Admittedly, at-sea Wi-Fi connectivity is nothing new. Every ship in Carnival's fleet offers, in addition to Internet cafes, wireless access for laptop users in at least one "hot spot"; Princess, Holland America, Oceania and Norwegian Cruise Line are among additional lines that allow laptop-toting passengers to surf the Internet in designated wireless locations, like lounges and coffee bars. Carnival Valor, however, is the first with ship-wide access, which means you can surf the Web and check e-mail virtually anywhere -- on your balcony, in the disco, up by the pool and even in the bathroom in your stateroom.
Intrigued, we decided to test-drive this innovative new offering on the ship's first voyage out of its homeport of Miami ... and were pleasantly surprised! Here's the scoop:
Surprise #1: It really does work! Signal strength measured four out of four "bars" everywhere we went … and we went everywhere. While we don't know how often the need would arise for someone to be online while bathing, we had full signal standing in the shower stall in our cabin. Want to check your stocks while sitting by the pool? No problem -- we had full signal on the lido deck as well. And, if you are the ultimate cyber-geek, you can find a cozy corner in the One Small Step disco and get your e-mail fix while your fellow cruisers boogie (there's a full signal there, too).
Surprise #2: It was reliable and fast. Aside from a few Internet-less hours (which, to be fair, had nothing to do with the Wi-Fi directly; even the computers in the cafe were offline as the tech team worked out the first-sailing kinks), every other time we fired up the laptop we were able to log in and surf away with no problems.
Surprise #3: It was easy to get connected. The system works on any laptop with a wireless card (laptops and Wi-Fi cards are available for rental onboard, if you don't bring your own); as soon as you launch your Web browser, you are automatically directed to a page to sign up for a wireless package (which is billed to your shipboard account at rates comparable to those in the cafe). Select your plan, and presto -- you are online.
Valor's connectivity system is part of a pilot program that may eventually be expanded to other ships in Carnival's fleet.