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Don’t Retire on a Cruise Ship, FFS

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Retirement is supposed to be a final reward for a life spent working hard and living right. You pursue a career, pay your taxes, save some money, and then you’re able to relax and enjoy those last few decades in relative comfort and security. Increasingly, however, retirement is seen as a myth: When nearly a quarter of the population has exactly zero retirement savings and inflation and other factors keep pumping the cost of living higher and higher, more and more people are reaching the sad conclusion that there is no retirement for them.

Others want to get creative—and one of the more creative solutions that’s starting to gain a bit of traction is the idea of retiring on a cruise ship. That is a bad idea.

Wait, people are retiring on cruise ships?

That’s right: People want to retire on those floating Petri dishes of disease that leave environmental disaster in their wake. There are so many better alternatives to a cruise when it comes to vacationing, so why would you retire in a place that isn’t even a top contender in its non-retirement field?

In a word: Costs. Incredibly, if you’re willing to live in a windowless coffin room on one of these floating dystopias your cost of living could be as low as $50 a day, which is less than $20,000 a year (plus taxes, some fees, and gratuities) with all of your basic needs included. Even if you assume a certain margin of error there, we’re still talking about an incredibly small amount of money when compared to living on land. And there are a lot of increments between low-end budget cruises and high-end luxury cruises, so you can calibrate your lifestyle with some precision. In return, you’re fed, have access to medical facilities and amenities, and get to travel around the world!

And yet, this is a terrible idea. Again, don’t retire on a cruise ship, FFS.

The downsides of cruise ship living

When you think about retiring on a cruise, you imagine that it will be endless adventure with a high level of service, but there are many, many downsides to the concept. First and foremost, let’s stress that cruises are awful. They are ideal disease incubators that host frequent and sometimes deadly outbreaks of flu, COVID—and occasionally even bedbugs. They’re environmentally horrible, too, and the hordes of cruise people who descend on ports of call around the world are universally detested.

And that’s just the general reasons why cruises are terrible. There are plenty of specific reasons why they are bad choices for a retirement:

Costs. The old saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men applies here: You might calculate to the nickel how much your cruise life will cost per day, but the whole business model of cruises is to nickel and dime you to death. Just about everything on a cruise ship that isn’t a basic necessity is an add-on—and those prices keep rising so the cruise can keep attracting suckers with low basic fares. When you’re paying extra for everything from a beer with lunch to the WiFi in your room, your affordable retirement is going to be more expensive than you thought.

Disruption. If a cruise retirement appeals to you you’re obviously not afraid to travel around with no permanent home base—but keep in mind there are few options to live permanently on one ship (one company, Storylines, plans to launch a boat with residences available for long-term lease or purchase in 2024), especially if you’re keeping your costs down. That means at least a few times a year you’ll need to pack your bags and decamp for a new ship.

Medical care. The medical staff on a cruise ship are almost never licensed to U.S. standards. And while most cruise ships have relatively well-equipped urgent care facilities, they’re certainly not hospitals, so if you have an emergency you can expect some serious delays in getting to one. And if you happen to be floating near a country with a less-than-state-of-the-art medical industry, you’ll be out of options. And it’s very likely that your health insurance won’t cover you when you’re on a cruise ship.

Social impact. Retirement can be lonely. Many of us form social bonds based on our work, and the dynamic with our significant others is often shaped by not being with each other every hour of every day. You might think that a cruise retirement means you’ll be surrounded by people, even people your own age. True! But these will be exceedingly transient relationships. Most people won’t be living on the cruise ship, so making long-term friendships will be a challenge.

Boredom. Cruising seems like an adventure until the ship you’re on makes its 20th stop at the same port. Yes, you can switch it up and change ships, but this will just add to the disruption and stress in your life—and most cruises go to the same places, so you’ll quickly run out of new places to visit. And the amenities on your ship won’t change often, leaving you with a very familiar slate of entertainment and activity options day after day, forever.

The bottom line? Even if you crunch the numbers and retiring to cruise ships makes financial sense for you, you’ll be living in an isolated community designed to soak you for money, not support you in your old age. Unless you have a very compelling case, chances are you will come to regret retiring to a cruise ship very, very quickly.