The 86-Year-Old Widow Who’s Spent 10 Years Living On A Cruise Ship

Posted August 8th, 2015

Eighty-six-year-old Lee Wachtstatter isn’t your ordinary cruise passenger.

More than a decade ago, not long after the death of her husband, she decided to sell her five-bedroom Florida home. But instead of downsizing, she opted for something far bigger – relocating to a cruise ship, where she has remained ever since.

“My husband, Mason, introduced me to cruising," she explains in an interview with USA Today.

"He was a banker and real estate appraiser and taught me to love cruising. During our 50-year marriage we took 89 cruises. The day before my husband died of cancer in 1997, he told me, 'Don't stop cruising.’ So here I am ..."

She certainly took his request to heart. Three years were spent on board a Holland America ship; she has been a resident on the 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity for the past seven – longer than most of the vessel’s 655 crew members, who have given her a nickname, “Mama Lee”.

Well travelled

All of which must make her one of America’s most-travelled octogenarians?

“I stopped counting after 100 [countries]," she said. "Let's just say I've been to almost any country that has a port."

She rarely goes ashore these days – largely because she has visited most places once or twice before.

Wachtstatter estimates that her “stress-free, fairy-tale” lifestyle will cost her $US164,000 ($A223,000) this year, which covers the cost of her single-occupancy cabin, meals in premium restaurants, gratuities and a variety of activities, including ballroom dancing with cruise hosts and needlepoint classes.

"I enjoy dancing, and this was the best of the remaining ships that still employ dance hosts," Wachtstatter said. "My husband didn't dance, just didn't like to, and encouraged me to dance with the hosts.”

While few have spent quite as long at sea, Wachtstatter isn’t the ship’s only full-time resident. Crystal Cruises told USA Today that at least three other women live permanently on its ships.


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Weighing the costs

Can life at sea be more cost-effective than on land? Perhaps not if you’re paying $US164,000 a year for a premium berth. However, prices on a 91-night Cruise and Maritime Voyages world cruise start at £4,387 ($A9,265) a person. For that much money, you’ll get accommodation, meals, entertainment and the chance to visit exotic locations on several continents.

Average rents are £761 ($A1,607) a month in Britain (or £1,160/$A2,450 in London). Add council tax, gas, water and electricity bills, and groceries, and it’s not hard to see why some opt for a life afloat.

"It's not so unusual for men, women or couples who love cruising to take up residence on their favourite ship,” said Jane Archer, Telegraph Travel's cruise expert.

Princess Cruises once told me there were more than 100 passengers living on their ships. I can see the attraction. You have the crew looking after you, and with each cruise another set of potential friends comes on board. It's also a very cost-effective way to live, as all your food, heating, and so on, is included in the price. Plus you get to travel.

"It certainly beats being in a care home, but of course there could be problems for people if their health starts to deteriorate and they need a lot of medical attention."

Golden years

Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships, adds: "It's a safe, comfortable environment, the crew become your new friends, and medical facilities, should you need them, are close by. And, unlike a retirement home or village, a cruise ship moves to different locations for a fresh view every day or so. So, why not, particularly if you have no immediate family ties?"

Beatrice Muller was one of the best-known cruise ship residents, living on board the QE2 from 2000 until the ship’s retirement in 2008.

"My priorities on this ship are ballroom dancing, playing duplicate bridge, and trying not to eat – not necessarily in that order. I like all kinds of dancing, but right now I'm not dancing sambas or the cha cha – I don't want to jump on my new hip just yet,” she told Telegraph Travel back in 2006.

There’s even a private cruise ship MS The World, which serves solely as a permanent residence for up to 200 people.


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This article was written by Oliver Smith from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning UK English language broadsheet newspaper, published in London by Telegraph Media Group and distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally.

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