For nearly two decades, Jeff Farschman, 72, has spent his golden years like many other adventurous retirees — enjoying leisure cruises to exotic ports of call, reports CNBC.
Cruising’s clarion call to retirees
Although there are no hard numbers, retiring on a cruise ship is gaining an increasingly higher profile — despite the industry tumult caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Serial cruiser and author Lee Wachtstetter, for instance, wrote a much-read memoir about living on cruise ships for 12 years after her husband died. Farschman, meanwhile, chronicles his sea-faring ventures on his blog — facilitated by on-board WiFi that’s “become so much more reliable, though sadly not necessarily more affordable,” he said.
Upgraded connectivity has also allowed semi-retired cruisers to be based at sea while still working. “The WiFi on most vessels is now strong enough for Zooms,” said Tara Bruce, a consultant and creative brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory Services, a Woodstock, Georgia-based financial advisory firm that helps folks retiring at sea.
In many ways, retiring on a cruise ship makes a lot of sense. Stereotypes aside, cruising has always appealed to older travelers. In fact, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, one-third of the 28.5 million people who took a cruise in 2018 were over 60 years old — and more than 50% were over 50 years old.
What’s more, cruise ships offer many of the essential elements seniors need to thrive: organized activities, a decent level of medical care and, most crucially, a built-in community of like-minded travelers.
Retiring on a cruise ship can also prove economically sound.
Cheaper than assisted living
“With cruising, you cover all of your living expenses — food, housing, entertainment — in one place,” said Bruce. Although pricing on luxury liners can inch towards $250 per day, “we’ve seen folks get costs down to $89 per day, which is far cheaper than assisted care or other kinds of senior living.”
Repeat cruisers like Farschman are also eligible for on-board credits towards premium meals, drinks, spas and other activities that can easily reach “hundreds of dollars per voyage,” Farschman said.
The rise of the “retire-at-sea” movement has been aided by a recent shift toward longer, more elaborate “world cruises” or “grand cruises” that can last 50 days or more at a time.
Holland America, for instance, offers a 71-day Grand Africa Voyage itinerary stopping in 25 ports in 21 countries along with a Grand World Voyage visiting 61 ports in 30 countries, totaling 127 days at sea.
“They’re typically comprised of several segments with extensive times in each port,” explained Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruisecritic.com. With careful planning — often bookended by shorter “connector” cruises — “grand” itineraries can keep cruisers at sea almost indefinitely.
Holland America’s back-to-back so-called Collectors Voyages not only help retirees avoid repeating port calls, they also include discounts of 10% and 15%, according to Eric Elvejord, Holland America’s director of public relations.
A lucrative demographic
Although few cruise lines specifically target retirees — Oceania, for its part, had a Snowbird in Residence program, which has since been canceled — specialty agents are waking up to this lucrative demographic.
The Cruise Web, Inc., based in Tysons, Virginia, launched a Senior Living at Sea program that both builds out retiree-specific itineraries and helps clients manage their their lives back on shore. Beyond booking cabins, The Cruise Web handles issues such as shore transfers, ship-switches, visas and insurance.
“We have clients that have been on board for over a year,” said The Cruise Web’s senior marketing and operations coordinator Michael Harris. “Usually they’ve downsized their permanent residence back home with many even renting it out while on-board” to help cover the cost of cruising, he added.
Perhaps the most notable component of the retiring at sea movement is the arrival of fully residential ships, like the 20-year-old The World and the soon-to-debut MV Narrative, from Storylines. The former includes 165 individually-owned on-board residences, while the far larger MV Narrative – set to hit the high seas in 2024 – offers 547 one- to four-bedroom apartments.
Owning at sea isn’t cheap: MV Narrative units run between $1 million and $8 million, while a limited number of 12- and 24-year leases start at $500,000.
“There are also monthly or annual costs to cover things like fuel, port fees, taxes and house-keeping,” McDaniel explained. “It’s kind of like living in a condo – that just happens to be at sea.”
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