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Mobile Hotspots Do Work on Cruises (Where’s When and How)

If you are considering taking a cruise you may be wondering how you can stay in touch with family and friends back home. Cruise ships have WiFi but this is usually quite expensive, as an alternative I’ve used mobile hotspots and portable hotspots in the past to connect to the internet on a cruise.

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Do Hotspots Work on Cruise Ships?

Portable wireless hotspots do work on cruise ships but only when the ship is docked or VERY close to land. Your phone’s hotspot will also work on a cruise ship as long as you have cell service, are docked or close to land and roaming is included in your plan.

To help you stay connected during your cruise, this article will look at the best ways to connect to the internet including hotspots, roaming and WiFi costs.

Cruise Ship WiFi

You’ve probably heard the rumours (or experienced for yourself) that cruise ship internet access is expensive to use and often unreliable or slow at best. While that’s not true in every case, it is true often – and it can be an inconvenience for those that want to send messages, check emails, upload photos, and video chat others while on a cruise. 

I generally recommend that people do not buy WiFi when they cruise if they do not need it. I recently asked our Facebook group how many people bought a WiFi package when cruising and only around 30% said that they did. Some of these bought cheaper ‘social’ packages which can be a really good deal, but have limited functionalities.

how many people pay for wifi on a cruise

Cell Phone Roaming

If you are travelling to a place which is included in your phone plan you will be able to ‘roam’ on land at no extra cost. This means that you can use your phone’s internet as if you were at home for no extra charge. It’s VERY important that you check if roaming is included in your cell phone plan, it can get incredibly expensive if not.

If you are from Europe most countries within Europe will allow you to roam without charging you extra. If you are from the US and coming to Europe to cruise it may be worth purchasing a sim card when you arrive and using that internet instead of roaming on your US sim card. This option is discussed in more detail in this post:

7 Cruise Expenses That You Don’t Need to Pay For

Do not use your phone while out at sea. I accidentally received an email while out at sea, it came through the maritime network, and it cost me over $50. I won’t make that mistake again! As soon as you sail away from port, put your phone into airplane mode and leave it like that until you dock again. The only option for internet connection while being at sea is the ships WiFi. 

Portable Wireless Hotspots vs. Cell Phone Hotspots

When it comes to hotspots, there are various models, but there are two main kinds: portable wireless hotspots and hotspots from a cell phone or other device. A portable wireless hotspot is a device that you purchase pre cruise and then load internet onto it. A cell phone hotspot is where you ‘share’ the internet from your phone to other devices such as laptops or other people.

Below are the pros and cons of each. 

Pros Cons
Portable Wireless Hotspots
  • Works on cruise ships (when docked)
  • Can work with just about any device
  • Reliable internet connection
  • Faster than cruise ship WiFi
  • Less expensive than cruise ship WiFi
  • Can be purchased from cell phone providers and other companies
  • International hotspots are made especially for traveling
  • Can be an expensive upfront cost
  • May need to pay for usage per GB
  • Hotspot tethering can drain the battery of your device quickly
  • Not as fast as the internet at home
Cell Phone Hotspots
  • Easily accessible – right on your phone
  • Charges may add on to your monthly bill
  • Can give other devices access to WiFi
  • Only work when you have cell/mobile phone service
  • Risk of gaining unexpected charges
  • Can be expensive
  • Not as fast as the internet at home

While portable wireless hotspots can be an expensive one-time cost to purchase, they’re often faster and more reliable than a cruise ship’s WiFi, which can come in handy. 

Cell phone hotspots are easily accessible and don’t need any additional hardware or equipment to be used. If you have roaming included in your plan and are likely to only need to hotspot infrequently, I’d recommend this option. 

mobile hotspots on cruise ships

The Best Cruising Hotspot: Portable Wireless Hotspots

Portable wireless hotspots are a great option if you are not cruising to a place where using your phone would be possible. With a portable hotspot because you usually pay for a certain amount of data so you won’t be hit with unexpected fees. 

What to Look for in a Portable Wireless Hotspot 

There are some specific features you should look for when finding a portable wireless hotspot for a cruise. They are:

  • Does the hotspot meet your internet usage needs (enough data)?
  • Does it offers connection in the area(s) you’re travelling?
  • How long does the battery last (if you’ll be taking it off the ship)?
  • How many connections are offered? (some have limits on how many devices can connect at once).

You should make sure a hotspot offers connection in the area(s) you plan on travelling to. If your hotspot can’t connect, it won’t be of much use to you. If you did do this, you’ve basically bought a very expensive paper weight!

Portable wireless hotspots with built-in data capabilities will allow you to simply purchase the hotspot, set it up, and go – rather than having to purchase a separate SIM card in addition to the hotspot. 

The Best Portable Hotspots

Keeping in mind the specifications and features to look for in a personal wireless hotspot, some models stand out from the rest as the best portable wireless hotspots for cruising. The main downside to all hotspots is the initial cost which is much higher than if you can use your phone as a hotspot. 

GlocalMe G3

The GlocalMe G3 slams it out of the park when it comes to hotspot capabilities for cruising. It’s got built-in data with no need to insert a local SIM card – simply turn it on, set it up, and use! However, if you do want to use a local SIM card, the GlocalMe 3 has two SIM slots. It offers connections to high-speed internet connection in more than 140 countries around the world.

Pros Cons
  • 4G internet access with up to 150 Mbps download speeds
  • WiFi access in 144 countries
  • 15-hour battery life
  • Battery doubles as a mobile charger
  • Can connect up to 5 devices at a time
  • Can use built-in data or local SIM
  • Two SIM slots
  • Built-in security protocols
  • Small number of connections (5)
  • Speed is capped
  • On the heavy side (8.5 ounces)
  • Expensive initial cost

The GlocalMe G3 ticks most, if not all, of the boxes of what makes a portable hotspot great. With its flexible options for data and a battery that can double as a mobile device charger, you can’t go wrong! 

Verizon Wireless MHS900L Ellipsis Jetpack

As you’d expect, the Verizon Wireless MHS900L Ellipsis Jetpack is offered through Verizon. That doesn’t mean you need to have Verizon devices to use it, though – you just need to purchase a monthly data plan through Verizon to use WiFi through the hotspot. The MHS900L Ellipsis Jetpack comes packed with 10 hours of continuous battery life and a black and white display to see all your usage information – all in a small device that can fit in a pocket. 

Pros Cons
  • 4G LTE and 3G connection capabilities
  • Can be used in hundreds of countries globally
  • Connect up to 8 devices at a time
  • Display screen
  • Secure data connection
  • Needs an outside SIM card to connect to WiFi
  • Needs a plan through Verizon to utilise data
  • Relatively expensive compared to others
  • Limited connection amount (8)
  • Limited battery life

Although the MHS Ellipsis Jetpack needs a plan through Verizon to use data, its WiFi capabilities in hundreds of countries, coupled with its reliability, make it an excellent hotspot to consider. 

Huawei E5577Cs-321

Huawei is a notable name in the wireless game. The Huawei E5577Cs-321 4G LTE Mobile WiFi Hotspot is unlocked, so you can use whatever service provider and SIM card you’d like. It offers access to 4G LTE and 3G internet speeds that up to 10 users can enjoy at a time. 

Pros Cons
  • 4G LTE and 3G connection capabilities
  • 150 Mbps download speeds
  • Unlocked to be used with any carrier
  • Up to 10 connections at a time
  • LCD screen
  • Affordable price
  • Only 6 hours of continuous use battery life
  • Battery can’t be used to charge other devices
  • Outside SIM card must be purchased

The Huawei E5577Cs-321’s flexibility for choosing carriers and its ability to connect to up to 10 devices makes it a good option for many. 

Portable Hotspots: Who Should Buy One? 

A portable hotspot is perfect for those who are likely to travel a lot and be a heavy user of the internet. The initial cost is quite high but if used frequently this should be worth it for the majority of people. That said, it’s very important to remember that the hotspot won’t work when out at sea.

Cell Phone Hotspots: Who Should Use One?

If you are somebody who has roaming included in your phone plan and will need to hotspot infrequently this is the cheapest and easiest option. This is what I often personally do and although the connection can be unreliable in some places it generally works quite well.

WiFi Packages: Who Should Use One? 

People who need to stay in contact, at all times, including when out to sea should buy a WiFi package. I’d strongly suggest that if you do this you research the packages available ahead of your cruise and purchase one which suits your needs best.


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