relaxing chair on deck of cruise ship facing the ocean

Planning for your retirement isn’t limited to master-planned communities on land. More and more active adults are choosing to set sail and retire on cruise ships, whether that means escaping the winter cold for a few months or making the sea a permanent home.

Spending retirement on a cruise ship is not a new concept; retirees were the most active cruise travelers in 2018. On-board restaurants, modern fitness centers, and cultural excursions make living on a cruise ship in retirement an attractive option. Cruise ships offer many of the same amenities, clubs, and social groups as active adult communities. On top of these amenities, residents enjoy the luxuries of an ever-changing, traveling lifestyle without additional monthly bills, housing payments, or upkeep. 

Pricing 

With multiple cruise lines offering extended-stay trips or permanent residences, there are options for all kinds of budgets. Utopia and The World both provide permanent cruise ship condos with a sliding scale of luxury.

The 165 residences in The World range from studios to three-bedroom condos, and prices start at $600,000 without the annual fees. The average age is 64, and families onboard hail from all over the world. Amenities on the ship itself include six restaurants, a regulation-sized tennis court, a full-sized theater, and outings to cultural landmarks.

Utopia is a planned luxury ship with 190 full-time residences expected in 2021. Floor plans include walk-in closets, multiple bathrooms, private kitchens, and living rooms. Square-footage ranges from 1,439 to 6,143 square-feet. As a high-end cruise ship, one-bedroom condos start at $4 million.

Active adults can also opt for long-term cruises, which range from 60 to 180 days. The “Snowbirds in Residence” program from Oceania Cruises launched in 2017. It's aimed at retirees looking to escape the freezing cold without permanently settling in the cruise line’s homebase of Miami.

Their Around The World cruises last 180 days and typically run around $40,000 per guest. Those looking for longer-term “leases” can book back-to-back cruises on the Crystal Serenity, a ship from Crystal Cruises. For one year onboard the Crystal Serenity, the basic single-occupancy stateroom would cost an estimated $164,000.

Other long-term, “around the world” style tours range from $20,000 to $70,000 per guest on several other popular and luxury cruise lines, including Regent Seven Seas, Holland America, Seabourn Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises.

Amenities

One of the biggest draws for active adults living on a cruise ship in retirement is the amount of amenities and conveniences located onboard. Dance lessons, yoga classes, and state-of-the-art spas and fitness centers are all just a short walk away. The World, for example, has a study with over 4,000 books that are consistently updated to include New York Times best sellers.

Some lines, like Regent Seven Seas, offer all-inclusive packages, including gratuity and off-shore excursions, while others have meals, classes, and entertainment factored into the original price. For active adults interested in retiring part of the year on cruise ships, many lines also offer rates that include airfare to and from their home base, most of which are in South Florida. In general, retirees on many cruise lines can expect to pay out-of-pocket for specific alcohol, gambling at on-board casinos, and buying from the gift shop. 

Retiring on a cruise ship also eliminates the maintenance of a traditional condo or home and the costs associated with it. A recent survey by Bankrate found that the average homeowner spends around $2,000 annually on upkeep, which includes landscaping, housekeeping, homeowners' association dues, and home security systems. The survey also found at nearly 63 percent of homeowners hire a professional for a recurring service to their home.

When retiring on a cruise ship, all of these services and upkeep costs are factored into the original cost. For most cruise lines, a full-service, round-the-clock staff is available to tend to any issue, unlike in a traditional land retirement community. Even for snowbirds who choose to spend the cold winter months on a cruise ship, monthly costs like utilities, groceries, and transportation drastically decrease for a permanent residence. In addition, many lines offer the same luxuries of a hotel, like turn-down and laundry services, eliminating another potentially costly and time-consuming facet of homeownership.

For permanent residents and snowbirds, cruises also offer a chance to vacation with the whole family. Though many cruise lines do not allow guest access to the ship, some lines, including Seabourn, will allow families and guests on board to visit at a port of call with advanced notice. Otherwise, families can meet at specific ports for cultural trips together.