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Woman Sells House and ‘Goes Tiny’ on a Luxury Cruise Ship

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When Lee Wachtstetter’s husband of 50 years passed away in 1997 one of his last words to her were, “don’t stop cruising.” So she sold her 5 bedroom house in Florida and started living on a Holland America Line cruise ship. When they discontinued the program at Holland she moved aboard Crystal Serenity which is a 1070 passenger ship. And for the last seven years she’s been living in it. Did I mention that she’s 86 years old?

Lee has been on more than 200 cruises and more than 15 trips around the world while visiting more than 100 countries. She normally stays aboard the ship and enjoys all of the facilities inside. And she visits her family when the ship docks in Miami, Florida. You might be wondering, what does it cost to live aboard a luxury cruise ship? Wachtstetter is said to be paying about $164,000 per year to live on the Serenity ship which includes her housing, meals, entertainment, movies, events, parties, dancing, and everything else the cruise has to offer. That’s more than $400 per day for housing! That’s insane. But she’s able to do it and she’s loving it.

I’m always thinking and talking about all the different ways there are to go tiny but I’ve never thought about anyone actually living aboard a cruise ship! Her living space is tiny but she has an enormous ship with food and amenities. Personally I couldn’t handle living on a giant, noisy and crowded cruise ship. But it’s not about me, it’s about her. And she says, “here I am today living a stress-free, fairy-tale life.” So now I ask you, “what does a stress-free, fairy-tale life look like to YOU?” Just curious, let me know in the comments down below and I’ll share my thoughts too. 🙂

Woman Sells House and ‘Goes Tiny’ on a Luxury Cruise Ship


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Image © Penny Haw


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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Susie M
    January 25, 2015, 9:05 am

    Way ta go Lee!!!! What a WOMAN!!! I am in awe!!! One of the hardest things about getting older is the loneliness – especially the older you get when you start outlasting your friends and companions. I must admit that Ms. Lee doesn’t look anywhere near her age – must be all that ‘fun, fine living’. So much better than a nursing home or retirement community, and the fellow passengers keep changing, so there is an endless supply of new people to meet and stories to hear – while at the same time, the people who take care of you remain constant, caring and very attentive – let’s see – on one hand – sitting in a nursing home surrounded by other octogenarians – many in wheelchairs and non-responsive, incontinent, and bored out of my skull – or on the other hand – cruising in luxury surrounded by staff who go out of their way to make you feel super special, constant terrific food choices, a beautifully appointed quiet cabin, as much entertainment as anyone could want – or not – and lots of people, including kids to keep the loneliness at bay – yeah – ok – I was wrong – I guess money can buy happiness after all – jeesh – talk about lesson learned way too late!
    Oh well, next! Thank you Alex – never would have ever thought of something like this – has certainly made me look at the rest of my life in a different light. I want to follow the sun and fun and get out of this frozen north!

    • Alex
      January 25, 2015, 2:18 pm

      Thanks Susie I’m glad you enjoyed this story too!

    • Johanna
      December 9, 2015, 1:04 am

      Agree, Susie! She can do it, she’s happy, and who is she hurting??!! No judgement here. Rock on!

  • Cahow
    January 25, 2015, 9:44 am

    God Bless this woman and her lifestyle choice. I saw a video of her this past week; I think it was on the CBS Evening News. This isn’t my lifestyle choice but it sure works for her.

    And Alex, only SOME cruise ships are noisy and crowded; beside, isn’t ANY large suburb or city “noisy and crowded”? Every single one that I lived in has been. She has a great core group of people who she loves and who love her back and she doesn’t need to fight traffic or go to the grocery store…ever!

    Good for her. I wish her a long and happy life. <3

    • Alex
      January 25, 2015, 2:19 pm

      Very true! Thanks! And glad you enjoyed the story too. 🙂

  • alice h
    January 26, 2015, 6:30 pm

    The 4 generations in one family living together house that I’m part of is pretty darn crowded and noisy a lot of the time too. Good for her if it makes her happy and she can afford it. Why the heck not? Some days I wouldn’t mind moving into the senior residence down the road from me (pool! hot tub! fitness centre! fabulous 360 views of mountains and harbour! reasonable rent!) except it’s full of “old people”. Well, they’re mostly only a few years older than me but by the time I end up there, if I do, hopefully it will be people actually my age with the same cultural interests.

    Stress free is too much to hope for, fairy tale might come partially true, but what I’d really like right now is a decent acreage on a BC Gulf Island (not my tiny lot) with a bunch of tiny houses and workshops and other people to do the heavy work of maintaining an organic garden and some critters. I could putter away at art projects to my heart’s content and there would be lots of gatherings involving food and laughter. It would also include some kind of reciprocal visiting arrangements with interesting communities around the globe and I could go wander as the urge struck.

    • alice h
      January 26, 2015, 6:32 pm

      Oh and music at gatherings too. Can’t forget live music!

  • Karen R
    January 27, 2015, 3:58 pm

    I had heard of this before, and it makes sense if one likes to cruise and can afford to live this way (neither applies to me).

  • January 27, 2015, 3:59 pm

    I think it’s a novel idea! What a way to see the world! I might have to add a couple years on a cruise ship to my bucket list. I couldn’t do it permanently – but it’s a great way to get across the pond and see the other continents 🙂 I have a rule for myself that I must see all the great stuff in the US first, but I’ll make an exception here or there. Living tiny, among other things, will help me to realize more of my dreams than I ever thought I would before I was turned onto this movement.

    I think it’s a great solution to nursing homes, if you are of the means to pay cash, because you can be sure insurance will not. Talk about quality of life!

  • Rich Cunrod
    January 27, 2015, 4:04 pm

    That is a rather intriguing idea, and I agree with Holly that that would be better than an assisted living facility. I also think that it is really expensive and that the cruise line would offer her a huge discount knowing that they have a room spoken for all the time. Expensive, yes but (pun intended) whatever floats your boat.

  • Terressa
    January 27, 2015, 4:06 pm

    I was right there with her for a minute until i saw the amount shes paying. Yeah, if i had it …and did not have two dogs to care for, id be right there with her, but i thought tiny living was to CUT costs, not pay out the A**

  • Wendy Wenner Busk
    January 27, 2015, 4:45 pm

    Going on a cruise last year for my 50th class reunion opened my eyes. Since I was traveling alone, I got the cheapest, smallest cabin, and I discovered I loved the proportions and even the tiny bathroom. The experience helped me decide (along with your tiny homes newsletter) to get a travel trailer and live in it full time while exploring the country! I will begin this summer. And the cruise was pivotal.

    • Kristina H Nadreau
      December 8, 2015, 10:05 pm

      good for you.

  • Lisa E.
    January 27, 2015, 4:46 pm

    If they allow small pets then this could definitely become an option while waiting for my TH to be built.

  • AVD
    January 27, 2015, 5:31 pm

    Having watched an elderly parent waste away with in-home assisted living at prices that ranged from $7000-$14,000 per month for sub-standard care, I think spending your final years on a cruise ship might be great for people who still have mental capacity and a degree of mobility.

    Maybe the Feds should look into this approach and start up several cruise ships for elder folks on Social Security and Medicare / Medicaid.

    Instead of “Elder Hostel” it would be called “S.S. Elder Cruise”. Residents would “buy-in” like most retirement / care communities. The residents would be true residents and not cruise-line guests. All residents would be 65 and older.

    The Feds could save a bundle of money when compared to addressing the needs of a widely scattered and poorly cared for elderly population in the current home-based care system and nursing-home home care system.

    The VA could copy the system and get Vets out of their less that happy land-based housing and health care routine. The companionship, adventure, better housing, rapid-response medical care, and vastly improved diet would be great for able-bodied Vets.

    Write you Congressman and get them thinking outside the box as a way to improve care at a lower cost.


  • Jan Shwetz
    January 27, 2015, 6:14 pm

    If she can afford it why not. No snow to shovel, no lawn to cut. She doesn’t have to feel that she is a burden to her family by having them take her to appts., shopping etc. She has freedom without having to pay for a car or drive anywhere. Who knows she may find love again with all those passengers coming and going. Good for her.

  • Martha
    January 27, 2015, 6:18 pm

    The space she is living in seems to be perfectly adequate, although I’d prefer to make my own coffee and have a small fridge (maybe she has that option). I have never been on a cruise ship and never ever want to go on one, so this would be out for me. But for someone who likes cruises and can afford the price, it’s a great way to keep active. I myself would prefer living in a mountainous and/or forested environment, but tiny any way you look at it. $164k a year seems outrageous to me, but then I would have a problem with $164k for 5 years!

  • Cory Hagen
    January 27, 2015, 6:19 pm

    Good for her!! What a beautiful way to live. To hell with the price – you can tell by her smile that she is right where she belongs, as a citizen of the world.

  • Comet
    January 27, 2015, 7:12 pm

    There are many cruise lines that will hire people to come share some interest or skill with the paying customers. I don’t know if you could make a full time living at this but it might be able to be done as a retirement project. And surely there are much cheaper options. This is lovely and I am envious but the cost is—steep. Novel tho.

    I am sure that for the money (for the cost of a few years of this) you could BUY your own large boat and have people pay YOU to sail them about. Heck on some of these restored transportation devices they will pay a LOT to come visit and maybe learn how to run the things–just this weekend we looked into a “Learn How To Drive A Steam Train” dealie which consists of an at-home study course; some training; and a ONE HOUR drive it your self train ride–for–sitting down???—-$550.00 USD. And a LOT of these places are staffed by volunteers!

    There are even people who will rent you their RV’s when they are not driving them—lots of interesting possibilities for travel and adventure and possibly no fixed address. For THAT you have the South Dakota Postal System and Forwarding companies. And the Internet!

  • Kate Visser
    January 27, 2015, 7:24 pm

    Good for her! I think it’s absolutely fabulous. If it is a happy lifestyle for her… that’s all that matters!

  • Linda
    January 27, 2015, 7:26 pm

    I had an British aunt who did this back in the 60’s. When i was under 10 years old we used to visit her on the ship everytime she was in port near us. She actually ended up marrying her cabin steward…
    I would have no problem living on an ocean liner.

  • Dan Herbst
    January 27, 2015, 8:03 pm

    sweet I built those rooms on that ship ,it was a fun job we did 500 rooms in 10 days from sea level marine , have fun Lee 🙂

    • Alex
      January 28, 2015, 8:15 am

      Wow, really? Cool! Thanks Dan

  • Becky Little Magee
    January 27, 2015, 8:17 pm

    I would do this in a heart beat if cruising all year long wasn’t so expensive!!!!!

  • Jim
    January 27, 2015, 8:21 pm

    Bravo to the old girl. God Bless her. I could not afford the price tag myself but then again, this would not be my idea of living well. My wife and I have discussed this and feel like living on the beach in a small house while managing a tiki bar would be our idea of paradise. We also think living out of our motorhome while working at a seasonal job would work for us. Still a little too young at this point but…

  • Cathy
    January 27, 2015, 8:22 pm

    I think I would love this lifestyle, just don’t have that kind of money.

  • Maab Connor
    January 30, 2015, 9:42 am

    My grandparents figured out – in the 80s – that it would be cheaper for them to retire to the QE2 than the retirement village that they had just visited.

  • Glenda Leader
    January 30, 2015, 10:21 pm

    A wonderful idea! And obviously working for Lee because she looks so young & healthy. May she have many happy years afloat! Years ago, when I was a member of a small writing club, I met the famous author Eleanor Hibbert, whose many nom de plumes included Victoria Holt (mystery novels) & Jean Plaidy (historicals, well-researched). She permanently lived aboard an ocean liner. She was beautiful, gracious and charming, asked us about ourselves and our writing when we wanted to hear about her work and life afloat.

    • Patricia Schneider
      December 7, 2015, 5:28 pm

      How exciting. I love her writings under both those names, especially Victoria Holt. Thanks for sharing.

  • Deadrock
    December 7, 2015, 3:52 pm

    I can’t help being reminded about Eskimos setting their old folks afloat on icebergs…

    Clearly this lady is still in great shape, so the simile isn’t really so similar! But I did wonder what happens if/when someone becomes physically disabled and the crew of the cruise ship is not willing or able to help out. But I guess if you can afford to live on a cruise ship to begin with, then you have enough for in-home care or a really nice care facility if it came to that.

    My ideal, however, would be to have a home base, and travel when the mood struck, which it does often, but not 24/7. And cruise ships would never be my first choice to travel anyway – give me a quick plane trip and I’ll use the time I’ve saved to see the things I want to see, few of which seem to be near a port.

    Point is, she has found her sweet spot, and that’s what we’re all trying to do – so massive kudos to her!

  • Patricia Schneider
    December 7, 2015, 6:07 pm

    The problem with this idea of cruising is an environmental issue that is going to need to be addressed soon. The amount of polution put into the air and the ocean per cruise is becoming extremely problamatic.

    I read an article about that recently, Many cruise ships have become more like floating cities, transporting millions of people into the most pristine ocean environments around the world. They have been operating with little to no environmental regulations. The lack of regulation by this industry has caused a great deal of damage to sensitive marine environments and is of growing concern as the industry is rapidly expanding. Ships have grown from typically accommodating 600-700 people in 1970 to ships that now carry over 5000 people. A typical 3000 passenger ship can produce 255,000 gallons of wastewater and 30,000 gallons of sewage every day (The Ocean Conservancy,2002, p 13 & 15). All of this waste is normally discharged directly into the ocean and it is legal to do so in most areas provided the boats discharge 3 nautical miles from the coast. This waste can contain bacteria, pathogens, medical waste, oils, detergents, cleaners, heavy metals, harmful nutrients (nitrogen amongst others) and other substances. These substances can be brought back to coastal areas as well as cause serious damage to the aquatic life further out in the sea, including posing a risk for contaminating seafood. Nitrogen compounds can also contribute to environmentally hazardous algae blooms. Typically 75-85% of the solid waste from a ship is incinerated at sea adding to sea pollution as the toxins and ash settles back into the ocean. Additionally, habitat alteration is a common occurrence where cruise ships use anchoring systems. The sheer size and weight of an anchor dramatically disturbs the seafloor.”

    While some ships are now trying to become more environmentally friendly, the problem still exists and isn’t getting better quickly enough. This could seriously effect the amount of cruises allowed on the ocean.

    • kristina nadreau
      December 8, 2015, 10:09 pm

      this is obviously the case in the Caribbean and it is unconscionable. killing the wild life and the reefs. filthy beaches

  • Martha
    December 7, 2015, 7:43 pm

    I think it’s great that she is doing what she wants to do, and can afford the cost of it. I couldn’t step on a boat if my life depended on it – cruise ship, canoe, raft, etc., but I think it would be great if Amtrak offered something like a long-term trip. Of course they’d have to improve their service, but it would appeal to me.

  • Ken
    December 8, 2015, 12:20 am

    You lost all connection to who are your readers. Rediculous article. Do you think any of us are interested in this? You should be keeping articles along the line of self build on a budget.

  • Carole
    December 8, 2015, 9:18 am

    You go girl. What a fabulous life.

  • Glema
    December 10, 2015, 11:43 pm

    Would have to compare the cost of living in that ‘ONE’ place paying the same mortgage or rent water gas/electric foods cooking time/energy cleaning time energy and products. laundry machines maintenance, automobile costs for regular traveling to stores and other needs. Then compare that to the cost of air travel hotel rooms added to the regular needs and it comes to much more than what she pays to go everywhere live on a ship that MOVES and explores and she has cooks and maids and a pool and a spa ect ect. I think she is making out big time. More power to you dearheart, keep on cruising!
    in your HUGE tiny living style. God bless and smooth fairing seas!

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