Ham Radio Aboard the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship

As a new ham (got my Technician and General last February), I am excited to try out all areas of amateur radio. Being eighteen years old, I’m also willing to schlep my rig wherever I can. This past week, I went on an Alaskan cruise with Disney Cruise Lines and I decided to try HF while on the Disney Wonder.

I began investigating cruise ship operation via Google, where I found mixed reports of success. It seems a lot of cruise lines don’t allow ham radio use onboard. I found a story from one ham who had success with Disney, so I started by simply sending an email to Disney Cruise Lines. I wrote:

I am a licensed amateur radio operator and I was wondering if I am allowed to operate my radio while I am on my cruise this summer in Alaska. I have heard other people have gotten permission in the past to do this, I would really appreciate the opportunity to. Thank you for your time!

A day or two later, I got a response stating that “Ham Radios may be brought onboard; however, there is no guarantee that they will function.” A little vague, the reply was enough to make me to continue on in my ventures.

Disney’s ships are registered in the Bahamas so I needed a reciprocal license to operate. Of course, I did all of this research way too late. However, I emailed the Utilities Regulation & Competition Authority, which is the responsible party for amateur radio in the Bahamas. To my surprise, they were extremely helpful and said while it using takes nearly a month, if I scanned and emailed the necessary forms, a copy of my passport ID page, a copy of my FCC license, and pay the $35 fee via credit card, I would get approved in time. Still a little unsure, I proceeded.

I still needed permission from the master of the ship, and I thought it would be impossible to prior to the cruise. I decided to write a nice letter and send it to the Disney Cruise offices in Florida as well as the port in Seattle where the cruise left from. On both, I simply addressed it to the “Disney Wonder Captain.”

I was pleased to receive a nice reply from the Florida offices on an official letterhead stating it was no problem as long as I did not cause any interference. About a week later, I received an email from the captain’s assistant stating Captain Thord Haugen “enjoyed reading my letter and has no problem with you operating your radio onboard.”

Now I was really excited! My license officially came via email the day before I left. I packed up my Yaesu FT450D, MFJ manual tuner (thanks to N8PZD, Clark for lending it to me!), and a 15m, 20m, and 40m Hamstick. Once onboard, I set up, mounted the Hamstick on my veranda and grounded it to the ship’s hull. Stupidly, I didn’t take any photos of my setup, but it was pretty simple. I fired up the rig and made a QSO as we left Seattle.

However, that is where my HF experience ended. I turned off the rig, came back later and found my radio wasn’t working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything else on HF. Right now, my rig is on its way back to Yaesu for a warranty claim. All wasn’t lost as I brought my FT60R too and listened to all the port operations. I also worked 2 meters FM in various ports including Skagway, Alaska where the mountain repeater system got me to Whitehorse, Canada (about 100 miles).

In the end, it was quite an experience – both Alaska itself and ham radio. While I was really disappointed my rig died after all the pre-cruise work, I hope some others can benefit from my experience. Plus, I’m sure I’ll try it on another cruise in the future. It was pretty cool to be able to say “Maritime Mobile aboard the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship off the coast of Alaska” and I would recommend at least investigating if you are going on a cruise. I’ve heard Holland America has a written policy allowing ham radios, and they are probably your best bet if looking for a “ham radio cruise.” If you have any questions, feel free to email me.  73!

Tony, KD8RTT

Tony Milluzzi, KD8RTT, is a special contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Ohio, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

10 Responses to “Ham Radio Aboard the Disney Wonder Cruise Ship”

  • Ulis K3LU:

    Outstanding story Tony! Good to read you are not discouraged from trying again. I look forward to hearing you /mm one day!

    73 de K3LU

  • Bob K0NR:

    Tony,
    Great job. I think you were rather fortunate on how this played out. Any step along the way, someone could have easily taken the “safe approach” and said no to your request.

    73, Bob K0NR

  • k8gu:

    Great story, Tony! I made that trip (on a different cruise line) when I was 18 also, but did not have the guts to bring ham gear along (aside from an HT that I didn’t make much use of). I hope your FT-450 is alright!

  • Tim B. N1TCB:

    I think you did everything the right way.
    You asked, did not demand!!
    And the $35 to to gov helped a lot I am sure.

    Hope your rig is OK

  • Ray Richardson WB5JJA:

    Tony, Thank you for the story. Too bad you had trouble with the radio.
    I am sure it will work better next time.

    Thanks

    Ray WB5JJA

  • Chris Meisenzahl (K9ROC):

    Fantastic story! Will email you tomorrow with some questions. 😉

  • K4CLM:

    Tony, unfortunatly my experience with The Disney Dream was not as successful. We booked a cruise to Nassau and Castaway Cay. I spoke with Guest Services when booking the cruise, inquiring about using my HT to work satelites while docked and on Castaway Cay. I was told as you were that there was no problem, just give Guest Services onboard a copy of my FCC and Bahamas licenses. I did not however contact the Captain. Once onboard I presented my paperwork to Guest Services with my request and a detailed description of what I planned to do and when (I had included a copy of the passes of AO 27 and SO 50). One hour later I got a call to return to Guest Services. The Captain had refused my request. I then spoke with the Technical officer after asking why my request was rejected. The technical officer and I went over what I planned to do, he then said he had no problem with it. He stated that he would still have to speak with the Captain about it. The Captain again refused based on the assumption I would cause interference with the crews handheld radios. I then asked for a written explaination for my records. I was told it would be placed on my door shortly. 5 days later I still didn’t have one after making four additional requests. The ship uses 457.6000MHz, 457.5375MHz,and 457.5750MHz according the Cruise Ship and Maritime frequences data base, just updated July 10,2012 which I relayed to the Technical officer. My frequency use was to be 145.850 only. I have requested that Disney corporate communications division make an inquiry and again send me something in writing. I will post what I receive from Disney. I’m asking for the proper procedure to follow when making a radio use request on other Disney ships.
    All that aside, the cruise was great! The ships staff and crew were super to work with (well, with one exception!). Captain Guus is, however, a master Captain. His docking and undocking skills are beyond compare!

  • W8MIT:

    I took my Icom IC7000 and a mag mounted Screwdriver on the first eastbound Transatlantic on the Magic 2007. I followed the same path detailed in the original story except for writing to the captain. I had an approval letter from the head office that asked me to simply ask the courtesy desk to clear it with the radio operator and a phone call later I was able to setup all over the ship. One caution. When inside the territorial waters of some nation make sure you have reciprocal privileges first.

    Some photos are at the tinypic links below. (they are safe to click)

    http://i59.tinypic.com/fy3ck4.jpg
    http://i61.tinypic.com/sl2qok.jpg
    http://i60.tinypic.com/28kj28h.jpg
    http://i57.tinypic.com/2eo8ab8.jpg
    http://i60.tinypic.com/n5o379.jpg

  • Brian KK6RSU:

    Not the best experience last week.
    Disney Cruise Line Customer Service denied my request to use a portable handheld on the ship. Unfortunately their response was a bit tardy and I did not receive it prior to leaving for the cruise. Their response stated my radio would not be permitted due to interference with navigational equipment and would be confiscated if found.
    Due to the tardy response, I did still take the radio, although I did not use it on the ship. I exited and boarded the ship at each port, and although carrying it openly on my backpack, security never mentioned having an issue with it, nor did they confiscate it.

    KK6RSU

  • John KA4RXP:

    Holland America Lines has the only unequivocal policy allowing Ham Radio operation aboard its ships. I have made 14 uneventful cruises with them using a Yaseu 897 and a mag mounted Hamstick or Screwdriver antenna. The ships are registered in Holland and a reciprocal license is not needed. You must sign PA/your call however. You almost have to book a balcony to be able to operate when at sea. Except for the current list of automatic reciprocal licensing, it is better to stay in international waters for transmitting.
    I have heard that Princess and Carnival may allow operation by guests from their cabin. It is probably only feasible if you have an unobstructed balcony cabin since trundling your gear onto a rear deck is a bit of a chore.
    John KA4RXP

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