Real Life

86 year-old retiree lives out days on cruise ship!

retiree cruise ship

Lee Wachtstetter, an 86 year old woman from Florida, has spent the last seven years living on a cruise ship at a cost of $202,000 (US $164k) a year after her dying husband told her to “never stop cruising”.

Retiree Lee sold off her five-bedroom home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after her husband Mason died, to permanently relocate to a life at sea.

“My husband introduced me to cruising,” Lee told the Pensacola News Journal. “Mason was a banker and real estate appraiser and taught me to love cruising. During our 50-year marriage we did 89 cruises. I’ve done nearly a hundred more and 15 world cruises.”

“When my children were all young, I took them on cruises many times. Now they have families of their own and do what’s right for them.

“The day before my husband died of cancer in 1997, he told me, ‘Don’t stop cruising.’ So here I am today living a stress-free, fairy-tale life.”

The intrepid traveller now lives permanently on board the ‘Crystal Serenity’ – a 1,070-passenger luxury cruise liner that has been repeatedly voted the world’s best cruise line by Travel and Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller.

The Crystal Serenity – where Lee has been a resident since 2008.

The reason that Lee chose this particular ship though has more to do with her favourite pastime: “I enjoy dancing, and this was the best of the remaining ships that still use dance hosts.”

Mama Lee continued, “My husband didn’t dance, just didn’t like to, and encouraged me to dance with the hosts.”

The Serenity wasn’t even Lee’s first home at sea – she spent three years before that aboard another ship!

Lee explains: “Before coming aboard this ship I lived on a Holland America liner for three years.” But it was their lack of catering to her favourite hobby that caused Lee to (literally) jump ship!

“The day they announced they were stopping the dance host program was the day I decided to leave.”

Lee onboard enjoying her other favourite pastime – needlepoint! (Image by blogger Penny Haw)

With all those sea-miles under her belt, the experience sailor must’ve seen a huge number of countries!

“I stopped counting after 100,” Lee said. “Just say I’ve been to almost any country that has a port.”

Lee’s favourite countries have been those in Asia, because she says they’re so different from back home. She’s now been to so many of the destinations multiple times that she rarely disembarks these days– don’t think she’s missing out though!

Lee says “when most everybody goes ashore it’s so quiet, and I have almost the whole ship for myself.”

A glimpse inside the stateroom accomodation on board, where Lee lives.

She makes an exception for Istanbul though, which is a favourite destination “I can’t resist the Grand Bazaar,” Lee said.

“You can find gorgeously regal or glitzy outfits there, perfect for formal or casual wear and not terribly expensive. I have to restrain myself every time because of my limited cabin space.”

Lee is affectionately known as “Mama Lee” on board the ship where she is known and loved by almost all the 655 crew members. Hubert Buelacher, Serenity’s hotel director said: “She’s just an amazing woman, one of a kind.”

Lee’s luxury life at sea doesn’t come cheap though – her annual “rent: comes to $202,000 (US $164,000). According to PNJ, this cover’s Lee’s: “single-occupancy seventh deck stateroom, regular and specialty restaurant meals with available lunch and dinner beverages, gratuities, nightly ballroom dancing with dance hosts and Broadway-caliber entertainment – as well as the captain’s frequent cocktail parties, movies, lectures, plus other scheduled daily activities.”

Lee seems to think the expense is more than worthwhile though!

“The crew members bend over backwards to keep me happy,” she said. “Some are almost like family now … I’m so spoiled I doubt that I would ever be able to readjust to the real world again.”

One of the ship’s luxurious dining areas where Mama Lee eats every night

As to Lee’s real family – three sons and seven grandchildren, she keeps in touch with them on her laptop and is able to visit them at home in Miami, Florida whenever the ship docks there.

“I hear from one of them every day, and visit with them whenever we dock in Miami. Last year we docked in Miami five times.”

Lee says that the one downside is that she’s gained 11kgs since taking to a life at sea, thanks to all the delicious on board dining.

“I do love to eat and regularly dine at a table for eight. You meet interesting passengers, and I’ve made lots of new friends that way.”

Thankfully she’s able to keep dancing to help get that weight off!

“I dance every night for a couple hours after dinner, have been doing it for years. And I’ve also trained with the ship’s dance instructors.”

Would Lee ever give up her cruisey life onboard? She told travel blogger Penny Haw: “When I cannot dance, I will probably stop cruising,”

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