October 5, 2010

Living on a Cruise Ship : Is it Practical?

Wandering around the web I saw someone suggest the idea of living full time on a cruise ship during retirement.   Sounds like a neat idea.   Pay the cruise ship a flat amount and get your accommodations and meals all included.   They even have doctors on the ships.     OK so its a neat idea. But is it feasible?  Is it practical?   I decided to look into the idea a bit more.

Yes people have done it
Turns out that Snopes.com the urban myth debunk/verification site actually addressed the topic.   There has been an email floating around talking about people retiring to a cruise ship full time instead of a retirement home.      They verified it as true at least for one person.   A woman named Bea Muller who was 86 at the time had been living full time on the QE2.   Her costs were $5,000 a month at the time they say.   A later report said that the same woman was looking for a home when the QE2 was retired.

Is it practical?  

I found an article about a physician who said they looked at the cost comparison of living on a cruise ship versus assisted living and decided the costs were fairly equivalent.   But they don't go into real specifics on how they figured the costs for either.   Frankly that doesn't do much to convince me.  

An article on the Dallas News titled  Love to cruise? You can live on a ship discussed the topic and they did a pretty good job.   They cite 12 month costs of in the range of $75,000 to almost $180,00.
They say: "If you sailed on the Azamara Quest from Feb. 1, 2008, through Jan. 31, 2009, an inside cabin would start at $75,000; a verandah cabin at $105,000." and "A Celebrity cruise averages $125 per person, per day for an inside stateroom, or about $45,625 per person for someone who books a yearlong stay." and for Cunard liners "an outside Britannia cabin would start at $108,296 per person. For a Princess Grill Cabin: $179,884 per person"

So all the reports I'm finding talk about costs in the $60,000 to $180,000 range.   I wouldn't consider those prices 'practical'.

I did some shopping myself to see how easily you could book lower priced cruises back to back.  I just searched on Travelocity myself. 

Here is my example itinerary with costs:

Nov 4-19: I first found a Norwegian cruise on Nov. 4th departing Miami and going to Los Angeles for a 15 day trip.  The cruise was $1,298 for two people with a senior citizen and repeat customer discount.  Taxes and fees are $637 for a total of $1,935.

Nov 19 : I was not able to find a cruise leaving on the 19th.  However Norwegian had a 1 day cruise for the 19th going 'nowhere'.   So you could book that overnight stay on their ship.  Total cost for 2 with taxes / fees : $245

Nov 20- Dec 5th : On the 20th Norwegian cruises made a return trip from L.A. back to Miami for another 15 day journey.   This time the trip was $1,298 but the fees and taxes were $709 for a total of $2,007 for two seniors.

Dec 5 - 18 : Another trip from Miami back to L.A.  Cost $1,208 + taxes and fees $595 for total $1,804.

Dec 18-25 : Now the trips from Miami to L.A. and back seem to end.  The only trips I can find out of L.A. are trips down to Mexico and back to L.A.   A 7 day trip would be $1178 + tax/fee $158 = $1337.

Dec 25- Jan 1 : Another week trip down to Mexico and back to L.A. Cost $1592 + tax/fee $158 = $1751

I could go on like this finding trips back and forth.    But I think this is a good enough example.   The cheapest route I got was 15 days for $1,804.   So best case I would be paying $3,600 for a month of cruise ship travel.  

Adding up 2 months of my example:
Nov 4 to Jan 1 = $1,935 + $245 + $2,007 + $1,804 + $1,337 + $1,751 = $9,079 
That means that for 2 months I am paying about $9,000 for two people.   Or roughly $4,500 per month or $54,000 a year.

Sample of costs over various months
I did a quick search for cruises in various months to see what the cheapest cruises ($ / day) are for each month.   Again I just looked at Travelocity. The taxes and fees tend to run about 50% of the nightly cost.   So if I take the average of the cheaper nightly rates and multiply by 1.5 to add taxes/fees then multiply by 30 I can approximate the average monthly costs.

March : $38 to $47 = $3,825 / month
April : $43 to $54 = $4,365 / month
May : $46 to $52 = $4,410 / month
June : $62 to $68 = $5,850 / month
July : $86 to $90 = $7,920 / month
August : $59 to $60 = $5,355

6 month average $5,288/ month
12 month average total $63,450

Adding in the variations form month to month over 6 month period and assuming thats demonstrative of 12 months I can guesstimate the annual costs.   The total cost for two people to take cruises non stop works out to approximately $63,450 per year.    Thats just a ballpark estimate of course, actual rates will vary depending on the circumstances and theres nothing to lock in a price long term.   $63,450 is a pretty large sum of money and not something that is feasible for most people to pay.

Wait a second, we haven't  paid for everything

When you go on a cruise you get food and your room included.  But there are other costs you have to consider.    Each cruise line will vary on the details and some will charge for some things and other services may be free.   The exact charges will depend on the cruise line.   I'm going to just look at Norwegian as an example.   (not picking on them, just a random example)   Other cruise lines may be more or less for any given service.

You are also generally expected to tip the staff.   It is common for cruise companies to add the tips as a 'service charge'.  Norwegian says in their FAQ : "Onboard Service Charges are additional. A charge of $12 per person per day will automatically be added to your onboard account."

$12 a day is the kind of charge you might accept in stride for a 5 day cruise.   Its not fun having extra fees but another $120 on top of your $2,000 cruise doesn't cause most people to throw out the idea.  Its one of those additional 'extra' costs added in at the end like the $1-$5 extra fee many hotels like to charge for the pleasure of helping them pay for their electricity bill or the luxury of having a working phone.

But over a year $12 a day adds up to a LOT.   $12 a day for 2 people = $8,760 a year.

Laundry:  Oh, you want clean clothes?    That will be extra.  Norwegian apparently used to have self service laundry so you could do your own laundry but they apparently got rid of that.   Now you either have to pay them to wash your clothes if you want it done.    I found a discussion of the topic online in a message board.  One person said: 'I have found the laundry prices onboard to be comparable to what a hotel would charge for the same service' which is what I figured.   Hotel rates for laundry are expensive.   But another person mentioned that hey do have specials on the ships for $25 / bag full of laundry.   Thats cheaper than hotel prices but still quite expensive.    Ok say you do one bag a week at $25 / week.   That equals $100 / month or $1,200 a year for laundry.

Ship board doctor:   Yes there is a doctor on the ship.  But no they are not free.   Norwegians FAQ says:
"A physician and nurse are on each ship to provide medical care and services at customary charges."   No telling if "customary charges" means average rates or super duper expensive.   Do they take insurance?   Who knows.  The cost of shipboard medical care would be a very big question mark for anyone.    And furthermore the quality of the medical care could be questionable.   Apparently there is virtually no regulation of medical care on ships and no assurance that the doctor is a trained M.D. from a reputable school.

Internet:   They do have internet on  the ship for Norwegian, but it is not free.  In fact its really expensive.    The fees for internet are : Pay as you go for 75¢ per minute or 250 minutes for $100.   

Fuel supplements :   Right now Norwegian does not charge extra for a  fuel supplement.   But they might.
"The Company reserves the right to re-instate the fuel supplement for all guests should the price of light sweet crude oil according to the NYMEX (New York Mercantile Exchange Index) increase above $65 per barrel."

Other charges:   If you want beverages, entertainment, shore excursions or anything else then they'll all cost you extra and it won't be cheap.

Is it cheaper for a single person?

No.   Cruise prices are cited on a per person double occupancy basis.  If you travel alone then you are taking up a stateroom by just one person.   The price for a single person will be higher than the cost for two people sharing a room.

Bottom line:   You can feasibly live on a cruise ship by booking back to back cruises non stop.   However this is not a cheap way to live and you should expect costs to exceed $60,000 a year for two people.

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