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Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Board the Carnival Victory: The Search for Cheap Internet Access

Before we embarked on the cruise, we went around putting notices on Facebook and Twitter that we will be incognito for 8 days, because we had heard that internet on the cruise is pretty expensive.

A few days later, one of my primary school friends remarked that we can't seem to stay offline, and that if SHE were traveling, she would have really been quite unreachable.

Ah well, she didn't have an email interview with the Straits Times to look forward to. We did!

But honestly speaking, we really did have a hard time staying offline, so every port of call we made, we made it with our laptops in our backpacks.

Here are some details that may be useful to others who may eventually take the same cruise as we did!

In Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas
Our quest for internet connection in the ports of call instead of on board the ship started really well. Once we disembarked, we went through the shophouses that encircle the dock and went to the main road. Right across the main road was a standalone building called The Fiesta.

Searching for signal...

The Fiesta does most of its business as a place for Filipinos to buy phone cards and call home. It's secondary business is that of a cafe. For those who bring in their own laptops, you can get unlimited WiFi at USD 2 each. Just bring your laptop to the shop owner to key in the password, and you're set!

In Roseau, Dominica
Like St Thomas, Dominica seems to have sprung a small town to support the appetites of cruise tourists. Just stroll into Roseau, along the waterfront, and you have a few choices of internet cafes.

We had first gone into the coffee chain Rituals Coffee, because the waitress said that there was free internet as long as you buy some food or a drink. Though we were already stuffed from the buffets on the ship, we did need a drink, so we accepted the offer. Unfortunately, it was only after we had paid for the drink that the waitress said that they had run out of passwords for their internet. A guy comes to their shop every day with new randomly generated passwords, but he was sick today, she said. Ah well.

You can surf on their icky computer and play pool on their aged tables, but we didn't

We went on to a cafe next door and got our WiFi for at USD 4 for the price of one password, half day use.

In Bridgetown, Barbados
The dock at Bridgetown is pretty far removed from the town. You could either use an internet station at the dock for USD 5 per half hour, but we decided to head into town. A taxi ride to town costs USD 2 per person, per way.

But what we found when we reached town was pretty horrible. There were shops selling gold, clothes, toys (those masak-masak kind) but not a single shop that offered internet services! Shocking. We walked along 2 or 3 streets, going into some of their malls (which was really a building with a long narrow corridor and shops on both sides, mostly closed) but to no avail.

We were just about to give up when we saw this innocous sign at a traffic junction, saying 'Internet Access'. We went right to the sign, and looked up and down, left and right and all around, but did not see any internet cafes or anything. Strange.

Ah well, I whipped out my iPod to see if there was a network available, and voila! There it was!

We almost expected to find a Wireless@BD SSID...

We both quickly checked our emails and facebook accounts while standing right at the corner. But it was not satisfying enough. Besides, I was all primed to post a blog entry on that day too, and did not want to lose my muse.

Stepping back, I studied the building carefully, just like a good Jedi. Then, I noticed something that we missed before. In one of the ground level shops, there was a stairway tucked to the side, with some signs that indicated that other shops were available upstairs! Whoo hoo!

We scooted upstairs and found the shop offering WiFi services, only to be quoted USD 2 per 10 minutes. WTF?!?!

Mumbling and grumbling, we decided to risk a trip to the Dark Side. We hid on the stairs next to the shop and continued using their unsecured network. DuH.

Don't disturb. I'm telling the world about traveling in the USA

It wasn't the most comfortable of places, though. Dirty as a stairs would be, with people walking up and down periodically. But I did finish my blog entry on that day, so all's good.

The cruisers after us might wish to consider taking a taxi to the beach instead, where there -may- be internet cafes. Just don't bother going into town!

In Castries, St Lucia
With the aforementioned email interviews and follow-up questions cleared in Dominica and Barbados, we told ourselves that we would only go online at St Lucia for awhile, just to clear mails - nothing heavy.

We had to take a water taxi to town across from where the Carnival Victory was berthed. Walked through the so-called Visitor's Centre and we found a small yellow building across the street, with a shop named The Business Centre.

Internet rates were USD 2 per half hour. That's alright, we told ourselves. We should be done by then! So we agreed. Next thing we knew, with all the emails, comments to reply, Facebooking and for me, MyBruting, one hour was up!

Ended up paying USD 8 for the use of internet. Can you see how our costs just escalate? :p

In St John's, Antigua
We were greeted by a welcome sign the moment we got off the gangway onto the dock at St John's.

Mai tu liao!

We followed the arrow (lead us to slave traders we also dunno) and came to a bar. Okay, great! We picked a table and plonked our stuff into a chair, prepared to order a drink so as to be 'allowed' to go online.

But I guess that the bartender really doesn't take well to stinginess. He gruffly told us that the tables were for customers who were ordering food. Those who were only ordering drinks had to go to the bar, under his watchful eye. Fine, we went, and maybe just out of spite (the Dark Side is seductive), decided to order one drink to share instead of two.

Too bad her laptop can't be charged up with a megawatt smile

But, like I said, stinginess is probably not appreciated here. When the wife wanted to plug in her laptop to the power socket, the bartender told her that our purchases do not qualify us to use his electricity! Bleah.

Since my laptop battery was still going strong, I let the wife use my laptop when I was done. A preview of the disaster to follow, perhaps?

In Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis
We got off the ship at Basseterre and went under the archway that identified Port Zante. I guess there were many more cruisers who were familiar with the place, because all along the sides of the walls, we could see people on laptops, some even plugged in for electricity!

Disdaining to sit in such a musty, dusty place, we decided to take a walk around town first to see if there were any other options. After all, we have already whet our appetites for free internet...

There is a tour company simply named 'The Tour Shop" right outside Port Zante, that offers internet on its premises. I think it was around USD 6 per half hour, but again, on an unsecured network. With nowhere to hide and secretly go online, we quickly just checked our mails on our iPhone/iPod and moved on.

Just beyond the main throughfare, we found a restaurant that offered free internet as long as you purchase something. Again, fair enough. We bought a couple of drinks and conch fritters and settled down to make our presences felt by our friends in Singapore and elsewhere again.

I was halfway through this post when the connection dropped completely. It's a good thing that there were a couple of other unsecured networks nearby that I could use!

Argh! I lost the network!

Unfortunately, we can't remember the name of the restaurant, but the directions are pretty simple. At the eleven o'clock direction from Port Zante, there is a circus (in the USA, they call it a rotary) called, well, The Circus. The restaurant is at the one o'clock point of the circus. It's a small entrance, and you need to head up to the second floor to find the restaurants and bar proper.

And... that's it! Our budget guide to good internet services while you are on the Carnival Victory! Of course, the opportunity cost is that sometimes, you end up missing some of the sights that others are going for, but with the costs of these shore excursions, I think we were quite happy.

In total, we spent less than USD 30 going online during this cruise. Considering that the Carnival Victory charges USD 0.40 to USD 0.75 per minute, depending on the plan you sign up for (don't forget that internet on the ship is via satellite, and is very slow!), I think we did pretty great!

Oh, and this entry is also the last of the 'On Board the Carnival Victory' series. Next post, new destination!


WeLoveRoy said...

America...Land of the free... and the not so free Wi-fi!

But seriously guys.. I really enjoy reading your blog and all but you guys gotta start enjoying your holiday and not just blogging about it all the time!

Can tell from your last few blog entries (all the pit stops for your cruise and nothing about the places that you stopped at) that its about the boat and internet access...

Dannie said...

Haha... actually, other than St Thomas (which is either US Virgin Islands or British Virgin Islands territory, we can't tell which!), all the other stops are different nations in their own right.

We did enjoy ourselves on the cruise, just that the shore excursions were a little too expensive for us. Too bad :(

I guess you'll see more of us enjoying our holiday in the next few entries, when it's easier and cheaper to move around!

Yi Lin said...

Wait a minute, I thought I DID do an entry about the places we stopped at! Er, you know - all the beaches and towns...

About the holidaying bit - that´s where I beg to differ. I did mention before that a long trip like that isn´t a typical holiday, where you only have 1-2 weeks to see all the tourist attractions. Travel has become part of our everyday life. And just like life back home, there are days when you just want to stay indoors and watch a DVD or read a book or surf the net.

It´s kinda like if you took leave for 2 weeks and went to Orchard Rd and Sentosa every single day, you would get burned out. On some days, we are enjoy doing some of the normal things we do back home, but in a different setting.

And because we´re covering so many places over this 1 year, it´s simply not possible to go all out and do everything that a single destination offers. And there´s no need to. Like, there isn´t a need to see a waterfall in Dominica, just because it´s in Dominica, esp since we plan to see nicer ones in S.America.

Come to think of it, I don´t think we were genuinely interested in many of the shore excursions offered. Like trips to the banana plantation, or sugar cane plantation. Maybe because coming from Asia, such things aren´t new to us and we´ve seen stuff like this in Malaysia or Thailand? Haha, hope I didn´t burst anybody´s romantic vision of the Caribbean there!

Tan Wee Cheng said...

Great blog - love your great stories and blogs. It certainly isn't easy blogging while on the road. I was in the Caribbean a week ago but it was easier for me as I wasn't on the boat and had more time on-shore. You must be heading for South America after this. Look forward to reading about your adventures there.

Check out SG's largest independent travellers group: www.sgtravelcafe.com Come join us for our monthly gathering when u are in town. Check out my own site/blog at http://weecheng.com and http://twcnomad.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Hey hey fantastic duo!

You ARE featured in The Straits Times LIFE!!! Page C5...cool pic of Yilin n lit' of Dannie... nevertheless, you guys are great! Time to solicit $sponsorship$...keke...joking. Great that you hv overcome the numerous "IT" obstacles :) keep it up folks..your blog is truly amazing.

Yah Yilin, thanks for the tip on aloe vera..real cool stuff.


心魔 said...

"Nicer ones in S.America..." - so will you be checking out Angel Falls? -IF- accessible?

(It's XH here, btw) :)

Yi Lin said...

Hi Wee Cheng,

We checked out your blog - your travels look amazing! And such interesting stories too - definitely more adventurous than ours! Thanks for putting us on your Twitter update :P

Steph - Yeah, we're really excited about our blog being featured in the papers back home! Hopefully some sponsorships will come through. Thanks for reading and remember, it's not just any aloe vera gel for that sunburn.. it's Forever Living Aloe Gelly!

XH - Yes, Angel Falls, maybe early next year, if the Venezuela govt issues us a visa without too much problem and cost. The embassy in US refused to help cos we're not US citizens and told us to go back to Spore (which doesn't have a V embassy) or Indonesia to get it!

Tan Wee Cheng said...

I have just spent 2 weeks in Venezuela - June 09. Venezuela has an embassy in SG - very friendly staff here. Got an one-year multiple entry visa within 3 days. Definitely visiting.

Yi Lin said...

Wee Cheng, that's good to know! Thanks for the info. We will def look to you for tips on the places you've been to!

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