observation that those who feel they must be in contact with the outside world at all times have relatively low self esteem. There's an element of feeling self-important when one thinks the world is going to come to a screeching halt if their advice, input or opinion isn't avaiable via technology at all times. I imagine that applies for maybe a half dozen people on this planet, but I'm not one of them. And I have a sneaky suspicion that most people yammering away in resorts, restaurants or at sea aren't one of those people either. B)

Ned
07-13-2006, 11:35 PM
Originally posted by deangreenhoe@Jul 13 2006, 11:19 PM
I have a rather controversial (and slightly snarky) opinion about this subject.*

It's been my observation that those who feel they must be in contact with the outside world at all times have relatively low self esteem.* There's an element of feeling self-important when one thinks the world is going to come to a screeching halt if their advice, input or opinion isn't avaiable via technology at all times.* I imagine that applies for maybe a half dozen people on this planet, but I'm not one of them.* And I have a sneaky suspicion that most people yammering away in resorts, restaurants or at sea aren't one of those people either.* B)
31473

Hi Dean,

I think your observation may have some validity, however, I think that many of us are in business situations, especially people who run their own small businesses, or are consultants, where we could not take a week off without being able to communicate with clients or the office. It's a matter of survival.

Many people observing me on the cell phone for business ask me, how did you stay in business before cell phones. The answer is that all my trips, business or pleasure, were tightly scripted, so my secretary always knew where she could call to get me, either at clients, hotels, or other locations. Furthermore, I was a heavy user of pay phones calling into the office regularly. (Try finding a pay phone these days. Cell phone use is making pay phone extinct.) Having a cell phone has actually dramatically reduced the number of communications I now have when on trips compared to before they were available for my use.

As to the poeple yammering away in restaurants, theater, movies, hotel lobbies, etc. I'm certainly not one of them and resent their unthinking interuptions.

cruiser
07-14-2006, 01:30 AM
One of the reasons we go on a cruise is to get away from ringing phones, cell and land line. My wife is an RN and could work double shifts if her body would allow! And if we are away the phone doesn't ring asking her to work an extra shift. I'm one owner of a small business and I jusat need to get away from the phone for a while.

A few years ago we did a Mediterranean cruise and whenever the ship was within cell phone range of land there was a good sized proportion of the passengers lined up on deck talking away on thier cell phones. Some, I know were husbands who only agreed to go on the cruise if they could take the cell phone to stay in touch with work. The rest - who knows, but it amused us.

Our phones aren't compatible with Europe anyway so we couldn't join in.

Jeanie821
07-17-2006, 11:11 AM
I have my own cell phone policy, and it will not change with the availability of cell phones on cruise ships.

The cell phone does travel with me, in case I need to call the airline, motel or cruise line, whatever the case may be. Once I reach my destination, I use it to call Mom, then Dad, to let them know I arrived safely. Then the cell phone gets shut off and powered down.

If I'm on a cruise, I'll turn it on for five minutes in port just to see if there are any emergency messages. (Mom's not well, and Grandpa's sneaking up on eighty years old - emergencies are very plausible in my family.) If I'm visiting family out west, anyone who needs to reach me has my grandfather's phone number, so there's no need to even turn the phone on. Then I may need the phone upon returning to New York in case there's no yellow cabs and I need to call a taxi.

Anita Dunham-Potter
07-17-2006, 12:33 PM
Hi Everyone,
I spoke to SeaMobile at this year's Seatrade convention. They have the system set up on Silversea (not sure about the other cruise lines) to NOT WORK in the dining rooms or other public areas. The technology is there to block out cell phone use in public areas. NCL was concerned about this as well. My guess is that they will mimic Silversea's policy on this.

Best,
Anita

Ned
07-17-2006, 03:51 PM
Originally posted by Anita Dunham-Potter@Jul 17 2006, 01:33 PM
Hi Everyone,
I spoke to SeaMobile at this year's Seatrade convention.* They have the system set up on Silversea (not sure about the other cruise lines) to NOT WORK in the dining rooms or other public areas.* The technology is there to block out cell phone use in public areas.* NCL was concerned about this as well.* My guess is that they will mimic Silversea's policy on this.

Best,
Anita
31767

Anita, that news made my cruise day. I'm working on planning a potential cruise to Antarctica now with my Travel Agent for the winter of 2007-08 (I think he and his wife are coming with us, which should be great fun. They've been wanting to go there for years, but wanted to go with friends, and we're their first friends who want to go as much as they do.), but I doubt those ships will be equipped for my cell phone usage. If someone needs me in an emergency they'll have to call the ship's phone system on that trip.

silver cloud
07-18-2006, 02:01 PM
I agree, Anita, that is excellent news. The only time I used my cell was when we first got onboard - "Okay, We're on the ship." And that's it!

I have to deal with phones SO often that I hate to talk on the phone and have to make myself do it or my family gets a little miffed at me.