Ask Harriet: WiFi on River Ships—iPad or iPhone?

Making the leap to “smart” devices is something travelers ask me about a lot. This month’s question from Florence and Robert Myers, who are considering traveling on another river cruise soon, is about whether to upgrade their cell phones or get an iPad.

Q: Do you think we should invest in an iPad or iPhone? We don't have either and think it's time to step into the present. For our next trip next summer, I want to have either an iPad or iPhone. Which do you have or which do you prefer? All the GCT ships seem to have given up on available computers and gone to WiFi. Basically, I just want to receive and send emails home. Thanks for any suggestions.

—Florence & Robert Myers, 12-time travelers, Hudson, Florida

A. Hi Florence,

While your ultimate decision on iPhone versus iPad is a personal preference, I think it depends on what you’re looking at both long- and short-term and how much you want to spend. (Please note that our Rhine, Main, and Danube river ships have wireless Internet access, though during certain portions of cruising time, access may be limited. The same holds true for our Seine, Rhine, and Elbe ships.)

Upgrading your cell phone plan from a standard device to an iPhone will be a significant cost over the span of a year. You also have to check with your carrier for specific costs about using an iPhone overseas, as most domestic plans don’t cover calls outside of the continental U.S. I’ve heard that some carriers have an option to charge merely per text message sent if you wanted to ask, but it’s still a relatively new option.

If you choose an iPad, you would only have to pay the standard annual wireless Internet fee, which if you’re comparing costs side by side, would be significantly less than the monthly cell charge. You also have your choice of the original standard size, or the mini iPad, which will be easier to pack. Besides saving on charges for international phone calls, you can also stay in touch with loved ones by participating in FaceTime and Skype video chats. Plus, an iPad doubles as an e-reader, so you’d save some space—and weight—in your carry-on.

Both the iPad and iPhone are easy to bring through airport security at home and abroad, as security officers are well-acquainted with these popular electronics (for scanning, they should be put in separate bins from your shoes, coats, keys, etc.). I also suggest keeping an electronic copy of your Travel Handbook as backup when you're away from home, and having a “smart” device is also a great way to have guidebooks for multiple countries and maps without having to reach into a backpack all day. (Please note, links for Travel Handbooks are available when you access the main Internet page for the trips you’re interested in, and scrolling down the lefthand side of the page—see the blue “What to Know” link.)

Since you say you’re merely looking to send only emails when traveling, I would suggest an iPad. But both devices have great cameras, so you should be set all there no matter which you choose to capture those fantastic vacation memories! And remember to pack a voltage adaptor to recharge your new “toy” on your river ship.

Do you have questions about what to bring on one of our River Cruises? Share them with me at