Gayle and Vic Doe from Yamba have just stepped off their cruise, spending 127 days at sea on eight different ships.
The couple who are in their 60s made the decision to semi-retire on cruise ships where they spend a third of the year sailing around the world.
They took their first cruise around 40 years ago, but it was not until 2005 that they became regular cruisers. And in 2019, they did the maths and decided to work for parts of the year to fund their semi-retirement at sea.
“We’ve just done 127 days at sea, we started in August last year and we finished on December 21. That block was across eight different ships. We would do about a month on one ship and then change to a different ship, with no land days in between.
“We started in Denmark, cruised to Norway, Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, across the Arctic circle to Boston USA then cruised East, West, and southern Caribbean.
“And now, we are currently cruising the Australian Cruise season on Ovation and Quantum to Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Tasmania, Adelaide, and other destinations around the country.
“We’re fully booked out until February next year.”
Mrs Doe shares a more in-depth breakdown of the costs below, but says generally around $150 each per day, including the cruise fare, is a satisfactory level of spending.
Finder calculates the average cost of living in Sydney as a single-person to be $4100 a month. According to Mrs Doe’s figures, sailing as part of a couple comes out to around $4500.
This means people like Mrs Doe can go sailing around the planet, soaking in the sights, for a similar price others will pay just to get by in a big city.
With so many Cruise Passenger readers curious about how those who cruise full-time or nearly full-time do it, we got Mrs Doe to give us her top tips on living at sea.
Why choose cruise ships?
Mrs Doe says nothing beats the convenience of a cruise and the lifestyle at sea.
“It’s just such a relaxing way to holiday, you can do as much as you want or you can do as little as you want. You don’t have to make huge decisions, the cleaning is done for you, the cooking is done for you, and you’re eating at four or five-star restaurants every night at no cost and being served by wonderful waiters.
“There’s no shopping to be done, you get up for the morning and go out for a coffee and by the time you’re back your room is spotless and clean and your beds made, everything’s done for you. It’s just relaxing.”
What’s the planning like?
The lead planning tip from Mrs Doe is simply book back-to-back cruises in the same cabin. However, she does highlight some inconveniences of back-to-back cruising in Australia.
“My hot tip for convenience is booking the same cabin, so we don’t have to unpack and then repack again.
Mrs Doe doesn’t use travel agents to book her cruises, rather does the planning for herself.
“We book direct with the cruise lines themselves. We don’t use travel agents.
“It’s not difficult to get the same cabin at all. We just ring the company and tell them we are doing multiple back-to-back cruises and they open multiple screens at the same time and tell us which cabins are available for an entire lot of cruises. The most we did on one ship was five back-to-backs all in the one cabin.”
Mrs Doe also says she books up to 18 months ahead to ensure she gets the cabin and itineraries she desires.
The cost breakdown
The key factor in how much you end up spending will come down to what level of lifestyle you choose to pay.
Mrs Doe says: “Costs can vary greatly based on the destination and the type of cabin you book. You can do an inside cabin for $299 per person for a week, or you can go up to a top-of-the-range suite and pay $15,000.
“A lot of people are very happy to do inside cabins all the time and you’d probably spend more money on groceries at home than you would on the fare for the cruise.”
Mrs Doe says they prefer to aim for something slightly nicer and generally book balcony cabins, however, destination rather than cruise fare is their first consideration.
“We book depending on the destination we go to and then we look at the price. On average, we spend around $2,000 for a seven to 10-day cruise and we splurge on the accommodation.
A huge money saver for the couple is the loyalty bonuses they receive from Royal Caribbean. They currently receive free internet, free laundry, up to six free drinks per day, and a discount on cruise fares as part of their loyalty rewards for passing 700 days of sailing with Royal Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean loyalty bonuses begin from 70 days of sailing, increasing with value the more you sail with them.
This of course benefits those considering retiring on cruise ships, as the experience can become cheaper the longer you do it.
This allows the couple to sometimes splurge on experiences such as specialty dining and shore excursions, but because they cruise so regularly they don’t feel the need to do this all the time. Mrs Doe says they are sometimes perfectly content simply exploring ports on foot.
How much does this all come out to?
“Including the fare, if we can do it for about $300 a day in total for the two of us, our base cost is mainly for food and accommodation.”
The couple have an upcoming 82-night sailing around South America with Royal Caribbean, the cost is coming out to around $60,000 for the two of them for a balcony room, which comes out to $365 a night per person. However, the couple views it as a bit of a splurge.
“We’re circumnavigating South America with Royal Caribbean. It starts in LA, then goes through the Panama Canal to Miami, then it goes all the way down the East Coast of South America and then does Antarctica, then crosses over to the West Coast and comes back to LA. Those ones going to cost us about $60,000 for the two of us but that’s a bucket-list cruise for sure.”
If you were to take the same cruise in an interior cabin it would be around $19,300 per person or $235 per day.
But the Doe’s on their world cruise will get a Deluxe Beverage Package which includes cocktails, spirits, beer and wine, WiFi as well as gratuities and laundry.
Mrs Doe advises that if you are retiring on a cruise ship or cruising long-term, particularly with one line, you may often be able to negotiate with your cruise line or receive extra bonuses and inclusions from them.
The couple don’t pay for travel insurance, rather opting to use their free credit card insurance, although they have noticed the price of travel insurance creeping up considerably.
“We don’t pay for anything for our travel insurance, we use our free travel insurance that comes with our credit card.
“However, we do look at what travel insurance costs and we’ve seen it go up a lot of money since Covid happened. We used to buy an annual policy that would cost us about $500 for the two of us, now that would cost you about $3,000. But we’ve often just used our free travel insurance we’re very happy with it and it doesn’t cost us much at all.”
As a career nurse, Mrs Doe says she couldn’t be happier with the medical facilities she sees onboard ships and that those who are thinking of retiring on a cruise ship or spending more of the year cruising don’t need to worry about unprepared medical teams.
“The medical facilities are ten stars, you can’t get better. They’re absolutely brilliant. I’m a nurse and I’ve seen the medical people at work when people collapse on board or have a heart attack or anything, in all honesty, I would be extremely comfortable if something went wrong on the ship. They’re top-notch, they really are brilliant.
“As far as COVID goes, the ships are managing it extremely well. The cleanliness is exceptional and everyone is just keeping the ship as Covid-safe as possible.”
With a series of spectacular travels in their wake, the couple’s highlights are endless.
“We’ve done some absolutely wonderful itineraries. I like doing itineraries that are a little bit more out of the normal. One of our favourites was when we started in Singapore and cruised through Sri Lanka and India and then finished in Dubai. It’s just so different, completely different countries, people and languages, we absolutely loved doing that one.
“We’ve done Asia and Japan a couple of times now, loving them for the same reason.
“We’ve also done Northern Europe, starting in Copenhagen in Denmark, then Finland, Sweden, and Norway, then through Iceland and Greenland and then we crossed the Arctic circle and saw the Northern Lights which was so fantastic.”
Words of encouragement
If you’re thinking about making a similar lifestyle leap, whether it be retiring on a cruise ship or simply maximising your time on the high seas, here is all the encouragement you need.
“Just go and enjoy it. Pack light, everyone takes far too much stuff with them. Do as much as you want or as little as you want, you don’t have to rush out every day and do tours, you can just stay onboard or walk around the city that you’re going to, and you don’t have to pay money on tours if you don’t want to. Just relax and enjoy and book it. If you’re thinking about doing it definitely do it.”
Retiring on a cruise ship
Mrs Doe says that while she and her husband aren’t living permanently aboard ships, she comes across plenty of people that are, including Australians.
She says it’s not uncommon for many diehard Royal Caribbean fans to spend the full six months sailing in Australia, then six months in Alaska as the ship sails across the world, then coming right back for the warm Australian weather.