Our Ship, Your Office: Cruise lines keep cruisers connected

Cruise lines keep cruisers connected

March 15, 2 p.m., Caribbean Sea — Clad in a purple swimsuit, broad-rimmed hat and polarized sunglasses, Raelyn Lucklow is enjoying yet another sunny day at sea. One of 700 passengers on Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Mariner, the Dana Point, California, resident appears totally at ease. But something is amiss. Instead of reaching for sunscreen or a tropical cocktail, Lucklow reaches for her laptop. “If I knew the ship didn’t have internet, I wouldn’t go,” says the design consultant for Preserved Treescapes International. “I can only take time off if I can continue to work through my computer. There’s no one who can take my place. There’s no one who does what I do. So if I’m down for a week it’s basically horrible.”

Catering to customers like Lucklow, cruise lines are promising total connectivity through on-board internet cafes, shipwide WiFi and the ability to use a cell phone at sea. “The thought of being cut off is just overwhelming for some people,” says Mimi Weisband, of Crystal Cruises, which last fall upgraded its fleet to offer the “fastest internet at sea.”

“People can bring their blackberries and other internet enabled devices, even their iPhones now and use all sorts of services,” says Nancy Brumfield, chief marketing officer for technology provider Seamobile. “We like to say that we provide the ability to be in the middle of nowhere and in the center of everything.”

Cruise lines say that keeping guests connected has even spawned an unlikely breed of passenger: young professionals doing longer cruises. “Our oldest world cruise customer is 97, but we are seeing a growing number of younger people who can manage their lives at sea via the internet,” says Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Conroy says his company is the single largest consumer of bandwidth in the world cruise market.

“It’s a fact that’s been reiterated over the last two or three years: the number of business people that wouldn’t be able to come away on vacation if they didn’t have the ability to be contactable and to keep an eye on their stocks and their companies while they are away,” says Theresa Luft, computer instructor on Regent Seven Seas Mariner.

Luft says her most extreme example was a guest who had set up a webcam overlooking his shop floor. “He would come in every day and check on the web cam to make sure his factory was still running,” Luft says. “That’s a little extreme by most people’s standards.”

And while some would balk at the idea of working while on vacation, others argue that the ability to manage the office from afar has a distinct advantage: “It allows me to take more vacation time,” says Dennis Gabrick, a fellow passenger on Seven Seas Mariner. “Nobody knows if I am in the office or on the deck of a cruise ship. It’s approaching the point where your office can be anywhere” — even in the middle of nowhere.

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