Although many of us enjoy going on a cruise to unplug and get away from it all, sometimes you can’t leave your connection to the mainland behind when the ship sails away. In the past, Internet connections at sea were slow, spotty, and expensive. With the Connect@Sea plan, Disney Cruise Line has made Internet access more affordable, easy to use, and fairly reliable with decent connection speeds. I recently went on the Disney Dream and had to bring work with me, which meant I got to put Connect@Sea through its paces. Here’s what I discovered.
Located in each stateroom is an information sheet to assist you in connecting to the Internet. You simply connect to the “DCL-Guest” Wi-Fi connection, create a user name and password (either one that everyone in your stateroom will use or one for each person), select a package that best suits your needs, and away you go. The cost is charged to your stateroom and paid for when you settle your folio.
Because you create a user name and password, you can have multiple accounts for a single stateroom; however, the free 50 MB offer is only available for the first account in a stateroom.
Here are the packages:
50 MB Free
Although the free offer is a way to show you how easy it is to stay connected while at sea with the hopes that you’ll buy an additional package, if you are on a three- or four-night cruise and only plan to check your e-mail once or twice a day with a single device, this offer will likely be all that you need. Make sure you sign up for an account before midnight on embarkation day. The data can be used at any time during your cruise, but the time to sign up for the free offer does expire.
Pay as You Go
There are very, very few instances I can think of where this would be a good option. Realistically, most people will end up using more data than they realize. While you can set a dollar limit on pay as you go, you will be surprised how quickly you will reach that dollar amount.
COST: 25 cents/MB up to your pre-set limit
Small: 100 MB
For a three-night cruise, I used this package and found that with moderate checking of e-mail and Facebook, when combined with the 50 MB free offer, it lasted until noon on our last full day. Unless you are planning to upload a lot of pictures, download video, or religiously check e-mail or web pages throughout the day, this would be sufficient for one person for a three-day cruise. If you are frugal, it could even last for a four-day cruise.
COST: $19 (19 cents per MB)
Medium: 300 MB
For longer than a three-night cruise, or for two people connecting to the Internet in a stateroom, this is probably the best package. It provides enough data to do what most people need on a daily basis, but doesn’t require paranoid checking of data usage.
COST: $39 (13 cents per MB)
Large: 1000 MB
If you are lucky enough to be setting sail for seven nights or more and plan to use the Internet at least daily, and especially if you have more than two people in your stateroom who are planning to access the Internet, this package is the easy choice. While it is not impossible to go through 1000 MB on a cruise, it will take more than just casual usage to burn through that amount.
COST: $89 (9 cents per MB)
Each package is a self-contained unit. If you buy a small package and then start running out, you can’t “upgrade” to a medium package by paying the difference. You can either buy a new small package or buy a brand new medium or large package, or switch to pay-as-you-go once you run out. Connect@Sea will send you e-mails to let you know when you have reached certain milestones in your data usage. The main login page also has a graphic that shows you how much data you have used.
When you first connect to DCLGuest and sign up for an account, you are directed to a web page where you can register for your account. You have the option to claim your free 50 MB package (if it hasn’t already been claimed in your stateroom) or sign up for additional packages. A handy graphic gives an idea of what they say 100 MB will get you:
- 10,000 e-mails with text only
- 330 e-mails with attachments
- 50 minutes of video
- 30 photos uploaded
- 300 website visits
- 200 minutes of music
- 20 app downloads
- 300 minutes on Facebook
While this list is handy, it comes with quite a few caveats. If you are receiving e-mails with large attachments and are using a web client to access them, you will run through data well before you get 330 e-mails. Likewise, what you do on Facebook, how often you refresh your feed, and how many videos and photos your friends have posted will determine how long you can read your Facebook feed. Web site visits will vary based on how much data is loaded from the web site. Think of these amounts like the sticker on a car that tells you how many miles per gallon you get. It gives you some idea, and someone out there does get that kind of performance, but the average user is not going to get the peak performance.
Here’s some other approximate amounts that I noticed while experimenting.
Twitter: To send one tweet takes a very small amount of data, and you can receive around 100 tweets/MB.
Facebook: With mobile app, it took around 1/2 MB to refresh the feed if I hadn’t looked at it recently and had lots of pictures, memes, or other bandwidth eaters (and, of course automatic video play ate up more data if that setting was turned on).
E-mail: I was using Mail on an iPhone 5, and found that checking took no immediately noticeable data amount if there were no incoming messages. If there were incoming messages, the size of the message determined data usage. Using Gmail’s standard web page, it took 1/2 to 1 MB per check of e-mail from my laptop because of the loading of graphics and ads.
To upload a picture: At a minimum it took one MB per photo when I was uploading it to Facebook. If I had uploaded the highest resolution images that I had on my camera to some other photo site, it would have easily used up my data package with a handful of photos per day. If you plan to upload a lot of pictures, you will want the largest data package.
To check the weather: I used the WeatherBug app for the iPhone to check the weather a few times. It did not use a noticeable amount to just check the temperature and forecast for my current location, but if you plan to leave the radar up and running for long periods of time, you would start slowly racking up data usage.
Streaming audio or video, using Skype, or using FaceTime: Just plan to buy the maximum package—and if you’re doing a lot with video, expect you may need to buy more than one package. Doing a little online research, I found that data testers have reported that Skype video can use around 30 MB/minute for video chat.
Using the Disney Navigator App: There is no data usage charge for using the app, although it would cost data to download the app. Make sure it is on your mobile device before you connect to Connect@Sea.
Near the end of my package, I noticed a data spike that caused a large amount of data to be used very quickly. I have heard other people mention this, and some have said that when they go to Guest Services, they are told that there is a glitch in the system and get some of their data refunded. In some cases, it may be hidden data usage from a device. Anything that syncs to iCloud automatically (or in my case, photos entering my Photo Stream) uses data. The automatic software update on my laptop dipped into my data pool. Web sites that refresh at various intervals—yep, more data. AutoPlay of videos will still eat data even if you are set on “autoplay on Wi-fi only” because you are on wi-fi!
Before you go, make sure that you have turned off automatic updating, uploading, or syncing of whatever device you plan to use. If possible, always use mobile versions of web sites or apps, even if you are not on a mobile device. (For instance, going to m.gmail.com uses much less data than gmail.com in the long run.) Make sure that you close all apps or web browsers whenever you are finished connecting to the Internet. If possible, turn your mobile device into Airplane mode except when you are actively planning to use the Internet or the Navigator app.
If all else fails, then go big (on your data package purchase) or cut the cord and go without Internet for a few days. You are on vacation, after all!
Overall, I found that connection speeds were on par with what I experienced at local hotels, and I had very few times when I was unable to connect at all. Compared with the horror stories I’ve heard in the past about Internet connection, I was pleasantly surprised and would gladly use Connect@Sea again.