What a Way To Go
Somewhere between Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico, it occurred to me that cruising would be a great way for a retiree to live full time. Maybe it was when Romeo (yes, that’s his name) served me another terrific Lime Smash on the Lido deck; it could have been while relaxing by the pool after the spa massage and ginger/salt scrub; or quite possibly when all the clothes I could stuff into a laundry bag came back the next morning, clean, pressed, and neatly wrapped in tissue paper; or maybe it was while sitting on the veranda of our tidy stateroom, knowing that dinner was being prepared, Wiela would soon be fluffing up the pillows, and hundreds of other people, including not only doctors and nurses, but a dentist, were available to take care of every need.
Whenever it was, I soon was off to the ship’s Internet Café to start writing this column. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising, on my return, to find an article in the AARP Bulletin comparing the costs and advantages of life in an assisted living residence with those on a modern cruise ship. Turned out the idea of "cruise ship care" had been proposed by two geriatricians from the School of Medicine at Northwestern University and examined at length in the November issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
While it may not be a serious option for people with chronic or severe medical disorders, life at sea may have benefits for those who can take it, according to the study by Drs. Lee Linquist and Robert H. Golup. "Seniors who enjoy travel, have good or excellent cognitive function, [but] require some assistance are the ideal candidates for cruise ship care, they concluded.
Ideally, ships would carry both elderly residents and younger vacationing passengers, which would provide the older adults with a mixed, changing environment that might provide more stimulation and ward off depression, the study authors believe.
It’s not entirely untried. There have been stories of ladies who spent years at a time aboard ship there’s one who reportedly lived on Royal Viking ships for 14 years. Many have heard about Bea Muller, an 82-year-old American woman who, after her husband died while they were on a world cruise, decided to spend the rest of her life on the Queen Elizabeth 2 rather than in a retirement home. She sold everything she had and moved on board. That was January 2000. Isn’t she bored? "Oh no," she is quoted as saying, "I can never do everything that there is to do here. I can't see to drive anymore. And I don't have any grandchildren," says Muller. "And if I were home alone with nobody, I'd be dead. I'd be bored out of my mind."
A day after the early news stories on the study appeared, Phyllis on a migraine headache support group message board wrote:
"Ok y'all, I have done some shopping and this is what I am going to do. There will be no nursing home in my future. When I get old and feeble, I am going to get on a Princess Cruise Ship. The average cost for a nursing home is $200 per day. I have checked on reservations at Princess and I can get a long term discount and senior discount price of $135 per day."
Brian, on a cruise critic message board, offered a sentiment doubtless shared by many: "I'd rather die aboard a cruise ship (in my tuxedo, empty cocktail glass in hand) than ever be hooked up to some "Life Support" system ashore.
Some of my fellow cruise passengers had already adopted their own, more limited, version of this concept. They take several cruises a year, sometimes back-to-back. When one cruise ends, they officially disembark and then get back on the same ship, in the same cabin, having booked another trip. For many frequent cruisers, itinerary isn’t importantthey have been to all the ports, some many times, so they prefer to stay on the ship. This pattern of several weeks at sea followed by intermittent stays on land, at a former second home or with relatives, is similar to the retirement style of some RVers.
One man, whose retired parents sold their homes and now live full-time in a 40' motor coach, said he would feel more secure if they were living on a ship "as opposed to gallivanting around the country in their motor coach. Aboard ship there are always folks around so that if something dreadful did occur to one of them, the other wouldn't be forced to handle everything alone."
Heather, in a message board discussion of the concept, brought up another interesting point: "Let's face it, we're running out of room in urban areas to put up the number of homes that will be necessary as the baby boomers age and live to be over 100. There's a lot of ocean out there ... why the heck not use it? I'm telling you that if someone jumps on this right now there's a lot of money to be made….there are a lot of "seniors" out there with a heck of a lot of money and how many among us wouldn't prefer being sailed around than sit in a little apartment in some assisted living community? If they packaged it well, I’d be first on line to sign up."
She’d obviously given the idea some creative thought, adding: "Obviously, you wouldn't be on the ship 365 days a year, but you would have an open-end cruise out of a certain port and could get on and off at that port as you choose. Maybe you could rent it as you would an apartment. Just as you would leave an apartment from time to time, you could leave the ship.
"As in many senior living complexes, there would be a certain number of rooms for visitors to book so they could join their loved ones. What better way to get your kids to visit? I'm telling you ... it's brilliant!"
Lime Smashes, fluffed pillows, and all, Holland America’s new Westerdam was "a very nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there." At least not yet.