CRUISE: Zeebrugge; internet access on cruise ships

4 May

It’s a quiet day in the Dutch port of Zeebrugge, so I decided to get myself some internet access. It ain’t easy, because you need money on your cruise account to purchase web time, and the system does not operate on credit. So I paid the crew purser with a 10-Euro note to get myself some starting capital.

When you see documentaries about cruise ships you are often overwhelmed by panoramic sceneries, luxurious buffets, and high tech equipment. None of that is real, at least not for the regular crew. We spend most of our time inside, where we feed on low-quality meals, and utilize sub-standard equipment. And the myth that crew members spend half their spare time video-chatting with their family overseas – also inaccurate.

Zeebrugge, Netherlands

Zeebrugge is a pretty dutch town. Complete with funy roofing.

Firstly, it took me a week to receive internet access, because one needs a differently verified ID for just about anything one does aboard this ship. Thus, you walk some serious miles before you get anything done. Second, there are over one thousand crew members and more than four thousand passengers on this ship, and they all want to access the internet. Thus, the cruise company has to manage access to the limited bandwidth of this ship, lest everyone be waiting ten minutes to download one e-mail. But you cannot blame the Italians for being original, as ABC found a rather conventional solution to the problem; they ask huge amounts of money for access keys.

As crew member I can chose between “Social Network Package” and “No Time Limit”. The Social Package grants access only to Facebook, Twitter, and a few other social networks; for $30 per month. That’s OK, I guess. If you don’t want to check e-mails, browse the web, or watch videos. By the way, passengers pay more than twice that much.

“No Time Limit” allows you to do all the interwebs; limited only by the amount of data you stream. The prepaid packs allow you to use 100 MB for $10, 400 MB for $30, 1.6 GB for $90, and so on. Since I need to write and receive electronic messages, this is the plan I chose. How long my prepaid 100 MB will last remains to be seen.

Obviously I have a cunning backup plan to stretch the duration of my internet usage. I will use Free WiFi in port cities. Turns out all other crew members had that plan before me. Thus, in every port you see ABC crew members huddling in packs along the walls of cafés and tourist information centers; silently browsing, like a herd of cows trying to dispel the breath of winter with community warmth. It is a lovely sight – service personnel from around the globe travelling the most beautiful ports of the North Sea, only to slump against the walls of public buildings, and scramble for WiFi access.

A submarine in the port of Zeebrugge, Netherlands

After less than two weeks aboard the initial magic of working as a cruise photographer has been sunk. Just like this submarine in the port of Zeebrugge, Netherlands

Here is another urban myth dispelled – cruise crew don’t spend two hours a day holding video chats with their extended family back home. We simply don’t have sufficient credits to spend that much time online. The situation has a positive side, I guess – the loss of free internet access gives me more time to focus on improving photography and sales tactics. Just what I always wanted!


PS.: I still went out to see Zeebrugge. Here are some pretty pictures.

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