Editors Note:When I heard about Sandi and Stan and their nomadic cruise ship retirement lifestyle, I asked if they would share their experience, insights and knowledge. The result is fascinating and inspiring.
My husband Stan (now 68) and I Sandi (now 65) retired in June 2014 and immediately hit the road. Leading up to retirement, we had sold the house, the car, and given away most of our personal possessions. We now travel with all that we own.
We Can’t Sit Still
Traveling in itself is a challenge for us, as Stan has a very severe chronic neck pain situation, making it incredibly painful for him to travel in any vehicle. I have a “bad back” and sitting for any length of time causes me extreme pain. So, how could we travel, as long bus and plane rides are just not feasible for us?
Well, we figured it out. We were not going to let our pain keep us at home, especially since we no longer had a home! With no house, no car, no utility payments, etc. we have no living expenses. So what we used to pay for living expenses became our travel fund. That travel fund can go a long way when you know how. How? Cruising! We’re cruising our way around the world!
The Pain Free Way of Getting from A to B
After reading an article about re-positioning cruises we realized that we had hit on the perfect solution. These ‘re-positioning cruises’ are when cruise lines move their fleet to a different part of the world for the season. These cruises are very reasonably priced and as they go only one way are perfect for getting from point A to point B.
Our very first cruise was on the Queen Mary 2. How’s that for starting out in style! Technically, this was not a re-positioning cruise; it was a one-way transatlantic cruise. It left from New York City (actually Brooklyn) and seven days later we were in Southampton, England, just south of London. Now, not all cruises are so reasonably priced, but this one, in June 2014, was $799 each, for a beautiful balcony room.
Yes, there were also minimal port fees and taxes, as well as gratuities. (We talk more about the ‘hidden’ expenses of cruising further on in this article.) However, keep in mind that this was our living expenses for the week, as well as our transportation from the US to England. And, boy, did we eat well! And, someone cleaned our room twice a day! There were engaging activities and lectures every day, wonderful entertainment every night, and we met amazing people (also interested in travel). We thought that starting our adventure on the Queen Mary 2, would spoil us and spoiled we were. But that didn’t make us disappointed with our future cruises. Each cruise line, each ship, and even each trip on the same ship is a unique experience.
Not Always Just For Transportation
Also consider cruising for the cruise itself, it’s a great way to see the more inaccessible parts of the world. For instance, during the summer of 2015, we found ourselves in the Algarve region of Portugal. It’s a beautiful area, but was extremely hot and humid. After a couple of weeks, Stan turned to me and said, “Get us out of here! Find us a cruise up north where it’s not so blasted hot!” So, I did. We took a fabulous 32 day cruise through northern fjords, all four Scandinavian capitals, Tallinn, Estonia and Saint Petersburg, Russia. That was our first ‘round trip’ cruise and is still one of our favorite cruises.
Last year we took a four-month ‘round the world’ cruise. We went to 40 ports (some with overnight stays), visited 28 countries, and sailed the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, along with the Mediterranean Sea. We crossed the International Dateline (losing Valentine’s Day in the process) and the Equator. This was our first time in the Southern Hemisphere. We sailed through the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal (our fourth time in three years, but still awe-inspiring!) We still can’t believe all the amazing sites that we saw. We feel so fortunate.
How To Find Affordable Cruises
We don’t always know where we want to go next. Quite often we just go online and see where the affordable cruises are going and what looks interesting to us.
We particularly like vacationstogo.com, mainly because of the ease of using their website and the filtering options. We have booked the majority of our cruises through them and the rest were booked directly with the cruise lines. Their website shows us all of the available cruises. When we select one that is of interest to us, we also check the cruise line’s website as well to compare their prices, special offers, etc. And, sometimes there are a few phone calls to make to ensure we are getting the best deal available.
We also know people who check with vacationstogo.com and take that information to their local travel agent to see if they can beat the offer. So, feel free to use their website to gather information and then see if you can get a better deal elsewhere. Also check with your credit card companies, AAA, your airline loyalty programs, etc.
Cruise Ship Retirement and Roving Logistics
There are a few things to keep in mind before deciding if cruising is right for you. The staterooms are much smaller than typical hotel rooms. However, they are very well set up, with a place for everything.
There are also lots of ways to spend money on a cruise, in addition to your cruise fare. The port fees and taxes are minimal and you will be made aware of them before you book your cruise. There are also gratuities (usually about $13 a day per person) which are automatically added to your onboard account. Most cruise lines will allow you to increase or decrease these during the cruise.
Another major consideration is what to do while you’re in ports. Should you go on one of the ship’s shore excursions or venture out on your own? The ship’s excursions are the easiest way to see a location, but they are not to everyone’s taste and they can be expensive. We always check with whatsinport.com. This website provides you with the necessary information to discover what you can do on your own. We find it very helpful.
Beverages (especially alcoholic ones) can significantly add to your onboard expenses. Most ships offer a variety of beverage packages. However, they tend to be costly. Check carefully before you make a purchase to be sure what it includes. There are also photographs to purchase and casinos to explore, if you are so inclined.
How do we make all these arrangements from the road? We travel with an iPad Mini each. We spent about a year before we first set sail, scanning all our important documents and old pictures, and recording all our music and favorite movies. All of it is now loaded on our iPads. We complete all our travel arrangements, banking, correspondence and even tax returns on our iPads. When we rent a place on land, it is imperative that it has decent Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi on ships is expensive and not very reliable. So, plan ahead.
Cruise Ship Retirement Combined with Rentals in Interesting Places
After we disembark from a cruise, we like to spend some time in a new location (or an old favorite). We usually rent an apartment through AirBnb, HomeAway, etc., or even a local realtor. We spend 2-3 months in a location, so we can really get a feel for the local culture and environment. And, we usually rent a place where we can walk everywhere or take public transportation, no need to rent a car. We mix cruising with time on land, so at the end of a land stay, it’s time to look for our ride (cruise ship) to our next location.
Our travels are not always within budget (cruises as well as land stays). However, we try and balance it, so it all evens out at the end of the year.
Four Years of Enjoying a Cruise Ship Retirement.
Almost 4 years after our first cruise, we have completed our twelfth cruise. It was the Queen Mary 2 (for the fourth time) from Southampton, England to Cape Town, South Africa. We spent 3 months here, visiting Cape Town, Simon’s Town, the Cape of Good Hope, and took a 26 hour Premier Class train ride to Johannesburg. We visited Leopard Song (a private reserve game lodge) and Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia and also Port Elizabeth, and Addo Elephant National Park. We stayed at least a week in each location. What an adventure! Cruise ships have made this African adventure possible for us, providing us with a means of transportation to get us here and back.
With our three months up we are once again cruising, this time taking the Queen Elizabeth from Cape Town back to Southampton. We were able to secure a good deal on this cruise as it is the final segment of their round the world cruise. This last part of the cruise has quite a few vacancies, much to our advantage! We’ll spend a few weeks in England and then take off again. At the moment, we have no idea where our next adventure will be!
Cruising is not for everyone so you might want to try a short cruise first to decide if it is right for you. We didn’t. We just plunged right in and have never looked back!
We look forward to seeing you on a future cruise. Happy sailing!