It’s one one of the most popular stories on the Cruise Passenger website: is retiring at sea a real option for cruise lovers? Or is it just a pipe dream?
Last week we brought you the story of Victoria Cruises Line, which offered cabins on a luxury liner with “luxury suites and premium staterooms” for a minimum of six months.
It promised a round-the-world first trip of 29 months, with 886 days of cruise, 703 days in ports and 183 days spent at sea. But “Victoria Majestic” or “Victoria Majesty” is not yet a reality. And neither are many of the refunds that passengers have been requesting.
The cruise has been delayed by more than a year. Clients are now seeking to get their US$10,000 (AU15,000) deposits back. Bookings are currently at 53 per cent for a chartered ship it does not have. The percentage is also well below the 80 per cent Victoria Cruises Line says it requires to lease a vessel.
What Victoria Cruises Line said
The company wrote an open letter to Cruise Passenger after our story last week. The statement said in part: “The minimum booking for departure must be 80%. We can only sign a charter contract for any vessel if this level is reached, as charter fees are payable from the date of contract signature.
“This is a pretty high amount if you are informed monthly, so we do not sail. You don’t think that a company starts by immediately chartering or buying a ship for a residential ship project. It’s a financial expense that will bankrupt any company by default.”
Victoria Cruises Line continues to solicit deposits, and is believed to have collected in excess of US$3million so far.
Our advice on this market is best contained in the Latin legal phrase: caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.
While Miray’s Life at Sea residential cruise concept hit the rocks last year, other residential cruises still appear to be on track. That includes a new ship with an Australian at the helm. Another refurbished residential cruise ship is also set to launch later this year.
This is how the residential cruise market currently stands:
Villa Vie Residences
Run by Mikael Petterson, the former MD of Life at Sea, Villa Vie Residences says it is still on schedule to launch Villa Vie Odyssey in May.
The 30-year-old former MS Braemar was purchased from Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, a Britain-based, Norwegian-owned cruise line. The line recently posted video of the new re-fit.
Watch the walkthrough of Villa Vie Odyssey here.
The line says Villa Vie Odyssey will offer an intimate, new type of cruise lifestyle. It can reach destinations larger ships cannot as it has a flatter hull, enabling her to navigate inland waterways and rivers.
Villa Vie Residences’ world cruise will visit 425 ports in 147 countries across all seven continents, circumnavigating the world every three and a half years.
Villa Vie Odyssey features eight decks including aft decks and a wrap-around promenade. Lengthened in 2009 and refurbished in 2019, she offers three restaurants, eight bars and four lounges, an extended pool with four Jacuzzis, a spa and fitness centre and library.
What Villa Vie said
“Villa Vie Odyssey will be customised for her immersive, 3.5-year global circumnavigations, ensuring all the comforts and amenities of home,” says Petterson.
“Named by the residents themselves, Odyssey reflects the company ethos of creating a community to share unforgettable moments of discovery on an extended journey, connecting people, places, and self.”
Ownership started at US$99,999 (AU$153,000), with monthly maintenance fees from US$1750 (AU$2687) per person. Ownership of an Oceanview Villa starts at US$149,000, with monthly fees from $2500 per person at double occupancy. A Balcony Villa starts at US$249,000 with monthly fees of $4000pp at double occupancy.
As many as 30 per cent of those on board will be permanent residents. A “pay-as-you-go” concept will also allow travellers to combine portions of the world cruise itinerary with a 10 per cent upfront deposit, starting at $89 per day.
Villa Vie Odyssey is currently in the Port of Rosyth, Scotland.
Run by Queenslander Alister Punton, Storylines first launched his residential ship concept in 2016. The proposed model has since changed from refurbishing an older vessel to building its own vessel, MV Narrative. Buyers, including some Australians, expect amenities such as hydroponic farms, an anti-ageing clinic, 20 dining venues, bars and even a brewery.
MV Narrative was scheduled to be launched in 2023. But COVID, construction delays at the Brodosplit yard in Croatia, plus the Russia/Ukraine war now mean a December 2026 launch.
Current pricing for whole ownership of one of the proposed 530 residences ranges from US$1m-$8m, or starts at US$598K for a 25% ownership or US$550K for a 50% ownership.
MV Narrative is on the “affordable” side of the residential cruise concepts. It will cater for digital nomads, families with children, retirees and cruise lovers.
The retail value of the project is US$1.5 billion. Construction is partially financed by the future residents of the ship. There will be some institutional gap financing as well, a spokesperson for the line told Cruise Passenger.
What Storylines said
“We are holding reservation deposits on approximately 50 per cent of the residences. About eight of those units are sold to Aussies,” the spokesperson added.
The concept has also been amended so half a share in a cabin can be purchased.
“We do have some residential units available for 50 per cent shares at this time. This was recently introduced by popular demand for people who do not anticipate being on the ship full-time and prefer to split the costs with a co-owner.”
Reservation deposits are US$10k and are fully refundable prior to signing a sales agreement.
“We have begun distributing sales agreements and will soon be taking the first 20 per cent milestone payment, which is paid into a trust account,” the line says. “A trustee oversees when these payments can be forwarded to the shipyard as certain construction milestones are met.”
The line said it had “a few cancellations due to life changes” but is consistently accepting new reservation deposits.
Despite many stories, including those on Cruise Passenger, claiming life is cheaper at sea, no cruise liner, except The World, has so far been able to make the full-time “life at sea” concept work.
And The World caters exclusively to the top, cashed up one-percenters – including Australia’s Ros Packer. One condition of purchase is that any potential co-owner has a net worth of at least $10 million.
Launched in 2002, The World circumnavigates the globe every two to three years. Facilities include six restaurants, golf facilities, swimming pools, a full-service spa, fitness centre, beauty salon, library, cinema and tennis court.
But even it had growing pains. In 2003, residents pooled US$71m to buy the US$280m ship themselves.
Passengers decide on its itinerary and visit the planet from the comfort of their own luxury “home”. That could be anything from a studio to an expansive five-bedroom penthouse. About a dozen cabins are resold for $2 million-$15 million each year.
She is currently cruising around South America.
Life at Sea
Other residential cruise concepts have hit cost overruns, investor withdrawal, ill-judged financial planning and the withdrawal of promised ships.
Seventy-eight of the 100 or so would-be Life at Sea passengers have now sent a letter to the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, asking to investigate whether Miray, the Turkish cruise company behind the scheme, defrauded them out of millions of dollars.
Most passengers paid Miray anything from US$90,000 to secure a cabin or US$975,000 up front to secure a discounted suite. Miray collected an estimated US$16 million (AU$24 million) in deposits to acquire and repurpose a ship. That failed to happen.
Even though the Miray concept has fallen apart, its website is still live, spruiking “Your 3-Year Adventure: Exploring 140 Nations Across the Globe”.