Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Life on the Sea

January 26th, 2015 by Jason Hartman | Comments Off on Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Life on the Sea

It seems like cruise ships are always in the news for one thing or another—whether they’re sinking, flipping, or serving up a mass amount of sickness, cruise ships are a popular topic of conversation. Infamous writer David Foster Wallace immortalized his experience aboard with A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and The Simpson’s took the cruise idea further with their own parody episode.

Recently, cruise ships have been in the news because Lee Wachtstetter, an 86 year old Florida woman, is paying $164,000 to live on one. She’s on the Crystal Serenity ship, where she’s known as Mama Lee. She’d been there since her husband died in 1997.

The ship holds just over 1,000 people and has a chef’s garden, an abundance of retail stores, a movie theater, and a whole bunch of food. Wachtstetter says she’s gained 25 pounds—but at 87, she’s hardly concerned about calories. Instead, she’s attending ship christenings by Dame Julie Andrews and making friends and dancing all of the time.

And, while a bit unusual, Wachtstetter isn’t the only person in the world who does this. There’s actually a private residential ship called The World, which is home to 165. It’s been around since 2002. There’s also a number of people who live aboard other tourist ships, as does Wachtstetter.

Wachtstetter doesn’t know how many countries she has visited because she’s been to so many (she’s been to basically everywhere that has a port) and attributes her love of cruising to her late husband who was a banker and a real estate appraiser. During their 50 year marriage, they went on 89 cruises. Since, she’s been on around a hundred more, 15 of which were World cruises.

While aboard, Wachtstetter definitely misses her family, but technology has been a lifesaver. She’s got a laptop she uses to stay in touch with her three sons and seven grandchildren. Plus, she sees them whenever they dock in Miami. Last year, that happened five times.

She’s shelling out $164,000 to live in a single occupancy stateroom on the seventh deck, but that includes meals, gratuities, and entertainment. Prior to her residency on her Crystal Cruise ship, she lived on Holland America for all of three years. She left when the ship decided to stop offering the dance host program Wachtstetter loves so much.

On the Crystal Cruise ship, there are three other women, but Wachtstetter has been there the longest. Everyone on board loves her—and she loves them right back.

The case for cruise ships

Why exactly would one want to live aboard a cruise ship, you ask? There are quite a few reasons Wachtstetter and others might choose this lifestyle. Everything is contained in one relatively small, safe space. There are malls containing everything a person might need or want to purchase, and endless supply of food (people often joke that most people gain a pound per day aboard a cruise ship) and plenty of entertainment—from movie theaters to fire dancers to swimming in a manmade pool within view of the ocean. There’s a lot to offer.

Cruise ships certainly sound appealing, but before you choose to live on one, there are a few additional things you might want to know.

The downside to living on a cruise ship

Not long ago, cruise ships were making the news for more sinister reasons. The Carnival Splendor caught fire in November of 2010. More recently, the Carnival Triumph caught fire and left passengers without air conditioning and flushing toilets. Combine this with the cold food being served, and guests were, to put it mildly, less than happy. The 3,100 people on board were unprepared for this sort of occurrence.

But should they have been? Cruise ship fires actually happen fairly frequently. Between the fires on board the Splendor and the Triumph, 10 others occurred. While some are, as the industry describes them, minor fires, they’re happening more often than you think. \

Cruises are an appealing option for family vacations because they are extremely affordable. By flying the flags of many countries, they avoid paying federal taxes in the United States. They’re also except from US labor laws and safety regulations. While this is an advantage for the consumer, many employees aboard the ships are required to work long hours for low pay. The lack of oversight can be detrimental to guests aboard the sea bound ships.

A potential bright light is that the cruise ships are subject to inspections conducted by the United States Coast Guard. Unfortunately, they are often understaffed and inspections happen infrequently. As the average size and capacity of ships increase, this becomes an increasingly difficult problem.

Unregulated cruise ships are able to offer low prices to passengers and continue to profit off the sale of things onboard. When a ship full of people comes down with a collective virus, the ship faces a difficult decision—sanitize the ship completely and lose out on the money made from filling it with passengers or do a mediocre job and board the ship the next day. When we’re talking about money, the choice is usually clear. Spas, malls, photography, shore excursions, the sale of alcohol, and casinos all increase the bottom line, but do little to address safety concerns onboard.

The bottom line

While cruises can be a great way to vacation on a budget, they aren’t right for everybody. Sure, they’re the stuff dreams are made of for a few lifelong vacationers, but for others, they just aren’t the ticket. Jason Hartman has seen many countries of the world by simply traveling there on an airplane, and that is certainly one way to do it. Still, if you’re looking for a quick (albeit touristy) way to see a lot of the world in a limited timespan, a cruise ship might just be the way to go.

While you’re on board, take advantage of the many amenities offered to you, but be kind to yourself and others while you’re at it.

photo credit: joannova, a/k/a foodalogue via photopin cc

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