Living on a Cruise Ship

photo by Peter Hansen unsplash

Since this article was published, the coronavirus has shut down most cruise lines and will have an impact on travel for months to come.  For an armchair adventure, scroll down to the films we recommend about about life at sea. 

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 attractive to 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.” 

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. 

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.

It’s not just the Boomers who are coming aboard. In 2019,  cruises were the latest millennial travel trend. According to CNBC, the industry has been targeting a younger audience for short-term get-aways featuring sky bikes and bungee trampolines. Virgin Cruises’ new love boat, scheduled to depart from Miami in 2020 is so sleek, ultra modern and sexy that its owner Richard Branson has been calling it a #ShipTease.)

Before you sign up for the endless cruise, however, you’ll need to wrestle with its impact on 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 three to four times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than a jet, while shipboard air is considered less healthy to breathe.

If you are concerned about these issues, we suggest you opt for some arm-chair adventures, 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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