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All Aboard: You Can Retire on a Ship

Category: Travel

August 15, 2015 — Note: This article by our frequent contributor Jan Cullinane was originally published by US News & World Report.

Retirees can live anywhere they want to, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a single place. Some retirees choose a life at sea, constantly moving from place to place on a cruise ship.

For example, Beatrice Muller lived on the Queen Elizabeth 2 from 2000 to 2008, when the ship retired from service. Muller was 82 when she began living aboard full time. Another retiree, Claire MacBeth, sailed on back-to-back Cunard cruises for more than a dozen years. And Lee Wachtstetter, 86, ditched her five-bedroom home in the Fort Lauderdale area and is a seven-year resident on Crystal Serenity. Wachtstetter estimates she pays around $165,000 per year for her single stateroom, food, drinks, entertainment and gratuities. And prior to Crystal, she lived for three years on a Holland America ship. All three of these widowed women wanted the cruising life.



A 2004 study by Lee Lindquist, an instructor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, that was published in the “Journal of the American Geriatrics Society” found that when considered over a 20-year span, “a representative cost-effectiveness analysis was performed that showed that cruises were priced similarly to assisted living centers and were more efficacious.” The cost of assisted living on land can vary greatly by facility, location and need. Retirement on the water is an intriguing possibility to consider. Here’s a look at some of the ways to retire on board:

The World

Travel The World without leaving home. In contrast to living on a cruise ship with regular staterooms, The World, launched in 2002, offers 165 residences, ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments. The homes – and the ship – are owned by the residents, who determine the global itinerary of this “residential yacht.” The average age of residents is 64. Some live on the The World full time, while others spend several months per year on board. In addition to the cost of the home, there are annual fees to cover the yacht’s upkeep and operations, salaries for the crew and food costs. This kind of luxury living, with a full-size tennis court, pool, gym and spa, doesn’t come cheap. Residences range from about $1 million to $13 million, not counting the annual fees, which are about 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the residence.

Sunk? Although The World is a reality, and people have lived or are living on cruise ships, there are a few ships that haven’t made it out of the harbor. For example, Utopia has been in the planning stages since 2008, but no ship yet. The Four Seasons Ocean Residence (2008) fell victim to the real estate and financial crisis. The Freedom ship (late 1990s) was proposed as an almost mile-long floating city with 50,000 residents, but has not materialized.

Ships on the horizon. Plans are percolating for two water communities with different approaches:

Alive at Sea. CEO and founder Jimmy Fanning plans to target mature adults between ages 65 and 80. Residents can “live aboard” a cruise ship and enjoy independent or assisted living with all the amenities a cruise ship has to offer, including meals, housekeeping, exercise classes, a spa, movies, some entertainment, room service and basic medical care. All the creature comforts, and none of the work. In addition, residents will live among their peers, enjoy a strong sense of community and be able to “follow perfect weather” with an itinerary that will allow them to explore locations for several days at a time.

The ship would accommodate about 700 passengers. About 300 of the outside cabins would be for the residents. The inside cabins would house the crew and staff. Staterooms will be about 250 square feet. Of course, there would also be common areas, dining facilities, a spa and fitness facilities.

Staterooms would be leased for $10,000 each month per person. No tipping will be allowed, and there are no additional costs except in the casino, the wine cellar and the purchase of tobacco products. The price is the same whether it’s independent living, which would include housekeeping, meals and laundry, or assisted living.

The Marquette. Developer David Nelson and his wife, ReNae, plan to live on this floating condo community they are creating. The Marquette will ply the rivers and intracoastal waterways of the U.S. year-round, with the opportunity to visit a variety of ports. The plan is to have approximately 200 condos for 400 residents. Different ownership packages are available, with full-price ownership ranging from $300,000 for a 528-square-foot condo to $500,000 for a 924-square-foot condo. In addition, fractional half ownership and two-month ownerships are also offered. A homeowner’s association fee of about $27 per square foot per month (based on the price of the cabin) will be assessed to cover fuel, docking, insurance and salaries.

If you are ready to sail beyond the safe harbor and let the wind lead your travels, living aboard may be just the ticket.

Jan Cullinane is a best-selling retirement author, speaker and consultant. Her current book is “The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement“.

For further reading:
Ship and Shore: Retiring on a Cruise Ship (by Jan Cullinane)
How to Choose a Specialty Cruise (by Patricia Kennedy)
The Endless Retirement Cruise (2008)
Retirement on a Cruise Ship Combines Adventure with Convenience

Posted by Admin on August 25th, 2015


  1. Right, these are great options if you have boatloads of money. Most of us don’t have the kind of money needed to support that lifestyle.

    by Linda — August 26, 2015

  2. What a useless article! Who has money like this!!! Certainly not the intended audience of the article.

    by Marianne — August 26, 2015

  3. I enjoyed the article and learned from it. $500,000 for a condo on a ship is still less expensive than a median priced house in Sebastopol, CA. It is a matter of choice and knowing what the full range of choices are.

    by Kay — August 26, 2015

  4. I have always wondered about his lifestyle. Very interesting! Thanks researching and posting the information.

    by Marty — August 26, 2015

  5. What a great way to retire. There ARE those who can afford this way of life.

    by John H — August 26, 2015

  6. What a great lifestyle if one can afford it. Price is one thing, but HOA fee on top of that – yikes! Maybe one can work on the ship in exchange for a small cabin and food? (ha ha). Nice to have “basic” medical care, but I’m wondering if there is an emergency then what happens? Stabilize the patient and then dock at the next port for hospitalization (if needed)?

    by Fionna — August 27, 2015

  7. I have read about retiring in a hotel and thought it was quite interesting!

    This article give examples of prices but the hotel price seems quite low. If you should go from one Holiday Inn to another would the negotiated price remain the same? Somehow I doubt it! If you were renting a hotel room in Michigan and then travelled to Hawaii for example, I doubt you’d get the same price per night!

    by Louise — August 27, 2015

  8. Usually I like this author’s work, but once I began to read, I stopped because I’ll decided to use my time better reading something else. It had no connection to my reality, and besides, I would be bored to tears on a cruise ship even for vacation. No thanks.

    by Elaine C. — August 27, 2015

  9. Having recently sold the house I lived in for 50 years, I no longer want to own anything. Are those residential ship cabins available for rent? I enjoy being at sea, & would like to rent for a month or two a year (if I can get WIFI). Was on Semester at Sea for 1st 42 days of the Spring semester last year, and loved it. Not so sure I would have still loved it if I’d stayed the entire 100 days semester.

    by Sallie — August 27, 2015

  10. Sounds great, but too expensive for us. Maybe a part time work program would help cut the cost. Traveling would be awesome think 6 months would be cool not sure if would like it to be a permanent situation. We have pets so that would also be a downer as they would not be able to come with us. If money was no object it would be a tough decision. But since we don’t have that kind of money and our kitties are like our children. It’s a no for us.

    by Vic — August 27, 2015

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