Disney Cruise Line Wi-Fi Review
Some cruise guests choose a cruise vacation specifically so they are forced to disconnect form the world and just enjoy a vacation with the family. Others like to post about their vacation for others to see. Maybe you need to be able to check video of a pet at home, be able to call parents or adult children if necessary, or you just really really have to get some work done while sailing the high seas. All of those things will require internet connectivity, which is not something that Disney Cruise Line has a stellar reputation for. During my recent (January 2023) cruise, I tested all of the various internet packages so that I could share what worked and didn’t, and how to make the internet package work for you.
Internet Purchasing Options
If it’s been a while since you last cruised with Disney, you are probably used to watching the dreaded data meter work its way toward zero, and frantically turning off the ability for any of your apps to burn through your allotment without your permission.
The good news is that almost all ships (Wonder is still on the “old” style plans for now) have transitioned to plans that are based on speed and connectivity rather than measured data. Hooray! The bad news is, this generally means you’ll still be paying a lot for connectivity, with often not-great results. But more on that later. Let’s review each of the three new “tiers”, and what Disney claims you’ll be able to do with each.
The Stay Connected package is the lowest tier available. Not to be confused with Basic, which is the next-highest tier. This is less than basic. You can expect to pay at least $12 per day, or less if you purchase for the entire length of the cruise, or more if you need more than one device to be connected at a time.
With this package, Disney says that you will be able to “Post text and pictures on popular websites and applications like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr”. They also specifically call out “This plan does not support surfing the web, accessing email or video streaming.”
So the intent of this package appears to be posting photos and reels to make your friends jealous, or updating your skills so that you can find a new job that lets you take more cruises. But nothing else.
The Basic Surf package is the next-highest tier, and it doubles the cost of the Stay Connected plan. You can expect to pay at least $24 per day for this access, or less if you purchase for the entire length of the cruise, or more if you need more than one device to be connected at a time.
With this package, Disney says that you will be able to do everything that the Stay Connected package can do, plus: “Surf the web, read the news, check the weather and visit your other favorite websites, send and receive emails, and make audio calls.” The only activities called out as specifically not supported are “long-form video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu.”
This is the package that should allow you to do almost everything. You can call home if you have an app that will allow Wi-Fi calling. You can check your emails. You can read the news in the morning. Just no video streaming. Sounds reasonable. All for about $100 for a 4-night cruise. A little steep, but potentially worth it if it works, and if you need the safety of being able to check in at home with family or with your work.
Here is where things supposedly get fancy. The Premium Surf package is the highest tier, and it triples the cost of the Stay Connected plan. You can expect to pay at least $36 per day for this access, or less if you purchase for the entire length of the cruise, or more if you need more than one device to be connected at a time.
With this package, Disney says that you will be able to do everything that the Basic Surf package can do, plus: “Make video phone calls on planforms FaceTime, Zoom, and more; listen to your favorite music streaming platforms like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music; View short-form content on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok; and enjoy faster connectivity speeds.” Interestingly, Disney still calls out that you will not be able to engage with: “long-form video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu.”
Odd that the top two tiers both have the same exclusion, so maybe the “Basic” tier isn’t as comprehensive as originally hoped. If you need a soundtrack to your day, or you want to be able to video chat with Grandma at home, you would theoretically need to purchase this package. And the cost is pretty steep.
As discussed in the description of each tier, you can find a base price per day for a package. But then you are given options for duration and number of devices that can increase or decrease the actual final cost of your internet package.
On the first day of our cruise, I went through and grabbed pricing information for a variety of combinations. In every case, purchasing for the length of the cruise got me a 20% discount compared to the daily rate. So, I could get the Premium Surf package for $30/day instead of $36.
By the third day of the cruise, it was obvious that I needed to purchase Premium Surf for the remainder of the cruise. I assumed that this would knock down my savings, because two days had already passed. No! I was still given the 20% discount on the remaining days of the cruise, instead of the full price. So for my 5-night cruise, I could have theoretically gone without internet the first 3 days, then purchased Premium Surf for two days to catch up on all of the things, and I would have paid “just” $60.
I expected that there would be a similar price break for connecting with multiple devices compared to having individual log-ins for each device. Something like $36/day for the first device and $30/day for the second, etc. But no – each device was a pure multiplication of the per-day or per-voyage cost selected in earlier steps. Two devices for a day on Premium Surf? $72.
Premium Surf Package Performance
I had a checklist of activities to attempt while using each different internet package. The first of which was running a speed test to see what I was getting for my money.
If you know anything about internet connectivity, you know that those results are really sad. Really sad. And this was the best speed I got the entire length of the cruise. It was only downhill from here. I’m showing the best of the best. Immediately I knew that most of my checklist was going to be pointless, and I questioned how the other packages would function at all if this was the speed they were giving the premium users. Ouch.
But, science. I had to run my tests anyway. The first was uploading content to Instagram, so that my followers could do important things like goad me into trying the world’s worst non-alcoholic specialty beverage. To be fair, I was generally* able to post stories, even if they included short video content. Hooray. That’s something.
* Generally is the key word here. We’ll talk about overall reliability later, but there were lots of dead zones and many many dropped connections. Many.
I wanted to test out ability to stay up-to-date with games. The Disney community and video game community have some pretty significant overlap, and Marvel Snap is one example of an award-winning game that rewards those who log in and play consistently. Don’t want to miss those log-in rewards! Once again, on the Premium Surf package, I could almost always log in. But matching and completing an entire game was practically impossible. I would lose connection to my account or the game servers at least once, and that always led to losing (or forfeiting) the game. Boo.
In order to stay connected for work, (which, to be clear, was not a goal of this cruise. I cruise to avoid work. But science!) I needed to access Outlook, Teams, and Slack. On the Premium Surf plan, Outlook loaded about 50% of the time, and timed out the other 50%. Teams connectivity had a slightly better success rate, because it refreshed appropriately about 75% of the time. And Slack almost always kept itself updated, but really struggled with marking things as “read”.
I was usually able to load web pages, if I was patient for long enough. I successfully read almost the entire Saturday Six that posted before our sailing. I could go seek out the “lite” version of CNN if I felt like news was important. I could use google to search for trivia answers (I kid, I kid) or whatever else I needed to know, if I could wait the 30 seconds it would take to load.
Video and loading/downloading is where things really started to falter. I could view reels on Instagram, but not anything on YouTube. There was absolutely no way I could stay connected long enough to download a podcast episode or even a PDF. And I could connect to Pandora, but was never able to listen to a full song. It kept losing connectivity or buffering too.
Basic Surf Package Performance
This section is going to be nice and quick, because as soon as I tried “downgrading” to the Basic Surf plan … almost nothing worked. I was miraculously able to run a speed test, though!
Okay, so … 30% worse. But I’ll be honest, I expected this difference to be negligible when determining if tasks were ultimately successful or not. Sure, things would take longer. I’d have to stare at my phone and wait more. But probably they would still work.
WRONG. Instagram posting didn’t work. Marvel Snap didn’t work. Web surfing (including the speed test above) worked 50% of my tries. No email, no Teams, no Slack. The conspiracy theory part of my personality assumed that Disney was prioritizing Premium traffic, and when I managed to get web pages to load, I was getting lucky with my timing.
I’m sorry, but paying $24/day to maybe be able to load web pages 50% of the time, but have everything else fail … is not worth it. And the constant griping overheard any time we walked past the Guest Services desk seems to corroborate my feelings.
Stay Connected Package Performance
The Stay Connected Package … did nothing. Couldn’t run a speed test (it is a web page, after all). Could even get Instagram or Twitter (or LinkedIn for that matter) to load at all. I was paying $12/day to frustrate myself with just trying all of the things and failing. Maybe that’s a form of therapy. I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t keeping me connected.
That’s about all I can say about this package. I ran through my checklist once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. And I tried it in different locations on the ship because that definitely had an impact on connectivity while using the other plans. But none of the magic trickery worked. This package was worthless.
Reliability and Troubleshooting
If you’ve made it this far in the post, you already know that connectivity and speeds are not impressive. Reliability was even worse. About 8 hours into the first full day of the cruise, while using and testing the Premium Surf package, everything just died. No posting. No surfing. Malarkey. I went to the Guest Services desk during the second dining service (an excellent time with no lines, if you need to visit that desk), and they walked me through the stereotypical IT troubleshooting steps. Turn Wi-Fi off. Turn Wi-Fi on. Turn airplane mode on, turn airplane mode off. Visit iCafe (the service that manages connectivity) and toggle the purchased package off. Toggle it back on. Restart phone. Toss it against the wall (kidding, again). They couldn’t fix it either.
Then, they had me go into iCafe (the service that manages connectivity), and totally log out of the service. Log back in. Disney magic happened, and I was back in business. That only took up 15 minutes of my cruise to figure out. They also admitted that they were having lots of Wi-Fi issues, and had been for several cruises. So there’s that.
From then on, that was the first step I tried when things stopped working. I kid you not – I had to log out of and into iCafe at least once every 2 hours for the rest of the cruise. I collected the data, because of course, and once I figured out the whole log out/log in fix, I averaged doing that “magic trick” every 90 minutes while awake. It usually kicked my Premium Surf package back into working, but didn’t make anything easier on Basic Surf or Stay Connected.
I know that many people feel like that they absolutely must be able to stay connected to the outside world during a cruise. Whether for home/pet safety, or work, or checking in with family, sometimes internet is just a must. But being forced to pay for the most expensive package, with such low speeds, and such frequent dropping, is totally frustrating in what is supposed to be an escape from frustration.
I recognize that connectivity at sea is tough. It’s a technical nightmare. Especially with that many people trying to utilize it at all times. But you should know what to expect – you’re not going to be video-calling friends or coworkers. You may not even be able to check email reliably or audio call at all. If the safety net of potentially being able to connect is worth the $30-$36/day for you, then go for it. Otherwise, you may be better off skipping the hassle completely.
2 thoughts on “Disney Cruise Line Wi-Fi Review”
We had the premium package on our cruise over winter break. My kids were able to watch YouTube, but they could not play Roblox. It was slow, but workable.
Maybe sometimes it also depends on route and weather. Rough seas make the satellite connection more difficult to maintain than while docked at Castaway.
Seems like ‘try if you want’ don’t be surprised if it is less than mediocre.