Living on a Cruise Ship

photo by Peter Hansen unsplash

Fine dining, entertainment, terrific views, a new adventure in every port. That’s the lure of life on a cruise ship. And it’s also why extended voyages are fast becoming an alternative to fancy condos for boomers not quite ready to settle down. Fox News reports: “While costs vary widely, it’s reasonable to figure on average $100 a day to cruise including lodging, transportation from port to port, food and entertainment. Think $3,000 a month total, which isn’t too bad considering a lot of people pay larger mortgages or rent.” 

“A genuine bargain would be between $50-75 a day,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief of CruiseCritic.com. That’s equal or less than what senior independent living would cost, according to Financial Planner Richard Kahler, president of the Kahler Financial Group. 

Cruisers get the best rates when booking as far in advance as possible while loyalty programs provide upgrades and other perks, like a meal in an upscale dining room, free laundry or ground transfers. Thus the more often you travel, the more money you save. For couples taking longer journeys like a round-the-world cruise rewards could be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

To attract capable travelers over 60, some cruise lines are booking berths for the better portion of a year.   For a month or two, these “almost permanent residents” spend time visiting family or friends. If you’re considering a protracted cruise, you can run the numbers with a little help from from Investopedia’s Retire on a Cruise Ship with Less than $1 Million. Or check out Senior Living at Sea.

Since costs of living for retirees—both on land and sea—keep rising, it’s important to check the current rates.

If you’re looking for a first-person account, The New York Times’ spoke with Mario Salcedo, an investment manager who spent two decades on an ocean liner. And Forbes interviewed the ultimate cruiser, Mama Lee Wachstetter, 90, author of I May Be Homeless But You Should See My Yacht.

These trips aren’t all buffet dinners and shuffleboard. Viking recently announced the world’s longest cruise for the thinking person — 6 continents, 65 countries and 113 ports with the emphasis on cultural events.   Of course, you don’t have to retire to live on a boat. With a good internet connection, you can work remotely, and keep adding to your income.

Bear in mind that it’s not just the Boomers who are coming aboard. Cruises are the latest Millennial Travel Trend. According to CNBC, the industry is targeting a younger audience for short-term get-aways featuring sky bikes and bungee trampolines. In the next few years Virgin Cruises‘ new love boat, scheduled to depart from Miami in 2020 is so sleek, ultra modern and sexy that its owner Richard Branson is calling it a #ShipTease.

But there’s one big obstacle to long-term cruising. Before you book, you’ll need to wrestle with the question: How serious am I about climate change? Recent research shows that ships are worse polluters than airplanes. Bryan Comer, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, found that even the most efficient cruise ships put 3 to 4 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a jet, while shipboard air is less healthy to breathe.

As you calculate your carbon footprint, you might want to opt for arm-chair traveling, starting with our recommendations below.

A Cruise through the Imagination

From the late 1800s to the mid-twentieth century, people went on lengthy cruises to European cities, hoping to broaden their understanding of the world. Like Henry Adams who crossed the Atlantic to see Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, their goal was to explore the art, music and architecture of other cultures.

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager

Yet for others, the motivation to undertake a long sea journey was far more personal. Some travelers booked passage to avoid dealing with a messy scandal, conceal a pregnancy or recover from a lengthy illness. In the 1942 film, Now Voyager  Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a neurotic spinster lacking friends, ambition and self-confidence. When she emerges from a sanitorium, her doctor prescribes a cruise. Blossoming onboard, Charlotte returns a different woman—elegant and self-assured. For many, an ocean journey held such a promise of redemption. And they, too, set forth, inspired by these lines from Walt Whitman:

The untold want/ by life and land ne’er granted
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin in the 1965 film adaptation of Ship of Fools

Katherine Ann Porter’s 1962 novel Ship of Fools shows the downside of sea travel in uncertain times. Adapted for the screen by Abby Mann three years later, this is voyage from Mexico to a volatile pre-war Germany. Forced to share their shipboard space are a raging anti-Semite and a recoiling Jew, a doctor with a weak heart and a drug-addicted countess, a dwarf and a baseball player, a struggling painter with his wealthy wife, and a seductive divorcee humiliates her male companions. Porter’s conceit: A trans-Atlantic cruise can be a social fish bowl, putting you gill to gill, with people you’d do anything to avoid.

Finally, don’t miss Giuseppe Tornatore’s beguiling fable, The Legend of 1900 about a musical genius who’s born on an ocean liner. At the turn of the century, the crew finds an abandoned child in steerage, naming him “1900” and raising him onboard. The boy grows into a jazz pianist of astonishing range and talent. When challenged to a mid-Atlantic show-down by the great improviser, Jelly Roll Morton, 1900 plays so fast and furiously that his concert grand is literally on fire—and in a brazen act of showmanship, he lights a cigarette from its smoldering strings. After word spreads of his triumph, 1900 is courted by nightclub owners and record producers in America. Wary of the bustle of New York and the lure of fame, he clings to the romance and safety of the ship and never sets foot on shore.

After the piano duel. Tim Roth in The Legend of 1900.

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