Posted February 16th, 2016, 01:01 PM
"texting" means so many things in today's connected world.
Short Message Service (SMS) is part of the cellular communications standard which allows the 140 characters of text to be sent. Since SMS is part of the cellular system, it exists, is well used today and requires an active cellular connection to function. SMS is part of the constant communications/messaging back-and-forth from your phone and the cellular tower/system.
With "smartphones" the vendors have devised messaging services that are vendor specific such as Blackberry messenger (BBM) and Apple iMessage. These need a DATA connection to function which is either data over cellular or data over Wifi. These messaging services like Apple to Apple iMessage have additional advanced services in the app that cannot exists via SMS, such as the little “delivered” indicator, emoji, and voice memos. As an iPhone user, in iMessage, if the message shows up in a blue balloon then it's been delivered to you using DATA from a fellow Apple iMessage user, if it's in a green balloon then the message has been sent using SMS and/or is from a non-Apple iMessage user.
On land, your iPhone is connected to the cellular system which also has a data connection (e.g. 3G or LTE) AND you may be connected to WiFi (work or home or library, etc.). Your phone decides how to best use these connections and is in CONSTANT communications to the various systems so that the systems know how to best find you.
So to your question.
Your options (and a good AT&T customer service rep should be able to answer these questions as well):
- Use cellular-only which allows for phone calls & SMS messages and pay for the roaming charges as you noted. In iPhone, Settings >> Cellular >> and set roaming to “Voice Only”. This tells your phone that when roaming (e.g. on the boat) to shut off all data. This prevents background applications like Mail or Facebook from consuming data as data is shut off. Messages will come to your phone via SMS. I do this all the time when traveling out of the US.
- IF and only IF the only people texting you are iMessage users (blue balloon) then you have an option where you can shut off cellular and pay for the ships WiFi thereby creating your data connection to the world. Put your phone in Airplane mode and then turn on Wifi and connect to the ships Wifi at whatever price they are offering it. You won’t get phone calls and you won’t get SMS messages (no cellular) but iMessage will work. WARNING: Since your “smartphone” is stupid there is no way for it to understand that you’re paying money for Wifi and all the other background data using apps will be running (e.g. mail, facebook, yelp, whatever) and consuming data – every minute of every day. If the ship is offering Unlimited data then this is a non-issue – go enjoy your cruise and gobble the data.
If the Ship’s WiFi is per MB or some other data limiting charge, then you have to shut off background refresh or the background apps will consume all your data (Settings >> General >> Backgroud App Refresh), and you can do this per app or in whole (this is a good thing to do regardless, you’ll be amazed what’s happening in the background on your phone). Note that this does not do EVERTHING but it’s a start. iCloud is your next culprit and go in there and shut off those elements (for example, this could be a data killer if you icloud sync your photos and you take a bunch of pics on the boat). There are some things that just cannot be easily shut-off such as mail (especially if connected to a corporate email system) so your mileage may vary. It’s very difficult to shut off 100% of the background data usage other than shutting off Wifi (like when you are sleeping). Shutting off or disconnecting from WiFi obviously stops iMessage from functioning as well. This option has limitations and is complex and is not typically suggested if you're not comfortable with the workings of your phone.
- Put your phone in airplane mode and in the room safe and give out the ships number and room number as an emergency contact to your land-based friends and then tell them to email you with any non-urgent questions. Your cruise line will have their specific costs (and who burdens those costs) per call/per minute for the emergencies. Then when in a port, find a free WiFi location, say at a restaurant, and connect there, order a drink and an appetizer and let your phone sync for 20 minutes. You won’t get voice mails or SMS messages (no cellular) but you can read and respond to your emails which are ideally non-emergent. This is what we do on our cruises (especially with 2 teenagers who, by the first port of call, have the shakes from being disconnected).