Home >> Cruise Fiascos >> Our Carnival cruise ended with a shocking roaming charge! Can you help?

Our Carnival cruise ended with a shocking roaming charge! Can you help?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Cesar Resendiz and his wife thought a Carnival cruise would be the perfect way to celebrate their anniversary. What they didn’t think about was putting their mobile phones in airplane mode during their ten days onboard the ship. That oversight led to a shocking $2,349 roaming charge they discovered only after disembarking from Carnival’s Venezia.  

Resendiz believes the bill must be a mistake.  After all, he and his wife only used their cell phones during the cruise when connected to the ship’s Wi-Fi. But their mobile service provider, Spectrum, says the roaming charge is valid. The couple must pay their account balance in three weeks, or their devices will be disconnected. 

Now, with all their pleasant anniversary cruise memories overshadowed by the supersized cell phone bill, the couple is looking for help. They hope Consumer Rescue can convince Spectrum that this unusual roaming charge is an error and should be removed.

But Spectrum’s cut-off date is quickly approaching. Will our team be able to rescue these consumers from their roaming charge cruise fiasco in time?

Taking a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean to celebrate

Last fall, the couple was contemplating how to celebrate their upcoming anniversary. They liked the idea of taking a cruise and as New Yorkers, Carnival Cruise Line’s sailings out of Manhattan were especially appealing. 

The couple chose a ten-night cruise on Carnival’s newly refurbished Venezia. Advertised by the cruise line as “Fun, Italian style,” the ship would whisk the couple away from the chilly northeast winter to warm tropical islands.

Carnival Cruise Line's Venezia would take the couple on this itinerary, cruise itinerary, Caribbean cruise
Carnival Cruise Line’s Venezia would take the anniversary couple from Manhattan to the Caribbean and back. Unfortunately, also aboard the ship would be their cell phones, accruing giant roaming charges throughout the entire cruise.

In March, Resendiz and his wife excitedly headed to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, ready to board Venezia. It was a cold and dreary day. But it made no difference to the couple. They would soon be poolside with the warm Caribbean sun shining down on them. 

“We were so looking forward to this cruise,” Resendiz recalled. “Ten days of relaxing with great weather and no worries.” 

The couple boarded the ship and the cruise was everything the couple hoped it would be. But their worries would begin almost as soon as they disembarked in Manhattan. There was a terrible surprise waiting for them when they checked their email. A message from Spectrum alerted the couple that their cell phone bill would be significantly elevated that month.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It said we owed $2,349!” Resendiz told me. “We didn’t even use our phones for most of the month since we were on the cruise. I knew the message had to be a mistake.”

But the message wasn’t a mistake. The $2,349 represented the roaming charges the couple had accrued during their Carnival cruise. 

Why Airplane Mode is essential during a cruise

When you take a cruise, the nearest cell phone tower can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from you. One thing you definitely want to avoid is your cell phone connecting to one of those towers if you don’t have an international data plan. 

What many travelers fail to realize is that if your phone is turned on – even if you aren’t using it – it will constantly be sending data requests. If an international cell tower responds to those requests, you will begin accruing roaming charges – often astronomical roaming charges.

The only way to be certain that you do not connect to any international cell towers is by putting your phone in Airplane Mode. Airplane Mode makes it possible for you to safely use your device via WiFi without any chance of it connecting to a cell tower. 

Although Resendiz wasn’t aware of it, their mobile phones had been connecting to the nearest international cell tower throughout the cruise. Over the course of ten days they had connected to multiple international cell phone towers.  And because Spectrum doesn’t have a calling plan that covers its customers in international waters, every time the couple’s phones connected to a cell tower it was expensive – very expensive.

Two steps to avoid a surprise roaming charge after a cruise 

Like other travelers who have pleaded with our team for help after getting hit with astonishing roaming charges, this was all new information to Resendiz. 

“I never knew about the importance of Airplane Mode,” he told me. “We were connected to WiFi, so I assumed we were safe. I didn’t know that our phones could be communicating with cell towers if we were on the ship’s WiFi.”

Fact: If your cell phone isn’t in Airplane Mode and it has international roaming abilities, it will attempt to connect to local cell towers. Travelers should never assume they are being protected from international roaming charges simply because they’re connected to WiFi. 

There is a two step process to make certain you can use your device on WiFi while eliminating the possibility of international roaming charges:

  • Put the device in Airplane Mode 
  • Connect to a WiFi network

On an iPhone, you can easily put your phone in Airplane Mode by going to Settings. Airplane Mode should be the top option. 

Airplane mode illustration, Airplane mode on the iPhone, Switching iPhone to Airplane mode will prevent roaming charges on your Carnival cruise
Switching your iPhone to Airplane Mode before you board a cruise is essential to preventing unwanted roaming charges.

Once your phone is in Airplane Mode you should see a little airplane icon in the top right-hand corner.  Then switch WiFi on and connect to that network. Make sure the airplane icon is still showing after you connect and for the duration of your cruise.

The Airplane mode icon shows in the upper right corner of the iPhone screen.
Throughout your cruise, always make certain the Airplane Mode icon is showing at the top of your iPhone’s screen.

For Android phones and other devices, the process is similar. Go to your settings and find the Airplane Mode option.

Can Consumer Rescue help?

After Spectrum repeatedly confirmed to Resendiz that he was responsible for paying the roaming charges, he began searching for help. Spectrum refused to even give him a payment plan and he was desperate. 

Then he found an article I had written recently about another Spectrum customer. In that case, the traveler had been slammed with a $6,079 roaming charge! Resendiz was encouraged by the outcome in that case. He hoped our consumer advocacy team might be able to rescue him too. 

I’m desperate! We didn’t know, but we also didn’t use the phone during the cruise – we were connected to Carnival’s WiFi. Spectrum should make it more clear that roaming charges are possible even if a customer doesn’t use the phone or is on WiFi. I would be so grateful if you could help us, too!


Spectrum changed its roaming charge policy after this Carnival cruise

When I read through Resendiz’s plea for assistance, it was like deja vu. Since the end of last year, we’ve received an increasing number of similar complaints from consumers blindsided by sky-high roaming charges. The majority of these travelers have been Spectrum customers and specifically cruise ship passengers and travelers to the Maldives. 

Spectrum had noticed the same pattern in their complaint files. By the time I received Resendiz’s request for assistance, I knew that Spectrum had already made a major policy change to protect its customers from surprise roaming charges. 

After April 24, 2024, Spectrum customers will be unable to connect to any international cell towers on cruise ships, on airplanes, and in specific regions of the world that are known to have exorbitant data rates.

Spectrum Roaming Charges blocked on cruise ships as of April 24, 2024, new Spectrum policy
This new policy will make it impossible for Spectrum customers to accidentally connect to international cell towers during a cruise.

This policy change came a little over a month too late for Resendiz and his wife. But I hoped our executive contact at Spectrum and his team might reconsider its stance on the couple’s request. 

Asking Spectrum for reconsideration 

Hi ***,

I have one more Spectrum customer here (Cesar Resendiz, *********) who got blindsided by a $2,349 cell phone bill during a Carnival cruise. He also had no idea that he needed to put his phone in airplane mode — and never received an alert until after the cruise was over.  

Would your team be able to have a look at this and see how he was able to accrue such a bill while his phone was connected to the WiFi on the ship?  

This cruise happened at the end of March. I assume these types of complaints will stop now that Spectrum has systems in place now to prevent its customers from accruing roaming charges on cruise ships (and other places with sky-high data rates).

This couple is desperate to have this bill erased. That was their anniversary cruise and this caused a terrible dark cloud over the event. It would be great if we could fix this mistake for them.

Thank you for having a look!😊📱  

Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer advocate

Good news from Spectrum: the roaming charge is forgiven

Much to the relief of the anniversary couple, Spectrum grandfathered them into the new policy and removed the roaming charge from their account. 

Resendiz, who by now had all but given up on having the charge removed, was over the moon.

WOW!!!! That is amazing news!!!! We are thrilled and appreciate your help🥲 You are amazing and the work Consumer Rescue does is inspiring. We are so grateful!!!!!

Cesar Resendiz

The team at Consumer Rescue is pleased that  we could help and happy to know that now the most significant memory of this couple’s anniversary cruise won’t be an alert to pay a surprise $2,349 roaming charge. 

The bottom line

Keep this couple’s cautionary tale in mind the next time you’re on a cruise ship.  While you’re enjoying dinner with your innocent looking mobile phone on the table in front of you, it could be silently communicating with a cell tower hundreds of miles away. 

That possibility can easily be avoided by always switching your device to Airplane Mode long before you enter international waters. If you don’t,  you might accrue your own shocking roaming charge — and end up as the subject of a future “consumer rescue. 🛟  (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.