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Staying Connected with Home When You’re On a Disney Cruise

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As much as we may want to be ON VACATION when we’re on vacation, the reality is that most of us need to stay at least minimally connected to home or work when we’re on a trip, even if only for emergencies.

Staying connected is easy when you’re on a land-based vacation. You just give your co-worker or neighbor your cell phone number or email address and you know that they’ll be able to quickly reach you if something goes awry. When you’re on an ocean cruise, such as a Disney Cruise Line voyage, even basic connectivity can be a lot more complicated.

Before we get going, I’m going to outright state that if you’re an able adult, you almost certainly need to cruise on DCL with a smart device. Pre-pandemic, you could probably travel without a smartphone or tablet, cobbling together workarounds using a traditional camera, onboard information sources printed on paper, and the DCL-provided onboard Wave phones.

Wave phones no longer exist and most printed resources are long gone. The DCL Navigator app, when installed on your phone, provides a free and easy way to text your friends and family traveling with you on the ship. The app also includes listings of ship activities, instructions for port excursions, menus, and on and on. (Step-By-Step: How to Use Disney Cruise Line Navigator on Board)

Many DCL guests grieve the ability to unplug on a cruise, and we can sympathize, but you need to keep a phone with you to help keep up with what’s going on aboard the ship. That said … here are the ways you can stay in communication with home while you’re onboard.

1. Call using the DCL phone in your stateroom.

Every DCL stateroom includes a wired telephone. If you use it at all, it will most likely be for ordering room service or confirming your Palo reservation. But that phone does work for contact with the outside world. However, I would only recommend this in the rarest of circumstances. Using your stateroom phone for ship-to-shore (or vice versa) calls is expensive and inconvenient. I would consider this to be your most “only in the case of emergency” option. Calls to/from your stateroom phone will cost about $8-10 per minute. There is a 10-minute cap on calls and calls must be secured with a credit card.

If you want to give this “break glass” option to someone at home, the phone number for shore-to-ship calls is 1-888-322-8732 (in the United States) or 732-335-3281 (outside the U.S.). To receive a call via this method, your caller must know both your ship’s name and your stateroom number. If you leave this information for your pet sitter, for example, be sure to give them not only the phone number but all other pertinent information as well.

Stateroom phone onboard the Disney Wish

2. Call with your cell phone, using a cell phone plan, while you’re in port.

The easiest, and likely the most reliable, method of communicating with home is using your own cell phone while you’re docked in port.

Most U.S.-based cell phone carriers offer packages to use their service internationally. Plans vary slightly by provider, but as an example, my AT&T cell service offers an option to pay $10 per day for unlimited talk, text, and data in most international destinations (including those served by DCL), with additional family members on the same plan costing $5 per day. Activating this feature means that for $10, I can use my phone in, say England, just like I would at home in New York. If your sailing has just a handful of port days, and you’re not worried about being accessible during every day of your trip, then this can be a good option.

Additionally, depending on your itinerary, your regular calling plan may cover your phone in port at no extra charge. Some standard cell plans include calls to/from Canada and Mexico. And don’t forget that places like Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are almost certainly included in your plan, though it never hurts to check.

While more complicated in-port options may not be necessary if you’re traveling on a short cruise or a cruise with just a few days in port, it may be worth investigating other options if you’re on an extended holiday which includes land travel beyond your sailing. For example, if you’ll be spending several weeks in Europe which includes a cruise as one component of your journey. Ideas to consider might be purchasing a local SIM card or, if you have a recent phone model, using an eSIM app such as Airalo. This New York Times article on international phone use has details on these plans.


Call plans are different in port than they are on the ship

3. Call or email using WiFi in port.

Some public areas in port such as cafes, restaurants, or libraries offer free WiFi for customers or patrons. If you don’t want to pay the $10 per day (for example), you can try to find WiFi in port. A service like WiFi Map can help. While this option can be good if you’re trying to save every penny, you may be sacrificing security and speed.

Also note that you won’t be able to make standard phone calls with this method, be sure to educate yourself on WiFi calling before travel.

4. Call with your cell phone, using your cell phone plan, while you’re at sea.

Connectivity on the ship while at sea is entirely different than connectivity in port. Your land-based international calling plan will not work while you are at sea.

If you want to be fully accessible via phone while at sea, you should look at your cell carrier’s options for cruise ship packages. As a typical example, AT&T offers two cruise package versions:

  • 30 days of unlimited shipboard and ship-to-shore talk and text, with 1GB of data included, for a $100 one-time charge (data overage is charged at $10 per 100MB)
  • 30 days of unlimited shipboard and ship-to-shore texting with 100MB of data and an overage charge of $10 for 100MB, with 100 minutes of talk time included, for a $60 one-time charge (talk time over the first 60 minutes is charged at $1 per minute).

If you have pressing work issues or might need to reach family members via calling while you’re at sea, then buying at least the cheaper of these two packages would make sense for your peace of mind. And it would be far less expensive than using your stateroom phone to call from ship to shore.

5. Email, text, social media, or WiFi calling while you’re at sea.

Disney offers onboard WiFi packages at three levels of service and pricing. TouringPlans data ace Becky Gandillon does a thorough review of these options here.

One thing to bear in mind is that pricing for Disney’s service is by DEVICE, not by person or by stateroom. If you typically use a phone, a laptop, and an iPad for checking in at work, you’ll likely want to choose just one of these to connect to the onboard package.

A few other tips:

Your phone’s settings can have a big impact on your data usage. If you want to minimize data usage, turn off items like cloud backups of photos and data roaming features. Better yet, turn your phone off or put it in airplane mode when you’re not using it. If you’re at all concerned about your phone setting configurations, stop by the onboard guest relations desk as you embark on your sailing. They’ll be happy to do a quick scan to make sure nothing is amiss.

If you’re traveling with several people, you’ll want to consider who is most likely to purchase a cellular package and then give that number to folks at home who may need to contact you in an emergency.

Finally, be aware of stealth data vampires. If you’re traveling with devices like tablets or smart watches that will not be connected to your shipboard data plan, make sure to put those in airplane mode to avoid unexpected roaming charges for things like automated data backup.

How do you keep in touch with home when you’re on a cruise? Let us know in the comments!

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

One thought on “Staying Connected with Home When You’re On a Disney Cruise

  • Certain messaging apps also allow free connectivity with others off ship as well – subject to text only. no photos or videos. Two examples are WhatsApp and Applies proprietary iMessage. Both parties must have the same application, but it does work. This is largely due to the protocols in the DCL onboard Messager.


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