Is it Really Possible to “Cruise Off into the Sunset”?

Seniors and their families often worry about affording the high costs of long-term care.  By many estimates, the average cost of a nursing home is now more than $80,000 per year.  Naturally, many people hope for better alternatives.

An idea that has been floated in chain emails, blogs, and chat rooms for years has been the concept of “cruising off into the sunset.”  The premise is that the average annual nursing home is more expensive than the average annual cost of booking back-to-back luxury cruises.  When faced with a choice between being “stuck” in a dreary nursing home or traveling the world in style on a fabulous ship, the latter certainly seems more appealing and empowering.  

A popular anonymously-written argument in support of this idea sounds convincing on the surface:

“Gratuities will only be $10 per day.

You will have as many as 10 meals a day if you can waddle to the restaurant, or you can have room service (which means you can have breakfast in bed every day of the week).

Cruise ships have as many as three swimming pools, a workout room, free washers and dryers, and shows every night.

Cruise ships have free toothpaste and razors, and free soap and shampoo.

The crew on cruise ships will even treat you like a customer, not a patient.  An extra $5 worth of tips will have the entire staff scrambling to help you.

You will get to meet new people every 7 or 14 days.

Is your T.V. broken?  Does your light bulb need changing?  Do you need to have the mattress replaced?  No Problem! The crew will fix everything and apologize for your inconvenience.

You’ll have clean sheets and towels every day, and you don’t even have to ask for them.

If you fall in the nursing home and break a hip you are on Medicare; if you fall and break a hip on the ship, they will upgrade you to a suite for the rest of your life.”

Adding legitimacy to this argument, in 2004, physicians Lee A. Lindquist and Robert M. Golub published “Cruise Ship Care: A Proposed Alternative to Assisted Living Facilities” in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.  They argued that for some seniors, a cruise ship could be a better alternative to traditional assisted living.  Furthermore, many stories surfaced in the media of seniors who lived on cruise ships for years, most notably Bea Muller, who was a permanent resident on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2 from January 2000 until it was retired in November 2008.

Unfortunately, when carefully examined, the cruise-ship-alternative to traditional long-term care does not withstand scrutiny.  Sarah Stevenson in her blog, “Is a Cruise Ship Retirement Cheaper Than Assisted Living?,” which was posted on on February 22, 2013, points out many of the “impractical realities” of cruise ships as substitutes for long-term care.  Her arguments are paraphrased below.  

First, the logistics are difficult.  Your private area on a cruise ship is a small room typically only large enough to fit a bed.  You have no place to keep any possessions other than a suitcase full of clothes.  Furthermore, you often are required to disembark from the ship at least every thirty days and you will constantly have to book new cruises, hoping to continually find good deals.  These constant arrangements can be burdensome and unsettling.

Second, most seniors who need long-term care need help with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and grooming.  No matter how much you might be willing to tip the crew on a cruise ship, you’re not likely to find staff willing to act as your personal attendant.  

Third, many seniors have mobility problems.  The narrow hallways and multiple levels of cruise ships are not conducive to passengers with mobility problems, particularly in bad weather when turbulence could be an issue.  

Fourth, many seniors need constant access to physicians.  Although cruise ships often have a doctor on board, they are not prepared to deal with the wide assortment of medical issues that a passenger might possess.  Furthermore, being stranded at sea is the worst time to need the urgent medical care of a specialist.  In an emergency, you might need to be airlifted off the ship which would not only result in significant cost, but could also create further medical problems.

Finally, being an oceanic vagabond means that you will not be able to see your family and friends with any regularity.  Furthermore, any acquaintance you meet on the ship will likely be off the ship by the next week.  Therefore, it would be impossible to establish and maintain in-depth human contact which would likely lead to isolation and depression.

KRASA LAW is located at 704-D Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, and Kyle may be reached at 831-920-0205831-920-0205.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only.  Reading this article does not establish an attorney/client relationship.  Before acting on any of the information presented in this article, consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice law in your community.