Over the course of our European trip, we relied on our iPad, Kindle Fire, Galaxy smartphones, camera batteries, electric shaver, and backup batteries to carry out basic functions that kept us plugged into our information and communication. Because T-Mobile is our wireless provider, we had relatively inexpensive phone coverage in port in Europe (we have not gotten a bill yet so I may withhold judgment on that sales pitch). We had a voice line and messaging, maybe e-mail as well, but quality varied from country to country If we were sailing close shore, we might pick up the available wireless carriers.
On board, the options were less than optimal. Ships use a satellite-based communication service (Imarsat). For passengers it is a throwback to the days of America On Line and Compuserv: NCL charges by the minute for use of Wi-Fi, Internet access and phone. They did have WiFi from stem to stern, but you paid for the Internet access. At Kasadasi, we skipped the excusion so that we could spend the afternoon in Internet cafes and Starbucks using the free or inexpensive WiFi and Internet access. We had several loose ends in our travel plans that had to be locked down ASAP to allow us to enjoy the vacation.
But the real problem was recharging all our devices. While on the cruise, it was easy to go ashore for sight-seeing and return to recharge our batteries, using both European and US electrical outlets in the cabin. Before the trip, I had purchased one travel universal adapter and surge protector, but that was not enough. In Spain, I bought a phone charger with European plug., which helped. When we struck out on our own and did not have the convenience of European and US outlets, it was more complicated. All US-style plugs were useless. In France, I bought another adapter/surge protector, which also came with a USB outlet, the equivalent of having another European plug. When we were able to stream electrical current to four devices, the routine became manageable.
But an additional problem turned out to be getting reliable USB cables. I’d find out that a phone or device did not charge at all overnight so I had to troubleshoot the problem. Two cables wore out quickly from rough treatment while traveling. I had left a zipped packing bag that had extra USB cables at home so I was already under-equipped. In Barcelona, I bought two USB cables that did not function (what do you sell a customer you know will never come back?).
I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to check on charging and switch out devices. At each port, I looked for a convenient electronics store or wireless service center. Sometimes, it was just a question of not having enough time to stop at a store without being left behind by the guide group. Other times, I could not bring myself to buy at jacked-up prices for tourists. Finally in Paris, I got a new USB cable, plus the adapter/surge protector.
Now I understand the TV commercial showing travelers huddle around power outlets in airport terminals, trying to recharge their phones, tablets and laptops. It’s similar to being a smoker, having to plan your life around when and where you can find an appropriate place to light up and feed your habit. Our addiction to connection and information is what shaped a lot of our planning in Europe.