Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Royal Caribbean Turns to Elon Musk to Fix a Big Passenger Problem

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Ideally, when you take a cruise, you leave the world behind you. In reality, few people can do that. Parents have kids at home, people have work obligations even when on vacation, and it’s generally not possible to fully disconnect.

Some people on cruises do, of course, disconnect, but most still choose to use their phones to take pictures, send emails, texts, and make the occasional phone call. You can wait until you’re in port to catch up with all your communications. Many (but not all) smartphone plans include free calls and texts from the Caribbean, Mexico, and other common cruise destinations.

That’s something you want to check before you head out on your cruise because if international calling isn’t included, you can run up a huge bill really quickly. Many Royal Caribbean International (RCL) – Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) – Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) – Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report customers can’t opt for limited connectivity so they opt for onboard internet packages.

These onboard. internet plans cost about $20 per day per device (it varies by cruise line and, on some lines, by sailing). It’s fair to say that the best onboard internet could be described as functional, while the worst feels like a dial-up connection from 1992.  

It can be very frustrating to pay for an internet connection that, when the ship is crowded, can barely send an email. Even at its best, ship internet is serviceable at best — enough to work onboard if you just need to browse the web and answer email or Slack messages — but not ideal if you need to attend a video meeting.

Now, Royal Caribbean has a plan to solve this problem and it involves Elon Musk.


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Royal Caribbean Wants to Bring Musk’s Starlink Internet to SeaElon Musk’s SpaceX has put thousands of satellites into the sky to deliver internet to places that lack high-speed service. Called Starlink, the internet service requires having a small satellite dish, but it works anywhere in the world (which includes the ocean. Musk, for example, has sent Starlink devices to Ukraine to help the country communicate with the world during Russia’s illegal invasion.

Now, Royal Caribbean has filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to bring Starlink to its ships, reported Matt Hochberg of the Royal Caribbean Blog. The cruise line’s Group Vice President of Operational Excellence, John Maya, sent a letter to the federal agency to ask it to “expeditiously” approve a plan to use Starlink on Royal Caribbean ships.

Starlink Could Solve a Big Passenger ProblemFew people can truly leave the world behind when cruising and using your phone while onboard has actually become more common since the pandemic hit. Now, many restaurant menus use QR codes and Royal Caribbean’s “Cruise Compass” daily schedule is generally offered mostly digital with only limited print copies.

Using QR codes or seeing the Cruise Compass does not require paid WiFi, but people who have their phones in hand tend to use them more. Starlink would make doing things like posting to social media or even streaming a movie a much better experience, according to Royal Caribbean’s letter.

“Working with SpaceX Services, Inc., we believe we have identified a true next generation solution for our vessels that meets the rigorous technical and operational requirements commensurate with our growth plans,” Maya wrote.”We believe our work with SpaceX, the first of its kind in the cruise industry will set the standard for other cruise operators and will mean a leap in terms of guest experience and business operations while at sea.”

While the FCC does not regulate Royal Caribbean, it does regulate Starlink. The agency has to grant permission to the company to work with the cruise line because its internet service cannot currently be legally used on anything that moves (like a plane, train, or cruise ship), Hochberg, whose blog is not affiliated with the cruise line, reported.

If Royal Caribbean succeeds in this request, it would not be surprising to see Starlink make deals with Norwegian, Carnival, and other cruise lines.

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