Royal Caribbean Voom Internet service review: now you can live and work on a cruise ship

I am mostly done with a two-week cruise on the Serenade of the Seas. The Voom Internet service is an honest 3 Mbits down and 2 Mbits up. That’s 8X the measured upload speed we had in our Paris hotel. The engineers have done a remarkably good job of covering the ship with wifi. While on Deck 11, I started a FaceTime call with Domestic Senior Management. I then walked up to the top of the ship and all the way down to the cabin my mom and I are sharing on Deck 3. There was a slight hitch in the service just once or twice. The call dropped only once, which was when our button-happy two-year-old on the other side pressed the hang-up circle. The verdict from the other side, a Verizon FiOS link, was “better than any of the calls from Paris.” (one of those calls was from a $600/night Hyatt hotel where a friend was staying) As we got closer to the end of the cruise and more passengers signed up for the service it became subject to more hiccups, but it always worked.

The ping time below is long, as expected given that each packet requires a trip up to space and another one back down. This is noticeable as an extra second or two before a web page is rendered (compared to visiting a domestic site from a high quality home broadband service). Also noticeable is the fact that web developers have larded up their non-mobile pages with so much JavaScript and graphics that even a connection that would have been considered great 10-15 years ago is now somewhat pokey.

As far as I know Royal Caribbean is far ahead of the other cruise lines. The result is that an extended stay on a cruise ship need not cut you off from videoconferences with family, work with Dropbox and Google Docs, etc. Based on the FaceTime calls, which are more demanding than typical business apps, it seems that the High Seas and the full possibilities of the Internet are now compatible.

I tested the service primarily with a Windows 10 laptop, an iPhone (iOS 9.3.3), and an iPad (iOS 9.3.3).

Stuff that worked great:

  • Dropbox (uploaded about 30 GB of photographs and videos during the cruise)
  • Dropbox photo backup from iPhone
  • authoring via Google Docs within Chrome
  • Web browser (I ordered some stuff online)
  • authoring via WordPress
  • downloading the week of iPad app updates that had backed up during the catastrophe of Paris: 1 Gb. That’s 8 Gbits
  • downloading iOS operating system updates for iPhone and iPad
  • Facebook on every tested platform
  • Streaming Netflix to an iPad (brief hiccup every 30 minutes of playing time perhaps)
  • IMAP access to AOL email (guess if it was me or my 82-year-old mom conducting this test)
  • iPhone backups in the background

Stuff that worked painfully:

  • ssh’ing to a Unix server and then trying to edit files with Emacs; the round-trip ping time makes this usable only in an emergency

Stuff that didn’t work at all:

  • Napster (formerly Rhapsody; whose idea was it to name a subscription streaming service after the outlawed file sharing system?). I’m wondering if Napster uses UDP. Streaming audio with Google Music worked reasonably well.
  • Checking a development server that communicates over HTTP on a nonstandard port and also uses HTTP auth

Summary: Consumers with mobile devices should be thrilled with this as long as they are patient with some hiccups in the very most demanding applications, such as videoconference. Sitting at a laptop in one’s stateroom and using Google Docs, Chrome, and Dropbox, it is often not that different than being at home. (I talked to about 20 other passengers who had signed up for the service. They were generally satisfied but they didn’t seem to understand why it couldn’t be as rock-solid and lightning fast as their at-home broadband connection.)

Room for improvement: the system times out after every two hours of non-usage. If you’re running Dropbox and a browser with Gmail the laptop can in fact stay connected for 24 hours or longer. A phone, however, will go to sleep. Then there is a cumbersome three-page re-authorization process where you tell the system what language you prefer (why can’t it remember that with a cookie?), whether you have a username or an access code, and then finally where you type in the username and password (which the browser has apparently been instructed not to save). This should be a single page prompting for just the password and with a link to “more options” for anyone who wants to change the language or type in an access code. Something about this software made Google Chrome and Windows 10 unhappy, but switching from username/password authentication to an access code (which I got from the guest services folks) made the problem disappear.

I wonder if this will open up even more growth for cruise lines, or at least Royal Caribbean. Now people who either want or need to stay in touch can cruise with only minimal communication hassles and limitations. Time to buy stock in Royal Caribbean? The ticker is RCL (chart).




12 thoughts on “Royal Caribbean Voom Internet service review: now you can live and work on a cruise ship

  1. That’s quite impressive. I would have never thought it would be good enough for FaceTime/video conferencing. Is the communication really by satellite or some long distance cell towers? What is the farthest distance the boat is from the shore? Sorry, I am completely ignorant on how wifi is provided these days on planes or boats.

    Speaking of ignorance and your fellow passengers who couldn’t “understand why it couldn’t be as rock-solid and lightning fast as their at-home broadband connection”, that reminds me of a funny Louis CK clip about wifi on an airplane:

    I wonder if a freelancer could do his work remotely on a sailboat in the Mediteranean, moving from port to port around southern Greece/Italy/France/Spain. Would be interesting to try for one year.

  2. Ooo.. Mosh looks nice! Thanks for the suggestion, I also need SSH over bad connections occasionally. I will give it a try!

  3. `screen` is also useful for high-latency connections. At least, if you get cut off, you can pick back up right where you left off. Like `mosh`, it has to be installed on the server’s side, though, which is fine for servers, but you’re probably OOL with routers and… well, there’s not much kit running Linux of some sort that isn’t a general-purpose computer any more, now that I think about it.

  4. @GermanL : definitely satellites. I use these systems to communicate with six deep-sea vessels, which during transits can be 2000+ km from populated land.

    Cannot recommend mosh highly enough.

    For normal use on terrestrial cables, the defaults are fine.

    But our packets go from Australia to Norway, and only then do the satellite round-trip, so our RTT often exceeds 1100ms. For situations like that (and probably the cruise ship), I recommend the undocumented –predict=experimental option, which will begin local echo immediately rather than waiting for the first character to round-trip.

    mosh on a portable device is also wonderful for the simple ability to close your laptop at work, open it back up at home, and not have to reconnect anything.

  5. Great tips for this future (though no cruise-) traveler, provided Mosh doesn’t get unseated by some Tosh [Telepathic Onion Shell] or something. Some off-the-cuff remarks:

    @ GermanL #1: I only fly a few times/ year but observed a trend for onboard WiFi services: on intra-European/ shorter routes, there’s either bad or no WiFi, or at best such employed for delivery of €5 movies to your tablet. Some audio and video content, usually cartoons and an comic operetta, is free, quality is good, but essentially it’s WiFi crippled to a LAN.

    On a Norwegian Medi-to-Copenhagen flight a month ago I attempted to fetch mail, but nothing came. Then on disembarking I discovered that I had some letters waiting… so the onboard server might have cached the request until it came nearer some masts or airport coverage. But I wouldn’t count on it. WiFi in both airports was good, except at some green CPH Welcome! Free WiFi Hotspot stands where it was AWOL (figures). I haven’t flown long-distance since 2012, so I can’t say how it now might be there (the airlines’ newsletters do mention WiFi onboard from time to time).

    As for a tech-nomad freelancer roaming around the Mediterranean… it’d all depend on the kind of vessel you are on. I’d say, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it… a sailboat or larger motor ship with weather-resistant tracking satellite dish would be required. Unless you were thinking mainly of loafing between coastal cities, where there usually are free hotspots.

    My gut feeling is that finding suitable ad-hoc accommodation, sustenance, and settling in consecutive places would take too much of your energy and sellable time. But there are a couple of great resources to use for research; start with this guide to being a lady nomad, and then man-spread out to other fare there.

    Phil wrote:

    […] noticeable fact that web developers have larded up their non-mobile pages with so much JavaScript and graphics

    Not so much the developers, as website owners who collectively have swallowed the “content leveraging” poison pill, and let commercial 3rd parties talk them into “profit-center” harvesting of device and browsing data (unique fingerprinting) for aggregation and sale to advertisers. Javascript, and more often such on the server than on client side, is their tool of choice. They simply don’t care about the accumulated delays at the (freeloader) reader’s end.

    […] about 20 other passengers had signed up for the service, were generally satisfied

    I tried to look up the cost of that Voom service, but am getting this:

    oops… looks like is on vacation don’t let that stop your vacation planning Call us
    (866) 5XY-7NN5
    +1 (305) NN1-0XY4 Our Brand Specialists are waiting

    […] running Dropbox and a browser with Gmail the laptop can in fact stay connected for 24 hours or longer. A phone, however, will go to sleep.

    An iPhone configured to Never Sleep, too? Sounds implausible. I often forget to switch off the iPad, wake up in the middle of the night to a ghostly glow on the sofa.

    […] I wonder if this will open up even more growth for cruise lines, or at least Royal Caribbean. Now people who either want or need to stay in touch can cruise with only minimal communication hassles and limitations. Time to buy stock in Royal Caribbean? The ticker is RCL (chart).

    Ahh, Philip, the eternal profit ferret. But, frankly, would you even consider living on such a WiFi-well-endowed vessel for longer periods of time? It seems much more of a Neon Wilderness, than that which Nelson Algren warned us all about.

    I know a woman who married a just retired 73yo millionaire 20 years her senior who essentially needed a caretaker-companion on a 2 year round the world cruise (they knew one another for decades). Sex duties, too. The 2 years stretched to 5 or 6, with shore residencies here and there, of which the longest of almost a year in Australia, her fondest landlubber memories that included volunteer clearing work in tropical forest after a hurricane, rescuing orphaned animals, though ultimately too hot for them. A week before they were to cross somewhere in Indonesia on a 100-odd passenger posh cruise vessel, some tourists were abducted by pirates. They ended up flying to Bali instead.

    Now they’re back, bought a house in the countryside in which she’s nursing the ever frailer him. There are barely any signs of that their extended sejour around, and, when pressed for experiences, she says that the novelty lasted perhaps half a year, and ended up 4 years later with an eye infection and prolonged stay in hospital for both. She would not do this again. Maybe the planet IS getting smaller?

  6. Cost?

    That service sounds great, better than I can get at my rural home. (DSL max upstream about 700kbit/s)

    I used to run a WISP. At peak I had about 35 houses sharing a 2.4Mbit/s connection. Some happy customers, some not so happy.

  7. Philip,

    Your recent observation that web developers have larded up their
    non-mobile pages with JavaScript reminded me of something else I read
    not too long ago: “The javascript alone in “Leeds Hospital Bosses
    Apologise after Curry and Crumble On The Same Plate” is longer than
    Remembrance of Things Past.”


    Cegłowski is a funny (and informative) man.

  8. Oh, did you get to see the transmitting antenna on the ship? Probably pretty boring, small dish with motorized tracking?

    (also did you take an infrastructure tour on the cruise? I saw they run some tours that you get to go down and look at the engines etc)

  9. @ Tom Zimoski #8,

    thanks for the heads-up on the Website Obesity talk by Ceglowski (who I thought he was in USA, but now resides in Australia?)

    Your blurb, however, taken out of that talk’s coherent context, initially confused the hell out of me, all those semaphore words like Hospital and Curry and Crumble. For optimal ease of reading I’d have edited that pull quote to read

    »In one news story of a local paper, the size of Javascript files alone was longer than the entire Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”«

    Talk well worth reading. But does anybody listen? I complained to the Medium Corp. (also singled out as a bloat-villain by Ceglowski) of their stories now crashing my iPhone, received a speedy Feedback response “ticket” commiserating with me and offering to help with diagnosis of my problem. I unsubscribed from the Medium medium instead.

  10. One of the advantages of going on a cruise had always been that I could plausibly tell my boss and co-workers that I would be unreachable.

  11. Ken, but isn’t that sort of against the prevailing perverted American “work ethic” of always being at the employer’s beck and call, and also because one’s peers, the ones left behind, will conspire against those who are absent, esp. for leisure reasons?

    I once worked briefly for a industrial translation (idiomatic verification) services company set up by American expats that relied on transient “grand European touring” US college students, some Aussies, etc. None permitted to work, so nominally they were study-visit interns. There were ~24 of us in a 5x6m office with maybe 10 desks and, were it not for that around 8 of us always were away in clients’ field offices, there wouldn’t be enough air to breathe for us all there. The introductory meeting with 4 new employees was conducted in a stairwell. I lasted 2 weeks, during which I was twice asked whether I am reading books in the toilet. Also on the third day broke free off the herd when we all headed to lunch at a nearby restaurant (which supposedly was contracted for catering to us all, but was more expensive than others and had no alt.meal options). My pay was below adequate, the others’ even worse.

    When I later discussed this abomination of a workplace with acquainted Americans, they showed no surprise, but claimed that it sounded exceptionally bad, and must’ve been due to the constant oversupply of willing American young slaves—i.e. it was the worker bees’ fault—for whom this was one of a few white-collar ways of earning some pocket/ travel money. I strongly suspected that I, and few other locals, were employed there solely for the purpose of the proprietors being able to show legit workers to tax authorities, and that my name may well still be on their official employee rolls a decade after the fact.

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