woman texting on smart phone on the beach during sunset

Technology has certainly made traveling easier, and cruising is no exception. Need to get a message to your cruising companion but you're not sure where she is? There's an app for that. Need to quickly convert a price in Japanese yen into dollars? There's an app for that. Need to make an onboard restaurant reservation or check out when cruise trivia is? There's an app for that, too.

In recent years, cruise lines have introduced a variety of cellphone software applications (commonly referred to as apps) for a variety of pre-cruise and onboard uses. Some of the more popular apps are pre-cruise research tools that allow potential cruisers to view itineraries, learn about ports, explore ship deck plans and flip through photos of the onboard experience. Also prevalent are apps (sometimes it's the same app) that passengers can use onboard to keep track of when onboard activities are taking place; make reservations for things like restaurants, shows and spa treatments; and even track onboard spending. Slightly less widespread are apps that enable onboard passengers to communicate with other passengers at little to no cost, through app-to-app texts and, sometimes, phone calls.

See below for a line-by-line guide to available cell apps. (All apps are free unless otherwise noted.)

1. Azamara 3DI (Azamara Club Cruises)

This free Apple app presents a series of 360-degree virtual reality destination experiences that highlight both ports and tours of Azamara ships. Utilizing the same virtual reality technology behind modern video games, Azamara enhances its brand's destination immersion ethos with sample app experiences like ziplining through a Costa Rican rainforest, sailing the Panama Canal, exploring ancient Athens or taking an evening carriage ride in Cartagena, Colombia.

Carnival Hub

2. Carnival HUB (Carnival Cruise Line)

With this free app, Carnival cruisers fleetwide can browse the day-by-day schedule of all onboard events, including nightly shows, sporting events on the big screen at the Seaside Theater, Seuss at Sea daily events, poolside activities and more, all the while saving their favorites so they don't skip a beat. Cruisers also can check the real-time balance on their Sail & Sign accounts; find information about alternative dining venues like Guy's Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina and Bonsai Sushi (access to view dining menus and make reservations is in the works); search deck plans; and keep track of their ship's current estimated arrival and departure times for upcoming ports. For $5 per cruise, app users can turn on a "chat" feature and communicate via text-like messages with other app-enabled passengers onboard their ship. There is also a group feature so multiple members of a family or a group of friends can communicate at the same time. Carnival plans to add more functionality to the app in the future, including the ability to purchase shore excursions and view photos taken by the ship's photographers.

3. Cruise Lingo (Celebrity Cruises)

Available fleetwide, the free version gives access to more than 40 phrases in several languages, including those that are specifically useful to cruisers; a free audio language lesson; and tip calculators and currency converters. The premium version lets you employ a voice-to-voice translator; access dictionary listings -- including audio files for accurate pronunciations -- and 1,000 standard phrases in 29 languages (including slang); learn new language skills through audio lessons, quizzes and flashcards; chat live with a translator for one-on-one translations in 180 languages; utilize an image translator (for translating foreign signs or menus); and read up on the culture and expected etiquette of ports visited. A fee, ranging from $9.99 for one month's access to $49.99 for a year, is charged for the premium version. The app can be used both on and off the ship. Regular pricing for access to all languages is $19.99 for one month, $39.99 for three months or $99.99 for one year.

4. Celebrity Destinations (Celebrity Cruises)

Only available for iPad, this app lets cruisers review video and photos of specific destinations, browse a full list of Celebrity cruise itineraries and shore excursions, read editorial recommendations for visited ports and check out interactive ship deck plans with zoom capability. It's available for the Galapagos, Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and Alaska itineraries. The introductory package (Tourist Package) is $9.99 for one month. Next is the Explorer Package at $19.99 for three months or the Globetrotter Package at $49.99 for one year of premium membership.

5. Port Shopping Guide (Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean)

Developed for use aboard sister brands Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, this free app puts forth a port shopping guide, including details about shopping districts, brands and products, and recommended stores in ports of call in Alaska and the Caribbean. Celebrity also claims an exclusive port shopping-dedicated website component (portshoppingspree.com).

6. MyCosta Mobile (Costa Cruises)

Once onboard any ship in Costa's fleet, you can use this free phone app to call ship restaurants, the spa desk and shore excursions office to ask questions and make reservations. Plus, you can send text messages or call other passengers on the same ship using the MyCosta Mobile app, for free. Look out for its latest feature, CruiseNavigator, which provides an interactive map highlighting info on points of interest, as well as detailed weather reports.

7. Swank Media Player (Crystal Cruises)

While onboard Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity, use this Crystal-customized app to view free movies on your smartphone or tablet, including Hollywood blockbusters, popular oldies and destination-specific short films produced by Crystal Cruises. You can also watch Creative Learning Institute lectures filmed during various Crystal Cruises. Internet access is not necessary.

8. PressReader by Newspaper Direct (Crystal Cruises)

Onboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, this app allows you to read 20 national and international newspapers including, but not limited to, Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Australian, Toronto Sun, Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times.com, Forbes Daily, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Observer. Digital versions of Crystal's Reflections daily newsletter and shore excursion booklets also are available. The app is free for onboard use, and post-cruise digital newspaper service is available for purchase.

9. Digital Directory (Crystal Cruises)

The line's newer Crystal Esprit yacht and Crystal Mozart riverboat instead utilize a free Digital Directory app that allows passengers to access ship information, voyage details and a schedule of onboard events and activities. Users can download the app in advance of their sailing for pre-cruise planning and to receive pre-embarkation notifications. Onboard, passengers have access to in-suite touch-screen tablets preloaded with the app, too, touting expanded features (like PressReader).

Disney's Navigator App

10. Navigator (Disney Cruise Line)

Before your sailing, use this app to set your "Countdown to Your Cruise" clock. During the cruise, use it to find character experience times; check out the daily list of onboard activities and entertainment (and build a personalized list of favorites); review dinner menus; read up on destination details; and look at ship maps and maps of Castaway Cay (the line's private Bahamian isle). You can bookmark favorites for easy reference. It also allows travelers to send free text messages to other people on the same ship via its onboard chat feature. The app's free to use, and is available on all four Disney ships (though note it's not available for download on any Japan itineraries).

11. Holland America Line Navigator (Holland America Line)

A free onboard app that's available fleetwide, Navigator is compatible with smartphones, tablets and laptops to help passengers make the most of their cruise vacation. Book shore excursions, review restaurant menus and make dining reservations, scroll through onboard events and activities, scan spa treatments and check onboard account balances. There's no download or internet package required -- Navigator simply opens automatically upon connecting with any ship's Wi-Fi.

12. Alaska Cruises and Land+Sea Journeys (Holland America Line)

This complimentary pre-cruise Alaska-exclusive app, optimized for tablets, allows users to peruse Holland America's Alaska brochure and website with the aim of pinpointing their perfect Alaska cruise or Land+Sea Journey. Check out interactive maps highlighting destination details and excursion options, listen to the line's Glacier Bay podcasts and customize your dream day-by-day Alaska itinerary (which you can then print out as a PDF).

13. MSC Traveller Web App (MSC Cruises)

Not an app in the traditional sense, this is a web page that offers app-like functionality and works, for free, on any computer, smartphone or tablet connected to the MSC intranet (no internet package purchase required). The app is available in six languages, including English, and you can use it to make restaurant and shore excursion bookings, view sea conditions and port weather forecasts, stay abreast of onboard shop promotions, check out daily activities and special events, highlight preferred activities and keep up-to-date on global news. You can also friend and chat with other passengers in real time and share photos with other travelers onboard. The web app is only available on MSC Divina, MSC Magnifica and MSC Preziosa.

14. MSC Cruises App (MSC Cruises)

This pre-cruise app is currently available in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the U.K., but it will soon roll out to other markets. It allows would-be cruisers to view cruise itineraries and excursions; find cruise deals and MSC-related news; track the fleet's movement in real time; take a virtual tour of cabins, restaurants, cabins and sun decks; watch a live webcam feed of each ship; receive push notifications for special offers; and tag selected cruises to view later.  

15. iConcierge (Norwegian Cruise Line)

This app is available on all Norwegian ships apart from Norwegian Sky. It offers a cruise countdown clock, and once you're onboard, it lets you book shore excursions; review restaurant menus and make reservations; review your folio/purchases; find a list of the day's activities; reserve evening shows where necessary; and review onboard services, shopping and spa options. All of the planning and booking tools are free. For an additional $9.99 per passenger, per voyage (or $14.99 aboard the Norwegian Getaway), you can use iConcierge to send text messages and make phone calls with other passengers also using the app onboard the same ship. You can also make and receive phone calls with family and friends at home for a per-minute rate.

16. Princess@Sea (Princess Cruises)

Available fleetwide, use this complimentary onboard app to review your folio/purchases, check the day's events and activities, locate ship venue locations and opening hours, review port guides and the ship's itinerary, and browse restaurant menus. Using the free Messenger portion of the Princess@Sea app, passengers can send text messages to other people traveling on the same ship who are also using Princess@Sea Messenger.

17. Royal App (Royal Caribbean International)

This anytime, anywhere app allows users to search for cruise itineraries by destination, ship, month and port of call; look for special sales including regional specials; browse stateroom photos and watch ship videos; view real-time webcams onboard Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas; and watch destination videos.

Royal Caribbean's Royal iQ App

18. Royal iQ (Royal Caribbean International)

Once you're onboard, the free Royal iQ app allows users to book and modify shore excursions, as well as dinner and show reservations; pre-schedule onboard activities like RipCord by iFly; and build a personalized cruise calendar populated with daily activities, dinner reservations and evening entertainment. For a flat rate of $7.95, you can make unlimited calls or texts to other passengers onboard your ship also using the Royal iQ communication package; plus, you can make ship-to-shore and receive shore-to-ship phone calls at a per-minute rate. Note it's only available on Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas. While it's free to download and use as a time management tool, the communication package costs extra, and ship-to-shore/shore-to-ship calls are charged at a per-minute rate.

19. Viking Art Guide (Viking Ocean Cruises)

This free mobile app proposes a self-guided audio walking tour with commentary that highlights the extensive Nordic art collection found aboard all of Viking's oceangoing vessels. Ahead of your sailing, you can additionally use the app to familiarize yourself with the ships' signature Scandinavian design found throughout their public spaces.