How fast is the internet on the new Virgin Voyages cruise ship Scarlet Lady? We put it to the test
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Looking for a cruise ship with internet service fast enough to let you do video calls with your friends back home and maybe watch a Netflix movie or two?
As I found in recent days during a series of speed tests, the internet on Scarlet Lady is adequately fast to allow for video calls without hiccups and video content streaming.
Just don’t expect to be able to do bandwidth-hogging activities such as gaming. While reasonably fast by cruise ship standards, the internet service of Scarlet Lady remains far slower than what you’re probably used to at home.
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I put Scarlet Lady’s internet service to the test as it sailed on its maiden voyage from Miami — a four-night itinerary to the Bahamas that included stops in Nassau and Bimini. The ship will sail year-round out of Miami through at least April 2023.
The 2,770-passenger vessel is one of the newest cruise ships at sea, and — as I’ll explain below — that’s a factor in the internet speeds it’s able to offer.
How internet works on cruise ships
I’ll get to the results of my speed tests on Scarlet Lady in a moment. But first, for those of you who haven’t cruised before, here’s a little primer on internet on ships.
Unlike at resorts on land, the internet on cruise ships is often quite expensive — more than $20 a day on some lines. You could easily spend upwards of $100 a week on cruise ship internet just to connect with one device. You’ll often pay even more if you want to have multiple devices online at the same time.
Internet on cruise ships also generally is much more sluggish than what you’ve experienced on land. On many cruise vessels, you’ll be lucky to get download speeds of 5 megabits per second (Mbps). Where I live in North Carolina, by contrast, the local cable company’s least-expensive internet package promises download speeds of 200 Mbps.
Cruise lines really are doing their best to deliver fast, affordable internet just like you’d find at home. And they’ve made great strides in recent years.
But delivering fast, inexpensive internet to people on ships that are on the move in the open ocean is neither easy nor inexpensive. Remember, there are no high-speed cable lines connecting to moving cruise ships. When you’re getting internet on a cruise ship, you’re getting it via a very expensive satellite system that’s designed to be compatible with a moving target like a cruise ship.
Virgin Voyages internet service at a glance
Virgin Voyages offers two levels of internet service on Scarlet Lady:
- Basic is a relatively slow service designed for general internet browsing, checking email, messaging and posting on social media that does not support streaming.
- Premium Voyage is a faster service that’s billed as fast enough to stream movies and music and do many of the other things you would normally do on the internet.
No matter which one of the two levels of service you choose, you’ll find that the internet is “always on” on your device while you’re on board. You don’t have to log on and log off every time you want to use it. There also are no complex passwords to remember to get online.
Note that Virgin Voyages’ internet service not only works on Scarlet Lady but also at The Beach Club at Bimini, the line’s private beach destination in the Bahamas. Every Virgin Voyages sailing out of Miami makes a stop at Bimini for a day at the beach club.
The internet service also will work on more than one of your devices at the same time, something that is not always the case on cruise ships. I only paid a single, one-time fee for the faster Premium Voyage service, but I was able to be online simultaneously on both my laptop and my iPhone. On some ships, you can only be logged onto the internet from one device at a time.
What does Virgin Voyages’ internet service cost?
In a notable twist, the Basic internet service on Scarlet Lady is entirely free.
That’s right; you won’t pay a single cent to surf the web or check your emails while sailing on the ship.
This is unusual in the cruise industry, where internet access often comes with an enormous daily charge. On a recent sailing that I did with Celebrity Cruises, top-speed internet service came with a sky-high cost of $34.99 per day for a single device. That worked out to $244.93 for a week-long voyage.
Virgin Voyages is one of just a handful of cruise lines — mostly very high-end cruise lines — that include internet access for free as part of an all-inclusive or nearly-all-inclusive fare structure.
While the starting fares for Virgin Voyages sailings are relatively high as compared to the starting fares at such lines as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, the line is notably including the cost of not just basic shipboard Wi-Fi but also gratuities, wellness classes and access to all shipboard restaurants in its base fares.
But note that only the Basic internet service is included in Virgin Voyages fares. If you want to have access to relatively fast internet — and we’re guessing you do — you’ll have to pay extra.
To line’s faster Premium Voyage internet service comes with a $50 upcharge for a four-night cruise, although you can get it for just $40 if you book it on the first day of the voyage (see the screenshot above of the landing page you’ll see when you log on for the first time).
There also is an option to buy the faster Premium Voyage service for just a single day, at the cost of $15.
How fast is Virgin Voyages’ internet service?
While on board Scarlet Lady, I signed up for the faster of Virgin Voyages’ two internet options, the Premium Voyage service, so that’s the only one I was able to test.
I ran speed tests of the Premium Voyage service many times during the sailing, at different hours of the day, using the website speedtest.net both on my laptop and on an iPhone 13 Pro. What I found was that the service usually offered download speeds of between 3 Mbps and 8 Mbps. The upload speeds at any given moment typically were around the same amount as the download speeds or even higher, which surprised me. During a recent test of the internet on a Royal Caribbean ship in the Caribbean, the upload speeds only were about half of the download speeds.
Here’s a speed test I conducted at about 5 p.m. on Oct. 7 when Scarlet Lady was docked at Nassau, which is on the Bahamian island of New Providence. It recorded download speeds of 3.13 Mbps and upload speeds of 3.19 Mbps. At the time, I was sitting near the swirling staircase at the center of the ship’s two main interior public decks.
Below is another speed test I did the next morning when Scarlet Lady was docked at the island of Bimini.
As you can see, both the download and upload speeds for the internet on Scarlet Lady at this point (down at 3.79 Mbps; up at 5.23 Mbps). were a tad higher than they were when the ship was docked in Nassau. But it wasn’t a huge difference. I conducted this speed test while in my cabin, a windowless “inside” cabin on deck 13.
One thing that I found while doing the speed testing was that I routinely got a better speed when using my iPhone 13 Pro than when on my laptop. On my iPhone, I regularly recorded download speeds in the 6 Mbps to 8Mbps range, although I did see the downland speed on my iPhone dip as low as 3.81 Mbps at times.
In comparison to internet speeds at resorts on land, the internet speeds that I measured on Scarlet Lady may seem notably slow. But I found Scarlet Lady’s internet fast enough to do almost everything that I wanted to do with it.
I was able to work fine in TPG’s many cloud-based systems without noticeable slowness, including our publishing system, where I loaded up dozens of 2 MB to 4 MB photos without trouble to accompany multiple stories posted from the ship.
I also was able to stream podcasts and television shows at night in my cabin. But the television show streaming wasn’t always smooth. I experienced repeated freezing of the screen for 10 to 20 seconds while playing an episode of “Bosch” one night from my Amazon Prime account.
In theory, the ship has enough bandwith to allow for such streaming. Amazon Prime says the recommended minimum speed to stream standard definition content is 1 Mbps. Amazon Prime recommends 5 Mbps for high-definition streaming.
Factors affecting internet speed
Internet service on cruise ships is generally faster on newer vessels, and Scarlet Lady is one of the newest ships sailing on the world’s oceans. Newer ships have been wired from the beginning with higher-speed internet in mind.
Internet speed on cruise ships also can be affected by where the ships are located at any given time, and also by the weather — both factors that can affect the connection to satellites.
Scarlet Lady, the first cruise ship from Virgin Voyages, may not offer internet that is as fast as you get on land. But for a cruise vessel, it boasts reasonably solid internet service — assuming you pay the upcharge to get the line’s faster Premium Voyage service.
Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:
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- A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
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- 15 ways cruisers waste money
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Featured photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages.
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