Jeff Farschman, 72, is a serial cruiser from Delaware who spends months at sea in retirement.
For nearly two decades, 72-year-old Jeff Farschman spent his golden years like many other adventurous retirees – enjoying leisure cruises to exotic ports of call.
But unlike many of his fellow cruisers, Farschman essentially lives at sea. He spends months traveling the world’s oceans and waterways – 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 seniors who are literally “retiring” on cruise ships.
“Pandemic aside, I sail seven to eight months out of the year,” Farschman said. “I am a world traveler and explorer and cruising has literally allowed me to see the entire planet.”
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Living on a ship wasn’t exactly what Farschman had in mind when he started sailing. But the former Lockheed Martin vice president found himself stranded on a conventional Caribbean cruise when Hurricane Ivan hit 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 doing six trips in a row.”
Nearly 20 years later, Farschman now organizes his life around his time at sea – keeping his periods ashore as short as possible. That said, like all other cruisers, “retirees at sea” found themselves on dry land during much of the coronavirus pandemic, when the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention closed all cruises in from US ports.
For Farschman, that meant 19 months — including the winter — without a cruise, his longest time ashore in nearly two decades. But once the outlines established clear Covid health protocols, serial cruisers were the first to come on board. While Covid outbreaks have since been reported – including notable cases in San Francisco and Seattle – people like Farschman say they feel safe on the cruise.
Holland America Line offers “big” trips that last for months. Here, the line’s Westerdam sails to Alaska.
Holland America Line
While there are no hard numbers, retiring on a cruise ship is gaining notoriety, despite the industry uproar caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Serial cruiser and author Lee Wachtstetter, for example, wrote a widely read memoir to live on cruise ships for 12 years after the death of her husband. Farschman, meanwhile, recounts his navigation blogging adventures — facilitated by in-vehicle Wi-Fi which has “become so much more reliable, but unfortunately not necessarily more affordable,” he said.
Improved connectivity also allowed semi-retired cruisers to be based at sea while continuing to work. “WiFi on most ships is now strong enough for zooms,” said Tara Bruce, consultant and creative brand manager at Goodwin Investment Advisory Servicesa Woodstock, Georgia-based financial advisory firm that helps people retiring at sea.
In many ways, retiring on a cruise ship makes a lot of sense. Stereotypes aside, cruising has always appealed to older travelers. Indeed, according to the International Association of Cruise Linesa third of the 28.5 million people who took a cruise in 2018 were over 60 — and more than 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 travellers.
Retiring on a cruise ship can also be economically viable.
“With the cruise, you cover all of your living expenses — food, lodging, entertainment — in one place,” Bruce said. Although luxury liners can be priced as high as $250 per day, “we’ve seen people cut costs to $89 per day, which is much cheaper than assisted care or other types of senior living. “.
Scheduled cruisers like Farschman are also eligible for onboard credits for meals, beverages, spas and other high-end activities that can easily add up to “hundreds of dollars per trip,” Farschman said.
The rise of the “retirement at sea” movement has been aided by a recent move towards longer and more elaborate “world cruises” or “big cruises” that can last 50 days or more at a time.
Holland Americafor example, offers a 71-day Grand Africa Voyage itinerary stopping at 25 ports in 21 countries as well as a Grand World Voyage visiting 61 ports in 30 countries, totaling 127 days at sea.
“They are usually made up of multiple segments with long periods in each port,” explained Colleen McDaniel, editor of cruisecritic.com. With careful planning – often reserved by shorter “connector” cruises – “big” itineraries can keep cruisers at sea almost indefinitely.
Holland America’s so-called back-to-back Collector’s Trips not only help retirees avoid repeat layovers, but also include 10% and 15% discounts, according to Eric Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America.
A lucrative demographic
Le World, described as “the largest private residential yacht on Earth”, calls at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera.
The World | Dovetail agency
Although few cruise lines specifically target retirees — Oceania, for its part, had a The Snowbird in Residence program, which has since been canceled — specialist agents are becoming aware of this lucrative demographic.
Tysons, Va.-based CruiseWeb has launched a Senior living at sea program that both develops specific itineraries for retirees and helps clients manage their life ashore. Beyond cabin booking, CruiseWeb handles issues such as shore transfers, ship changes, visas and insurance.
“We have customers who have been on board for over a year,” said Michael Jones, senior marketing and operations coordinator for CruiseWeb. “Usually they reduced their permanent residence at home and many even rented it on board” to help cover cruise costs, he added.
Perhaps the most notable element of the sea retreat movement is the arrival of all-residential ships, like the 20-year-old The world and the imminent debut Narrative MV, from Storylines. The former includes 165 privately owned onboard residences, while the much larger MV Narrative – due to take to the high seas in 2023 – offers 547 one- to four-bedroom apartments.
Owning offshore 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, taxes and housekeeping,” McDaniel explained. “It’s kind of like living in a condo – which just happens to be at sea.”
— By David Kaufman. Kaufman is a freelance writer.