Cruise ship retirement sounds like a romantic idea...
Have you ever thought about taking a cruise once you reach retirement age? Is it possible instead to make it a lifestyle by combining the two? Today you have the opportunity to join the retirement community of like-minded retirees travelling all around the World and living on cruise ships with all the facilities of 5-star hotels.
Two options exist for cruise ship retirement. Resident ships like The Utopia, The Marquette and The World (still the largest private cruise ship on the planet) are a new but pricey concept that caters primarily to retirees.
A more realistic and affordable of cruise ship retirement is to sail as a passenger rather than as a resident and to book back to back cruises, something many seasoned travelers do, anyway.
Cruise ship retirement: is it cheaper than assisted living?
Most cruises run from 3 days to 3 weeks, and prices average about US$150 per day based on double occupancy, depending on the location and size of the room, on the length of the voyage and on the cruise line itself. The average price of independent living facilities is US$2,000 per month and nearly US$3,000 per month for assisted living facilities, so on average cruising is more expensive than traditional retirement options... but on average. It may be less than the higher end facilities that charge US$6,000 per month or more, and shorter sailings can even be found for US$100 per day, bringing them close to the price of assisted living facilities.
It’s important to note that not all senior housing types are created equal. Life aboard a cruise ship might compare to expensive dull nursing homes showed in popular media, but the reality is different, and actually luxury senior housing and retirement communities provide many of the same perks that cruise ships do: customized senior nutrition, entertainment, chances to socialize, to name a few. And they are not as expensive as you might think.
Nursing homes and memory care, providing skilled 24-hour nursing, are the pricier options. However, for seniors who don’t need constant care, independent living and retirement communities are far less expensive - they generally cost less than a cruise: sometimes as little as US$1,500 a month.
As to whether living out your golden years aboard a cruise ship is viable alternative to spending them in retirement home, a Northwestern University geriatrician says such a plan is a cost-effective alternative to assisted living. Dr.Lee Lindquist, instructor at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, has compared the costs of moving to an assisted-living facility, nursing home and cruise ship (over a 20-year life expectancy), including the expenses of treating acute illnesses, Medicare reimbursement, etc. She determined that the net cost of cruise ship retirement was only about US$2,000 more than the alternatives (US$230,000 versus US$228,000) and offered higher quality of service. According to Lindquist, the plan would work best for retirees who need minimal care.
"Seniors who enjoy travel, have good or excellent cognitive function but require some assistance with activities of daily living are the ideal candidates for cruise-ship care. Just as with assisted living, if residents became acutely ill or got to the point that they needed a higher level of care, they would have to leave."
Can cruise ship retirement be more cost effective than the land-based one? Perhaps not if you are paying US$164,000 per year for a premium berth. For example, prices on a 91-night world cruise aboard a Cruise and Maritime Voyages'ship start at £4,387 per person. For that much, you’ll get meals, accommodation, entertainment and the chance to call at exotic locations on several continents around the world.
Average rents in Britain are £761 per month (or £1,160 in London). When you add council tax, water, electricity and gas bills, as well as groceries, it’s not hard to see why some retirees opt for a life afloat.
Which is cheaper: renting in London or cruise ship retirement?
- Round-the-world cruise (13 weeks, 91 nights) £4,387
- Renting in London £5,037
Average rent in London: £3,484 (13 weeks x £268 a week)
Council tax: £235 (based on £941 per year rate in the City of London)
Water bill: £92.50 (13-week Thames Water average)
Energy bills: £159 (According to “small house/flat” estimate of UKpower.co.uk)
Transport: £417.30 (Based on the cost of a weekly travel card - £32.10)
Food: £650 (Based on £50 per week typical household spend, according to ONS).
According to Telegraph Travel's cruise expert Jane Archer, it was not so unusual for men, women and couples who love cruising to take up residence on a cruise ship. Princess Cruises once told her there were over 100 passengers living on their vessels.
Douglas Ward, author of Berlitz guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, adds:
"It's a safe, comfortable environment, the crew become your new friends, and medical facilities, should you need them, are close by. And, unlike a retirement home or village, a cruise ship moves to different locations for a fresh view every day or so. So, why not, particularly if you have no immediate family ties?"
For those of you planning to make a cruise ship their home, longer voyages are probably the better option because the same route is not repeated every 7 days as it is on shorter sailings. One might choose one port and board cruises from there and time between sailings would be spent in a hotel. The majority of lines don't offer single rates and single seniors will have to pay 200% of the listed price. However, there are also cruise lines that have single cabins on their cruise ships and offer no single supplement cruises.
The notion of cruise ship retirement
Within the last couple of years, the notion of cruise ship retirement has started to gain some traction. Though there are currently no "retirement cruise ships," as we said above, it is still possible to book back to back cruises to create a floating cruise ship retirement for slightly more than it costs to reside in the average assisted living communities. Most of you would choose the cruise ships any day, won't you?
Choosing cruise vessels over soil is not a new concept.
- According to The Orlando Sentinel, as far back as 1963, a lady lived full-time in a tiny cabin onboard the original Queen Elizabeth.
- Another one, Rosemarie Roberts, lodged for nearly 12 years on Royal Viking Line's ships.
- Irma Morgan spent all but 2 weeks of 2004 and all of 2005 onboard Crystal Harmony.
- Clair MacBeth lived on a Cunard cruise ship for 14 years.
- Lorraine Artz, 81, spent around 10 months per year aboard Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess.
- As of January 2000, 89-year-old Bea Muller was a permanent resident on Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 until the ship was retired in November 2008.
The story of 89-year-old Bea Muller of Florida is still floating around the Internet. No one is quite sure if it's true, but it''s said that Ms.Muller's husband died aboard Queen Elizabeth 2 while on a world voyage in 2001. Faced with moving back home to live in a retirement home alone, Ms.Muller decided to sell everything she owned, and book herself onto the cruise ship one year at a time. Thanks to her frequent discounts, her overall costs amounted to around $5,000 per month (since then, cruise prices have increased; also, Ms.Muller's accommodations were windowless and small: a 10x10 foot cabin featuring only a bed, radio and TV, with a bathroom smaller than an average closet.) However, Ms.Muller was happy with her life at sea:
"I've got full-time maid service, great dining rooms, doctors, medical center (where she volunteers), a spa, beauty salon, computer center, entertainment, cultural activities and, best of all, dancing and bridge."
Queen Elizabeth 2 was retired from service in 2008. Muller passed away in 2013.
86-year-old Lee Wachtstatter is another uncommon cruise passenger. Over a decade ago, after the death of her husband, she also decided to sell her Florida home and relocate to a cruise ship. In an interview with USA Today, she explains that her husband Mason introduced her to cruising and taught her to love it. During their 50-year marriage they took 89 cruises.
The day before her husband died of cancer in 1997, he told Lee, 'Don't stop cruising.’ And she certainly took this request to heart as three years were spent onboard a Holland America ship and then she’s been a resident on 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity for seven years - longer than most of the 655 crew members, who gave her the nickname “Mama Lee”.
Wachtstatter estimated that her “stress-free, fairy-tale” lifestyle cost her about US$164,000 (£108,000) per year, which covered the cost of her single cabin, meals in premium dining venues, gratuities and various activities including needlepoint classes and ballroom dancing with cruise hosts.
While few have spent quite as long at sea, Lee Wachtstatter is not the only full-time resident of the line. Crystal Cruises told USA Today that at least three other ladies live permanently on its ships.
Several lines offer world voyages that can last three months or longer. For example, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 offers a world cruise lasting 108 days and 3 of these back to back span almost one year. The least expensive accommodation aboard is an inside room for US$16,845 (based on double occupancy and early booking). This works out to US$155 per day to sail the world, including meals, amenities and housekeeping, not to mention being able to tell all your friends that you have retired on QE2. Unlike many other lines, Cunard offers single rooms, starting at $24,180 for an inside on the 108-day cruise.
However, fares are for the cruise only and don't include taxes, airfare to the point of departure, gratuities or port excursions. Cruises of nearly any length up to 3 months can be easily found by shopping around the Internet or through a cruise travel agent. Princess Cruises offers a 102-day world voyage for $19,990 (inside room). Other lines include Holland America, Norwegian and Radisson, offering discounts to travelers 55 and above, which may reduce prices for cruise ship retirement, making it a more affordable option.
Pros and Cons of cruise ship retirement: can you really retire on a ship?
Cons of cruise ship retirement
- Cost is but one of the elements to your choice of where to reside after retirement. Those of the golden agers who decide to make permanent homes aboard cruise ships always sacrifice proximity to their family who are no longer just a car ride away. Those devoted to children and grandchildren might find that too high a price to pay, no matter what the analysts say about relative financial costs. However, if your relatives are close to the coastline where your ship docks frequently, the arrangement could work well.
- Those who lack progeny but are involved in communities or are part of strong friendships may not wish to opt for the vagabond life, as it would mean abandoning all that gives them joy. Cruise ship retirement means one acquaintance after another and no permanent ongoing connections. Fellow travelers disembark to return to regular lives at the termination of 1- or 2-week holidays, which means that friendships struck up with them land very quickly in the "We'll keep in touch" bin. As for the staff, while serial vacationers can strike up deeply friendly relationships with some of the employees, these rapports are actually limited by their nature: no matter how close these associations appear to be, the employees are required to be respectful to paying passengers, so honesty, which is one of friendship-critical elements can never be part of the deal.
- Life onboard a cruise ship does not only mean leaving your relatives and friends, it also means leaving your doctor. Cruise ships provide medical care, but not geriatric specialists. If you rely on specialists for ongoing health care, have in mind that you won’t receive that level of expertise aboard a cruise ship. Most seniors who consider cruise ship retirement can do so only as long as they stay healthy. Assisted living services are not available at sea. As you will not get specialized medical care, you will not get care for ADLs (Activities of Daily Life), either, and the idea of replacing your nursing home or assisted living community with a cruise ship is not really a viable option.
- The only affordable cruise accommodations for many are the tiny inside rooms, which may be too tiny and too inside for some passengers. Living without a window for months could make some claustrophobic, even though there are plenty of open spaces on a ship.
- Activities onboard may not be tailored toward seniors. A significant percentage of cruise passengers are always seniors, but that doesn’t mean that cruise directors specialize in activities for seniors. Most of the action will be designed for adults of all ages, and if you want fun and innovative activities targeted at yourself, a senior retirement community is more likely to provide what you want.
- The logistics of permanent living on a cruise ship seem more than impractical. First of all, you cannot bring much more than a suitcase worth of possessions onboard. Forget about packing your favorite painting or sitting chair. That issue aside, it is not as if one could just move onto a boat and live happily ever after. Cruise passengers must disembark when the voyage ends, and make arrangements while the vessel is at port. Keeping these arrangements month after month is more than burdensome.
- There is no tax deduction for living on a cruise ship. Some CCRCs permit to deduct a portion of the entry and monthly fees as medical expense, even if you are not using the “care” portion of your retirement facility yet. But if you sell your home and move onto a cruise vessel, you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits of interest deductions from your mortgage (in case it’s not paid off) and you will not garner additional tax deductions.
Pros of cruise ship retirement
Everyday life onboard a cruise ship is similar to living in a retirement community or nice hotel, except that outdoor scenery keeps changing.
- Meals are provided. You can have room service, which means having breakfast in bed every single day of the week. And you’ll never have to wash dishes, or make yourself meals like you would in ordinary retirement villages.
- Sheets and towels are changed on a daily basis, and you don't have to ask for them. Cruise ships also provide free toothpaste, soap and shampoo.
- The staff takes care of the maintenance. Light bulb need changing? TV broken? Need to have your mattress replaced? They'll fix everything and even apologize for the inconvenience.
- They will treat you like a client, not a patient. Gratuities will only be US$10 per day. An extra US$5 worth of tips will have the staff scrambling to help you.
- No worries about transportation. Retirement communities provide easy transportation into town for appointments and shopping, and most also offer trips to the surrounding area. But it doesn’t get easier than having everything you need just a stroll away. And the best of all is: no food shopping.
- Nearly limitless activities and entertainment. From shows to spa treatments, swimming and dancing, a cruise ship offers numerous activities. And that is not even counting the cruise shore excursions. Amenities like nightly shows, gyms, swimming pools and libraries keep boredom at bay.
- Travel the world. Do you want to see Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Tahiti, the Panama Canal, or name where you want to go? Port calls provide an opportunity to visit land and sightsee. The Internet allows for staying in touch with family back home.
- New, diverse people are coming onboard. Living on one cruise ship lets guests feel at home and get to know the crew. Living in senior community has lots of benefits, including being surrounded by retirees of your own age. But immersing in a community of people of all ages, from babies and toddlers to teens, adults and seniors, may keep you young at heart.
- There is always a doctor onboard. And if you are in good health and do not require any specialized care, living on a cruise ship could be an exciting way to kick off retirement. However, as we already pointed out, you should be ready for the possibility of relocating to an assisted living community or CCRC in the future if the circumstances change. The funny side of this, however is, as follows: If you fall in a nursing home and break your hip, you are on Medicare; but if you fall and break a hip on board a cruise ship they'll upgrade you to a suite for the rest of your life.
Cruise ship retirement: what to consider?
- Are you physically up for it? Remember that cruise ships are not designed to take care of travelers with extensive health care needs. In case you need a lot of day-to-day care or regular trips to the doctor, then a cruise ship does not make sense.
- Can you really afford it, even if you end up needing nursing home care or assisted living later? Before you do any calculations to figure out how many years onboard a cruise vessel selling your home will buy, have in mind that there may come a day when you’ll have to spend the money you have left on nursing home care or assisted living. Even if the cruise ship staff love you, they won’t step into the roles that senior care professionals play when that day comes.
- Will you get health care covered by your insurance while on travels? If you are going to be in and out of various ports, can you consistently reach physicians and hospitals that are covered by your insurance plan? And in case you need care on the ship itself, will the doctor be covered by your insurance plan?
- Can you stay healthy on the cruise ship? With age, how much exercise you get and what you eat becomes more important to help ward off diseases and health issues which seniors are at greater risk of. Is there any healthy cruise food available? Cruise ship food is not exactly known for being the healthiest, although most ships do have a fitness centre onboard to help with the exercise part.
- If you stay on the same cruise ship, you will be visiting the same ports of call over and over again. At a certain point, the equation's “travel” part won’t be novel anymore. A resident ship like The World will all the time take you to new places, but costs much more. However, a traditional ship will have consistent routes taking you repeatedly to the same spots.
- Are you OK with a rotating community of acquaintances? Retiring on a cruise ship means meeting a lot of new people all the time, but not making long-term connections. Senior loneliness can cause negative consequences and loneliness does not only occur when you are spending all the time solitary. Are you confident that you can be happy without a consistent community surrounding you?
- Where will you stay during maintenance? Cruise ships do not endlessly sail throughout the year and at some point they have to stop, unload every single passenger and devote a period of time to dry dock. What will you do then?
- Are you willing to give up most of the things you possess? Cruise ship cabins are not known for spaciousness and are already furnished so you cannot bring your favorite recliner and there is not much room for your stuff.
Cruise ship retirement is not an official industry yet. However, its time is coming as more and more adventurers seek new options for retirement. Even without designated cruise ships, retirees can design their own retirement at sea. It may cost more than an average assisted living, but spending days lounging on the deck, ordering room service when wanted, having the most attentive staff at hand and being treated like a client instead of a patient, sounds hard to beat. For snowbirds who shutter their winter homes and travel to warmer climates for 6 months per year, living on a cruise ship may be alternative to Florida. And for those who own a home and have their mortgage paid-off, it may be cost effective to rent their home and use the income to pay for life on a ship.
Lots of seniors like the idea of cruise ship retirement and can make it work on their own. As the idea grows and more people choose cruising instead of land-based options, retirement community developers will start to offer retirement cruise ships with purchased accommodations or affordable leased and more services for seniors. The success of resident ships like The World are already prompting such discussions and cruise ship retirement could become the next great retirement trend. In any case, with more and more cruise ship retirement options to come on the scene in the near future, you can always reconsider it later.