Cruise Ship Retirement 101Cruise Ship Retirement 101

Traveling when you retire is a common trope. Everyone wants to fit all those trips they couldn’t afford or make time for in their younger years into their retirement life. Some seniors take this a step further by shifting to an all-travel all-the-time lifestyle by buying a mobile home or, in a less traditional move that’s getting some online attention, retiring on a cruise ship.

How Cruise Ship Retirement Works

Cruise ship retirement is far from a common trend amongst seniors, but a few retirees have taken the plunge and gained attention for choosing a retirement lifestyle that sounds like a fantasy. There’s not one way for cruise ship retirement to work, but the common gist is that a senior chooses to sell most of their earthbound property and belongings and turn the money they’ve made toward the cost of spending their remaining days on a cruise ship.

In most of the cases that have been covered in the press, the senior chose a particular cruise ship to stick with and rented out a cabin for the long term. A senior could potentially aim to switch things up and plan to move from cruise ship to cruise ship for some extra variety, but that plan would require a good amount of planning, scheduling, and result in higher costs.

Either way, if you love the sea, are reasonably healthy, and can afford the costs, cruise ship retirement could be an option for your retirement years.

Examples of Cruise Ship Retirement

The whole idea of retiring to a cruise ship mostly came onto the scene through the stories of a couple of individuals who have done it. As some of the first people to explore the option of cruise ship retirement, neither had any clear models to follow. They simply saw a path that would allow them to consistently do what they love and took it.

Lee Wachtstetter

Lee Wachtstetter has been sailing on the Crystal Serenity for about seven years. She’d loved cruises for years, going on 89 of them with her husband during their 50 years together. When her husband passed, she sold their home and used the proceeds to take up permanent residence on a luxury liner.

While all those earlier trips with her husband were exciting opportunities to see new places, now that she’s been living on the cruise ship for a while she rarely even bothers to get off when the ship ports in order to see places she’s already seen several times by now. At this point, the appeal is more in the amenities and activities on board, especially the dancing. She keeps in touch with her family via Skype and has developed friendships with many of the crewmembers. She estimates her annual cost is about $164,000 per year total – including things like meals, gratuity, and activities, as well as the cost of the cabin.

Beatrice Muller

Beatrice Muller spent years at sea living on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship. Like Lee, she came to love cruise ships after trips with her husband and went on regular cruises with him until he passed on one of their trips in 1999. Soon after she decided to go on board as a full-time resident and stayed there until the ship was retired in 2008. She was the ship’s only full-time resident for the years she spent living there.  Her accommodations cost her about 3,500 pounds (it was a British liner) a month, a reduced cost based on her frequent floater points.

Ships that Offer Full-Time Cruise Ship Living

While Lee and Beatrice were outliers – they attracted press coverage specifically because what they were doing was so far out of the norm – a couple of companies have responded to the interest many people clearly have in living full time on a cruise ship.

The World

The World offers “residences at sea” in the largest private residential ship on the planet.  The ship includes 165 residences that include studios, one bedrooms, two bedrooms, and three bedrooms. The residents that own one of the spaces on the ship all also have part ownership in the ship itself, so by buying a room you’re also buying the ability to weigh in on where the ship goes and when.

The World is a luxury ship with spaces ranging in cost from $1 million to $13 million, so ownership is only an option for those who are especially wealthy. But the ship travels all around the world offering endless variety and the amenities are as luxurious as the price suggests.

Soon to Come?

The World has the distinction of being up-and-running, while many ships devoted to ongoing cruise ship living are still in the planning stages. The Australian company Cruise Ship Retirement (www.cruiseshipretirement.com) promises affordable adventures and destinations soon-to-come and The Marquette (www.rivercitiescondos.com) sells condos on a ship that will continually travel the major rivers of the continental US. Alive at Sea (www.aliveatsea.com) specifically aims to offer independent and assisted living options for seniors on their ship once they set sail.

While not on the waters yet, these businesses make it clear that entrepreneurs and investors are starting to realize that many seniors have an interest in living at sea in their retirement years. If they’re successful, you can expect more opportunities to become available in the years to come.

How Much Does it Cost to Live on a Cruise Ship?

The ships gearing up to specifically offer retirement living on board could turn out to be more affordable than the current options, but to live on board a cruise ship the way Lee and Beatrice did, you’d have to have some pretty solid savings to start with.

Both women sold their homes to help fund their time on the liners and lived on the same cruise liner consistently, meaning they could take advantage of frequent traveler awards. One of the reasons their stories got so much attention is that people doing the math could eagerly proclaim their costs to be “cheaper than a nursing home!” That’s an enticing claim, but one that ignores the fact that seniors don’t default to living in a nursing home after retirement, they only move into one when they can no longer care for themselves without regular medical professionals on hand to help – an amenity that cruise ships don’t currently offer.

That said, the costs aren’t too far off from what some higher-end independent living communities charge, so seniors that haven’t yet reached the point where they need the level of care provided in assisted living or nursing homes may find that comparison more apt.

What to Consider if Cruise Ship Retirement Sounds Good to You

A lot of practical concerns can get lost in the fantasy of wanting to live out your final days on a cruise ship. Before you sell all your belongings and go all in, take some time to consider the tradeoffs.

  • Are you physically up for it? Cruise ships aren’t designed to take care of people with extensive health care needs. If you’ll need regular trips to the doctor or a lot of day-to-day care, then a cruise ship doesn’t really make sense.
  • Can you afford it – even if you end up needing assisted living or nursing home care later? Before you do the calculations to figure out how many years on a cruise ship selling your home will buy, remember that there may well come a day when you’ll have to spend whatever money you have left on assisted living or nursing home care. Even if the cruise ship staff grows to love you, they won’t happily step into the roles that senior care professionals in assisted living homes play when that day comes.
  • Will you be able to get health care covered by your insurance while on your travels? If you’re going to be in and out of different ports, can you consistently reach hospitals and physicians that are covered by your insurance plan? If you need care on the boat itself, will the ship doctor be covered by your plan?
  • Are you ok with having a rotating community of acquaintances, rather than a solid community of close friends? Being on a cruise ship would mean meeting lots of new people all the time, but not making many long-term connections. Senior loneliness can have some very real negative consequences and loneliness doesn’t only occur when you’re spending all your time solitary. Are you confident you can be happy without a consistent community around you?
  • If you stay on the same ship, you’ll be visiting the same places over and over again. At a certain point, the “travel” part of the equation won’t really be novel anymore. A ship like The World will take you to new places all the time (but cost much more), but a traditional cruise ship will have consistent routes that take you to the same spots repeatedly.
  • Can you stay healthy? You know the drill. With age, what you eat and how much exercise you get becomes more important every year to help ward off the diseases and health issues that seniors are at greater risk of. Cruise ship food isn’t exactly known for being the healthiest around, although many ships do have a gym on board to help with the exercise part.
  • Where will you go during maintenance? Cruise ships don’t endlessly run throughout the year. At some point they’ll have to stop, unload everyone, and devote a period of time to maintenance. What will you do then? Head to a hotel? Stay with friends?
  • Are you willing to give up most of your possessions? Cruise ship rooms are not typically known for spaciousness (and certainly not the more affordable ones). They’re already furnished so you can’t bring your favorite recliner and there’s not a lot of space for your stuff. You can sell it all to help fund your trip, but are you ready to give most of the items you own up?

Maybe nothing on that list struck you as a deterrent and you’re like the few who have come before who can imagine no better fate than spending your golden years on a cruise ship. If anything gave you pause, it might be time to re-think the dream.  In any case, with more cruise ship retirement options likely to come on the scene in the future, you can always reconsider the option later.

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Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and lifelong student with an ongoing curiousity to learn and explore new things. She turns that interest to researching and exploring subjects helpful to seniors and their families for SeniorAdvisor.com.

4 Comments

  1. Sandy VT March 3, 2016 Reply

    “The World” is so exclusive you must have a minimum of $10 million in assets before you would even be considered for purchasing a residence. You can will the residence to your family or sell it. But it is a very wealthy clientele they deal with. My husband and I looked into this but too rich for us.

  2. Jacqueline Kilsdonk April 8, 2017 Reply

    Wow! I think that alternative is much better than what I have here! Unfortunately, l have no property to sell, l just have my pension!
    Is there anything like that?
    Jacqueline Kilsdonk

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