It's an idea which has captured the imagination of thousands: eschewing your typical retirement for twilight years spent cruising the globe. There are always stories floating around about people who have done this, and they usually make the claim that it works out cheaper than or equal to a more traditional form of retirement. Is this true? In short, it's difficult to compare. Here is what we found.
Comparing the cost and benefits of life onboard a cruise ship to retirement onshore is almost impossible, as retirement lifestyles in Australia vary wildly. There's no one way to do it- some people stay in their own home as long as they possibly can, some are forced into assisted living, and some choose a retirement village for the lifestyle and community it brings. Many things must be taken into consideration when deciding if it would be possible, affordable and enjoyable to retire at sea, and we have done our best to investigate the most pertinent ones.
Would it be possible?
A cruise ship has room service, meals cooked for you and a medical centre- but it is not a nursing home. Specialist medical attention is lacking, and if you need any kind of nursing or personal care you are out of luck- the cruise crew is not trained for that. Wheelchairs are ok, but if your mobility is impaired beyond wheelchair stage then a cruise ship is likely not right for you- especially if you are alone and without a partner.
Is it financially feasible?
It is touted as "cheaper than a nursing home" but as we pointed out, that is a rather meaningless comparison, and not only because it's likely a North American one. Here are some of the common choices for a typical retiree in Australia to give an idea of what you're comparing it with:
Aged Care Homes in Australia are perhaps what we might think of as a nursing home. However, here they are government subsidised and affordable even to those on a pension. Beyond a basic fee, care fees are means tested (with a yearly and lifetime cap) and accomodation payments can be subsidised by the government where needed in order that residential care is available to all Australians. Lump sum accomodation payments are also available which are refundable when a resident leaves the home. So, in Australia a cruise ship is almost certainly more expensive than a nursing home- but if you need to be in an Aged Care situation, you are probably not a good candidate for a ship.
Retirement villages are a great way to downsize and get a little bit of help here and there with things like property maintenance. They also provide a good community for seniors and often have social events. Retirement village residents are in a similar category to those who might consider a cruise retirement, so a comparison is better suited here- but it's more or less impossible!
Retirement villages range hugely in price depending on quality, size and location, as with any type of housing. You can buy a unit, rent one, or pay a lump sum for a leasehold, and in most cases you will pay a service fee for maintenance which can be around $10 a day. Premium retirement villages are hugely expensive and may come with golf courses, spas and more, costing far above a cruise fare- while a very cheap retirement village is almost certainly a much cheaper prospect than paying around $150 a day on a cruise ship. Another thing to consider is that cruise fees are funds spent, full stop. Buying a unit in a retirement village is not a good investment either due to the way most are structured, but you will get some money out at the end.
Staying in your own home is the ideal for many people, and if you are mortgage free than it is probably the cheapest option of all. If you dream of the ocean waves, renting out your home is a good way to help pay the continuous cruise fares and might bring it within reach. That is a very good option for those who are very keen to cruise into retirement- your house can help you pay your way at sea, and will be a nest egg for when you need or want to return to dry land.
What is it worth to you?
Life is not all about money, and that's something that many cruise lovers will understand. When considering your retirement options, you would be silly to take into account only the financial aspects of your decisions.
While land-based retirement may be a better investment, it can't offer the lifestyle of travel that comes with a cruise ship. Once you have left your working years behind, ideally you will also leave behind your scrimping and saving; that was done with retirement in mind, and now that your golden years have arrived it is time to enjoy them.
A life of cruising has plenty to offer that goes beyond money. Excitement, community, activity and entertainment are high on the list. There is always something to do, something to see and new people to talk to. Of course, the travel aspect is the biggest upside of a cruise retirement, especially for those who did not get a chance to see much of the world when they were young. It's hard to put a price on the opportunity to spend a winter in the balmy tropics, explore bustling Asian cities, see the stunning scenery of New Zealand, tour the historic highlights of the Mediterranean and soak up some sun in the Caribbean.
Would you enjoy it?
Of course, no-one can know if they will like something until they try it. The good thing about cruising is, you can find out beforehand! If you enjoy going on cruises, it's likely you could be happy retiring onto a ship. There are a few things to think about beyond that basic test:
- Would you miss your family? Of course, you could return to shore whenever you felt the need to- but you might find yourself on some long itineraries away from your loved ones. It might be a good idea to sign on to a three-month long world cruise as a trial and see how you go. Independent singles or couples who like their own company are probably best-suited for a cruise ship retirement.
- Do you have a favourite line? If you are seriously considering a retirement at sea, you will need to do a little research into the line which would best suit you.
- Are you ok with a bit of upheaval? This is not a lifestyle well suited to those who like to be completely settled- you might need to change ships, stay in a hotel between sailings, and live out of suitcases occasionally.
The typical cruise lines are not the only options for a retirement at sea. Here are a few more which combine some features of a retirement village with the best parts of cruising.
The World Residences at Sea
This is a very unique concept- a floating township of residents who collectively own the 12-deck ship and all of her amenities. The management company refers to it not as a cruise ship but as the largest private residential yacht on earth, and that's exactly what it is. It has all of the best parts of a commercial cruise ship, and one on the luxury end of the scale- gourmet restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges, a spa, gym, pools, a tennis court, golf facilities, a retractable watersports marina and an adventurous itinerary. However, it also offers the comforts of home- each residence, and they range from studios to a six bedroom penthouse, belongs fully to the residents so they can fill it with their own furniture and decorations.
The itinerary is decided by the residents themselves through a system of voting, and it is decided several years in advance. The ship generally spends around three days in each destination to allow residents to fully explore, and to reduce the percentage of sea days. Residents can live aboard permanently should they desire, or join the ship for sections which interest them- most spend an average of 3-4 months with the ship, using it as a holiday home. Phone and internet connections mean they can stay in touch, and even work from their floating home. Not all are retired but many are, to varying degrees.
The advantage of The World is that you can invest capital and expect to get it back, as residences can be resold. The annual maintenance and ownership fees are quite high, and based on square footage like the rates you would pay on land. This is not something we are touting as an affordable option- it is very expensive in both initial costs and annual costs, and is aimed at people who are considering buying a private luxury yacht, in comparison to which it may work out a lot more cost effective. However, for those who can afford it, it is really the ideal option- combining the best aspects of lifestyles at sea and on land.
What else is out there?
The World is currently one of a kind, but there are plans in the offing for similar ventures- and one is Australia-based Cruise Retirement. In the development stage, the concept is to offer retirees (there is a minimum age of 50) a 20-year right to occupy a cabin on the ship, with prices starting at USD$195,000 for an inside stateroom. Should you leave before the 20 years is up, you can re-sell the cabin through the company, and you would receive back the purchase price minus a depreciation deduction which depends on how long you have owned the cabin.
However, the right to occupy a cabin does not mean there are no further costs- cabin service fees and food service fees bring the ongoing costs up to close what you would pay for cruise fares on a commercial line. Designed with retirement in mind, it will include not only the usual salons, pools and theatres but a state-of-the-art medical centre. Residents will rely on private health insurance to cover their medical bills. It's an interesting concept and one which we will be keeping an eye on to see how it comes to fruition- Director Christian Bannard says they are in final settlement negotiations to purchase their first ship.
Pioneers of cruise retirement
Spending your golden years travelling the world on a cruise ship is not just the stuff of legend- it has been done before. Even the rumour-debunking website Snopes concurs- there are people out there who opted for a life lived permanently on the high seas.
When Lee's husband died in 1997, she eventually sold their five-bedroom home- and moved to a cruise ship. Starting on a Holland America ship, she then moved to the Crystal Serenity where she has lived for seven years. Her reason for switching lines was simple- Holland America discontinued their Dance Host program, and the Crystal Serenity is one of the last few ships who offer it. She loves to dance after dinner, does needlepoint, and has visited just about every country with a port. The crew spoil her and she keeps in touch with family via her computer. Unsurprisingly, Lee loves her retirement, calling it a "stress-free, fairy-tale life."
Her current estimated costs are $164,000 a year- a pricey lifestyle, but it is an all-inclusive cost for a permanent holiday.
Known as Bea, Mrs Muller went on four round-the-world cruises on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 with her husband Bob before he died in 1999. After his death, it seemed logical to join her beloved ship full-time, so she sold all of her assets and then boarded in January 2000 on a permanent basis. Once the QE2 was put out of service in 2008, Beatrice tried the other Cunard ships but was not impressed, and returned to the landlubber life.
Beatrice wrote a book called "Queen Elizabeth 2: My Home in Paradise" so those wanting to follow in her footsteps might benefit from reading her memoirs.
Having investigated a little further, we were intrigued by the possibilities when it comes to retiring onto a cruise ship. Would you take the plunge? Or would you rather stick to the occasional lengthy cruise to get away from the winter cold?