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A Year of Boat Life

Part of our early retirement “master plan” is to be on a cruise ship for a significant portion of our early retirement days.  Boat Life is actually a thing and people are already choosing it as an alternative over paying to be a part of a traditional retirement community.

While our plan likely won’t include living on a ship for a full 365 days, we have received a lot of questions asking about it. So taking things to the extreme, what would it actually cost to live on a cruise ship for a full year?  What would be the optimal way to execute this type of trip? Could it actually cost less than being in an independent living community?

You asked so let’s find out…

Optimizing the trip

Lining up a full 365 days of cruises is like putting together a complicated jig saw puzzle.  Even if you have an unlimited budget there are a number of things you need to consider when lining up your cruise itinerary, such as:

  • Ships have scheduled maintenance so staying on the ship between voyages isn’t always an option.
  • You’ll likely want to avoid having to take unnecessary flights to move to a different port so the best option is to have the boat move you to another location to connect up with your next trip.
  • Depending on your primary residence, you may need to consider the length of your stay in a particular country along with potential tax implications of overstaying in specific countries.
  • Traveling solo is more expensive, so we are assuming that you are getting the double occupancy rate.

When focusing purely on cost, and not worrying about repeating itineraries, we found that the cheapest itinerary for our “sample year at sea” right now would begin in the Caribbean during the winter, move to the Mediterranean in the spring and lastly move back to the Caribbean in the fall. This trip could be done with only a single one way flight to the starting port of the journey. You will save a lot with having zero flights in between the connecting cruise adventures.

To further minimize expenses you’ll need to follow our value cruising principles found here.  To summarize, your goal will essentially be to NOT fall for any of the “extras” once on board your cruise adventure and to have no bills at the end of each voyage beyond your gratuities.


Hidden fees

Speaking of gratuities; these will NOT be included in your base price when book your cruise. This is important to know as gratuities will typically run you anywhere between $10 to $15 dollars per day per person in your stateroom.  For the purposes of this estimate, we will use $13 per day per person.  Also, when you book your cruise know that there will be additional fees added to the advertised price which will include things like the port fees, taxes and fuel surcharges.  These fees typically account for approximately 15% of the base price of the cruise.


The Sample Trip

We start off in Texas on Vision of the Seas in early January.  We repeat this 4 to 5 day itinerary for four months with an average cost of $96 per day per person, including fees and gratuities.  In April the ship jumps the Atlantic and ends up in Barcelona after a 16 night voyage. This first leg of the trip accounts for 119 days of boat life:

Now before we can jump onboard the Sovereign of the Seas for the next voyage, we’ll need to spend a few nights ashore in Barcelona. Then we are off on another boat life adventure which will account for another 182 days. The average price for this next leg of the journey is $111 per day per person.  This assumes the cost of food / transportation / entertainment / lodging could all be done for $75 per day per person for the handful of days that would be spent ashore.  The end of this journey brings you back to the US in Miami in October:

To finish up the year the final voyages can all be done on the Mariner of the Seas for an average price of $116 per day per person:

So to do 366 days with over 95% of those days on a boat, it would cost around $39,227 per person or $78,454 per couple. As a point of comparison, an independent living community would cost anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 per person depending on the location, facility and amenities selected.

So in other words, cruising full time falls directly in the middle of the price range of what it would cost you to stay in an independent living community, which makes this a reasonable alternative worthy of evaluating.

Getting a Better Deal

This price I believe to be the ceiling for Boat Life as it was a quick pull of a few sample itineraries off of the internet and a continuous 365 days of cruises. We’re sure much better deals are out there but this gives you a general idea.

We will be keeping our cruise costs much lower by doing a few things differently:

  1. As you will notice in the charts included in the sample trip above, there are a lot of surge or prime weeks mixed in where it costs nearly double to be on the ship.  Those are weeks where it would make more sense to get a better deal with an Airbnb or stay with friends / family on shore. (Use our link and receive a $40 credit towards your first trip!)
  2. Don’t book  more than 3 months in advance of the departure date, if you can help it. We have found this timeframe to be the sweet spot when it comes to hooking some great deals.
  3. Something else to consider is the low cost per night when relocating between the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.  Twice a year most cruise ships move to a different region and these relocation voyages are usually dirt cheap.  If you aren’t a fan of flying and have the ability to travel slow, a great strategy is to use these relocation voyages to move between continents. We typical spend between $350 pp – $600 pp for these voyages and usually sail for 14 nights.
  4. If you are spending a chunk of change on cruises you might as well maximize your points and get yourself a good travel rewards card. Many travel rewards cards will count cruises towards the travel category so why not take advantage of them and get some free money!
  5. Call the cruise line or travel agency to see what they can do for you. Even if they can’t get the price per night down, they may be able to give you some cruise credit, paid gratuities or other online packages (Internet / Drink package). It doesn’t hurt to ask.

We are only planning to spend a total of $55,000 per couple per year on all of our annual expenses once we FIRE, so we will need to cherry pick the itineraries and focus on value cruising to get the most out of what we have.

We can’t wait to share more about our adventures. Stay tuned…


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