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Your latest ‘retirement’ home might be a cruise ship

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Jeff Farschman, 72, is a serial cruiser from Delaware who spends months at sea in retirement.

Jeff Farschman

For nearly twenty years, Jeff Farschman, 72, has spent his golden years like many other adventurous retirees — having fun with leisure cruises to exotic ports of call.

But unlike a lot of his fellow cruise passengers, Farschman mainly lives at sea. He spends months traveling the world’s oceans and waterways — half of the yr, if no more. Although he still keeps a physical home near where he grew up in Delaware, Farschman is now a part of a growing cohort of older folks who are actually “retiring” on cruise ships.

“Pandemic aside, I have been cruising for seven to eight months a yr,” Farschman said. “I’m a world traveler and explorer type and cruising has literally allowed me to see all the planet.” 

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Living on a ship was not exactly what Farschman had in mind when he first began cruising. But the previous vice chairman at Lockheed Martin found himself stuck on a standard Caribbean cruise when Hurricane Ivan hit back in 2004.

“I just kept on extending and increasing my time on board since the hurricane ruined my original winter plans,” he explained. “Ultimately I ended up completing six voyages in a row.”

Almost 20 years later, Farschman now organizes his life around his time at sea — keeping his periods ashore as temporary as possible. That said, like every other cruiser, “retirees-at-sea” found themselves back on dry land during much of the coronavirus pandemic, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut down all cruises from U.S. ports.

For Farschman, that meant 19 months — including winter — without cruising, his longest period ashore in nearly twenty years. But once major lines established clear Covid health protocols, serial cruisers were the primary back on board. While Covid outbreaks have since been reported — including notable instances in San Francisco and Seattle — folks like Farschman say they feel secure while cruising.

Cruising’s clarion call to retirees

Holland America Line offers “grand” voyages lasting months. Here, the road’s Westerdam sails in Alaska.

Holland America Line

Although there are not any hard numbers, retiring on a cruise ship is gaining an increasingly higher profile — despite the industry tumult attributable to the coronavirus crisis.

Serial cruiser and creator Lee Wachtstetter, as an example, 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 is “change into so way more reliable, though sadly not necessarily more cost-effective,” 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 artistic brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory Services, a Woodstock, Georgia-based financial advisory firm that helps folks retiring at sea.  

With cruising, you cover all your living expenses — food, housing, entertainment — in a single place.

Tara Bruce

creative brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory Services

In some ways, retiring on a cruise ship makes numerous sense. Stereotypes aside, cruising has at all times appealed to older travelers. In actual fact, in keeping with the Cruise Lines International Association, one-third of the 28.5 million individuals who took a cruise in 2018 were over 60 years old — and greater than 50% were over 50 years old.

What’s more, cruise ships offer lots of the essential elements seniors must thrive: organized activities, an honest level of medical care and, most crucially, a built-in community of like-minded travelers. 

Retiring on a cruise ship may prove economically sound.

Cheaper than assisted living

“With cruising, you cover all your living expenses — food, housing, entertainment — in a single place,” said Bruce. Although pricing on luxury liners can inch towards $250 per day, “we have seen folks get costs right down to $89 per day, which is much cheaper than assisted care or different kinds of senior living.”

Repeat cruisers like Farschman are also eligible for on-board credits towards premium meals, drinks, spas and other activities that may easily reach “lots of 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 may last 50 days or more at a time.

Holland America, as an example, offers a 71-day Grand Africa Voyage itinerary stopping in 25 ports in 21 countries together 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, additionally they include discounts of 10% and 15%, in keeping with Eric Elvejord, Holland America’s director of public relations. 

A lucrative demographic

The World, described as “the most important private residential yacht on Earth,” calls at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.

The World | The Dovetail Agency

Although few cruise lines specifically goal retirees — Oceania, for its part, had a Snowbird in Residence program, which has since been canceled — specialty agents are waking as much as this lucrative demographic.

CruiseWeb, based in Tysons, Virginia, launched a Senior Living at Sea program that each builds out retiree-specific itineraries and helps clients manage their their lives back on shore. Beyond booking cabins, CruiseWeb handles issues corresponding to shore transfers, ship-switches, visas and insurance.

“We’ve got clients which have been on board for over a yr,” said CruiseWeb senior marketing and operations coordinator Michael Jones. “Normally they’ve downsized their everlasting residence back home with many even renting it out while on-board” to assist cover the associated fee of cruising, he added. 

Perhaps essentially the most notable component of the retiring at sea movement is the arrival of fully residential ships, just like the 20-year-old The World and the soon-to-debut MV Narrative, from Storylines. The previous includes 165 individually-owned on-board residences, while the far larger MV Narrative – set to hit the high seas in 2023 – offers 547 one- to four-bedroom apartments.

Owning at sea is not low-cost: MV Narrative units run between $1 million and $8 million, while a limited variety of one- to two- yr leases start at $400,000.

“There are also monthly or annual costs to cover things like fuel, port fees, taxes and house-keeping,” McDaniel explained. “It’s type of like living in a condo – that just happens to be at sea.”

— By David Kaufman. Kaufman is a contract author.

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