Retiring on a cruise ship: an impossible pipe dream that only the wealthiest could ever possibly afford, right?
If cruise ship retirement truly calls to you, it is entirely possible to make it happen. Whether or not long term cruising ultimately proves to be a sustainable lifestyle for you is another question altogether, however.
Could living on a cruise really be less expensive than life on land? Depends on what life on land costs you.
According to Bankrate.com, the average single American spends around $48,000 per year on expenses. That includes everything, from housing to groceries to utilities to home maintenance, etc.
This leaves two big questions. First, can you reasonably purchase a year’s worth of cruise tickets for under $50,000? Then, are there any other expenses you might incur that your all-inclusive tickets don’t cover?
Life at Sea Cruises
Enough people have been Googling “how to live on a cruise ship” that somebody decided to really deliver on the dream. Life at Sea Cruises is launching a 3 year cruise voyage in November, 2023.
This literal Odyssey will take passengers to all 7 continents, 140 countries, and over 375 individual destinations.
How much will this fantastic voyage cost passengers? All-inclusive prices vary considerably. You could pay as little as $38,513 per year for an indoor cabin. Or you could splurge on an outdoor cabin with a balcony for $98,226 per year.
Keep in mind that’s per person, so if you plan on retiring with your spouse, double those numbers.
Would you be comfortable living in a tiny room with no windows for three years straight? If so, you could definitely live on this cruise ship for much less than the average American spends in a year.
Before you get out your wallet to book your cabin, it’s worth mentioning a couple things. First, this is definitely a guinea pig voyage. We don’t really know what quality of life aboard the ship will be. We also don’t know what happens to the human psyche after 3 years on the same boat.
What’s more, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be embarking on another voyage when this one ends. So, this may not be the permanent solution to living on a cruise that you’re hoping it will be.
Assuming the worst, we’ll break down costs and whatnot for booking consecutive week-long cruises below.
Upfront expenses of life on a cruise line
Cruise prices vary wildly, as you might expect. What you actually end up paying depends on the cruise line you choose, the duration, and where the cruise travels.
(Quick note: Many cruise lines have flash sales going on right now, so prices are cheaper than normal. We’re going to use normal pricing for all our calculations, since that’s what you’d normally pay.)
The cheapest cruise possible
The absolute cheapest cruise we found was a 9 night trip through the Bahamas and Florida on MSC Cruises. This trip will cost you $67.67 per night, or $609 total per person (including taxes and port fees).
Assuming you could book this trip repeatedly throughout the year, you’d end up spending around $24,700 per person.
Middle of the road cruises
You’ve probably heard of Royal Caribbean cruises. They’re the household name for mainstream cruise lines (and generally rated slightly higher than their competitor, Carnival).
The best value cruise from Royal Caribbean is a 13 night foray through Spain and the Canary Islands. A basic cabin on the ship is going to cost you $562 per person, which shakes out to $43 per night.
A year aboard the ship, then, would run you $15,779. Again, however, booking this exact trip consecutively is simply impossible.
Expensive luxury cruises
Viking cruises consistently win awards for being the best luxury cruise line., and their prices reflect this status.
The cheapest Viking cruise is an 8 day trip from Barcelona to London in a basic stateroom. This trip will run you $2,599 per person, but that includes all fees as well as wifi and alcohol. (We’ll discuss wifi and alcohol further in the hidden fees section.)
You can’t book this cruise consecutively (it doesn’t run all year). Even if you could, it would cost $118,579 per person per year. That’s more than double what the average person spends in a year.
Hidden expenses of life on a cruise line
Are you willing to accept an indoor room on a mainstream cruise line? If so, you could certainly book passage for a year for much less than you might normally spend living on land.
However, “all inclusive” doesn’t always mean all inclusive.
Many cruise lines charge you extra for wifi access, which is important for a couple reasons. First, you won’t get cell service in the middle of the ocean. What’s more, depending on your carrier, international roaming charges could be astronomical.
Royal Caribbean, for example, charges $120 per device for wifi access on a 7 night cruise. That price increases as you add days as well. (Note: this information is not available on their website — we had to call them to get it.)
So, if you want wifi access throughout the year, it will cost you a whopping $6,240 per device.
If you’re living on a cruise all year long, you’re going to need to do laundry eventually. How much extra that costs you depends on the cruise line (and how often you do laundry).
Carnival cruises, for example, have self service laundry rooms. You can wash your own clothes for $7 per load (washer and dryer). You can also buy detergent for $2 per single-use box.
Let’s assume you do 1 load of laundry per week. Depending on which cruise you’re on, you’ll end up spending between $450 and $2,000 per year on laundry.
Long-term cruise-dwellers are unlikely to drink as much daily as those who are there short term. Still, if you plan on drinking at all, it’s likely to cost you extra.
While super-expensive luxury cruise tickets often include alcohol, the mainstream ones usually do not.
We’re not going to try and estimate the average person’s yearly alcohol expenditures. (And, let’s be honest — if you’re considering retiring on a cruise you’re not exactly an average person.)
If you did want to have access to an unlimited drinks package all year long, that won’t be cheap. Royal Caribbean charges between $48 and $80 per day, depending on all sorts of factors. (Where you set sail from, which ship you’re on, how long your cruise is, etc.)
That means the best case scenario is an extra $17,520 per person per year.
In all likelihood, buying your drinks individually will save you a lot of money in the alcohol department.
We know the idea of life at sea is an exciting one. However, there are some realities about cruise living you should confront before making the choice to leave landlubber life behind.
Itty-bitty living space
Cruise state rooms are small. On average, you can expect your living quarters to be somewhere between 140 and 180 square feet.
That means the only private, personal space you’ll have access to is going to be smaller than most kids’ bedrooms.
If you’re on a cruise for a week, that might not matter all that much to you. If you plan on spending the rest of your life on a ship? It’s possible you’ll start to feel claustrophobic before too long.
Living out of a suitcase
If you’re really doing the thing and retiring on a cruise ship, we assume you’re selling your house. (Unless you can afford to pay your mortgage and taxes and utilities in addition to all your cruise fees.)
So, you’re going to need to be able to carry all your possessions with you at all times. This will only get more and more difficult as you get older (sorry). What’s more, you’ll likely need to make hard choices about what you actually need to have with you.
Access to medical care
While the 3 year cruise has a hospital on board, most ships are not. If you have any sort of serious health care needs, retiring on a cruise ship might not be a smart choice.
Your health insurance probably won’t cover a helicopter to the mainland. If you suddenly need to get to a hospital from the middle of the Atlantic, you might be in trouble.
After 7 nights on a cruise ship full of debaucherous young people (side note: your cruise will be full of debaucherous young people), most people truly understand the phrase “I need a vacation from this vacation.”
But if you live on a cruise ship, your life might quickly become the vacation you need a vacation from.
Even if you can get used to the constant party atmosphere, you’ll never really have a home base. It’s simply impossible to book the same cabin on a cruise ship for an entire year. You’ll need to disembark at the end of each trip and board again with the next group.
Doing this every week or so for the rest of your life might just be too tedious to be sustainable.
Does retiring on a cruise ship still seem like the life you want for yourself? If so, you’ll want to start making a plan to make it happen.
In less than five minutes, Planswell can tell you if this dream is feasible for you. Start planning your dream retirement now, whether it’s on land or at sea.