There are so many enjoyable aspects to retirement: the leisure time and relaxation, the time spent with friends and family, the ability to travel … just to name a few. It’s almost like being on a permanent vacation! But some retirees are turning their retirement years into a literal permanent vacation. So-called “serial cruisers” live part or all of the year on a cruise ship.

To some retirees, this might sound like a dream come true, but there are some factors you may want to consider before choosing this senior living option.

Cruising has something for everyone

If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know that they have appeal for people of all age groups: great food and drinks, pools (some with waterslides), kids’ clubs, shopping, music and other performers, new places to explore when in port — the list goes on and on.

While there are many family-/kid-friendly activities, statistically, a majority of cruisers are at least in their 50s. According to data from the Cruise Lines International Association, 28.5 million people took a cruise in 2018. Among those, one-third were age 60 and older — and more than half were at least 50 years old.

It’s easy to understand why people who are retired or approaching retirement age enjoy cruising. Indeed, they provide many of the features that seniors need to stay mentally and physically healthy. Among their features:

  • Organized entertainment and activities
  • Ample food, including healthy options like fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Basic medical care
  • Housekeeping services
  • A sense of community and belonging with like-minded passengers

>> Related: Can a Move to a Retirement Community Make You Healthier?

The value for your money

But what about the cost? Many retirees have a fixed income or must stay on a budget.

Serial cruisers sometimes find that living on a cruise ship is actually quite cost-effective. Although the daily cost breakdown can vary widely, some cruises can work out to as little as $89 per person per day, which is far less expensive than many other senior living options. And bear in mind: Your housing, food, and entertainment expenses are all included in that price.

What’s more, frequent cruisers can build up reward points or credits with the cruise line, which can then be put toward perks like cabin upgrades, premium meals and drinks, spa services, or other extra activities and amenities.

>> Related: The Cost of a CCRC vs. the Value to Residents  

Retiring at sea

With the “retire at sea” trend gaining steam, cruise lines are looking for new ways to tap into this potentially lucrative demographic.

Though not exclusively marketed to retirees, more and more cruise lines are offering extended “world cruises” or “grand cruises.” These cruises can be several months long and include extensive stays in the world’s ports. If planned correctly, a person could “bookend” these months-long cruises with several shorter cruises and essentially live indefinitely aboard a ship!

One Virginia-based company, the Cruise Web, has launched what they call a Senior Living at Sea program, which does indeed target those senior serial cruisers. Senior Living at Sea offers retiree-specific itineraries, but it goes a step further. The company takes care of logistics for seniors — things like shore transfers, ship-switches, visas, and even insurance.

The Cruise Web says they have passengers who have been aboard their ships for over a year. They are usually people who have downsized their permanent residence. Some may even rent out their land-based home to cover the cost of their cruising lifestyle.

Fully residential ships are also becoming an option for those who would like to retiree at sea. On these ships, people can actually purchase a cabin with one to four bedrooms, but they can be extremely pricey: between $1 million and $8 million to own or $500,000 for 12- and 24-year leases. And don’t forget to add to that cost incidentals like fuel, port fees, taxes, and housekeeping.

>> Related: You’re Ready for a CCRC…But Your Adult Kids Aren’t on Board

Potential issues to consider with serial cruising

Think spending your retirement on a cruise ship sounds like a little slice of heaven? There are a few things you may want to take into account before you set sail.

First, the cost of serial cruising can really add up, depending on which cruise line, itinerary, and cabin-type you select. If you rent your primary residence to fund your cruising, you may be able to break even, but if you sell your home to finance your serial cruising lifestyle, you forsake the equity you have accrued in your home.

Second, there are health considerations to ponder. The pandemic showed us the vulnerability that cruise ships have to contagions. But also consider what you would do if you had a health issue arise while you were at sea. Ships do have basic medical care onboard, but if there is a more serious problem, you would likely have to be evacuated to the nearest port — no matter where that was.

Consider also what you might do if and when you begin to have age-related issues that require some level of assistance, be it mobility challenges, or the need for help with things like dressing or bathing. If money is no object, you could possibly hire an aide to travel with you to assist with these tasks, but for many people, that may become cost-prohibitive quickly.

>> Related: CCRC Services and Amenities Include Many Attractive Perks

The perks of a cruise ship …with one key differentiator

Your retirement years should be a time to enjoy life — whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s traveling and seeing the world, maybe it’s relaxing with no schedule or responsibilities, or perhaps it’s spending more time with friends and family. Serial cruising is indeed one option that may check all of these boxes.

Another option that may also check these boxes is life in a retirement community, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community). Featuring daily events, activities, and entertainment options, I’ve heard some people refer to CCRCs and other such senior living communities as “a cruise ship on land.” This description may sound a bit pejorative to some, and the reality is that at a CCRC, residents can do as many activities — or as few — as they like.

But there is one crucial differentiator between moving to a CCRC and retiring to a cruise ship. In addition to all of their activities and amenities, a CCRC gives residents peace of mind. If they ever require it, CCRC residents have access to a full continuum of on-site care services — anything from help with a few activities of daily living like dressing and bathing, all the way up to 24-hour skilled nursing care.

So, while a life at sea “serial cruising” may have its allure for some seniors, there certainly is a lot of appeal to living in the security offered here on land at a CCRC.


Image credit: Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

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