Yes, on most cruise ships you will have a phone in your cabin that you can use to call land phones (as well as ship-based phone numbers). But prices can be as high as $8 per minute, varying by cruise line, to call outside the ship.
Cell service is available on many cruise lines, either through a package purchased from your land-based carrier, or through the cruise line’s maritime provider. Both options are for roaming, which is quite expensive.
For more on using your cell phone at sea, read What to Expect on a Cruise: Using a Cell Phone.
Just about every cruise ship and river boat offers Wi-Fi to passengers for a price. Most luxury and some premium cruise lines include Wi-Fi in the price you pay for the cruise. Read through What to Expect on a Cruise: Internet Onboard to find out more.
The least expensive way to stay in touch with friends and family is to wait until you're on land to try to reach them. You can often find free Wi-Fi in port, including at the terminal or in cafes. Your cell carrier may have travel packages that are monthly, or even pay-per-day for as little as $5 (Verizon, in the U.S. and Canada). Check with your carrier before you travel for available options.
Onboard, if you plan on using the Internet a lot, you'll get the most bang for your buck with a cruise line Internet package. The bigger (i.e., more minutes or bandwidth) the package, the smaller the per-minute or per-bandwidth cost.
The methods by which you can be reached on a cruise ship by someone on land vary by cruise line. In most cases, including on Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Silversea, you can give people back home an emergency number for them to call. There is often a fee involved with using the number that will be billed to your onboard account.
For other lines, notably Carnival Cruise Line, the person trying to contact you must call the line's regular call center and leave a message that will be relayed to you. Check your cruise documentation or ask your travel agent or cruise sales representative for the emergency number.
Staying in touch with your traveling party can be as simple as a magnetic white board attached to your cabin door or as sophisticated as a cruise line-provided app that allows you to call or text people while onboard your cruise ship. All cruise cabins have room phones with a messaging system the same as a hotel. Also like hotels, there are "house" phones throughout the ship that you can use to call directly to the stateroom phones.
Some cruisers bring walkie-talkies onboard, particularly families with kids old enough to spend time on their own. The walkie-talkies help, but there will be spots on mega-ships where the range will not be sufficient.
Cruise lines that provide communication apps (either for free or for a fee) on some but not necessarily all of their ships include Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Costa, Disney, MSC, Norwegian and Princess. Disney Cruise Line goes one step further than most lines, giving passengers "Wave Phones" (think old school mobile phones!) for use onboard for the duration of the cruise. Two are provided per cabin, with a fee for additional phones.
The What to Expect on a Cruise series, written by Cruise Critic's editorial staff, is a resource guide, where we answer the most common questions about cruise ship life -- including cruise food, cabins, drinks and onboard fun -- as well as money matters before and during your cruise and visiting ports of call on your cruise.
Updated February 27, 2020