Making a Cell Phone Call From the Open Sea

Reading through a Carnival Cruise Line brochure, it looks like passengers can make cell phone calls from the ship. It doesn’t mention the charge (if there is one).

  1. Can anyone here speak directly to Carnival’s cell phone use policy? Is it free to use your own cell phone? If not, what does Carnival charge?

  2. How is it possible for someone to make a cell phone call from the middle of the Caribbean Sea? I’m assuming there’s some form of shipboard satellite technology (or something) in play here, but I admit ignorance on this point.


I’m interested in this too. On a ferry trip from Ireland to France last year (Brittany Ferries) I noticed that my phone had a signal for the entire 16-hour journey, although the name of the provider (when we were out of sight of land, and not picking up an Irish or French signal), “OnWaves” was unfamiliar to me. I have no idea how much they charge for this service.

I’m sure that it’s a steep charge outside your normal plan. My parents take two cruises a year and always inform me and my brother to absolutely not call their cellphones unless it’s an emergency.

from: <— this is carnivals deep sea wireless service.

Rates for roaming on ships are determined by your home carrier. Please note that calls to 800, 888, 866, and 877 numbers are not toll free. You will be billed by your home carrier for your international roaming usage on your regular mobile phone bill. Typically charges will appear on the next monthly bill, but depending on your carrier it may occasionally take up to 60 days for charges to appear on your phone bill. For more information, please contact your home carrier customer service.*

Example, AT&T charges $2.49/minute

Yeah, they do the equivalent of putting a cellphone tower on the ship itself, and then the backhaul connection from that “tower” goes via satellite (or some other expensive method) to the land-based phone system.

It’s similar to WiFi on trains: microcells on the individual cars, then a satellite connection to the network. That way the train operator doesn’t have to worry about losing the net connection when passing into and out of cellphone coverage.

Similar situation:

Offshore in the Gulf of Mexico the provider (that will get the signal to a land-based tower) is Coastel and they charge an Arm and a Leg per minute!. Most rig-workers learn very quickly not to use a cell phone offshore (I know I did!).


I’m surprised it’s only $2.49 a minute. I’m about to take a cruise, and in the pile of flyers and documents was info on shore-to-ship calls. If someone really wanted to reach me, it would cost them $16 per minute, including the time it would take for ship’s personnel to find me and get me to a phone to take the call.

This can make for some interesting bills, too. I once had a rep ask me where Norway was, and then about five minutes later they called me back over to tell me about the horrible billing system error they had: the customer was making calls in Alaska in the morning, then Norway in the evening, Alaska the next morning, etc.

It was fun and rewarding to watch their eyes light up as I explained that Norwegian registered ships doing Alaskan cruises would show up that way. It helped to get over the initial “Where is Norway?” thing.