Anyone planning a cruise these days quickly learns that major lines such as Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have their own smartphone apps to help passengers navigate their floating cities and discover onboard entertainment, spa services and ports of call. And for most travelers, that’s more than enough information.
But should you wish to immerse yourself in cruise culture, there are a handful of apps that allow you to virtually explore dozens of lines and hundreds of ships, stay on budget, even identify the tropical fish swimming below you and the constellations in the dark sky above. Some of the apps don’t even require an Internet connection, so you can play and learn without having to pay for onboard Wi-Fi.
Below, a guide to the most useful digital tools for a bon voyage.
▪ Cruise Ship Mate. A cruise countdown on this app encourages you to track the days, even hours, until you set sail and, if you want to brag, post it to Facebook or Pinterest. While anticipating your trip, you can see where in the world your ship is docked using the “ship location” feature and view snapshots from live webcams onboard, tips and details about excursions and shopping. The app, which highlights more than 300 ships on over a dozen lines, also allows you to check out your ship’s features, chat with other passengers, read reviews of the rooms and food (and get advice about what to do) and see photos from ships and ports by fellow cruise-lovers. And if you decide to use the app at sea, you won’t get socked with roaming charges: It works without an Internet connection. Free; available for iOS and Android. Information: Shipmateapp.com.
▪ Cruise Finder. This one’s mainly for helping you determine which cruise is best for you. You can search by destination, departure port or date. You can also browse itineraries, ship details, photos of staterooms and deck plans for more than 30 cruise lines. You’ll also find driving directions to various ports. (Because the app is owned by a division of WMPH Vacations, a company in Florida that specializes in cruises and resort vacations, there’s also a section on deals.) Free; available for iOS and Android. Information: Wmphvacations.com.
▪ Cruise.com. Like others, this app offers ship information and deals, but if you’re a novice passenger you may appreciate the “prepare for your cruise” section with frequently asked questions about issues including boarding procedures and visitor policies, as well as suggested packing lists. But for comparing ships, learning about cruise etiquette and procedures, and checking prices, it’s far easier to simply visit websites like the Cruise.com site, CruiseCritic.com (a good place to find reviews and get up to speed about the nuts and bolts of cruising) and Cruising.org (an industry website). Free; available for iOS and Android. Information: Cruise.com.
▪ Fishes: Greater Caribbean. Whether stretching out on a lounge chair or sinking into a hot tub on your Caribbean cruise, this app allows you to simultaneously learn a thing or two about what’s happening in the sea below. The app, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, helps you identify about 1,600 species of fish, thanks to some 5,500 colorful photos. The app works without the Internet. Free; available for iOS. Information: Available at Itunes.apple.com/us.
▪ Star Walk. Once downloaded onto your iPad or smartphone, this popular augmented-reality app allows you to tilt your device toward the sky and see in real-time which stars, satellites and constellations you’re looking at. You can find out the names of stars and other celestial objects simply by tapping on the screen. You can also search for certain objects. And a sharing button allows you to snap a screen shot of the sky (as seen through the app) and post it to Facebook and Twitter, send it to someone as an email or save it to your camera roll. $2.99 for most devices; available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone. Information: Vitotechnology.com/star-walk.html.
▪ Cruise Card Control. Budget-minded travelers may want to check out this basic app that helps you track how much you’re spending on everything that’s not included in the cost of the cruise, such as certain drinks, casino games and excursions. You can create a personalized budget with custom onboard categories (such as “spa” and “photos”) to keep tabs on what you’re spending along the way. And it’s nice to know that the app itself won’t bust your budget with roaming fees: It works without a cellular connection. $2.99; available for iOS. Information: Cruisecardcontrol.com.
▪ Signal — Private Messenger. A number of apps allow you to send text messages free. But recently, Signal by Open Whisper Systems, which allows users to send group, text, picture and video messages without SMS and MMS fees or long-distance phone charges, has had leading technology magazines and websites buzzing because the app was upgraded. Now it will also encrypt your conversations and messages. It’s easy to use, thanks to a simple, clean interface. And there are no fees (the app is supported by developers, donations and grants) and none of the annoying advertisements typically found on free apps. Free; available for iOS. Information: Whispersystems.org/blog/the-new-signal.