Last week I heard an amazing story. Evelyn Thaw, a Delray Beach, Florida Cruises Inc. travel agent, shared with me one of her clients encountered and elderly lady onboard a recent cruise.  

That in of its self isn’t so amazing, what was striking was the lady was on her 87th cruise – in a row!  As it turns out, she continues booking 7 day cruises week after week because she finds it not only less expensive, but more socially engaging than moving into a retirement home.  She is living onboard!  At first, it was simply a story that illustrated cruises terrific value.  I was a bit slow to see it for what it really is - a marketing opportunity.  

alegria-cruise-shipWaterfront Lifestyles International wasn’t so slow.  Coming across my Cruise Industry Wire this morning was the story “Retire on a Cruise Ship? New Concept Creates Boutique Housing Idea for Florida's Seniors.”

The company has started taking reservations for retirement condos aboard the 300-foot Alegria.

The Alegria appears to be the 224 passenger Cape Cod Light from the old American Classic Voyages.  That ship, and her sister the Cape May Light, completed constructed by Jacksonville, Florida Atlantic Marine Inc. in 2001 for $38 million per vessel, the same year American Classic Voyages went bankrupt.   They were designed to resemble the classic coastal ships of the late 1800s.  The U.S. Maritime Administration sold both ships on June 18, 2008 for $9 million apiece to two Florida companies. Voyager Owner LLC bought the Cape May Light, and Discover Owner LLC bought the Cape Cod Light.  At least for a time, they appear to have been considered for use as coastal cruisers by American Coastal Voyages.  

Alegria has the amenities of the major cruise lines (minus perhaps pool and theatre) and you actually own 1/100 of the entire ship, not just a single condo unit. For less money than many senior independent-living facilities charge, retirees may now live on a cruise ship. Prices for individual condo cabins on range from $159,000 for a single room to a larger suite for $399,000.  In case you need a break from your neighbors, there is always subleasing.  No word on Freddie/Fannie financing.  

A monthly "Resident’s Care" fee is assessed each stateroom for the operation of the ship and all its expenses, including all meals port fees, the medical center, and housekeeping. Ownership also includes a golf and tennis membership at a nearby country club. Residents will only pay for cocktails, casino charges, spa fees, and purchases in the gift shop.

Alegria will make weekend cruises each month to regional attractions such as shuttle launches, shopping excursions to Palm Beach, and trips to the Bahamas, and once a year it will take a week long trip to Central America.

While the ship in Port Canaveral is the company's first vessel, it expects to locate additional retirement ships in Tampa, Jacksonville, Palm Beach, and Sarasota.

I think there is a viable niche market for this in the cruise business, particularly with the aging boomer population.  If the room sizes and business model of the Alegria specifically will appeal to enough retirees, we shall see.