Staying Connected at Sea

The MV Explorer utilizes the latest maritime technology and employs a full-time IT and AV staff to keep you connected during your world travels.

Onboard Wireless Network

The ship is equipped with a wireless network, which is accessible from most public areas.

Onboard Intranet Resources

The onboard Intranet is used as a place for storing and sharing resources of academic utility to the entire shipboard community.

Telephone Service

Cabins are equipped with phones that enable around the clock ship-to-shore calling (both receiving incoming calls and placing outgoing calls). A special phone card, available for purchase onboard, is required to make outgoing telephone calls. The phone card costs $20.00 and allows for approximately 13 minutes of calling to the US, the time varies dependent on the country called.

Mobile Phone Service

The Institute for Shipboard Education, through an agreement with Wireless Maritime Systems (WMS), offers an advanced roaming network onboard the MV Explorer, allowing participants to make and receive calls and text messages using their own mobile phone. To use the WMS mobile network, participants must enable international roaming with their cell phone provider. Rates are determined by the cell phone provider and typically start at $2.50 per minute.

Email Service and Internet Access

All SAS students, faculty, and staff are given a free voyage email account (text only, no attachments). A limited amount of free Internet time is allotted to participants (pending submission of required pre-voyage materials by the deadline); after it’s used up, additional minutes may be purchased on the ship. The internet plans are as follows:

Plan Cost Minutes* Data Limit*
Semester 1 $15 30 minutes 10 MB
Semester 2 $30 60 minutes 25 MB
Semester 3 $50 120 minutes 50 MB
Semester 4 $100 240 minutes 100 MB
Semester 5 $200 600 minutes 250 MB
Semester 6 $450 1500 minutes 500 MB

*Remember, the plans run on minutes and data transfer so it is whichever is used up first.

Communication to the Ship

Mail Service

Mail is delivered to the ship by the Port Agent and brought to the Reception/Purser’s desk. Ship crew sort the mail and affix cabin numbers and then the mail is delivered to each cabin by cabin stewards. Please note that mail received by the Port Agent after the MV Explorer leaves that port is not forwarded.

Port mailing addresses can be found on the webpage for each voyage under the Voyage Calendar section.

Telephone Service

Family members and friends can call the ship 24 hours a day by dialing a toll-free number: 877-266-0986. Telephone number outside the U.S.: 872-335-3265. When prompted, the caller should select Olympia Explorer as the ship. The caller will then be asked to provide a credit card that will be charged approximately $3.95 per minute. An attendant at the Reception/Purser’s desk will answer the call and connect the caller directly to the phone in the participant’s cabin (note: charges initiate as soon as the attendant answers the call).

Callers are asked to be patient as there will be times when the ship cannot be reached by phone, fax or e-mail due to heavy usage or unavailable satellite signal. If contact to the ship cannot be made in the event of an emergency, calls should be placed to ISE, which has a 24-hour phone answering service 800-854-0195.

Fax Service

Faxes can be sent from the ship as well as received. The Fax number of the ship is 954-538-6163 (this is a regular, U.S. based toll call for the caller). Fax accessibility will vary depending on the location of the ship. There is a $5 charge assessed to the participant’s shipboard account for each page faxed/received.

Emergency Notification System

Through the provider E2Campus, Semester at Sea offers an advanced Emergency Notification System that enables Semester at Sea to send notifications instantly via mobile phone text-messaging and/or via email. To participate, participants must register a mobile phone with international service on the MyPassport page.

Electronic Devices


E-textbooks are generally less expensive than printed textbooks (though not always!), and the students won’t have to worry about what to do with the books at the end of the voyage. They can either buy or lease e-textbooks. E-textbooks are not as heavy as paper textbooks, and one doesn’t have to figure out how to get rid of them at the end of the voyage. If any student wants to make notes in the e-textbooks, the Nook offers free software — the Nook Study – that will allow one to do that.

However, there are some drawbacks to e-textbooks. E-textbooks cannot be returned or sold. Some are more expensive than used print copies of the books.


While Kindles, Nooks, and iPads are handy for reading ebooks, you can also read ebooks on an iPod, an iPhone or other smartphone, or on a desktop, laptop, or netbook computer. Kindle, Nook, and Google all offer free software that you can load onto your Android, PC, and Mac devices which will allow you to read Kindle-, Nook-, and Google Reader-formatted books.

You might also download a free ebook management software called Calibre, which helps you keep track of your ebooks on your computer. There is Calibre software for Windows, OS X, Linux, and Portable drives. You will still need the ebook reader software to work with Calibre.

Web networks

The MV Explorer has wireless access in most of the public spaces, though access in some cabins is a problem. You can access the ship’s free intranet (files and functions that are located on servers on the ship) very quickly. For each course, there is a course folder on the intranet which holds electronic readings for that class. The library’s online catalog is available on the intranet. Other documents that require ship-wide access are also available on the intranet.

The ship also has access to the global internet, through its satellite connections. Internet access on the ship costs 35 cents a minute, and is usually slow, primarily because of the heavy load on the system (800+ students plus faculty and staff). However, the U.Va. Library has set up a system by which you will have free access to all of the licensed databases it has available so you can do your research for your courses.

Due to the limitations of shipboard Internet access, high-bandwidth sites such as Skype, Netflix, YouTube, Google Video, and online games are not permitted by the Satellite Internet Service Provider.  Not only that, but because of the slowness of the Internet connection, you would be dissatisfied with the way a streamed video would play.

Telephone networks

GSM and CDMA are the two major competing technologies used by telephone networks around the world. The initials are derived from their methods of transferring data. In the U.S., Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, and AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM technology. GSM is used more in Europe and Asia; in fact, GSM is used in three-quarters of global markets.

Once we leave the United States, no matter which device you use to make a telephone connection –standard cell phone, 3G or 4G, GSM or CDMA — if you are communicating with a talk and/or data plan, you will be charged international long distance rates. Here’s a useful article on “How to Avoid International Roaming Charges” from Frommer’s online.

When your smartphone checks the network to give you the correct time or to update your data apps, you will be charged international long distance rates for that call. Unless you put these devices into a mode where they will not seek a connection, they will be continuously checking the network and incurring these international long distance rates. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the phone actually connects to the network. Each time it attempts to connect, you will be charged for a call.

One way to solve this problem is to purchase SIM cards in each country. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for a reasonable amount, and will make your phone act like it is a local phone. Changing your SIM card won’t work on the ship, however. For more information on SIM cards, read “SIM Card Basics for Travelers,” also from Frommer’s.

Another solution is to turn off your phone or other remote device, or put it into “airplane mode.”


The iPad can be used on board the ship, but remember those expensive international long distance and data rates? Plus the cost of Internet minutes on the ship? Those costs apply here too. In addition, our experience has been that iPads have difficulty staying connected to the ship’s network due to timing out issues.  However, the new iPad iOS5 software allows tabbed browsing, which may help with the timing out issues.

Because the iPad accesses the web using a SIM card which has an American number, every call you make in a foreign country is an international call. You can approach this problem in two different ways. If you have an AT&T iPad, a GSM product, you can either get an international calling plan and a data plan that reduces your fees, or you can buy a prepaid local SIM card. The only trouble with the last option is that the iPad uses the micro SIM card, which may be hard to find.

The Verizon iPad will work wherever the local network uses CDMA. However, it has no SIM card, so it will not work on a GSM network, leaving you with the expensive international calling and data charges.


You can easily read documents you’ve already downloaded to your device.

How your Kindle accesses your Kindle account on Amazon depends on the model of your device. Some models use only Whispernet, some use 3G, some use Wi-Fi, or offer a combination of methods. Whispernet is only available in the United States. It is not available on board ship once we set sail, and it is not available anywhere else in the world. 3G is a telephone protocol that is available widely in Europe and Asia, but again, you will be paying international long distance telephone and data rates for the service outside the U.S.

You can also download documents by tethering your Kindle to your computer and downloading the documents through the computer. This will use your Internet minutes that you have purchased, so it is not free, and may be very slow. This may also mean that sharing Kindle ebooks will be possible, but not practical, since every time you go online you will be using Internet minutes.

For more information on using your Kindle overseas, try this link:

Amazon Overseas


You’ll be able to easily read all the books you’ve already downloaded to your device.

Note that the Nook has several models just like the Kindle. Most are Wi-Fi based but there are older models that still offer 3G services. If you have already registered your Nook – the Sprint network is required to register older versions of the device – you should be able to use your Nook on board the ship with no trouble. However, you will run into the same problems as with the Kindle if you wish to download books from the Barnes & Noble site; you’ll either be paying international long distance and data rates or using Internet minutes to download to your computer, then putting the ebooks on your Nook.