When we reach retirement age, we have big decisions to make – such as whether to downsize from the family home and move into an apartment or unit, or head for a retirement complex. My wife Sandra and I, who are in the 60-to-70-year-old age group and are still fairly active, are keen to downsize from our large two-storey house – my knees don’t like the stairs – but are not quite sure what to do. We love cruising, recently returning from a European river cruise, and would be very happy to spend the rest of our lives on cruise ships. So let’s look at some of the possibilities.
Would it be cost-effective, for instance, to sell up, divide the proceeds by how long we think we have to live and see if our savings, prudently invested, could support us living on a cruise ship (or ships) until such time as we would need assisted living facilities which, at this stage, are available only on land?
There’s the oft-told story of 86-year-old Bea Muller of Florida: it is said that her husband died aboard Queen Elizabeth 2 while they were on a world cruise and that, faced with living alone in a retirement home, Bea decided to sell everything and book herself onto QE2 one year at a time. By all accounts, retiring at sea certainly worked for her.
So, what’s the viability of this scenario? I’ve worked out that the average annual expense of living in a full-service retirement facility would likely be well in excess of that of booking a standard balcony cabin on a four- or five-star cruise ship. Usually, an upfront payment of between $500,000 and a million dollars is necessary to secure top of-the-line retirement accommodation. This figure is partially refunded when one exits the facility. If that one million dollars was deposited, instead, in a safe investment at say, five per cent, it would return about $50,000 a year or $1,000 a week, and that’s without touching the principal. A week on a cruise ship, which includes all meals, soft beverages, entertainment and more, would cost approximately the same amount.
In short, the average cost of living in a top-class retirement facility is likely to be well in excess of the cost of occupying a standard cabin on a four- or five-star cruise ship.
The only real negative, to my mind, is the cost and limitations of shipboard medical care. When you’re on a ship, normal onshore medical insurance cover does not apply – in other words, you’re covered neither by Medicare nor by normal private health insurance when you’re at sea. Thus, a trip to the ship’s doctor could cost you $150, plus medications, all at non-subsidised prices, while an overnight stay in the ship’s hospital could set you back in excess of $1,000. On the plus side, if you made advance appointments and saw doctors ashore when you called in at Australian ports, you would be covered by all of the above.
Otherwise, a good travel insurance policy should cover most of your problems, but in general does not cover existing conditions and for us seniors, this may be a problem.
Of course, if one has plenty of money, there is no problem. There is another lower-cost option, however. What about mooring ships permanently, offering all the ‘shipboard options’ but leaving the ships stationary?
I believe this is a viable option that would allow cruise lines to use older ships not yet ready for scrapping. No engines or below-deck crew would be needed, resulting in a huge dollar saving.
Now let’s consider the pros: on a ship, you can have as many as seven meals a day if you can pull yourself away from all the other exciting activities included. What about the room service, 24/7 – and if you want it, breakfast in bed every day of the week?
What about having a choice of top-drawer entertainment on offer every night, all within a short walk of home? And don’t forget about the libraries with free books, games, jigsaw puzzles and DVDs; internet access, for keeping in touch; lectures and classes, for self-improvement; and ship’s cinemas – not to mention the myriad of social occasions to which you’ll be invited.
You’d have freshly laundered linen and your cabin cleaned daily, plus stewards, a doctor and nurses on call – with smiles – 24 hours a day. On a ship, you are treated as a passenger, never as an inconvenience or a patient. To me, the choice is obvious: retiring on a cruise ship is the way to go. I can’t wait. Indeed, savvy retirees from America are already doing it. What are we waiting for?