by Richard, Think About It...

Royal Caribbean Misses the Boat on Internet Access

4 Comments 14 June 2011

First, this post is not about my vacation. How boring would that be? It’s about a fundamental change in the way people stay connected, or not. But the issue came to light on my vacation, so please indulge me a sentence or two.

Last month, my wife and I took what was, for us, the trip of a lifetime, in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. A Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. In short, the cruise was wonderful. We relaxed, unplugged, saw places I’d only heard of before. The food was good and plentiful. The service – no complaints. And our accommodations were very comfortable. May I never forget how blessed and privileged we were to be able to take such a trip.

If you think these sincere words (and they are sincere) are the wind-up for a complaint, you’re right. Well, not so much a complaint as an observation.

The problem: The Internet service on board the ship was wholly abominable. Indescribably inadequate. And shockingly expensive. It took about ten minutes (and 3 dollars!) to sign in to gmail. Any site that required any bandwidth at all was blocked. And Skype? Are you kidding? One day, I spent five hours of my vacation, and $90, to do about 10 minutes’ work, to send a promised proposal to a client.

Reminder – I’m not whining. I realize how fortunate I am to have taken the trip at all. Now, I’ll continue.

And don’t, as did the “guest services agent” on the ship, give me this lame line: “But you’re on vacation. You shouldn’t be working!”

Earth to Royal Caribbean. As we point out in Rebooting Leadership, the lines between work and play, work and home, home and play, are forever blurred. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of opinion. The fact that it is as it is – is not.

We work in our “off-hours” (whatever those are), and, likewise, play at work. Don’t try to tell me you don’t.

Today’s work, indeed much of today’s life, is facilitated online. If you doubt that, try unplugging your home Internet (or if yours is like mine, wait until it goes down naturally; it won’t be a long wait), and turn off your smartphone. Count the number of things you start to do, before remembering that you can’t.

On the cruise, we were traveling in a group of 19 friends. Many are small business owners, like myself. Others have responsible jobs working for someone else. All of us are used to traveling, at home and abroad, and, have gotten used to being able to connect from pretty much anywhere – hotel rooms, airports, coffee shops, you name it. Call us spoiled, if you like. Overindulged perhaps. But you may definitely call us frustrated with the ship’s inability to provide a usable Internet connection. And to charge us stupid money for the frustration.

Royal Caribbean’s excuses (offered as if highly practiced) involved pointing out that we were at sea, that satellite communications are iffy at best, and that there were more than 3,000 people on the ship, many of whom were competing for limited bandwidth. All invalid. The technology exists to let passengers connect as easily as if they were in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

I’m pretty sure the problem persists for two reasons:

1) Royal Caribbean (and, to be fair, their competitors) don’t want to invest in making the technology work. They don’t believe Internet access on a cruise vacation is important enough to enough people to make the investment commercially advantageous. That’s shortsighted.

2) An old mindset curiously survives, and yet without nourishment from reality. A pipe, slippers, and brandy anachronism in which we commute into the office at the start of our “workday”, chain ourselves to a desk for a period of time, and then commute home. We’re generations past that. Many in the hospitality field are falling all over themselves to realize that, in order to compete. Not the cruise biz. Certainly not Royal Caribbean.

I relish my downtime. Had the Mariner of the Seas had Internet access that could be taken seriously, I would have had more of it on my vacation. For those 12 days, I could have connected, done my work, kept in touch, and taken care of business, in less than an hour a day. That would have been a small price to pay for 23 hours a day of vacation.

Here’s hoping that this summer, you have the chance to take a week or two, get away, and recharge. But I sure hope you’ve got better Internet access than I did!

Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by creating a great place to work. He and Bill are the authors of the acclaimed business classic Contented Cows Give Better Milk, and Contented Cows MOOve Faster, and the brand new book Rebooting Leadership. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

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- who has written 105 posts on Contented Cows.


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4 Comments so far

  1. Jo says:

    Amen, brother! I do love Royal Caribbean, but the internet access is dismal. It hasn’t mattered so much in past trips, since my work didn’t require me to have access at that particular time. However, it would just be nice to assure aging parents that all is well, if nothing else.

    I wonder if the access is any better on their new Oasis of the Seas — since it’s supposed to be cutting edge in all other areas. It would be interesting to know.

    I want to take a cruise with you and Christine sometime! I saw your pics and was GREEN with envy. I have always wanted to go back to Pompeii and see the more recent excavations. I’m so glad y’all had such a great trip to commemorate the anniversary of your connubial bliss! :-)

  2. Josh Adams says:

    Interesting that you should mention the Marriott Marquis Times Square: the only hotel I’ve ever been in that appears to actively defeat Verizon MiFis (to be fair, there’s a known issue with these devices in crowded WiFi environments so the defeating of the MiFis may not be deliberate on the part of the hotel). So yes, you CAN connect easily there–but only if you pay the hotel a big chunk of change for the privilege!

  3. Not Saying says:

    I work in the the internet at sea industry and can tell you that this is a common complaint that steams from a lack of understanding of the technology and cost Invovled. I’m not sure who provides RC with th satilite access but there pricing structure is similar to the company I work for that provides service to other major cruise lines. In short, you are right the bandwidth does exist via satilite to give users a faster experience, but the overhead cost for that bandwidth is much higher per day than the amount they currently use. Each line puchars the amount of bandiwth they want and then split that between their vessels, prioritizing one over the other with faster or similier speeds as they see fit. In short it is cost issue, guess already complain a out the cost of using the service and if the line was to pay for more bandiwth the prices would go up for guests. They are all quite happy with the current structre, allowing the poor onboard Internet rep to take the brunt of the complaints; internet speed is one of the most commmon complaints, the cruise line knows it, but they know the complaints won’t stop no matter what they do, the speeds are not always going to be eqauail, and it is true that coverage area around the world are not either. It’s not worth the companies time in some respects, as an overage ship might get a little over 300 to 400 users for a full ship of over 1,700. Its a minor thing to them because overall the majority of cruisers still don’t use it, and for those who do, it’s good enough in most circumstance. The reason all those applications are blocked is because of now much bandwidth they consume, it slows down the network for everyone else. It is the discretion of the cruise lines corporate office to block the applications. You do have to remember that satilite tech is not the same as fiber optics, and signal interface based on geographic position does happen, mast headings and direction of travel for the vessel can also affect coverages, as it depends on where you are in relation to the satilite being used.

    I hope this helps, you have to remember that just twelve years ago you could not do this on ships at all, its very new, and majorly expensive for the sat provider and the cruise line. Be a bit more understanding and do a bit more research befor complaining on the Internet.

  4. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and
    wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and
    I hope you write again soon!


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