From the Blog

Retirement, Ahoy!

Posted on October 07, 2019

Some cruise fans say bon voyage to land-based retirement and set sail indefinitely.

Imagine waking up in a new city each day while enjoying world-class amenities such as fine dining, ballroom dancing lessons, maid service and live entertainment each night. For some, this is retirement – at sea.

As you would expect, life at sea can get pretty pricey. Some spend as much as $450 a day, but living the cruise life year-round – or just for the winter – can be achieved for much less.

In fact, a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found the price of a cruise comparable to assisted living centers, and noted that the quality of life aboard was likely better. Though the comparison is flawed in that ship crews don’t help with activities such as toileting and bathing, the study authors have a point. The cost of a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility is an estimated $135 a day, according to Genworth Financial, compared with the $160 per day price tag of an average cruise ticket. Discounts for “frequent floaters” and long-term bookings can lower the costs substantially.

Companies are taking notice of the demand for alternatives to land-based retirement. Storylines, an ocean liner selling staterooms designed for year-round active senior living, plans to launch in 2020. The World, a private residential yacht, offers luxury condos and near-endless sailing. For those who only want to escape for a season, Oceania’s long-haul “Snowbird in Residence” and “Around the World” trips fit the bill.

Grand escapade or an escape?

So, what is it really like to be a permanent passenger? Jack Ross of Vancouver, who spends the winter on long-haul voyages with his wife, says that compared with home, life on the ship is in some ways cheaper. He told CNBC that “it’s like living at home, but I don’t have to worry about renewing my driver’s license.”

Although admittedly, the comforts of home – favorite furniture, favorite friends and loved ones – are absent, the desire to take a break from real life entices these intrepid travelers.

Hold the anchor

Though the siren song of cruise living may be calling to you, it’s smart to consider some of the drawbacks. For starters, you should be in good health with no need for access to a specialist or frequent medication refills. Though every big ship has a medical center onboard, the majority can only treat minor illnesses – and urgent, complex medical issues will require an expensive airlift to the nearest hospital. Also, Medicare won’t cover you overseas, so you’ll need a travel medical plan.

Even if you remain in good health, you might come down with a case of homesickness. Though you can pay extra for Wi-Fi to be able to correspond with your friends and loved ones, it may not be enough.

Another hitch is that lower-priced cabins are cramped – an average of 130 square feet. If you’re the least bit claustrophobic or prone to overpacking, this tiny home at sea might not be a good fit for you.

Finally, there’s the fact that you must stare down temptation at every turn while aboard. Everything from excursions to drinks to spa treatments costs extra – which can bust your budget if you’re not careful. If you indulge in things that are included in your fare, such as the endless buffets, your waistline and health may pay the price. These floating islands of enchantment might best be left to those with ironclad willpower.

Making a seaworthy plan

If you’re still interested in retiring at sea after all of these caveats, the good news is that it’s easy to test drive, ahem, sail, this lifestyle. After getting a green light from your doctor, there’s not much stopping you from giving it a try before you take up permanent residence. Set a goal to try it once, five times or every year, for example, and have your financial advisor run the numbers on your budget before committing. You’ll need to account for this annual or recurring expense as you do with other financial planning goals. More importantly, talk to your family about being more or less out of pocket during your adventures. You’ll also want to ask your financial advisor about secure ways to store important estate planning, financial and medical documents (e.g., Everplans or Vault) should your family or members of your trusted professional network need access to them while you’re at sea. Plus, that means fewer things for you to pack before saying bon voyage!

With health and finances squared away, you can set sail for a retirement that will be miles from the ordinary.

Sources: The Washington Post; Journal of the American Geriatrics Society; Genworth Financial;; Forbes; CNBC; The New York Times;