Senior Retirement on a Cruise Ship

Senior Retirement on a Cruise Ship

Most cruise ships are floating palaces that offer such an incredible variety of things to do that you might not even notice when the ship pulls into an exotic port!

All-inclusive cruise packages mean you don’t have to worry about a thing. You simply step onto the ship, check in with the crew, go to your assigned room, and then begin your adventure. Food, lodging, drinks, activities, the whole nine yards – with the exception of any souvenirs you purchase to take home with you – are all included in the price. That even includes the little things you might not think about that often, such as the use of the medical clinic on board. Some large cruise lines even have fully equipped hospital rooms on their ships.


Because cruise ships offer so much fun and adventure for an all-inclusive price, many seniors choose to take cruises for extended periods of time. And some choose to actually retire to a cruise ship, where they spend their golden years cruising the seas.


Balancing the Cost and Practicalities of Retirement at Sea


Though seniors have been taking advantage of cruises for retirement for years, it’s only recently that the idea has caught widespread attention. The most prominent option right now is called Life at Sea Cruises. This cruise company intends to launch a three-year cruise around the world in November 2023. The ship includes 400 cabins, with plenty of room for over 1,000 passengers. The ship will sail over 130,000 miles and take you to 135 countries on seven continents.


And that’s all for the starting price of $83 per person per night, which works out to about $30,000 per year.


That might seem expensive at first blush, but consider that according to the latest Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the national median cost of a room in an assisted living facility runs about $54,000 per year.1 There are many trade-offs to choosing assisted living or even home health care versus a cruise ship – and we’ll get to that in a minute – but the bottom line for pricing is pretty clear.


But is a cruise ship really a good idea for long term care?


According to the Administration on Aging, about 70% of those over the age of 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives.2 Most of that care will require help with the activities of daily living. This means that life at sea might work for some and not for others.


For instance, those who have trouble with standing long enough to cook a meal can be free of that responsibility when they are at sea, because cruise chefs handle that for you. And for those who need to use a wheelchair or other mobility device to get around, many cruises make that possible. But if the need for help extends beyond that – to toileting or bathing, for instance – a professional or family caregiver could be required, and that’s not conducive to life on a cruise ship, especially with the cramped accommodations cruises are famous for.


Just how popular is the idea of a life at sea? The Life at Sea Cruises opened for booking in May of 2023 and the ship is already over 50% full.


The Advantages of Living on a Cruise Ship


Thinking about spending your golden years on a ship? There are many reasons why you might want to do so. Consider these points:


·        It’s all-inclusive, so the bottom line of your expenses is very clear. You don’t have to worry about extra money for food, drinks, entertainment, Wi-Fi, or any other amenity. (Though you will need money for shopping and for the occasional gratuity.)

·        If you own your home, you could consider renting it out or even selling it before you leave. This allows you the opportunity to turn that house into a money-maker that helps fund your time on the cruise ship.

·        You are constantly surrounded by individuals who are doing the same thing you are, which can foster a wide range of social interactions and relationships.

·        You get to travel the world and see many ports of call, visiting countries and destinations you might not have had the time to visit or couldn’t afford when you were younger.

·        There are medical facilities and sometimes even a small hospital on board, which allows you to keep up with your medical and health needs while at sea.

·        You never have to worry about housekeeping, cooking your own meals, doing laundry, or otherwise managing the day-to-day things you would have to handle at home.

·        If you are still working, you can take advantage of the global internet access to work from your stateroom at whatever hours work for you.

·        The opportunities for relaxation abound, so your stress levels might drop significantly while you’re cruising the seas, and that’s good for your health.

·        Depending upon your cruise choice, it could be much cheaper than assisted living or even cheaper than hiring in-home help.

·        These days many cruise ships have rooms designed for those who are disabled, including wheelchair-friendly rooms; these rooms can allow you to enjoy life at sea just as well as anyone else.  


The Downsides of Cruising Into Retirement


Just as with any big decision, there are some downsides to consider. When you’re spending retirement at sea, there are some special considerations that might give you pause – because these disadvantages may be substantial enough to make or break your plans.


·        Your medical plan might have restrictions on care outside of the country. For instance, Medicare might cover medically necessary care while on a cruise ship, assuming that the ship is in a U.S. port or you are within six hours of a U.S. port, according to United Healthcare.3 But if you are on a cruise ship sailing the world, you will quickly be outside of that treatment zone. That means you have to choose other medical coverage, which can get quite pricey.

·        Things that you might have relied on in the United States, such as in-home or mobile medical alert systems for seniors that use cell networks or require a landline, will not be available for use in other countries or while at sea. Telehealth options with your home doctor might not be available either, depending upon the policies of the doctor or the telehealth company.

·        You might miss your family and friends – though there are some cruises that allow you to invite them to come with you for a short period of time. For instance, Life at Sea Cruises allows you to bring a friend or family member with you on the ship for no additional charge for up to 30 days. But keep in mind that those family members or friends might not be able to find the time in their schedule to be away from home for that long.

·        While the ship might have a hospital with excellent staff, there is only so much they can do with limited facilities. This means that if you suffer a medical emergency, you don’t have the luxury of something like a fall alert device to reach out for help and get to a full-fledged hospital quickly. If you have a true medical emergency on a cruise ship, you might need to be flown out to the nearest hospital that can handle your condition, and that can waste precious moments and cost a lot of money.

·        Some cruises aren’t designed to accommodate those with wheelchairs or other mobility issues. This can be a hassle if you choose a particular cruise for a long period of time and find that you can’t access many of the amenities. That’s why it’s important to look for a cruise that caters to seniors; however, these might be more expensive than something like the Life at Sea Cruises option.


Sailing Into Your Golden Years


Before you make the choice to spend years on a cruise ship, start out with a shorter option that allows you to try it out. Perhaps a 30-day cruise that stays closer to home is a good idea at first; it allows you to take advantage of the Medicare rules that keep you covered in the event of medical emergencies, as well as gives you the time to really think about whether you could live on a ship for years.


It’s also a great idea to talk to others who have chosen to spend much of their golden years on a ship. What did they like about it? What did they find difficult? How did they overcome the challenges they faced? Ask if there were any hidden costs that caught them by surprise and depleted their retirement funds faster than they expected.


As you cruise on the waters near the United States, remember that an emergency alert system can help keep you safe. Though these devices might work just fine for inland cruises, they won’t work once you get too far out on an ocean cruise. For instance, medical alert technology would work just fine in a port of call in San Diego or Miami, but might not work at all once you’re several miles away from land.


However, a medical alert system (also known as a personal emergency response system) is an excellent idea to keep on hand when you venture back to the United States to visit family and friends. It pays to be safe no matter where you choose to retire – on the high seas or right there in your easy chair at home.