WiFi access on cruises has led to shrinking of Internet cafes

WiFi access on cruises has led to shrinking of Internet cafes

In a trend that appears to
foretell an end to Internet cafes at
sea, cruise lines are increasingly shrinking the footprint of their publicly
accessible computer areas as onboard WiFi improves and more passengers bring
their own mobile devices.

Once the cutting edge of electronic sophistication,
computer stations are now seeing less demand, so cruise lines are cutting back
on them and redeploying the space.

For Azamara Club Cruises, that meant replacing the
Internet cafe on the Azamara Journey with two spa suites during a recent
renovation.

“People are traveling now with their tablets and
phones,” said Ryszard Gusmann, hotel director for the 690-passenger ship. “We
didn’t need 12 computer stations any longer.”

Azamara cut back to two stations, which were relocated
to a public room in another part of the ship. A crew member staffs the area
during certain hours to provide advice.

New ships are also being designed with less space for
computer stations. The Carnival Vista, coming in May from Carnival Cruise Line,
will offer 10 stations, down from 28 on the Carnival Breeze, which entered
service in 2012.

“I’d say it’s accurate to mention that guests are
bringing their own devices as [the reason] there’s less of a need for these
stations,” said Gaby Gonzalez, the line’s vice president of guest technology
and photo operations.

After a ship renovation last year, the Internet cafe
on the Carnival Miracle was moved from the ship’s library and has now become an
Internet hot spot on Deck 2, close to the coffee shop, where passengers will
find four laptop stations.

When Regent Seven Seas Cruises launches its $450
million Seven Seas Explorer in July, there will be only four computer stations,
spokesman Jason Lasecki said.

That compares with 17 stations on the 13-year-old
Seven Seas Voyager, 14 on the Seven Seas Mariner and nine on the Seven Seas
Navigator.

“After dry dock, we will reduce the number of stations
on the Seven Seas Navigator to four, as well,” Lasecki said.

One reason cruise lines can cut back on dedicated
terminals is that the WiFi coverage on many ships has improved in recent years.
There are fewer dead spots, and guests can consistently use their phones or
tablets in their cabins.

Increasingly, what few terminals the cruise lines
provide are not located in dedicated rooms but stashed in nooks and crannies or
along corridors.

In its day, the onboard Internet cafe offered rows of
hardwired terminals.

When Norwegian Cruise Line announced the first
Internet cafe aboard the Norwegian Sky in 1999, it trumpeted, “Guests can send
and receive email messages, check the stock market, get news updates, play
computer games and more.”

The then-novel idea proved so popular that within four
months, Norwegian had boosted the initial number of stations from nine to 14.

It also expanded the cafes to five other vessels.

Today, the Sky is Norwegian’s oldest ship, and it has
four public computer terminals.

Yet even with the surge in personal mobile devices,
public terminals remain popular for one reason, Azamara’s Gusmann said: On the
last day of the cruise, passengers will flock there for online check-ins for
their flights home and to print airline boarding passes on the ship’s printers.

Gusmann said he makes sure that passengers get the
extra help they need and makes it a priority to have enough crew members
staffed there to make the process smooth and efficient.

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