Jeff Farschman, 72, is a Delaware serial cruiser who spends months at sea in retirement.
For nearly two decades, 72-year-old Jeff Farschman has spent his golden years like many other adventurous retirees, enjoying pleasure cruises in exotic ports of call.
But unlike many of his cruise mates, Farschman practically lives at sea. He spends months traveling the oceans and waterways of the world, half the year if not more. Although he still maintains a physical home near where he grew up in Delaware, Farschman is now part of a growing cohort of older people who are literally “retreating” to cruise ships.
“Pandemic aside, I go on cruises seven to eight months of the year,” Farschman said. “I am a kind of traveler and explorer of the world and the cruise has literally allowed me to see the whole planet.”
Living on a ship wasn’t exactly what Farschman had in mind when he started sailing. But the former Vice President of Lockheed Martin found himself stranded on a conventional cruise to the Caribbean when Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004.
“I kept extending and extending my time on board because the hurricane ruined my original winter plans,” he explained. “In the end, I ended up completing six trips in a row.”
Nearly 20 years later, Farschman now organizes his life based on time spent at sea, keeping his periods on land as short as possible. That said, like every other cruiser, “retirees at sea” found themselves on land during much of the coronavirus pandemic, when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closed all cruises from US ports.
For Farschman, this meant 19 months, including winter, without cruising, his longest time ashore in nearly two decades. But once the main lines established clear Covid health protocols, the serial cruisers were the first to come back on board. Although Covid outbreaks have since been reported, including notable cases in San Francisco and Seattle, people like Farschman say they feel safe while cruising.
Holland America Line offers “big” trips lasting months. Here, the line’s Westerdam sails to Alaska.
Holland America line
While there are no concrete numbers, retirement on a cruise ship is gaining an increasingly high profile, despite the industry turmoil caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Serial cruiser and author Lee Wachtstetter, for example, wrote a well-read memoir to live on cruise ships for 12 years after her husband’s death. Farschman, meanwhile, recounts his navigation ventures onto his blog – facilitated by onboard Wi-Fi which has “become much more reliable, albeit sadly not necessarily more convenient,” he said.
The improved connectivity also allowed semi-retired cruisers to be sea based while still in operation. “WiFi on most ships is now powerful enough for Zoom,” said Tara Bruce, consultant and creative brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory Servicesa financial advisory firm headquartered in Woodstock, Georgia, which helps people who retire at sea.
In many ways, retiring to a cruise ship makes a lot of sense. Stereotypes aside, cruising has always attracted older travelers. In fact, according to the International Cruise Associationone third of the 28.5 million people who took a cruise in 2018 were over 60 and over 50% were over 50.
Additionally, cruise ships offer many of the essentials seniors need to thrive: organized activities, a decent level of medical care, and most importantly, an integrated community of like-minded travelers.
Retiring on a cruise ship can also prove economically viable.
“With the cruise, you cover all of your living expenses – food, lodging, entertainment – in one place,” said Bruce. Although luxury ship prices may come close to $ 250 per day, “we have seen people cut costs to $ 89 per day, which is much cheaper than assisted care or other seniors’ living options.”
Repeat cruisers like Farschman can also benefit from onboard credits for meals, beverages, spas, and other premium activities that can easily reach “hundreds of dollars per trip,” Farschman said.
The rise of the “retreat at sea” movement has been aided by a recent shift to longer and more elaborate “world cruises” or “grand cruises” that can last 50 days or more at a time.
Holland Americafor example, it offers a 71-day Grand Africa Voyage itinerary calling at 25 ports in 21 countries along with a Grand World Voyage that visits 61 ports in 30 countries, for a total of 127 days at sea.
“They are typically made up of several segments with long lead times in each port,” explained Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of Cruisecritic.com. With careful planning – often booked by shorter “connector” cruises – “big” itineraries can keep cruisers at sea almost indefinitely.
According to Eric Elvejord, Holland America’s director of public relations, Holland America’s so-called consecutive Collectors Voyages not only help retirees avoid repeating port calls, they also include discounts of 10% and 15%.
The World, described as “the largest private residential yacht on Earth”, calls at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.
The world | The dovetail agency
While few cruise lines cater specifically to retirees, Oceania, for its part, had a Snowbird in residence program, which has since been canceled: Specialized agents are waking up to this profitable demographic.
CruiseWeb, based in Tysons, Virginia, has launched a Elder living at sea program that builds specific retirement itineraries and helps clients manage their life ashore. In addition to cabin bookings, CruiseWeb takes care of matters such as shore transfers, ship changes, visas and insurance.
“We have clients who have been on board for over a year,” said Michael Jones, CruiseWeb’s senior marketing and operations coordinator. “They usually downsized their permanent residence at home and many even rented it while on board” to help cover the cost of the cruise, he added.
Perhaps the most notable component of the retreat movement at sea is the arrival of fully residential ships, such as the 20-year-old the world and the upcoming debut MV Narrative, from Storylines. The former includes 165 individually owned onboard residences, while the much larger MV Narrative – set to hit the open sea in 2023 – offers 547 one- to four-bedroom apartments.
Owning at sea isn’t cheap – MV narrative units cost between $ 1 million and $ 8 million, while a limited number of one- to two-year leases start at $ 400,000.
“There are also monthly or annual costs to cover things like fuel, port fees, taxes and cleaning,” explained McDaniel. “It’s a bit like living in a condominium, it’s simply that it is in the sea”.
—By David Kaufman. Kaufman is a freelance writer.