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Meet the Retirees Who Live on Cruise Ships

People ask, ‘don’t you get bored at sea?’” says Janice Yetke, 77. “I say, are you kidding me?"

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Patios of Santorini homes look out over blue waters, down which a cruise ship floats

Jenna Lynn Pimentel/Azamara

When Jeff Farschman, 72, first retired from his role as vice president at Lockheed Martin Services in 2004, he planned on spending his winters as a snowbird enjoying the warm temperatures of the Caribbean. But that all changed when Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc on Grand Cayman, his island of choice, in September of that same year—so he made what would become a life-changing pivot. Since he’d already booked himself on a week-long cruise to Bermuda, Farschman decided to extend his travels to include six back-to-back cruises (four to Bermuda and two to the Caribbean) culminating as a 47-day trip. This extensive journey became the impetus for how he now spends his retirement: living seven-to-eight months annually aboard Holland America Line cruise ships.

It turns out Farschman is just one of dozens of retired (and retirement-age) people spending a bulk of their time living at sea. There are plenty of ways to make it happen, from combining stand-alone itineraries to purchasing a unit on a residential cruise ship. “People ask, ‘don’t you get bored at sea?’” says Janice Yetke, 77, a (semi) retired travel agent who lives four months a year aboard a ship. “I say, are you kidding me? Let me show you a daily program. There’s so much to do if you want to do it.”

Yetke and her husband, Richard, 80, have found Holland America Line’s Grand World Voyage—an annual cruise that circumnavigates the globe for up to 128 days—to be the perfect way to escape Chicago’s harsh winters while seeing the world. “You have a room on the ship, and that’s your home,” says Yetke. “The staff feeds you, provides entertainment, and cleans your room twice a day. It all meets our needs at this stage in life, and of course we make friends—because the same people come back year after year.” The Yetke’s have already taken Holland America Line’s Grand World Voyage 12 times, and they’re tentatively booked on the 2023 voyage aboard Holland America’s 1,917 passenger MS Zuiderdam. A big selling point for Yetke on the company’s world cruises: They typically sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “I don’t want to fly halfway around the world to get on a cruise ship,” she says. “Florida is easy.”

Ship sailing towards mountains with clouds hanging overhead

Around the world cruises are a popular way to spend months at sea. Photo: Charissa Fay

While Sydney-based wellness CEO Tony de Leede, 69, could retire, he’s not yet ready. Instead, de Leede has found a way to run his various businesses while still living a portion of his life at sea. For eight years, de Leede owned apartments aboard The World, a private 165-residence cruise ship that launched in 2002. During that time, he spent three-to-five months aboard annually. “The concept of combining a nice environment to work from and then going to sleep in Venice and waking up in Croatia,” says de Leede, “It’s great.”

In fact, one of de Leede’s fondest memories comes from his time aboard The World, when he was in the midst of balancing his work/sea life. “I was on the phone with one of my companies back in Australia,” says de Leede, “and the captain came over the intercom and invited everyone to come and have a swim in the Arctic circle.” De Leede ended his call, and minutes later he was jumping into the sea’s frigid waters. “Now I can say that I’ve swum in the Arctic Circle,” he says. “There aren’t too many people who can say that!”

De Leede recently purchased a two-bedroom space aboard Storylines’ MV Narrative, a larger residential ship set to launch in 2024 with 547 fully-furnished, one-to-four-bedroom apartments (most with balconies) and 20 dining options, including a Greek tavern and an oyster bar. The ship is also equipped with 24-hour fitness and wellness facilities, a lap pool, a dedicated co-working space, and an onboard bowling alley. But there’s one real game changer, according to de Leede: “They’re the first residential ship to allow pets on board.”

Living aboard a cruise ship doesn’t come cheap. For example, fully furnished residences aboard the MV Narrative cost between $1 million and $8 million, and there are a limited number of 12- and 24-year leases available, which start at $400K. In addition, there are the monthly homeowner’s association-style fees, which vary according to the size of a residence and cover everything from ship fuel to housekeeping, as well as all standard food and drink. In essence, it’s a fee similar to the kind of packages that you often pre-pay for on a typical cruise ship.

In Farschman’s case, his costs depend on the types of cruises that he’s taking that year (for example, whether it’s one Grand Voyage or back-to-back Caribbean cruises), if he decides to book independent tours at specific ports, and if he’s paying for a windowless inside cabin or splurging on a waterside balcony room. “There are so many variables,” he says, “but I probably average $200 to $300 a day including taxes for Grand Voyages and say, $150 to $200 a day for more traditional cruises.” Like most other cruisers who spent a good chunk of their year at sea, he keeps a stationary home to be close to friends and family.

By booking longer trips rather than purchasing residences outright, world cruises still allow passengers like the Yetke’s to settle in, make friends, and travel the globe on a line they feel comfortable with. “Longer cruises also provide more time for travelers to slow down and immerse themselves in a destination,” says Carol Cabezas, president of the luxury cruise company, Azamara. In fact, Azamara will launch its first-ever five-month world voyage in 2024: a 155-day circumnavigation of the globe that will include iconic destinations such as India’s Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.

Many world cruises are also broken up into smaller segments, so that friends or family members can join for a dedicated portion, say cruising the Panama Canal or a tour of the South Pacific. But for cruise-enthusiasts like de Leede and Farshman, the itinerary of a ship is often secondary—they simply love life on the water. 

To date, Farschman has sailed on 165 cruises resulting in over 3500 days at sea, the bulk of which has been on Holland America Line. It’s the company’s large ship size, wonderful food, and excellent service that keeps him coming back, not to mention the camaraderie. He even travels consistently with two sisters he met aboard a Grand World Voyage in 2014. “My family is generally supportive of my onboard lifestyle,” he says. “It makes the time that we spend together even more special. As for my friends, the majority of them are aboard these ships.”

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This post originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler and was published March 29, 2022. This article is republished here with permission.

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