Lee Wachtstetter is an 86-year-old widow who has been living on a cruise ship for the last seven years. Her rent comes out to about $164,000 per year, after tips, drinks, and the cost of each cruise – a pretty hefty price, but she doesn’t seem to mind. After her husband passed away, Wachtstetter sold her estate in Fort Lauderdale and decided to become a permanent resident on a cruise ship, at the suggestion of her daughter.
It was actually Wachtstetter’s husband who introduced her to cruising. During their fifty years of marriage, they took 89 cruises together. The day before her husband passed away from cancer in 1997, he asked her to not stop cruising and Wachtstetter honored his request. Since his passing, Wachtstetter has taken over a hundred cruises and says that she stopped counting countries she’s visited once the tally reached 100.
According to Wachtstetter, she finds the time when cruise passengers are off doing shore excursions the most peaceful on board the ship. She explains that she rarely ventures off the vessel anymore because she’s already ‘been there, done that’ with all the destinations the cruise lines visit. After seven years on a ship, one can imagine that she’s had quite a host of experiences. But, she still manages to enjoy herself.
A cruise ship starts to look like the highest-end retirement home when one considers the amenities available to Wachtstetter. She stays in a single-occupancy stateroom, enjoys nightly ballroom dancing, attends ship lectures, relaxes to Broadway-quality entertainment, and takes part in the many activities available on board the ship. She chooses to sit at the larger tables during meals because she enjoys meeting new people and passengers and loves hearing stories about their lives.
Wachtstetter chose the Crystal Cruise Line’s ship, Crystal Serenity, as her “home” because it provides dance hosts for passengers traveling alone. In fact, she loves dancing so much that she left per previous abode on a Holland America ship that she had been living in for three years because the liner canceled their dance host program.
Though Wachtstetter’s case is a special one, she is not the only woman living aboard a Crystal Cruise Line ship. Three other women have also taken to living at sea.
Wachtstetter calls her life a “fairy-tale” and a “stress free” one. With nursing home costs reaching about $80,000 a year, and high-end senior living communities requiring individuals to pay sometimes seven-figure fees just to join the community, the cruise ship retirement plan doesn’t sound so absurd at only $164,000 a year.
Of course, retirement communities geared toward seniors are not likely to be replaced any time soon. These communities often offer assisted living services and nurse assisted care for individuals who require the additional care. While a cruise stateroom might come with a free cleaning service, free meals, and free entertainment, cruise ship medical facilities are barely equipped to treat minor emergency situations, so it is not likely that cruise lines will start offering the kind of sustained medical services that many assisted living facilities can offer, so retirees shouldn’t pack their bags just yet without first considering their current and future needs.
Even so, Wachtstetter’s retirement solution is admirable and a lifestyle many wouldn’t mind undertaking. There’s already is a cruise ship called The World, which launched in 2002 and boasts 165 homes for passengers who want to live on the high seas. Our cruise attorneys also wrote about the Freedom Ship, a $1 billion endeavor that has been in the works for several years. The Freedom Ship, which would circumnavigate the world, aims to be a “Community at Sea”, rather than a cruise ship. With the capacity to hold 50,000 passengers, it is slated to boast several impressive amenities, including business offices, schools, shops, a stadium, and even an airport.
Should more retirees choose to live at sea on a ship or mega vessel like the Freedom Ship, we may see more pressure placed on the cruise industry to provide stronger health care options for individuals spending long periods of time abroad. Perhaps the trend could lead to more comprehensive medical and nursing services on board cruise ships in the future. Dare to dream.