Will Bloggers Crash Cruise Ship Internet?

Cruise blogger John Heald, cruise director on the Carnival Freedom, had a great idea: a cruise for bloggers. (The Freedom will sail from Miami on January 19, 2008, stop at Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel,Mexico, returning to Miami on January 26.) We wonder if Heald knows what he’s in for. Does he have a clue as to what even a few hundred heavy Internet users will do to the ship’s connection? The Freedom has WiFi throughout the ship according to its specs, but we’re wondering more about the available bandwidth. Ships rely on satellite connectivity while at sea (and oddly, even while in port in our limited experience), and these connections are rarely noted for their bandwidth or consistency.

Our last cruise ship Internet experience wasn’t spectacular. On board the Golden Princess late last year (also part of the Carnival corporate family), we found that connectivity was available only in the ship’s computer cluster and via WiFi in a small lounge area. (Reportedly, Carnival was scheduled to install ship-wide WiFi on all ships by the end of 2006; I guess we were too early, or that didn’t apply to Princess.) I was a daily user, and encountered many of the same hardy user group in the Atrium lounge each day. The connection quality ranged from really slow on a good day to completely unusable on a couple of days. It was expensive, too, being billed on an time-used basis. Super slow speeds and high per-minute charges aren’t a great combination.

To add insult to injury, Princess cruisers with five or more cruises get “free Internet” as a perk – for some bizarre reason, though, the “free” part only applied if you were using one of the ship’s computers. Any power user will bring a laptop, and thus even some of the long-time cruisers ended up paying the high hourly rates.

Back to the Bloggers Cruise – it seems likely that a few hundred (or potentially many hundreds if the idea takes off) of web-savvy bloggers all firing up their laptops at once might stress the Freedom’s connectivity in a way that it hasn’t been in the past. (We’ve seen this happen at land-based hotels the first time they host a webaster conference, though now laptops are so pervasive among business travelers that a webmaster surge is probably only a modest increase over normal. A cruise ship is a different story, though.)

Carnival needs to take steps to ensure great connectivity on this cruise – imagine the negative PR for the cruise line if hundreds of bloggers return to Miami frustrated and angry, ready to hit the first WiFi hotspot they find to complain about slow, costly, or unreliable Internet on the cruise that was designed for them. Waiving Internet charges on that trip would help matters too, and responding quickly to tech issues will be essential.

Enough pessimism – good luck to the Bloggers Cruise and those Web pundits brave enough to unplug their broadband cable for a week in the sun!

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