By Dave Hughes, RetireFabulously.com
A lot of people, both retirees and those who are still working, enjoy vacationing on cruise ships. I have taken ten cruises that have carried me to Europe (four times), the southern Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, Tahiti, South America, and New Zealand/Australia. I have enjoyed them all immensely, especially the last three.
Recently, I saw a meme on Facebook about a woman who eschewed living in a retirement home in favor of living permanently on a cruise ship. When asked by the unidentified author, she claimed that living on the cruise ship was cheaper than living in a nursing home. The author went on to enumerate ten benefits to retirement on a cruise ship.
Of course, this meme had me scurrying to Snopes.com, where I expected to find this urban legend thoroughly exposed and debunked. In fact, some of the claims made in this story are inaccurate or entirely false. But I was surprised to learn that there really are people who live almost full-time on cruise ships for years at a time (and I’m talking about paying customers, not the ship’s crew).
Lorraine Arzt travelled with Princess Cruises for over 5,000 days, travelling ten months out of every year for over 14 years, until her passing in 2014. Ms. Arzt was given the honor of christening the Royal Princess, an honor usually reserved for dignitaries.
Lee Wachtstetter, 86, has spent nearly seven years living aboard the Crystal Serenity ship, at a cost of $164,000 a year. She keeps in touch with her children and grandchildren via her laptop, and visits them whenever the ship docks in Miami. She sold her land-based home in order to afford her cruise ship lifestyle.
Bea Muller lived permanently aboard the Queen Elizabeth II from 2000 until the ship was retired in November, 2008, at a cost of about $5,000 per month.
Mario Salcedo has completed over 500 cruises over a period of 13 years, mostly on Royal Caribbean ships. He maintains a condo in Miami, which he visits to exchange laundry and take care of business every time the ship docks in Miami between cruises. Mr. Salcedo isn’t retired yet; he runs a portfolio management business that he can tend to while he’s ashore during the ship’s turnaround days or run from the ship if needed.
While these die-hard permanent cruisers consistently say they love their lifestyle, clearly this mode of living is not for everyone. Here are twelve reality checks to consider if you are entertaining any thoughts of calling a cruise ship “home” during your retirement.
- Cost comparisons between cruise ships and nursing homes are faulty.
Cruise ships do not provide the level of care required for assisted living or nursing homes. You should compare the cost of living on a cruise ship to the cost of living independently, whether that’s your current home, a home in 55+ active retirement community, or an apartment in a continuing care retirement community (such as Fountaingrove Lodge) before additional expenses for assisted care or nursing care kick in.
- You can only do this if you’re healthy.
Medical care on cruise ships is expensive, and is only designed to deal with minor illnesses or injuries, not on-going care. If you incur a serious illness or injury, you will be hospitalized in the next port. If you require helicopter evacuation, that’s extremely expensive. If you contract a contagious illness, you’ll be quarantined in your room or kicked off the ship. It may be difficult to receive refills of medications you take regularly.
- Your health insurance may not cover cruise ship medical care.
Check with your carrier, but you will probably need to purchase travel insurance.
- You won’t have any real long-term friends.
You will probably meet nice people on board during every cruise, but you won’t see them again after the end of that cruise. Everyone you meet will be a short-term acquaintance. The ship’s staff will be nice to you, but that’s what they are paid to do.
- The costs you see on cruise ship web sites are only a portion of what you actually pay.
On most cruise ships, you pay extra for alcoholic beverages and sodas. Internet service, which is a lifeline for most permanent cruisers, is very expensive. Similarly, cell phone roaming charges will mount quickly. Some lower-end cruise lines may offer free self-serve washers and dryers, but most cruise ships charge for laundry service.Keep in mind that quoted prices are for double occupancy; if you’re single, there’s a hefty surcharge. None of the super-cruisers above mentioned that they got a special deal from the cruise line for their continuous patronage. Since the majority of cruise customers are seniors, it’s not advantageous for the cruise lines to offer senior discounts unless upcoming cruises are undersold.
- Cruise ship rooms are small.
Standard rooms are usually about 170 square feet. Bathrooms are compact, and storage space is limited. You will be able to take very few personal possessions other than clothes with you. If you’re going to live on a cruise ship, you may prefer a larger room with a balcony, but of course those cost more.
- You’ll need to plan for interruptions in service.
All ships occasionally go into dry dock for maintenance. Your ship may also book charters, in which the entire ship is leased for a private tour. During these charter sailings, you’ll need to find somewhere else to stay. If the charter does not begin and end in the same port, you’ll need to travel to another city to rejoin your ship – or switch to a different ship.
- After the first few times you visit a port, it may lose its appeal.
Lee Wachtstetter, mentioned above, rarely bothers going ashore because she’s most likely already been to any given port several times. She enjoys the quiet times on the ship when everybody else goes ashore.
- If you stay on the same ship, you will probably travel in the same part of the world.
Ships occasionally move to different parts of the world (usually as the seasons change), but they spend a lot of time repeating the same itineraries with only minor variations. Some cruise lines do offer world cruises that take three to six months. These cruises allow you to form somewhat longer relationships with people you meet – or you could be stuck with the same annoying people for longer.
- Most cruise ships have dress codes.
Most ships have formal dinners on some nights, and they expect passengers to wear upscale casual attire at dinner and during the evenings on the other nights. This may or may not fit your style. Personally, I’m not a fan of dressing up – and certainly not every day.
- You’ll probably gain weight.
Cruise ship food is delicious, but it’s not diet food. It’s readily available and plentiful throughout the ship. Once the novelty of cruising has worn off and you settle into a daily routine, you may be willing to forego the filet mignon in favor of a salad and skip dessert. But that takes will power, and studies have shown that if there is food right in front of us, we’ll eat it whether we’re hungry or not.
- You’ll probably get tired of the entertainment.
Cruise ship entertainers are talented, but how many times will you want to watch the same Broadway show tune revues? How many times will you want to hear the same comedian’s jokes or listen to the same piano bar crooner? How much time and money do you want to spend in the casino or at bingo?
After processing all these considerations, if you’re serious about the concept of full-time cruising, the good news is that it’s easy to try it out before you fully commit. When Mario Salcedo left his corporate job and considered full-time cruising, he started by booking six cruises, back-to-back, on six different ships belonging to six different cruise lines. After that, he tried out almost every other cruise line and experienced a variety of destinations around the world for three years before settling on the Royal Caribbean line and focusing his travels on Caribbean cruises that start and end in Miami.
This article was condensed for lgbtSr.org. You can read the full article here.
© 2015 by Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Dave Hughes created RetireFabulously.com to help you envision, plan for and ultimately enjoy the best retirement possible. Most articles focus on the non-financial, “lifestyle” aspects of retirement, such as successfully transitioning from work to leisure, choosing where to live, identifying the things that will make retirement happy and fulfilling, and more. Dave is available for speaking engagements and workshops, and also officiates weddings. Dave lives in Chandler, AZ with his husband, Jeff, and their furry family members, Missy and Maynard.