Brent and Michael's Guide to Living Long-Term on a Cruise Ship
How we've managed to live for months on cruise ships — for much less than what other people pay.
Much has been written about long-term cruise ship living for retirees.
We think that living on a cruise ship for a month or more at a time is also something that long-term travelers should consider. We’ve taken many cruises and often live on cruise ships for two months at a time or more.
But as with anything, there are pros and cons to doing this. Let’s look at these pros and cons in turn:
THE PROS OF LONG-TERM CRUISE SHIP LIVING
With Planning, It Can be Surprisingly Affordable
The New York Times estimates that it costs about $300 per person per day to live full-time on a cruise ship.
We do it for far, far less: anywhere from $120 a day to $180 a day, for both of us together (always well under $100 a person).
Since we’re full-time travelers (not paying a rent or mortgage on a place back “home”), traveling by cruise ship actually saves us money over traveling by plane or train. We apply the money we would be spending on lodging anyway, and throw in the cost of food and transportation, and we come out ahead.
But there are several important caveats when looking for such lower fares yourself:
Our cheaper fares are for a small, interior room. Larger rooms, suites, or rooms with balconies, will cost closer to the New York Times estimate.
These are discount and/or last minute fares that only come with lots of searching (and patience).
Most quoted online fares do not include mandatory service fees, which have replaced tipping. Online fares often don’t include port taxes either. Whatever quoted fare you see online, add an additional $15-$20 per person per day for service fees. And make sure port taxes are included (which can be considerable when, for example, passing through the Panama Canal). When calculating your total costs, be sure to include these service fees, which won’t be charged until you’re actually on board the boat. (We also often make additional tips, because the crew members work extremely hard and often hail from poorer countries.) For what it’s worth, even many “how-to-do-it” articles on cruise ship living fail to account for these mandatory service fees.
Traveling as a single person makes traveling by cruise ship much more expensive.
When choosing a specific boat, here are some other things to consider:
Older and/or smaller boats will probably be cheaper than newer ones (but with fewer passengers, the service may be better, and you may have more personal space). We prefer smaller boats.
Newer and/or bigger boats will offer more amenities (like waterslides, climbing walls, bowling alleys, and more flashy entertainment options), but you’ll pay a premium for all these things.
Different cruise lines cater to different demographics. Passengers on Holland America will be older than Celebrity, Princess, or Royal Caribbean, which tend to have more youthful crowds. Disney and Carnival cater to a more family crowd. There are pros and cons to each demographic. Meanwhile, four major lines — Regent, Royal Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silverseas — offer “luxury” cruises, which will be difficult to find at a discount.
Specialty cruises (for, say, LGBTQ people, singles, or digital nomads) will almost always be more expensive (but being alongside like-minded cruisers may be worth the extra cost).
The most affordable cruise lines tend to be Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC (a European line). To see excellent, thorough, up-to-date reviews of the different cruise ships themselves, visit CruiseCritic.com.
Here are some resources to help you find discounted fares. Again, a good price for an interior cabin on a long-term cruise will be anywhere from $120-$180/day, total, for two people (this includes daily $15-$20 per-person service fees, which will not be included in any online quote!).
It’s also a good idea to get on various emailing lists, to see special or last-minute deals:
Perx (airline and travel employees only)
An important warning on discounted cruises: while there are definitely legitimate discounts to be had — and the above sites all seem reputable to me — there are also a lot of unscrupulous websites and apps claiming to offer great deals, but they may have huge strings attached; some of these sites and apps are even outright fraudulent. Always use common sense: examine the fine print closely, especially the cancellation policies, and save all correspondence; consider trip cancellation insurance; read online reviews of any website you use; always pay using a credit card (and never wire money); and if you’re still many months out, lean toward offers that only require a deposit up front, not the entire payment.
And, of course, as with all discounted travel, you’re probably not going to end up in the ship’s “best” room. If you pay for a balcony, you’ll get one, but it’s probably not going to have the ship’s best view. And you’re also much less likely than a full-paying passenger to get a free room upgrade.
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