A NEW OPITION FOR RETIREMENT--FULL TIME OCEAN CRUISING
Cruise Ship Retirement??
Two options exist for retiring at sea on a cruise ship. Resident ships are a new concept and cater primarily to retirees. They are, however, pricey. The World, managed by Resident Sea, is a gorgeous, resident cruise ship that offers expensive, furnished studio, one, two and three bedroom apartments for sale, starting at a little more than $2 million, as well as rental units starting at $1,200 a night (rates vary according to the season). Residents choose the itinerary, and the ship travels to the four corners of the earth; stays at local ports are usually longer than on the average ship (The World does not consider itself a cruise ship but rather a country club resort). The Four Seasons, operated by the Four Seasons hotel chain and a Miami-based development group, is a soon-to-launch (2007) luxury, residential cruise ship that offers two bedroom and four bedroom apartments. Residences begin at $4.2 million. Timeshares are also being offered starting at $400,000.
A more affordable and realistic way of retiring on a cruise ship is to travel as a passenger rather than as a resident and book voyages back to back, something many seasoned cruisers do, anyway. Most cruises run from 3 to 21 days, and prices average about $150 per day based on double occupancy, depending on the size and location of the room (interior accommodations cost less than those with ocean views or suites), on the length of the cruise and on the cruise line itself (there are mid-priced lines and more expensive lines). The average price of an independent living facility is $2,000 per month and about $3,000 per month for an assisted living facility (prices vary throughout the country), so on average cruising is still more expensive than the traditional retirement options. That is on average. It may be less than the cost of higher end facilities that can charge $6,000 a month or more, and shorter cruises can be found for around $100 per day, bringing them very close to the price of many assisted living facilities.
For those planning to make a ship their home, though, longer cruises are probably the better choice because the same route is not repeated every 3 to 7 days as it is on shorter cruises. One might choose one port of call and board cruises from there; time between sailings would be spent in a port hotel. The majority of lines do not offer single rates; so single seniors will pay 200% of the listed price. Hence, it helps to retire with a companion.
Retirement on a cruise ship is a romantic idea that is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Within the last couple of years, thanks mainly to an article in a professional medical journal, the notion has started to gain some traction. As of now, there are no "retirement cruise ships," but it is possible to book cruises back to back to create a floating retirement for slightly more than it costs to reside in an average assisted living community. Most seniors we know would choose the cruise ship any day. There is even one resident cruise ship in operation.
The story of 86-year-old Bea Muller of Florida has been floating around the Internet for a couple of years. No one is quite sure if it is true, but it is said that Ms. Muller's husband died aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 while on a world cruise in 2001. Faced with moving back home to live alone in a retirement home, Ms. Muller decided to sell everything she owned, including her house, and book herself onto the ship one year at a time. She is said to still dance the nights away as she travels the world with a rotating group of new friends.
In our opinion, if Ms. Muller at age 86 can retire on a cruise ship, then so can other seniors.
Several lines offer world cruises that can last 3 months or slightly longer. For example, the Queen Elizabeth 2, operated by Cunard, offers a world cruise that lasts 108 days (three of these back to back span nearly one year). The least expensive accommodation on this trip is an inside room for $16,845 (based on early booking and double occupancy). This works out to $155 per day to sail the world and includes meals, housekeeping and amenities, not to mention being able to tell everyone that you have retired on the QE2. Unlike many other cruise lines, the QE2 also offers single rooms, starting at $24,185 for an inside room on the 108-day cruise.
Fares, though, are for the cruise only and do not include taxes, gratuities, airfare to the point of departure or port excursions (which usually range between $35-$100 each). Cruises of nearly any length from 3 days to 3 months can be found by shopping around. Princess Cruises has a 102-day world tour for $19,985 (inside room). Other cruise lines include Radisson, Holland America and Norwegian. Many of these lines also offer discounts to those 55 and above and through AARP, which may reduce prices for a cruising retirement, making it more affordable.
Everyday life on a cruise ship is similar to living in a nice hotel or retirement community, except that the outdoor scenery keeps changing. Benefits are many. Meals are provided. Room service is available. Sheets and towels are changed daily. A doctor is onboard. Amenities such as nightly shows, swimming pools, gyms and libraries, as well as planned activities, keep boredom at bay. Port visits provide an opportunity to visit dry land and sightsee. New, diverse people are always coming onboard. Living on one ship lets passengers get to know the crew and feel at home. The Internet allows for bill paying and staying in touch with family back home on land. Less mobile seniors do not have to keep up a home. The staff takes care of all the maintenance.
There are cons, of course, to retirement on a cruise ship. The only affordable accommodations for many are the small, inside rooms each line offers, which may be too small and too inside for some people. Living for months without a window could make some people claustrophobic, even though there are plenty of open, public spaces on a ship. Meeting new people at the start of each cruise is a good way to stay involved and active, but it may also contribute to feelings of homesickness and a sense of loss at not having a permanent home (unless one has been kept). Medical care and emergency care are available, but serious illnesses that need more intensive care cannot be accommodated on a ship.
Retirement cruising is not an official industry yet, but its time is coming as more and more adventurous baby boomers (and others) seek new retirement options. Even without designated retirement cruise ships; retirees can design their own at-sea retirement. It may cost more than the average assisted-living facility, but spending days lounging on a ship deck, having attentive staff at hand, being treated like a customer instead of a patient and ordering room service when wanted sounds hard to beat. For snowbirds who shutter winter homes to travel to warmer climates for 4 to 6 months of the year, living on a cruise ship may be an alternative to Mexico or Florida. For those who own a home and have a paid-off mortgage, it may be cost effective to rent the home and use the income to help pay for life on a ship.
Seniors like the idea of retirement cruising and can make it work on their own now. As the idea grows and more retirees choose cruising instead of on-land options, retirement community developers and others will begin to offer retirement cruise ships with affordable leased or purchased accommodations and more services for seniors. The success of the resident ship The World is already prompting such discussions, and seniors retiring and living on the high seas could become the next big retirement trend.