There has been a boom in retiring at sea – it’s increasingly becoming more common to find retirees spending their well-earned money sailing the seven seas.

So much so, that there are a number of companies that offer permanent residents on retirement village style ships.

The World is a luxury residence at sea only that has 165 special apartments. It’s said that mining magnet Gina Rhinehart and media tycoon Ros Packer have apartments onboard.

Also on sale are residences on Utopia, a 971-foot long cruise ship where the apartments range from US$4 to US36 million, and will take its guest to major sporting events like Wimbledon, the Olympics and more.

But let’s be realistic – not everyone has that kind of money lying around which is why, many retirees have invested wisely, and sail on back to back world voyages with lines like Viking Ocean Cruises, Oceania, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean and more.

For example, Lee Wachtstetter, an 89-year-old who is better known as Mama Lee, puts this lifestyle to the ultimate test. She has been living on the Crystal Serenity, full-time since she turned 77 and when her husband passed – that’s nearly eleven years.

She’s even published a book “I May Be Homeless, But You Should See My Yacht”, where she writes about her experience as a permanent cruise ship resident.

The Wachtstetter’s were seasoned cruisers – Mama Lee and her husband went on 89 cruises when her husband was alive. But when he passed, she sold her five-bedroom, 10-acre home in Fort Lauderdale and has now done over 100 more cruises as well as 15 world voyages.

“I was in good health. I could afford it. I was already traveling 11 months of the year, and now I no longer had a big house to worry about,” wrote Ms Wachtstetter in her book.

So why are cruise ships so attractive to retirees? Turns out, you could potentially be saving money when you compare living on a cruise versus a retirement village or a nursing home. According to Third Age Matters, the accommodation prices published by providers on government website My Aged Care has an average price of $359,000 in 2015.

The per day cost of aged care accommodation prices works out to be about $983.50. In comparison, the per day cost of a veranda cabin on the ‘Ultimate World Cruise’ on Viking Sun is $473.40. And a Princess Cruises world voyage starts from as little as $226 per day.

Ms Wachtstetter is definitely not alone in this trend – ‘Captain’ Morton Jablin, 94, has spent 13 years on the Seven Seas Navigator and has a strict routine he follows.

While the ‘Captain’ still has an apartment in Boca Raton, Florida for his ‘stuff’ and to qualify for health benefits, it’s been three or four years since he’s set foot there.

According to Forbes, the ‘Captain’ is now 90 per cent blind so he no longer goes ashore (aside from the occasional medical appointments) and leads a simple life.

“My life is very routine but comfortable,” he told Forbes.

He has breakfast in his stateroom and eats lunch and dinner at the main dining room, which is always set the same way so he has no trouble finding the salt.

“The food is excellent overall but I prefer to eat Dover sole at both meals, every day,” he says.

Regent has also installed brighter lights, handrails in the bathroom and a special mirror for the captain. To stay fit, he walks around two hours a day and you’ll usually find him on Deck 7 making the rounds.

“I’m intelligent enough not to walk where I’d have a problem. Nobody is on that deck during the day and as an ex-Navy man, I have my sea legs,” he says.

Cruise Passenger spoke to Roger Foenander and David Mutton who recently completed their first World Cruise with Viking Cruises which departed in March earlier this year.

Roger and David with the crew
Roger Foenander and David Mutton (centre)

The couple is currently house-sitting in Europe as they wait to board Viking’s 245-day ‘Ultimate World Cruise’, the longest world cruise ever offered, which departs in August.

Roger is 71-years-old and David is 62-years-old and the couple spends anywhere between two and eight months at sea every year.

“We are not full timers since we do other land tours either in groups, self-driving or simply staying with people in their homes around the world. We would call ourselves committed cruisers, however,” says the couple.

Roger has been cruising since the early 1970s and David since the mid 2000s. They have now chosen Viking as their preferred cruise line after cruising with other lines like P&O Cruises, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Orion expedition ships.

They have taken eight cruises with Viking, four ocean cruises, three river cruises and one world cruise.

“We have already been travelling for over two years and will be travelling after the ‘Ultimate World Cruise’. It’s one component of a larger travel plan.”

Beyond potential cost savings, the ship’s today come with a whole range of amenities and activities. You can find swimming pools, fitness centres, lounge areas, spas, as well as fine dining, entertainment, enrichment classes, housekeeping and many more.

“We like the premium feel, the Scandinavian aesthetic, the smaller size of the ocean ships, the non-child policy, and the value for money. Viking’s service is impeccable and the food is of a very high standard, plus they offer good onboard education enrichment sessions on a variety of topics. Viking has a non-pretentious air about it,” says the couple.

Going on a World Cruise also gave the couple a chance to see their friends and family when the ship in Australian ports.

“When the Viking World Cruise called into Australian ports we took the opportunity of socialising with friends and family. We exchange lots of emails to all our family, friends and associates in Australia and around the world keeping them updated of our travels, and use FaceTime or Whatsapp to talk to close family members,” says the couple.

The 24/7 availability of on board doctors and nurses might also be another drawcard for retirement at sea. It is a feature that most assisted living facilities don’t provide and while it might not be ideal for someone with severe or chronic health problems, it can work well for many healthy seniors.

“I couldn’t achieve this lifestyle anywhere else. If I need a nurse or doctor, someone is in my cabin within five minutes. No matter what the time of day, if I need something, someone is here in 10-15 minutes. If I weren’t on this ship, I would have to have someone living with me. Where else could I feel this secure and safe? Life on board couldn’t be better,” said Mr Jablin.

Tempted yet? David and Roger share their advice for retirees who are considering retirement at sea: “Don’t have pets, rent out your homes for an extra income stream, scale down your life possessions and become minimalist (you realise how little stuff you really need when travelling for long periods), make peace with friends and family for your prolonged absences, cruise while you can as there are many people who seem to leave it too late.”

“We are very lucky in that together, we have saved money over the years earmarked specifically for travelling. We tend to select the lower priced Veranda or Deluxe Veranda suites.”

“Don’t try to do everything as if it were a two week cruise experience, and just enjoy being rather than doing something meaningful all the time. We believe that the life onboard the ship – in many of its forms – is our cruise highlight.”