How Much Does It Cost To Live On A Cruise Ship?

How Much Does It Cost To Live On A Cruise Ship?

Despite all the cruises I have done, I only once came across someone living on a cruise ship. I tried to find out from the cruise industry how many people live or retire on their ships – but no-one knew. It seems very few do, despite how attractive the idea seems. It got me wondering: why do so few people do it? Is it the cost? The practicality? Or do the cruise lines make it hard to do?

I have the answers.

Living or retiring on a cruise ship is a story that newspapers love to cover.

They’ve written frequently about Beatrice Muller, who lived for 14 years on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2. Lee Wachtstetter, known as “Mama Lee”, who lived on Crystal Serenity for over 12 years. Morton Jablin, who lived for 13 years on Regent Seven Seas. And Mario Salcedo, known as “Super Mario”, who has been living on Royal Caribbean for over 20 years.

So, I started by exploring roughly what it was costing these well-known residents to live at sea.

living on a ship

How Much!?

The person who does it at the least cost is Mario Salcedo, “Super Mario”. He revealed the costs in various interviews, including Washington Post and with the vlogger Alanna Zingano. And the 5 steps required if you want to live cheaply on a cruise ship

First, if you want to live as inexpensively as possible on a cruise ship, you need to decide which line you’re going to live on. He chose Royal Caribbean because it’s a mass line and offers lower fares than premium and luxury lines.

Look at your chosen line’s loyalty scheme. He chose Royal Caribbean, as their Crown & Anchor programme offered a perk critical to him as a solo passenger: a lower surcharge of 150% versus 200%. And then other perks like drinks vouchers, which save him more money.

Secondly, decide the cabin you want to live in. He chose an inside cabin. Living in a small inside cabin is not appealing to me, but may work for you. Remember that on many lines you pay 100% surcharge to travel solo.

Thirdly, decide if you are going to stick to one ship or use multiple ships within your chosen line.

The way to keep living costs down is to constantly jump ships within a line. Mario says, he keeps his costs down by chasing the itineraries on various Royal Caribbean ships with the lowest price.

Fourthly, and linked to this, is stick to the Caribbean for most of the year.

Mario says 80% of all his cruises each year are in the Caribbean, as it is the cheapest place to cruise.

Around 15% of his cruises are repositioning cruises. Again, these tend to be inexpensive cruises. For example, Transatlantic Crossings and East-West Coast Repositioning.

He hardly ever cruises in areas like Alaska and Europe because they are much more expensive.

The fifth decision is how low can you keep your outgoings going out?

There is no escaping taxes, port fees and gratuities. However, Mario hardly ever leaves the ship in ports and almost never pays for excursions. He doesn’t do specially dining, go to the casino or buy drinks packages, but he does have WIFI.

How Much Does It Cost To Live On A Cruise Ship

How much will doing it this way cost you?

Mario targets an average base daily fare for his solo cabin of $150 before taxes. Once taxes and port fees are added (around $20 a day), gratuities (around $15 a day) and Wi-Fi, that comes to around $200 a day.

So, it costs him around $72,000 a year before things like drinks, shopping, laundry, tours and so.

If Mario followed the same approach in a balcony cabin, he calculates it would cost him least $100,000 dollars a year.

What does it cost the other travellers I mentioned earlier?

“Mama Lee” (Lee Wachtstetter) who lived on Crystal admitted to the Washington Post that it cost her $175,000 a year. That’s about $480 a day. And, of course she had much more included in that than Mario.

Beatrice Muller who lived on Cunard’s QE2 back in 2008 said she was paying around $60,000 a year for her inside cabin on the QE2 before gratuities and onboard spending. That is $76,000 in today’s money considering inflation.

To see how the cost of using Mario’s system compares to living on a ship that would see more of the world, I looked at extended cruises including World Cruises costs as a guide.

One of the longest, but best value world cruises is Royal Caribbean’s 9-month, 274-day, 60-country World Cruise between December 2023 and September 2024, on Serenade of the Seas.

If I pro-rata up these fares from 9 to 12 months, an inside cabin would cost per person (based on double occupancy) $87,000 and a balcony cabin $112,000.

The positive is this cost includes gratuities, taxes, drinks package, Wi-Fi, laundry and even some excursions. So, many of the big add-on costs that Mario did not include are included.

The big catch is these are the costs per person for double occupancy. So, even with Mario’s 50% surcharge for an inside cabin it would cost $131,000 a year to explore the world, over double his $72,000.

This shows Mario’s point of controlling costs when living on a ship. You need to stick to the Caribbean rather than explore the world. So, one compromise would be cutting back on seeing the world, which would remove one of the big attractions of living or retiring on a ship, for me, anyway!

Knowing the scale of the cost is one thing, but what do the cruise lines think and are there other hurdles stopping more people like us doing this? I found both offer some fundamental challenges!

live on a cruise ship

Are We Welcome?

I mentioned earlier that I was on a cruise where I came across someone living on the ship. One evening I had dinner with one of the officers, and he told me that they were trying to tactfully encourage that person to leave the ship.

As the guest aged, they were starting to expect, demand and require more help and care and were placing demands on the crew beyond their roles. The Officer said to me bluntly that cruise ships are designed and run for short-term vacation travel and are not set up for people to live on permanently. Certainly not people who are elderly and retired.

They’re not designed to be residential or retirement homes, and they don’t have the medical, care facilities and support to cater for residents.

More Hurdles

Not only are we not really welcome to live on a ship, the more I explored I found several hurdles that I am sure are the reason few people live or retire on ships.

First, you need to be in good health and stay that way. The medical care on a ship is not designed to deal with ongoing health issues. It’s designed for minor illnesses and injuries. They cannot provide on-going prescriptions to cover what you need for the year.

Second, you will have no dental care whatsoever on the ship.

Third, getting insurance will be difficult and costly. It’s hard enough to get insurance, even for a 3 or so month long world cruise. We did a leg of a world cruise and struggled to find insurance. When we finally did, it was expensive.

Fourth, we would still need a home country permanent address, to do banking, qualify and receive any pensions or benefits paid, to be registered with a doctor, where mail can be sent to and so on.

Fifth, when I listen to interviews with people like Super Mario and Mama Lee, I feel friendships and loneliness are an issue. We would meet lots of people; however, they’re changing every single week.

We’d struggle to build friendships and end up feeling, despite all these people around us, relatively lonely. Because we won’t have on-going friends, relationships and of course won’t be seeing family.

Six, repetitiveness will be an issue. All those who live on ships, don’t go off in the ports anymore, because they’ve been to them many times and seen what they want to see. It becomes very repetitive.

Entertainment on board will also be very repetitive, because the same shows are on board for years. The same guest entertainers come on.

Next, there will be interruptions. The pandemic, for example, meant people living on cruise ships for years had to leave.

Ships go into dry docks; ships may be chartered, and you will not be able to stay on board. I guess, if you’re someone like Super Mario, you’ll just jump ships and carry on.

And, of course, logistically it is complex. You’d have to book every single cruise across the year individually, meaning you could be booking up to 52 cruises and ensuring you can stay in the same cabin.

There could be a solution to some of these, though.

living on a cruise ship

An Alternative?

There are a few permanent resident ships.

The World Residences at Sea is the longest established, permanently privately owned residential ship. It has 165 units from studios to three bedrooms, but they cost millions to buy. And then, the annual fees range from $113,000 a year if you own a studio up to over $1 million if you own a three-bedroom suite.

Storylines is a new residential line. Their first ship is MS Narrative. Their studios start at from $350,000 with a $55,000 a year maintenance fee, and they offer penthouse options costing millions of dollars.

I can see that living on a cruise ship is possible, but the costs are big! There are a lot of barriers and it’s not especially welcomed by the cruise lines. It’s a great fantasy. It’s a great idea. But now you know what it costs.

Why not find out more about some things that make no sense on a cruise ship in this video where I start by talking about something that totally threw me. See you over there.

Alanna Zingano Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4gKln13z0qVcuiw-Dobxew
How Much Does It Cost To Live On Cruise Ship (Alanna Zingano): https://youtu.be/T9YjwOKKabI
How Much It Costs To Live On Cruise Ship (Cruzely): https://youtu.be/2hl-H3ygx_I

View more of my cruising tips.




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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 2 million video views per month.

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