Constant communication -- that's what modern cruisers demand. In addition to keeping in touch with friends and family back home, passengers want the ability to connect with their spouse, kid or friend who's onboard with them. Specifically, cruisers want texting on cruise ships, and lines are responding with apps to facilitate this. Though apps vary from line to line, the essential function is the same: enabling cruisers to use their own mobile devices to text other people on the same ship.
We take a closer look at how the first such app, Norwegian's iConcierge, works and then list the other cruise lines offering texting apps to their passengers.
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We Try It: Norwegian's iConcierge App
One of the first cruise lines out of the gate with this technology was Norwegian Cruise Line, when it launched the iConcierge phone app on Norwegian Breakaway in 2014.
Among other capabilities, iConcierge allows passengers to text and call people onboard the same ship without having to use the cell phone service providers' roaming service. The texting and calling functionality piggybacks on the ship's Wi-Fi system to avoid the cell service provider. Each passenger must download the app (free), then pay a small fee to unlock the texting and calling usability of the app. You do not need to purchase an Internet package to use the app. (There are a few complimentary features like restaurant, show and shore excursion booking.)
The upside of the app is that keeping in touch with cruise mates is a snap. Messages such as "I'm in the far booth at O'Sheehan's," or "Heading to Howl at the Moon at 10:30" are easy to send. No more leaving messages on cabin phones, hoping the information will be received. No more notes on cabin doors. No more having to plan out the entire day first thing in the morning.
The downside? It doesn't always work. As with any technology, it can be glitchy and getting kicked off the app unexpectedly is not unheard of. But a quick restart of the Wi-Fi usually fixes the glitch, and it's back to instant messaging.
iConcierge is only available on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Star and Pride Of America.
Texting Apps on Other Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Line is not alone in offering texting apps. Here's what other cruise lines are offering. (All apps are free to download, but some cruise lines charge for the ability to actually use the app.)
Carnival Cruise Line:For $5, Carnival cruisers can turn on the Carnival Hub chat feature and communicate to other passengers also onboard their ship; all parties must be using Carnival Hub to participate. The chat feature also has a group setting so family members or a group of friends can communicate within the same conversation. The app currently only works on Carnival Breeze, but will roll out to the rest of the Carnival fleet throughout 2016. You do not need a separate Internet package.
Costa Cruises:Passengers can use their cell phones on a Costa ship just as they would on land with the MyCosta Mobile app. Cruisers can send free text messages or call other passengers on the same ship (who must also be using MyCosta Mobile), and even use their phones to call ship restaurants, the spa desk and shore excursions office to make reservations. You do not need to purchase an Internet package to use the app.
Disney Cruise Line:Disney passengers can use the Navigator app on all four ships to send free text messages to other people on the same ship also using Navigator. There is also a group chat feature. Though the app does connect to the onboard Wi-Fi, there is no charge to app users for access.
MSC Cruises:Not an app in the traditional sense, MSC Traveller Web is a Web page that offers app-like functionality and works, for free, on any computer connected to the MSC intranet (no Internet package purchase required). You can use it to friend and chat with other passengers in real time and share photos with other passengers onboard. The Web app is only available on MSC Divina, MSC Magnifica and MSC Preziosa.
Oceania Cruises:Using Connect at Sea, Oceania passengers can call or send text messages to other people using Connect at Sea on the same ship. While the app is free to download, an app-specific, extra-cost communication package is required to use the service.
Princess Cruises:Passengers onboard all Princess cruise ships (except Pacific Princess and Ocean Princess) can use the Web-based Princess@Sea Messenger service to send instant messages to other people traveling on the same ship. The app version of the Princess@Sea Messenger enables push notifications so that your phone will alert you when messages are received, then directs you to the Web version so you can read your messages. You will need an Internet package to use the service via Wi-Fi on your phone.
Royal Caribbean International:Royal Caribbean passengers on Quantum and Anthem of the Seas (and Harmony and Ovation of the Seas when they launch in 2016) can use the Royal IQ app to call or text other passengers onboard the same ship, and also using Royal IQ. The app is free to download but the Royal IQ Communications Package (which enables the texting and calling) is $14.95 per device.
--By Dori Saltzman, Editor