The Realities of Living Long term on a Cruise Ship

Cruise ship passing London's Tower Bridge at sunsetWe’ve all heard about taking a cruise for a vacation but there are people that spend months cruising every year as part of their lifestyle and find it affordable.   There are also people that live aboard year round because it is affordable and an attractive way of life.  We wanted to understand the realities of this lifestyle at least as a seasonable option, and get some real perspective from Itchy Nomads that have lived this lifestyle and could speak first hand.

Carol lives in England and for many years has spent several months a year living aboard cruise ships, traveling the world and actually saving money over the cost of staying at home in England in the winter months.

Bill is from Holland and was a career executive for the Holland American Cruise Line.

So we are bringing you the perspective of the consumer with Carol and the insiders view with Bill.  We are proud to say that once again our expertise comes from within our wonderful community of Itchy Nomads.

SUZANNE:  We asked Carol and Bill to bring their experience and unique perspectives to help all of us understand that this lifestyle is real and not too good to be true!  Here are their responses:

CAROL: I have been wondering how to contribute to Itchy Nomads.  I have enjoyed travelling on cruises for quite a few years. Yes, we always go in January and if you knew anything about our English weather, you wouldn’t have to ask why!!!  We usually came back in the spring – like the cuckoo! 

BILL: After High School I went to the Nautical Academy in Amsterdam, Holland. After graduation I joined Holland American Line as a junior nautical officer. After a year I went back to school in order to get my license as a third officer, second officer and chief officer and this took about 10 years to accomplish. The Dutch Maritime Law allows the holder of a chief officer’s license to sail as a Captain. My Nautical career ended as a Chief Officer on one of the HAL (Holland American Line) passenger ships. After the company sold the freight division to a Swedish company there were only 5 passenger ships left of a 20 ship fleet. Promotion to the rank of Captain was a long way out. Moreover, I was very much interested in the Hotel end of the cruise industry. Not one ship in this industry at that time had the position of Hotel Manager and in my position as Chief Officer I saw the big deficiencies and the loss of revenue as a result in the Hotel Department. In a talk with the owner of the company I mentioned this to him and he asked me if I was interested in re-schooling. My answer was a positive and then he asked me what was needed to accomplish this. My wish was to go to the Cornell University Hotel School and then work in different Hotels in all the Departments. I took a paid leave of more than two years and became a Hotel Manager, then sailed on almost all HAL ships in that position. When the company moved its office from Rotterdam to New York I was offered the position of Vice President of the Hotel Department and I worked in this position for 18 Years.

SUZANNE: How long were you typically gone for?

CAROL: We were usually gone for two or three months.  Remember that we were all retired and able to leave home for that length of time.  I should mention here, that these long cruises are mostly for what in England we call “OAP’s” (old age pensioners) and there are few, if any, young people on board.  On the other hand, if you choose a two-week cruise, they are FULL of young people and there is usually a crèche (child day care) and entertainment for the children.

BILL: I was working as Hotel Manager, the longest cruise was an around the world cruise of 112 days.  As a passenger my longest cruise was 73 days around South America and Antarctica.

SUZANNE: Did you find the cost of the cruises to be expensive, affordable or actually a deal compared to staying home in England?

CAROL:  The cost of a cruise varies HUGELY depending on the sort of cabin you choose.  Suites and/or cabin with balconies are astronomical, but a small inside cabin (with no porthole) can be much cheaper than staying at home.  Unfortunately, single people do very badly, because there are very few single cabins, so singletons have to take a double cabin, and PAY DOUBLE!  A very sore point with most single people. People forget that it costs them to stay home too, so when we travel it is not all splurging.  We’ve got to eat after all.

To give you an example:  the price of a round-the-world (104 nights) cruise in a suite or balcony cabin would cost about £25,000 per person, but in an inside cabin with no porthole, it would cost about £7,000 ( at the time of this posting the currency conversion to US dollars is about $10,944) per person.

Remember that all your food is provided – you only have to pay for drinks and excursions – so I always found that I had oodles of money in the bank when I got home!

SUZANNE: Please tell me about the process you usually undertook to choose a cruise.

CAROL: Most people will go to a travel agent, pick up a few brochures, and go from there.  But I started by deciding what part of the world I wanted to see.  (When I retired, I wrote a “Bucket List” — with places like Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, The Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and so on).  After my first cruise – which went all round South America, and on which I met a nice bunch of friends – I then started to look for cruises on the same ship, with the same group of people.  We did this for about ten years.

BILL: People who look at ads or brochures for cruises often miscalculate the costs after the cruise fare has been paid. I deal with that issue later. True, you can eliminate a lot of the costs involved when staying home, but mortgage, insurance, car loans, health costs remain a monthly burden for many. Then the extras of the cruise they booked are often far higher than anticipated. Sometimes the flight to and from the ship are not included in the ticket price or the Hotel in which you stay the night before boarding. Then on the ship the only thing that is included in the fare you paid is food and entertainment. But the other costs are sometimes highly under estimated. Drink and Wine prices are thought to be Duty-free. But those are comparable with the prices you pay in the average restaurant. Then there are the shore-excursions. These are organized by the cruise company with a local operator and are generally of a very good quality and if the tour bus arrives late to the ship, the ship waits. If you take a tour on your own and arrive to the dock late, the ship may be gone.  People forget that they buy souvenirs too.  But the most discussed item amongst the passengers is tipping. Crew members most in contact with the passenger are the Dining Room steward and the Cabin Steward. Almost all Cruise Companies have now started a tipping system, whereby they created a point system in which the Cabin and Dining Room Stewards have the highest number of points but the men below deck, like the garbage handlers, laundry etc. also get a share with lower points.  Some passengers argue that when they eat in a restaurant they only tip the waiter and that’s it. They argue that the company should take care of that part, as does the restaurant and the Hotel ashore. But facts are that the longer the cruise the more one gets “attached” to that “cute” guy. So the general tipping system in the cruise industry is that every day of the cruise the company adds approx.  $ 12.00 per passenger per day on your on-board bill. On a long cruise that can add up! Then!!!!  The last meal on board most passengers feel very uncomfortable leaving that dining room without personally handing some money to that “cute” little guy. I myself could not resist either. I have heard passengers say that they were spending the same amount of $$$ of the fare for the entire extra’s above the fare. But the greater majority still find cruising an excellent way to spend a vacation. All in all my feeling is that it still is a wonderful.

SUZANNE: What challenges did you have, if any, to doing these cruises?

CAROL:  Personally, I didn’t have any challenges that I can think of, but people who are disabled sometimes had problems going up and down the gangway. Also, some of the ports we docked in were little more than container terminals, and we were usually bussed to the port gates.  It was not always very well organized, and we had long waits for the shuttle busses.

BILL: What challenges? As a passenger or as a worker? As a passenger, getting used to a complete different environment. Being sea sick absolutely can ruin your cruise. But ships have stabilizers and cruises generally are in warm areas and calm seas. Another challenge can be the other people at your table in the Dining Room. If you do not like them do not wait to ask the Dining Room Manager for another table.

SUZANNE: Where did you go?

CAROL:  Oh, I went to some wonderful parts and have ticked off most of the places on my Bucket List.  Asia, South America (sailing into Rio is an unforgettable experience!)   Australia – and sailing into Sydney is thrilling, too.  On one cruise we went to Alaska and I will never forget the beauty of it.  On one cruise, we stopped in San Francisco, and I met my dear friend Nancy for lunch.  I could go on and on…..

BILL: As a worker I travelled the whole wide world.  But I did enjoy traveling more as a passenger. It is so relaxing and meeting other people, visiting the different countries and cultures and above all — making new friends, some for the duration of the trip, but most are lasting for a long time or forever. We can honestly say that there was not one cruise we did not like. The success of a cruise depends mostly on yourself the cruises we made were in Asia , South America including Antarctica and the Amazon river, Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Panama Canal cruise, Alaska and part of the World Cruise (from Hong Kong via India , Middle East to East Africa and off in Cape Town.

SUZANNE: What were your favorite Itineraries?

CAROL: I think Round South America was my very favourite, and in fact, I have done it twice!  But also, the Mediterranean is wonderful, because you wake up in a different culture every day – Greece, Egypt, Italy etc.

BILL: Favorite itineraries are very personal. But if you ask us: Asia, Mediterranean, South America but absolutely with Antarctica and the Amazon River. For a short cruise Alaska but weather is a risky factor, the Trans-Panama-Canal from Fort Lauderdale to the West Coast.

SUZANNE: Did you have a certain time of year you usually went?  If so, what season and why?

CAROL:  Yes, we always go in January and if you knew anything about our English weather, you wouldn’t have to ask why!!!  We usually came back in the spring – like the cuckoo!

BILL: Our favorite time to go is between fall and spring. We like to be home for the summer, because we like the weather during summer in the North West. But we are retired and have the luxury that the timing is on us.

SUZANNE: Did you book your cruise as an individual or with a group?

CAROL: I always booked as an individual, but I know there are groups with special interests, such as Bridge cruises, or bird-watching cruises, or golf sometimes.

BILL: For us: Individual. But also this is very personal. We made many lasting friendships with people who only booked with groups from American Express, Cruise Specialists.

SUZANNE: What did you miss while on the cruises, if anything?

CAROL: Well, yes, I suppose I missed the family a bit!  And sometimes, towards the end of the cruise, you get a bit tired of the food, and you long for a home-cooked meal.

BILL: If you are afraid you will miss anything: Do not go on a cruise! On all our cruises we did not look forward to the day of ARRIVAL!  After every cruise we left like leaving a family! Sad!!

SUZANNE: Did you have favorite cruise lines?

CAROL:  My friends and I always travelled on the Fred. Olsen Line, which sails from the UK. It is less expensive than some of the others, although the ships are getting a bit shabby now.

BILL: We are very biased. We only traveled HAL, but I heard very favorable comments about Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, Azamara and the smaller “Explorer” type ships.

SUZANNE: What were your Criteria for choose a specific cruise?  Was it the ship, the cruise line, the price, the destinations or something else?

CAROL: I think probably the destination, but all of those criteria need to be taken into account.

BILL: First of all, the destination and from there the Company (size of ship, nr. of passengers). The Cruise Company you choose will determine the price.

SUZANNE: Do you have any recommendations on Websites or Resources of any kind that might be helpful to others that wish to do what you have been doing?

CAROL: Yes, there is a good web site: www.cruisecritic.co.uk  it’s for ships that sail from the UK, but I’m sure there must be an American version.

BILL: Cruise companies move their ships from one destination to another mainly because of seasons. For example: From winter in Caribbean to summer in Alaska or Mediterranean and back to Caribbean in winter. These cruises to and from the new destinations are called Repositioning Cruises. Some of these Repositioning  Cruises have fewer ports are often many days at sea, but the Cruise Company fills the days at sea often with interesting events like lectures ,big band nights etc. We personally like days at sea.

It is difficult for me to answer. I always listened to other people’s stories and opinion and then filter out what looks interesting.

SUZANNE: I want to THANK Carol & Bill for their great insights and perspectives on this topic!

In Summary, based on Carols financial estimates of the cost for an inside cabin for 3 months including your accommodations, foreign travel, food, maid service, entertainment, gym access, medical assistance and no need for a car all the while enjoying the ships amenities and seeing the world comes out to about $3,600 a month per person or about $133 a day.   Other estimates I found in doing the research for this article vary with estimates of $145 and $185 per day per person.  It is hard to lock in to an exact value with all the variables of cruise line, length of cruise, quality of the ship and destinations.

If you look at your budget for  flexible costs that could be shifted should you choose to go on one of these cruises like groceries, eating out, utilities, entertainment, car fuel, winter heating fuel you may actually find yourself  financially ahead in considering  this lifestyle for the months you live it. What would a dream trip to some foreign destination cost you if you booked that destination as a vacation getaway?

Here are some of the cruise ship destinations that you can expect on long distance itineraries:

  • London
  • New York
  • Fort Lauderdale
  • Curacao
  • Costa Rica
  • Panama Canal
  • Acapulco
  • Cabo San Lucas
  • Los Angeles
  • Maui
  • Honolulu
  • Samoa
  • American Samoa
  • Fiji
  • Auckland, NZ
  • Wellington, NZ
  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Perth
  • Bali
  • Hong Kong
  • Nha Trang, Vietnam
  • Saigon, Vietnam
  • Bangkok
  • Ko Samui, Thailand
  • Singapore
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Langkawi, Malaysia
  • Cochin, India
  • Mumbai
  • Muscat, Oman
  • Dubai
  • Aqaba, Jordan (Petra)
  • Suez Canal
  • Athens
  • Rome
  • Lisbon

A few additional considerations of this lifestyle that I think are worthy of mention:

  1. The opportunity to forge long-term friendships is more probable on these longer cruises.  The extended time on board provides opportunities for friendships to blossom that normally would not be possible when vacationing.
  2. Unlike a vacation it is possible to get into a daily routine and a slower pace because it is not just a vacation. The stresses of cramming every possible experience into a very short period of “vacation” time vanish and this can be liberating.
  3. Educational classes and lectures can provide opportunities for learning that are not normally available to vacation passengers.
  4. Smaller ships can get into some really interesting places and carry fewer passengers.
  5. For us, internet access is currently a deal-breaker.   The access tends to be slow, limited and costly and we still need to work.  Once the Cruise Lines industry starts providing unlimited and high speed internet, I’ll be eager to sign on to one of these long range cruises.
  6. Buying based on price only is not a good method.  Cruise lines vary in their quality of sanitation, service and experience.  Do your research on look for reviews before committing.
  7. Ask others for their recommendations.
  8. Be sure to factor in the cost of excursions, alcohol and tips for an accurate estimate of what this will cost you.
  9. Keep in mind if you are on a long term or world cruise, you will have limited time in each destination.  You will see a lot but there are definite limitations.

 

According to journalist Rachael England, the best time to book a cruise is:

When it comes to cruising, prices tend to come down between 60 and 90 days before this ship sails. Final deposits are usually due around this time, as some passengers pull out unexpectedly.”

Taking a long term, or round the world cruise is not for everyone.  If does primarily attract an older demographic of travelers and is ideal for those that are less able to get around as easily as they used to.  Would I consider it, probably not at this time, but I love knowing it is an option and definitely hold in my arsenal of possibilities for the future.  The economics of it really depend on your financial situation and may be an attractive way to spend some time traveling that is economical, relaxing and enjoyable.

Below are some resources should you decided to investigate the possibilities of this lifestyle.  If you do experiment with long duration cruising we’d love to hear your experiences and how it worked out for you.

RESOURCES

Cruise Trip Deals

Vacations to Go – an online consolidator that specializes in very deep cruise discounts, repositioning cruises and last minute discounts.

Cheapcruises.com World Cruise Link

Cruise Trip Reviews

Cruise Critic – Recommended by Carol this is a great resource for reviews on the cruises you consider.

CruiseLines.com – is another Cruise Review site.

Fodor’s Cruise Ship Reviews – Famed travel publisher cruise ship review site.

Cruise Lines referenced in this posting

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines –  Recommended by Carol

Holland American Line –  Recommended by Bill

Seabourn Cruise Lines –  Recommended by Bill

Crystal Cruises –   Recommended by Bill

Azamara Club Cruises –  Recommended by Bill

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The Realities of Living Long term on a Cruise Ship

  1. We really enjoyed reading both Carol and Bills comments about long distance cruising. Lots of good

    information to consider if one is planning a cruise. Thanks for covering this subject, Suzanne

    We have taken about 11 cruises and my favorite was Sailing from the White Cliffs of Dover all over the Baltic.

    • Sounds like you’ve done a lot of cruising Nancy. Thank you for suggesting the itinerary that include the White Cliffs of Dover and the Baltic. So glad that you enjoyed this posting. We appreciate your comments very much.

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