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.


  1. Nice analysis! I never would have thought of looking at this to begin with, but since you did, quite interesting. Glad you added in all the incidentals; I knew there had to be a catch. Does make me want to take a cruise though; it would be my first!

  2. I would think you could negotiate a much better rate for long term. Isn't that what the lady on the QE2 did?

  3. Excellent analysis. Thats a lot of research. I like cruises if your in an outside cabin with plenty of room. The inside ones suck. To bad its so expensive, but if you have the money go for it. If anyone needs a volunteer for cruise testing let me know.

  4. No one has figured in the cost of food, wine, desserts, drinks, seeing the places etc. Since the food and regular drinks are paid for or included in the price you save money there. No home cooking, so no dishes, silverware, pots and pans to buy ~ most everything you'd have to buy at home you wouldn't have to buy. I ask - how can you go wrong. No car payment, no gas - come on - Sit me on a balcony on any ship and I will be happy there forever and a day. My grandfather was the last whaler out of new england and I love the water - maybe that is why I do so much. My wish is to just cruise and watch the water - it's the most relaxing and mesmerizing, carefree way to live. PUT ME ON A SHIP! I'll go anywhere at all!

    1. I agree with anonymous. Even then all the benefits aren't included. We (husband and I) have mortgage, power, gas, land phone and cell phone and maintenance inside and outside. We have two vehicles that requires fuel and maintenance. Groceries are a minimum of $300. month, and a restaurant periodically adds to that, (with tips). Any entertainment such as movies and stage shows are extra. We could do with a regular cabin with a balcony and live like king and queen on the money it costs us here. A mini suite with balcony would be heaven. I have done real live research--we have been on several cruises with 3 different cruise lines. We have not encountered 1 that charges extra for the entertainment. They do cost for the casino, alcoholic drinks, shopping---but it does on land also. Travel to see the sights will cost bus or taxi, same here. I know that assisted living is generally $4,000 or better, depending. They give you 1 or 2 meals a day, clean bedding every 2 or 3 days, no travel, no entertainment. some do not include laundry. So far, i am not convinced it is not feasible.

    2. I agree. And as you keep travelling you keep accruing loyalty points. With that many cruises you will get prepaid gratuities, free internet, premium dining, drink packages. I'm seriously looking into this option also

  5. Good article, you covered all expenses. It was my dream, but too expensive for my budget. I also met a senior couple that didn't have any family and were considering this life style, but they also had to rent a small apt for in between sailings, that's another expense.

    1. I'm thinking about this option of living on a cruise ship and then living in a Class B RV for the time spent in the States to visit family. The RV can also be used to travel to all the National Parks when not cruising. Looks like a plan to me. Right now, my husband and I are trying to travel around the world until we can't travel as readily by flying. As for the doctors/nurses on board a ship, I broke my ankle in Skagway riding a bicycle. I was treated by the ship doctor and nurse. When I returned to the States for my followup appointment, my doctor said the ship doctor had done a great job and much cheaper. I'm really seriously thinking about this way to enjoy my life in my 80's if I'm still healthy. The cruise ships are geared to elderly people who are immobile.

  6. its a good idea but need some research to find out the best for the purpose. and for sure if you are good in negotiating in rates then go for it to bring down the cost of living over the cruise.

  7. I cruise a lot and have often considered living aboard for 6 months as a trial. Every cruise line that I have contacted has said "no discount for long term passengers." How foolish of them!!! I could be a permanent good-will ambassador on board, and no trouble, less maintenance. But no, they are not interested.

    1. That is interesting..it seems cruise lines would be more interested in renting their cabins for a slightly less rate and know they are full than "give" them to last minute cruisers in order to not sail with empty cabins.

  8. My understanding is that the cruise lines make most of their profit from the extras like alcohol, the gift shops, casino gambling and shore excursions... so they don't want cheap, live bodies filling their cabins on a long term basis.

  9. You are comparing the cost of cruise ship retirement to every day living. Compare it to a retirement home living and the cost is comparable, or less.

  10. Interesting analysis. I have thought about the practicality of living on a cruise ship and I think it is feasible however it needs to be altered. When we cruised, we met with the captain one morning and he told us the way to do it, is to cruise to somewhere as part of a leg of your entire cruise, and stay in a hotel or (for longer) rent a condo. Then when you wish to return, you set up the last leg of your voyage. Its like using the cruise ship as an airplane of sorts. Living on a cruise ship would get too monotonous and the rooms are quite small. It might be a fun adventure for 3 months to hop from ship to ship though allowing for you to see so many different places. It is something I expect will continue to grow with options through the years.

    1. Excellent idea! Is there an extra charge to have this available

  11. As time goes by, I do believe prices will go down. Lots of ships and lots of retiring folks out there!

  12. I've actually done it. What you do is just use last minute cruises and take either a cheap interior cabin or a guaranteed one. There have been several times where I was upgraded to both ocean views and balconies. When all was said and done it came to about $2,600 a month for the room. That's a bit more than the average mortgage but you don't pay property taxes, food bills, utilities, car payments, home and auto insurance...and other items. I really don't drink much so that expense is comparable to what I'd pay on land. The casino is ok as long as you limit yourself. The excursion costs go down with time because you can only do the same one so many times. The inside cabin doesn't bother me because I'd like to be alone in my cabin and you spend all day looking at the water. The big sacrifice is that you can't be particular about where you get your cabin. Sometimes you get a good one, sometimes average, and sometimes inferior. Also, don't forget to bring an IPad and a nook. Also, try to stay loyal to one line as best you can to maximize your rewards in their program...discounts,upgrades, etc.

  13. I forgot to mention two things, one, while a mortgage remains constant all cruise prices drop like rocks during recessions. Also, forget the shows..the best entertainment is on the rail when it's time to go because you can see that one or two people running like hell to catch, and miss, the ship as it's pulling away. The ship won't wait for you.

  14. You can live on a cruise ship for actually less than $35K for almost a year. If you have grandkids you will nevel live a year on Sea. I calculated for tow a total of less than 35K per couple for 40 weeks and you separate 12 weeks for family and holidays on land. I always shop many web sites for Balcony sales for less than $500 or close. Thats counting the Loyalty CLub discounts, On board cash to spend, free liquor for 3 or 4 hours, food, entertainment, free Internet, etc. The secret is to look at sites cruise.com, cruises.com, avoya.com, etc and they give great discounts and additional perks. Transatlantics que cost as little as $700 per person on a Balcony for 15 days and that comes out to less than $350 per week and you can also get free gratuities if you do your homework and invest time in planning. Most important, become a Loyalty Club member quick and stick to no more than 1 or 2 Cruise lines. Ours are Royal Caribbean and if we want to rest a bit; Celebrity Cruises. Both are great!

    1. I'm seriously thinking of trying this type of cruising, but I never seem to find prices as inexpensive as you quoted. Maybe I haven't cruised enough yet. Do you buy last minute cruises or buy them far in advance? I'm really interested since it isn't as easy to travel overseas once a person isn't as mobile. The cruise lines seem to be the perfect solution to immobility problems.

  15. Can you bring your own liquor on board?


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