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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Retiring to a Cruise Ship

Now that we can travel again, have you thought about living aboard a cruise ship? Plenty of seniors have embraced this option to spend their golden years on the high seas.  

They’re called “cult cruisers” and they are back in force. Retirees and others who spend most of their lives aboard big ships, moving from port to port, have proliferated in the last decade. Even the pandemic has not quelled their ardor for cruise life. 

Meet Linda Sloan Chalmers, 67, who picks the longest itineraries she can put together. She booked a total of 143 nights on board the Holland America line, her favorite, in April. The minute she goes up the gangplank she heads for the Blues club (available on many Holland America ships) and greets the bartenders (she knows most of them) and familiar crew members with gusto. 

Popular for Older Adults

When cruise review site Cruise Critic surveyed several thousand people in 2017, 59% were interested in retiring on a cruise ship, and an additional 27% said they’d like to look into the idea if they could afford it. “The average person is getting their week vacation and maximizes the week,” says Mark Tamis, the senior vice president of hotel operations for Royal Caribbean International. “But it’s not that uncommon to try to live on the ship.” Author “Mama” Lee Wachtstetter wrote an upbeat book, I May Be Homeless, But You Should See My Yacht, memorializing the 12 years she lived on cruise ships after her husband died.

How to Cut the Cost of Cruising 

  1. Be flexible. Many cruises don’t sell out, and prices will drop dramatically three to six weeks before departure. You may have to occupy a less-desirable room, but you’ll get rock-bottom rates. Sailing during “shoulder season,” just before or after high season, will save you money.
  2. Book early. By reserving a spot six to 18 months in advance, you may qualify for perks such as free specialty meals, beverage packages, shore excursions, and even gratuities. Ask about a cabin upgrade, too.
  3. Check for sales. Cruise Critic has a free weekly e-letter featuring deals. Talk to travel agents, who may know about unadvertised deals.
  4. Gather a group. The bigger the group, the greater the discount on many lines. If you get 14 friends to join you (two to a cabin) on Norwegian Cruise Line, you’re considered a “group planner” and may even get your trip covered.
  5. Book your next cruise on board. You can bag reduced deposits, flare discounts, and possibly free onboard credit for doing so. 

Rita Deitchman, 74, was on cruise number 196 this past spring. She books back-to-back trips and was devastated when Covid shut down what was essentially her home. She and her husband maintain a small condo in Fort Lauderdale, but they never thought they would be living there for months on end. “It was just meant to be a place to do laundry while we waited for the next cruise,” says Deitchman. When cruise lines reopened for business, she says that she was so happy that she cried. “We feel like they’re our family,” she says of the friends she’s made on board.

Long Cruising

Bookings for cruises are soaring, topping 2019 by 37% according to travel agency Cruise Planners. A third of travelers were over 60 years old in 2018, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, and many want to spend more than a week or two on the water. Cruise companies are not ignoring this demographic; almost every line is now offering world cruises of 100 nights or more. While most don’t circumnavigate the globe, they do offer a long look at a large chunk of geography and cultures. 

For instance, Holland America sailed to South America this year, spending time on the Amazon River before going through the Panama Canal. The ship then headed for Hawaii and the South Pacific, continuing to Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean before returning home to Fort Lauderdale. Interested in booking something similar? The cost starts at $22,499 per person. (For a more complete listing of world cruises, go here). 

What You Will Pay 

Of course, that number is just the minimum rate. It’s based on double occupancy, per person, and the lower-priced cabins are on the interior and lack windows, much less a balcony. Still, that is doable if you consider all you need to do there is sleep, with expansive decks for lounging and sunning. Most entertainment on board is free.

But the true cost is more. Everyone pays port fees and taxes, which often add up to $100 to $200 per person, per day, for shorter cruises. Tips are optional but expected, and easily add up to about $14 per person, per day. That’s a whopping $200 per week. And although three meals in the main dining room (and plenty of snack options) are included on most cruises, specialty restaurants and alcohol will cost you. Wi-Fi, while it’s usually available, isn’t free, either. (For more about cost, go here). 

Cutting Costs

Of course, savvy cruisers use the best credit cards to earn and redeem points — and they’re often not company-branded cards. You can also stay loyal to one line and book multiple trips to get rewarded with upgrades and discounts. And there’s always the option of choosing a lower-priced line for an off-season trip to cut costs.

“With cruising, you cover all of your living expenses — food, housing, entertainment — in one place,” says Tara Bruce, creative brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory.“We’ve seen folks get costs down to $89 per day, which is far cheaper than assisted care or other kinds of senior living.”

Made for Full-Time Living

If money is no concern, you may want to take a look at Storylines’ new ship, the MV Narrative, which is scheduled to launch in 2024. She’ll have 547 furnished apartments with one to four bedrooms each, most with balconies. You can swim in the lap pool, dine at the oyster bar, or use the onboard bowling alley. And Fido can come with you — it’s the first residential ship that will allow pets. 

You can purchase an apartment for $1 million to $8 million or snag a lease for 12 or 24 years that start at $400,000. And then there’s the HOA-style monthly payment, depending on the size of your abode. It covers food, housekeeping, and fuel for the ship … pretty much everything covered in a standard cruise fare. You’ll notice it does not include tips.

If that sounds a bit pricey for your wallet, you’re not alone. Serial cruiser Jeff Farschman, 72, held a plum job as vice president at Lockheed Martin Services before retiring, and he opts to cruise primarily the Holland America line. The cost of his trips varies based on whether he’s splurging on an outside cabin and multiple tours at port or dialing down his spending. However, he estimates that “I probably average $200 to $300 a day including taxes for Grand Voyages and say, $150 to $200 a day for more traditional cruises.” 

Medical Services

It’s nice to know that medical services are available 24/7 while you’re on a cruise ship. Original Medicare will cover you while in port and within six hours of a US port. Certain Medicare supplement plans (but not all) cover emergency care while you’re traveling, including aboard ship. Some Medicare Advantage plans may also cover foreign travel. Be sure to check your plan and buy travel insurance if you need greater coverage. 

So, is cruising for you? Start with a short trip of one or two weeks before committing to a longer voyage. You’ll find out if you merely tolerate the confinement, or if you’re loving the new lifestyle. Many long-term cruisers started booking more trips early on, and gradually realized they no longer needed a big house in the States, or even a car. Others keep their home and spend a month or several on land, often to keep in touch with relatives — their friends are mostly their fellow cruisers. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors