Wednesday, October 31st 2018

Retiring on a Cruise Ship

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Retiring on a Cruise Ship

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the world in your home? Many individuals have succumbed to the lifestyle of living and retiring on a cruise ship. For the price of a traditional retirement home, you could live on a cruise ship and just travel the world. Cruises offer many of the perks of a retirement home: cooked meals, room service, housekeeping, laundry services—even an onboard doctor. WeExpats has thus decided to write a guide to help you decide if living on a cruise and traveling the world is right for you.


You have lots of options when considering living or even retiring on a cruise ship. Here we highlight a few of the main options:

– Cruise Ship Condo –

Cruise ship condos are basically a luxury condo aboard a cruise ship. The industry began two decades ago to cater to the burgeoning market of people retiring on cruise ships. These cruise ships were converted into floating luxury retirement communities complete with all the amenities of a cruise ship, however with fantastic accommodations—ranging from studio apartments to four-bedroom luxury suites. Since then, the market has become increasingly popular, the mentality being: why not bring your home with you while you travel around the world?

These luxury ocean liners have become figureheads in the upscale community, such as The World—which describes itself as a “residential yacht”. This condo cruise ship—as well as being the most prominent—is the oldest to set sail, which launched in 2002. Prices on The World range from relatively inexpensive to shockingly lavish. The smallest residences are 337 square foot studios for only $825,000—which is comparable in price to a small condo in a gentrified city like San Francisco. The most expensive suites go for $7.3M USD for 3,242 square feet.

Another option is based out of Australia, called Cruise Retirement. This concept is only in its development stages, however it shows a load of promise. For $195,000 USD, clients earn a right to a cabin on a lease for 20 years. If you leave before the lease is up, you can resell the cabin through their company and get back what you paid minus what the property depreciated. The minimum age available is 50 years old—therefore it’s similar to a retirement community on the high seas. However, there are extended costs, such as food service fees, cabin service fees—however because it is being built with retirement in mind, there will be amenities that cater to the elderly, such as a state-of-the-art medical center.

The newest cruise ship to join this luxury lifestyle is The Utopia. This 200-unit condo ship is twice the size of The World. It offers not only the luxury amenities onboard the cruise, but also exclusive events to their clients who are some of the world’s most prominent and elite figures.

– Vacation Ownership Program –

Many people are not interested in living on a cruise ship year-round, and they would prefer the lifestyle for periods of time during the year. Perhaps they live in a very cold region and therefore they would rather travel during the winter months. Maybe they already have a home, and they would miss it too much to leave it forever. For these individuals, there are Vacation Ownership Programs.

These programs—often called Cruiseshares—are essentially a timeshare on a cruise. You can purchase a certain amount of time aboard your favorite cruise ship company. For a price lower than your typical land-locked timeshare, you too can set sail for a certain amount of time per year. These timeshares will also carry with them a small maintenance fee, however these fees are only a fraction of the cost of a traditional cruise vacation.

Like timeshares, Cruiseshares can be rented, transferred, sold, or loaned. Similarly, owners have exchange privileges with a wide variety of destinations available, and all the amenities you would come to expect from any cruise vacation.

– On-Going Retirement Cruise –

An On-Going Retirement Cruise is simply booking one cruise after another—wherever you want to go. Stay on the same ship as it travels the world if you would like, or book different ships for whatever deal you can find. This is likely the most feasible option for those who are on a budget and would like to see the world in their golden years.

A rough estimate of pricing is more or less $5,000 USD a month. However, we’ll get into price comparison in a later section. This figure will include steady housekeeping, free meals with room service, and even laundry service.

In addition, you will get all the cruise ship amenities, such as gyms, spas, libraries, night clubs, and restaurants. You do this without condo fees, property taxes, or pesky homeowners associations. The only thing you will have to pay out-of-pocket for is cocktails, casino charges, spa fees, and tips.

There are many programs which make it possible to incorporate your frequent flyer miles into paying for a cheaper room, however you would have to speak with your bank or credit card company to find out about any possible restrictions.


– The Frugal Traveler’s Price Comparison Between Assisted Living and Retiring on a Cruise –

According to Investopedia, when it comes to the retirement savings of the average American between the age of 55 and 61, the median number is only $17,000 USD (this number does not include social security or pension figures). This disconcerting figure has led many Baby Boomers to pursue non-traditional retirements—such as retiring in a foreign country as an expat. Others have found ways to retire on a cruise ship frugally.

For those who cannot afford a permanent residence on one single ship, the most affordable option is to book consecutive cruises. This can be problematic in the sense that the frugal traveler must plan carefully, and they will likely need a fixed address in their home country.

These travelers will also be living out of a suitcase, and therefore they must pack carefully with necessities in mind. Transferring from ship to ship will become a necessity as they go from bargain cruise to bargain cruise. However, Princess Cruise Lines offers last minute deals that begin at $79 USD per day per person. If you book at this rate for a 15-day cruise, then you would pay $1,185 USD—which leaves you at $2,370 USD per month. If you keep this rate consistent, then you are looking at a little less than $30,000 USD per year, which includes housing without the need of extra expenses such as a car or furniture.

According to Genworth Financial, the national median price for assisted living is $3,628 USD. This equates to $43,536 USD per year. That means that you would have to stay below a price of $119 USD per day during your cruise retirement to save money compared to the price of assisted living.

If we continue to play on American national averages as a way to evaluate the price of a cruise, then according to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly payout for full social security benefits is $1,360 USD—which adds up to $16,320 USD a year. Therefore, if you fit the American national average, you would still need $27,216 USD a year to complete a year of assisted living—and less than $15,000 USD to complete a year of frugal cruise hopping.

This means that you could likely make this plan work with a retirement savings of $600,000 USD—withdrawing $2,400 a month for at least 20 years.

– Critique of this Price Comparison Between Assisted Living and Retiring on a Cruise –

This price comparison above is only a metaphor, a way of comparing wages to give us an idea. However, once we look closely at the figures, the metaphor begins to fall apart. First of all, there are a lot of people who make less or more than the American national average figures, and not all expats are American. In Australia, for example, government subsidies care for the elderly, and fully-refundable lump sum accommodation payments make a cruise ship certainly more expensive than assisted living in Australia.

Retiring on a cruise ship.


– Assisted Living Has Better Care –

Assuming that the cost analysis between assisted living, retirement communities, and retiring on a cruise is accurate—you still have to contend with the fact that a typical cruise liner cannot afford the personal care of a nursing home. There are benefits to having a full-time nursing staff available to you at a moment’s notice—such as having your person bathed and cleaned as one example.

– Hidden Fees on Cruises –

When we factor in the price comparison, we typically have to exclude hidden fees which are particular to each individual cruise ship company. For example, most cruise ships charge you for internet service, which would be a client’s only lifeline to friends, family, and planning the next transfer to your next cruise liner. Some cruises charge for laundry service, others charge for guided tours. There can even be a hefty surcharge for a single person, and few cruise liner companies offer a senior discount because they will lose money if the cruise is undersold. Therefore, it is impossible to calculate the true cost of cruise liner retirement.

– Being Healthy is a Must –

Medical care on cruise ships can be expensive. The doctors on staff are not there to provide continuous care. They are there for minor injuries and other illnesses. Any serious injury or major illness that occurs to a customer, and they will be hospitalized at the next port. Contagious diseases lead to a room quarantine and often hospitalization at the next port. Medication refills can become problematic when shuffling from port to port. And we’re not even talking about helicopter evacuation.

However, these costs can be offset with an affordable expat health insurance plan which is tailored for you. This plan will work anywhere outside your home country, with affordable rates and premiere coverage. Click here for a free quote for healthcare that works worldwide.

– Your Health Insurance May or May Not Cover Medical Care on a Cruise Ship –

You will have to check with your carrier, but oftentimes your standard health insurance will not cover medical care aboard a cruise ship. You don’t want to get caught abroad without health insurance.

– The Emotional Toll of Transitory Friendships –

Friendships on cruise ships are transient. Though you will likely make loads of friends from all over the world, and expand your vast social network, having long-term friendships will be difficult if impossible. The best you can hope for is to make a genuine friend that is staff, however they are paid to be kind to you, and there will likely be a generational gap which can stretch conversations thin.

– The Average Room on Cruise Ships Are Tiny –

The average room on a cruise ship is only 170 square feet, therefore if you are retiring on a budget, you will have a very small personal space with very limited storage space—for every material possession you have with you in the world. Sure, larger rooms are available—even those with balconies—however your overhead costs will increase as well.

– Interruptions in Service are Common –

Cruise ships are often fully-booked for charters, therefore you will have to get off the ship and meet your ship at a different port, or you will have to find a different ship with a different cruise liner. Transferring between cruise ships will have to become a matter of course, and last minute stays in random locations will become a standard—however that is what you wanted.

– A Port May Lose Its Appeal –

Those who have lived on cruise ships for long periods of time say that ports slowly begin to lose their appeal. Many end up staying on the ship and enjoying the amenities and quiet time while all the transient passengers get off to explore the port. You will have already been there and done that several times.

– Monotony of Travel Locations –

Ships generally travel via a standard route. Therefore, to explore more of the world, you will have to get off one cruise ship and board another one to see more of the world. Your best bet to avoid the monotony of travel locations is to book 3 – 6 month cruises that travel around the world. This will vary up your ports and keep the trips fresh and exciting with new adventures to see.

– There Are Dress Codes on Many Ships –

Many cruise ships have formal dinners where they expect guests to dress in formal, appropriate attire. This could become tedious as the years pass on—especially bringing formal wear in your limited belongings that is not functional, which you only wear once or twice during a stay.

– Cruise Food is Notoriously Fattening –

Though cruise ship food is generally delicious, it is rarely healthy. Surely at first you will bask in the filet mignon to your heart’s content, however as the months and years drag on, you will likely begin to gain weight. Staying slimmer may become a challenge, and exercise will have to become a part of your daily routine. Not to mention, the temptation to graze throughout the day will always be lingering. This could have a negative impact on your health.

– The Entertainment Will Get Old –

Cruise ship entertainers are a talented bunch, however you will likely get tired of the same jazz standards and stand-up comedians. Gambling could be a costly temptation which would add to the overall cost of your stay.


There is no way to know whether retiring on a cruise ship is right for you. You will just have to find out for yourself. The best way to do so is to take an extended cruise now and see if the lifestyle could appeal to you for a long period of time. Though there are many critiques to the lifestyle, one thing is certain—it will likely be more exciting and adventurous than sitting in a retirement community or in a nursing home, anxiously awaiting your family’s next monthly visit. We only get one life. Let’s live it to its fullest.

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