Oceania Cruises and Silversea Cruises have teamed up with SeaMobile, a global wireless voice and data communications provider, to offer at-sea cell capabilities to cruisers with GSM, CDMA and GPRS devices. CDMA is a global wireless format used by carriers such as Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless (SeaMobile tells us Verizon could be available onboard during the first half of 2006); GPRS is the platform that handheld PDA devices, such as BlackBerrys, work on.
Italian-based Costa Cruises was the first line to offer at-sea cell phone service, though at the onset it was only compatible with GSM devices (a platform commonly used by carriers such as Cingular and T-Mobile). Now, SeaMobile's universal technology will make it easier for Oceania and Silversea passengers to stay connected at sea no matter what device they are using.
What's interesting about the service onboard Silversea and Oceania is that both cruise lines have the ability to turn on "quiet zones" -- the signal can be blocked in certain areas of the ship where passengers might not necessarily want to be subjected to ringing of their shipmates' (or their own) phones, such as the spa and dining room. "We'll definitely be utilizing the quiet zones," Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky tells us. "In fact, we already have a policy onboard that prohibits the use of cell phones [while in port] in the dining rooms and certain public areas." Onboard Silversea's Silver Whisper, which has been using SeaMobile's system in a "testing" mode since early February, guests are reminded in the daily Silversea Chronicle that cell phones may not be used in the ship's public areas or restaurants.
Silversea expects the program to extend fleetwide by fall at the latest. The first ship in Oceania's fleet to deploy SeaMobile's services will be Insignia, which will be outfitted during an upcoming dry-dock in April; Regatta and Nautica will be outfitted during repositioning cruises in November.
As with Costa, passengers will be able to make and receive calls just as they would on land, and will be billed by their regular cell carrier at rates similar to on-land roaming charges -- as low as $1.99 per minute, according to SeaMobile execs (incoming text messages are free!). And while most cell users shudder when they hear the word "roaming," keep in mind that this is still substantially cheaper than making calls from your cabin phone, where connections can run as high as $5 or $10 per minute.
Though SeaMobile tells us that other cruise lines are close to finalizing agreements, it isn't the only company tapping into expanded at-sea voice and data services. Wireless Maritime Services provides GSM and CDMA wireless onboard select Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, Island Cruises, NCL, Orient Lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships. Maritime Communications Partners, which offers a similar lineup of options, is also in talks with several cruise lines, but at this time is unable to release official details.