I am back from my last amazing cruise just 10 days, and although I miss many things about life on the Seven Seas Voyager….the butler service, the cocktails, having a steward to make the bed every day….. I am really happy to be back to my broadband connection.
When I speak of surfing at sea, I am not talking of the kind requiring a board but a computer with an internet connection. And as anyone who has cruised knows, this can be a challenge on the high seas. Cruise ships don’t have broadband, but satellite systems which also beam in television channels, and handle telephone calls and faxes. They can be affected by weather, regulations in some countries, and are both terribly slow and awfully expensive for consumers.
Communications at sea has become a contentious issue, and for good reason. Just cast your mind back a few years, and internet cafes on cruise ships were either an afterthought, or the least popular spot on a ship. Fast-forward to 2011, however, and it’s a very different story.
For one, many people are now using platforms such as Facebook to keep in touch with their friends and family. For many business people, however, having internet access at sea has enabled cruising to become a viable option for a holiday. In the past, while being cut off from the world might have its appeal, it’s a cause for concern if you need to make any important decisions, or get something done back at the office.
Today the internet has gone from being a largely redundant “extra” to an essential for many people, myself included. With a large percentage of my work being online, or needing to file copy to editors using email, an internet connection which is not only affordable but relatively fast is a must.
During our Voyager cruise, the internet undoubtedly posed a challenge. Virtually all of my fellow cruisers were online at some time or other, either using Facebook, checking their stocks, or doing business. Many people had multiple computers, in the form of a laptop, iPad or iPhone – one guy I saw one day had all three and was online with each one!
Many guests were also repeat cruisers or taking the entire world cruise, which gave them free internet access and phone calls….but for the rest of us it meant cyber gridlock at peak times. I had a chat with the GM on board and he told me that even the cruise director, Jamie, had to update his daily blog usually after hours.
As for me, I found the only time I could make things work satisfactorily was during meal hours, early in the morning and late at night, or when everyone was off ship. And although 800 minutes for US $200 might sound like a bargain, if it takes an hour to download a few email, and another 25 to get to the log in page for your bank, time gets eaten up quickly.
Regent isn’t the only cruise line to struggle with the increase in guest internet use, though, they all do. On Pacific Pearl’s inaugural cruise from Sydney in February – a three-day comedy jaunt to nowhere – during the entire second day on board I couldn’t get online once.
Part of the problem is the very nature of satellite systems, but also that increasing numbers of people are online these days, and these systems haven’t quite caught up. One solution is for cruise lines to charge for data download rather than usage instead of time, which for many people is how their at home broadband works anyway.
No doubt this wouldn’t be popular, especially for people who want to download broadcasts of the Super Bowl to their computer (this actually happened at sea recently), but it might eliminate unnecessary web surfing, or worse still, boredom surfing. As for uploading your holiday snaps to Facebook, that could wait until you get home, right?
Until the systems are changed, or upgraded, they are undoubtedly going to keep surfing cruisers (and working journalists) frustrated. The best advice until then is to keep your internet use to a minimum and only the necessary while at sea, and just as it’s not cool to hog a sun lounger and never sit in it, if you get free internet don’t just stay logged on because you can. Happy cruising!