We also have Verizon and were able to make cell phone calls from most ports (even Icy Strait Point), and even from certain spots while cruising. In many places the phone could not get a digital signal and changed to analog mode, but the calls still went through.
There have been varied experiences. Do a search and you might get some more information. Keep in mind that the vast majority is what someone "heard" about vs. actually experienced. Don't forget that Canada is Intl and rates are high.
I live in Juneau for part of the year. I have the Verizon 50 state plan. The cell phone companies in Alaska have had poor customer service in the past. I get good service in Juneau. I can also use it in Icy Strait, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Prince Rupert BC, Port McNeill, Cambbell River and Nanaimo.
Verizon sent me a note a couple months ago telling me to dial #228 I think, and it would help my pnone work. I did that in Juneau and it really helped. I don't rememberf the number to dial, you should contact Verizon and ask them. I have had several people in Juneau tell me they did this and it helped.
You should also remember that the peole getting off the ships and turning on their cell phones can overwhelm the local system. As many as 10,000 cell phones can be added to the load in just a few hours.
I've worked in Ketchikan during the last 4 seasons. My Verizon phone does work in Ketchikan so long as I am fairly close to the water and there is no major hill (over 2000 feet) between my phone and Juneau. I had to have a Tri-mode phone - and had to change to a local 'single-rate' plan.
Some friends had AT&T (now Cingular) that worked, but I suspect they had some special arrangement also with their phone provider.
All of Alaska has cell phone service provided by Alaska Communications Systgem (ACS) - and the 'lower 48' phone providers have to contract with them for service.
Seems like everyone has verizon. We are getting our Cingular/ATT phones today and I made sure he checked on the computer map and I saw the coverage area in skagway, ketchikan and juneau. They are not Cingular or verizon towers but are some other local company that cingular is partenered up with to use them. Also jahing a tri-mode phone helps.
I have Cingular and last July when we were on the Diamond, I didn't have any trouble using my phone. There were a few places where the signal wasn't that strong, but you could still make calls. Beware if you try to use your phone in Victoria, B.C. the phone might not show that it is roaming, but you will get charged like you are. I think one couple of minute call cost me $6.00.
We have Verizon and would not use the phone just to gab, but would like to check in on our daughter who will have a new baby by then. We have the "America's Choice" plan (or something like that). The plan includes free Verizon-to-Verizon calls. Does anyone know if these promotional features are applicable when you're away from the lower 48?
No, you do not pay International rates for Alaska as we are not a separate country. AT&T Wireless was sold to Cellular one here before Cingular bought the rest of AT&T Wireless. Boatluvr was mistaken when he said that ACS owned all the wireless. AT&T built the first system here followed by a joint system by ATU (now part of ACS) and MTA.
I'm back from my AK trip now. We weren't able to get a normal Verizon service anywhere. By normal, I mean where it says "Verizon wireless" as the carrier. There were several places where we got an "Extended Service" message for the carrier identification. I think this means roaming and that we could have used it for a higher charge, and maybe a connection fee. Possibly someone else can describe the costs associated with using Extended Service. We didn't have an emergency so we just waited until Seattle to make our normal "checking in" calls to friends and family.
I did see a clerk (presumably a local) trying to use her cell phone in Ketchican. She had Verizon as her carrier and said that sometimes it works and sometimes not. Her's wasn't working then and neither was ours.
I recently dumped Sprint for Verizon. Sprint was terrible here in San Diego, so I would be surprised if it works in Alaska. It may roam to another carrier. I will seeJuly 30th if my new Verizon service works.