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How to Communicate with Family and Friends on a Cruise (Free Options)

If you are considering a cruise, you may be wondering how you will keep in contact with the other members of your cruise party.

Keeping in contact isn’t as simple as it is on land, due to the lack of phone signal and free internet access.

I’ve been cruising for 16 years and during that time, I’ve learned multiple ways to stay in touch with my friends and family who are also on the cruise, many for free.

How do you Communicate With Friends and Family on a Cruise?

Many guests on cruises use cruise lines apps to communicate with their friends and family where available, some cruise lines charge for this service. Other options include leaving notes for friends or family to find or phoning them on cabin phones.

Despite it being difficult to get in touch, communication is often very important when cruising, especially if you are cruising with family and friends in other cabins.

I often want to contact my friends and family to share dinner plans, to ask about excursions, or ask if we can meet up for a drink/go to an event together.

Can You Text on a Cruise?

It is possible to send a text when on a cruise when docked. Depending on the location and service provider, this can be expensive. When at sea, it’s unlikely that texting would be possible, due to a lack of provider signal, if signal is available, this is likely to be through the maritime network and incredibly expensive.

I STRONGLY suggest that you turn your phone into airplane mode as soon as you sail away. I’ve made this mistake before and it cost me dearly!

This post from CruiseMummy goes into more detail about why you cannot text while at sea.

mobile hotspots on cruise ships

Use Cruise Line Apps (Some Charge)

All major cruise lines have apps, many with messaging features. These features act like Facebook messenger/WhatsApp and allow guests to communicate with each other in real-time.

Using messenger apps on cruises

Some cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line, require guests to pay an activation fee in order to access the messaging system.

Cruise LineAppMessaging FeaturesPrice
Royal CaribbeanYes, MultipleYes, Ship DependantFee in Asia Where Available ($1.99 Per Day), Free Elsewhere Where Available.
CarnivalYesYes‘Activation Fee’ $5
Disney Cruise LineYesYesFREE
Norwegian Cruise LineYesYes‘Activation Fee’ $9.95
MSCYesYes, Ship DependantFREE
Princess CruisesYesYesFREE
Celebrity CruisesYesYesFREE
Holland AmericaYesYes FREE
P&O CruisesNoNo
Cruise Line Messenger App – Costs

Messenger services may vary within a cruise line’s fleet. It’s often the case that newer ships have newer technology when it comes to messenger apps.

This approach does of course rely on all guests having smart phones that are able to download the app in question.

Purchase an Internet Package ($$$)

Another option that works in a similar way to the messaging apps, is to pay for an internet package. Many cruise lines will have a cheaper internet package available which allows you to use social media only.

I bought a ‘social media’ only package when I was cruising with P&O cruises, the service didn’t allow me to use WhatsApp (my messenger of choice) but it did allow me to use Facebook messenger.

Internet packages can be expensive and are often quite slow, that said there are a few things you can do to cut the cost. To learn more about cruise ship WiFi, check out this post: How to Send and Receive Emails on a Cruise (Cheaply and Easily!)

Use Walkie Talkies/Two Way Radios

Many guests bring walkie-talkies on cruises in order to communicate with their friends and family. Although these do work well for some, people many encounter problems with their use.

women holding a walkie talkie

Cruise lines do allow walkie-talkies to be brought on board but there are usually some specifications that must be kept to.

For example on a Royal Caribbean cruise a walkie talk must:

  • Not have more than 5 watts of power
  • Not have an external mounting antenna.

Royal Caribbean has walkie-talkies available to rent on some of their smaller cruise ships in the Radiance and Voyages classes. These are around $25 per week.

Be aware that if you are using walkie-talkies on a cruise, other guests with walkie-talkies may be able to listen into your conversations.

There are multiple types of walkie-talkies that work on cruise ships. Below is a summary of the main 3 types.

Walkie-Talkie TypeDescription
FRS RadiosFRS (Family Radio Service) has been used in the US since 1996. It uses frequencies between 462-467MHz in the high band.
GMRSGMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) is used for short-distance two-way conversations.
UHF RadiosUHF (Ultra-High Frequency) radios are designed for communication which needs to pass through things like walls or doors.
The Most Common Type of Walkie-Talkies Used on Cruise Ships

Using walkie-talkies on a cruise doesn’t always work because the metal walls of the ship make it difficult for the signal to pass through. This can dramatically decrease the range of the walkie-talkie.

Leave Notes Under The Cabin Door

One of the most common and easiest ways to stay in touch with your friends/family is to leave notes in your cabin or under their cabin door.

I have used this method on the majority of my cruises.

When I cruise with my family, it isn’t abnormal for my family to go to breakfast earlier than me, I’m usually asleep and a note is posted under my door which says something like ‘going to breakfast in the main dining room, will call you after‘.

It’s simple, but it works very well.

This can be a little bit tricky if your cabins are far apart but when I’m on a cruise I usually welcome the extra steps.

The problem with this approach is that you have to be in your cabin to receive the message and you don’t get any sort of alert when a note is pushed under your door, so you can sleep through it (personal experience).

You’ll usually find a pad of paper and a pen in your cabin, if not you’ll find lots of promotional leaflets you can write on…

Leave Notes Outside The Cabin

When taking a cruise, it isn’t unusual to see a whiteboard stuck to the door of a cruise ship cabin. Some cruise lines do have rules about things being stuck on cabin doors but usually whiteboards are okay if they are magnetic or static and don’t cause any damage.

The problem of course with having a whiteboard outside your room is that anybody passing by could wipe away your message.

An alternative may be to leave a note folded above the room number sign, as it’s unlikely that other guests would read or take this.

Phone Their Cabin Phone (Free)

Another similar option to leaving notes is to phone the cabin phone. This of course does rely on the person you’re contacting being in their cabin but in my experience, after a few days on a cruise you do learn where your cruise mates are likely to be at certain times of day.

balcony cabin msc meraviglia
MSC Meraviglia, Cabin Phone on Desk

For example, if somebody was to phone my cabin at around 10 am and I didn’t answer, there’s a good chance I’m having breakfast in the buffet!

Every cabin on a cruise ship has a phone which can be used to call other cabins free of charge. You’ll also find phones located around the cruise ship which are free to use. To use the phones all you usually need to do is enter the cabin number that you want to contact.

I’m not good at remembering cabin numbers so usually take note on my phone ahead of time.

Cruise line phones do have the ability to take messages, so even if the person you’re phoning doesn’t answer straight away, you could leave a message with a time/place to meet or an update on your plans.

Set Meeting Points and Times

By far the most popular way to keep in touch with your fellow cruise mates is just to set meeting points and times.

I asked our Facebook Group how they keep in contact on a cruise. 30% said that they set meeting points and times.

how to stay connected on a cruise survey results

I particularly like this method because it allows you to have time apart to do things, then a reason to come back together.

I recently took some friends of mine on their first cruise, we would often have an afternoon on the ship doing different things then meet for dinner at a set time. We would talk about what we had been up to during the afternoon.

There are of course, some problems that can arise from this approach as Neil has pointed out. If somebody doesn’t meet at the designated time and place you’re often left wandering the ship trying to find them.

communicating on a cruise by leaving notes

Which Option is Best?

The table below compares the options discussed in this post. If possible I would personally suggest using the cruise line’s messenger apps if available.

If unavailable, leaving notes, phoning the cabin phone and setting meeting times and places are good options.

Ease of UsePotential ProblemsCost
Cruise Line AppsMediumDon’t always work, not always available. Everybody needs a phone.Minimal
Internet PackagesMediumCan be Expensive.$$$
Walkie-TalkiesMediumDon’t always work, bulky to carry.Minimal, puchase price only.
Notes Under Cabin DoorEasyNotes can be missed, not in real-time. Location limited.Free
Notes Outside Cabin DoorEasyCan be missed or wiped off. Location limited.Free
Phone CabinEasyLocation limited.Free
Set Meeting Points and TimesEasyFriends/Family can forget. Free
How to Communicate on a Cruise – Comparison Table

It usually works best to use a combination of these options.

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