16 Reasons It’s Financially Stupid To Retire on a Cruise Full Time

Retiring on a cruise could leave you and your finances lost at sea.

aerial view of cruise ship
Updated June 6, 2024
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So you enjoyed a fantastic cruise to the Caribbean and loved it — the pampering, the food, the entertainment. Why not retire there? You can enjoy luxury and indulgence 365 days a year — and at a stellar price of around $150 a night for a cabin room.

Many retirees do some quick math to reach outrageously “cheap” yearly figures and decide they can avoid wasting money retiring on dry land compared to afloat on the high seas.

But reality check: it’s not. Here are some often overlooked reasons that it’s ill-advised to retire full-time on a cruise ship.

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Cheaper, dry-land adventures exist

marcink3333/Adobe landscape on maldives island

If you really want to up your travel game, you could retire in Thailand and live high on the hog for under $2,000 a month. That’s far less expensive than a year on a cruise ship.

Limited space and privacy

clsdesign/Adobe cruise ship stateroom suite

While activities are plentiful aboard a cruise ship, your personal square footage is not. Small cabins start at 85 square feet, and spacious ones top out at around 220. Did you work hard all those years to downsize to a walk-in closet?

A noisy environment

Kirk Fisher/Adobe tourists on a large ship

Cruise ships are built for hustle and bustle. While the rooms have noise-dampening features, they're not soundproof. According to other ocean-going travelers, you can hear foghorns, door slamming, and toilets flushing.

If a good night’s sleep is priceless, how much should you pay for the privilege of hearing everyone else around you live it up while on vacation?

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Unhealthy dining options

EWY Media/Adobe royal caribbean cruise line

Usually, there are only a couple of restaurant options. This means you have to eat what’s on the menu. Since travelers generally go on cruises to indulge, the dining-room fare is often quite decadent. 

A high-sodium, high-fat, and high-sugar diet doesn’t do great things for your blood pressure or waistline.

Laundry isn't convenient

Nomad_Soul/Adobe woman closing overload travel suitcase

Most cruise ships have limited passenger facilities, if any. Schlepping heavy laundry baskets to and from the laundromat isn’t relaxing — especially on a moving ship. 

You could nix self-serve laundry altogether and have your wash hired out, but that gets expensive.

Cruises aren’t cheaper than nursing homes

Mariakray/Adobe zante cruise ship terminal

Nursing homes are so expensive that, at face value, cruise ships look like a bargain. But that assertion makes no sense.

Firstly, if you’ve reached the point where you need to live in a nursing home, you’re not physically healthy enough to board a cruise ship, let alone live on one. 

And a nursing home’s hefty price tag isn’t for room and board — it’s for round-the-clock care from a team of nurses and medically trained staff.

You miss out on family time

Pavel Losevsky/Adobe illuminated cruise ship

Do you want to be able to make T-ball games, piano recitals, and potluck dinners? Or do you want to be shuffleboarding at a different port of call every night with strangers? You may feel lonely on a cruise ship over time.

Hidden prices

Kirk Fisher/Adobe two tropical mixed alcohol drinks

Cruise ships advertise a fraction of what you’ll wind up paying. The room and meals make the trip look like a great deal, but you’ll pay extra for soda, alcohol, internet, and dozens of other fine-print charges.

Indulging in a nightly cocktail could cost you an extra $5,000 a year.

More expensive to cruise solo

Kirk Fisher/Adobe a woman sips a drink-adobe

If you’re voyaging with a partner, it’s more affordable because cruise lines usually quote per-person rates for a double occupancy room. And if you’re coupled up and able to enjoy the discount, this means sharing your closet-size cabin with another body.

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Limited medical care

Jeff Clow/Adobe cruise ship senior

An oceanline cruise is only doable if you’re in good health. There are some medical facilities with a physician, but care options are limited.

Medical insurance may not cover you aboard a cruise ship

Tada Images/Adobe medicares official website

If you have medical insurance, it often won't cover cruise-ship care, which means purchasing expensive, travel-specific health insurance.

You may have heard that Medicare will cover cruises, but this is only partly true. You can receive some coverage if you’re within six hours of a U.S. port, otherwise nada.

The novelty fades

icholakov/Adobe retired couple enjoying cruise vacation

Cruise life is a bit of a novelty, and all novelties fade. After you visit your first few ports, you may lose interest in disembarking. Too much hassle — especially when all those open-air markets and sandy beaches blur together.

Most cruise ships have dress codes

Tamme/Adobe art deco interior design

While not Titanic-level formal, most ships hold formal dinners and expect guests to dress appropriately for the evening, which may mean collared shirts, cocktail dresses, and dinner jackets.

On some cruises, shorts, flip-flops, tank tops, and swimwear are not permitted in dining areas.

Added risk of sickness

Svetlana/Adobe leisure and travel concept

With so many people living together, cruise ships are incubators of disease. Not just COVID-19 but also other ailments like strep throat, pink eye, and influenza.

Your current living situation is probably cheaper

bmak/Adobe covered porch and front door

Assuming you don’t live in a beachfront Malibu mansion with a fleet of servants at your beck and call, living full-time on a cruise is more expensive than living full-time on dry land in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average 55+ household spends less than $57,000 each year in total expenditures. However, sources suggest that living year-round on a cruise would cost a little more than $77,000.

One cruise-trip retiree, Steve D., says he averages $90,000 a year in total costs.

More stressful than normal living

fragolerosse/Adobe tourist watching the sea

Cruise ships often dock in busy port cities. It’s loud, noisy, and stressful, especially if you disembark and then need to go through the reboarding process again. 

You’ll constantly need to consider the boarding times, immigration forms, waivers, and customs. There are easier ways for a stress-free retirement.

Bottom line

Masson/Adobe couple on cruise ship vacation

Retirement at sea is not a “cheaper” or easier alternative to a traditional, dry-land one; it requires careful consideration and planning. 

If you're worried about your retirement savings, consider moving abroad or to a more affordable city in the U.S. But beware, you may have to use the extra savings to fund airfare to and from your family.

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Stacy Garrels

Stacy enjoys writing about fintech, consumer deals, the side hustle economy, and random tomfoolery. She's personally tried more than 100 different gigs, including being an Uber driver for one afternoon.