How to Retire on a Carnival Cruise Ship

Carnival Legend on water

If I had a dollar for every time someone posted a news article featuring some octogenarian retiring on a cruise ship, I’d be half way to my goal by now! Claims that cruise ship retirement is cheaper than an assisted care facility make their rounds on Twitter and Facebook, but have you ever really wondered, “How much would it take to retire on a cruise ship today?”

The honest answer: It depends. In the past seven years sailing Carnival, my average daily rate is under $100 a day on cruise fare, taxes, and port fees for an inside cabin. We might also do an excursion or two across a week or lunch and drinks in port which adds in about $25/day in extra cost.

So, for a Carnival cruise, I spend about $125/day.

Three additional costs to factor in:

  • Drinks. Now, we’re not big drinkers, so we usually just stick to the 12-pack of soda and wine we are each allowed to carry on board. Broken down daily, it adds another $5.
  • Laundry service. Laundry onboard a cruise ship can get quite expensive if you have the line wash your clothes at $15 a bag. Or, you could spend $2.50 for the onboard washer and dryer (if one exists) and take care of that yourself. As a Diamond member in Carnival’s VIFP Loyalty Program, that’s one expense I never have to worry about as they take care of the laundry for me (Platinum members get 3 bags/week which we always found plenty). And, if you plan to spend that much time on a cruise ship, you’ll be at top tier status where they take care of laundry for you before you know it!
  • Gratuities. The tips for your crew can add up quickly, and they very based on stateroom type you book. At $13.99/day for a standard room, you’re looking at another $97.93/week. But, you can offset that cost by simply purchasing 100 shares of Carnival stock. As a shareholder, Carnival provides you a Shareholder Benefit of $100 for every 7-day sailing ($250 for 14 days or longer). For my last 31 cruises, Carnival has picked up a large portion of my gratuities with onboard credit.

So, if you’re tracking with me, we’re up to about $130/day for transportation (including taxes and fees), lodging, meals, activities, soda and wine, laundry, and gratuities. Just doing some simple math across 365 days in a year, and you’d be looking at just about $47,450. Assuming double occupancy, that’s $94,900/year.

Of course, anyone who has booked a Christmas cruise or a New Years Eve sailing knows that the average cost/day jumps significantly during those times of the year. Additionally, the summer months (which I’ll sail for the first time in 2022), also carry a premium fare. So you’re likely to add a couple thousand dollars to that total.

What’s still not included in the above numbers – and could prove to be a deal breaker for some – is healthcare/insurance. Medicare doesn’t typically cover you when you’re outside of the US and so you’d need supplementary health and travel insurance. Depending on your factors, this could easily run in the thousands of dollars.

For fun, let’s say that the premium rate for Christmas, New Years, and summertime sailing adds an average of another $20/day to the daily rate mentioned above. And let’s plan medical/insurance at $8,000/year (or $22/day). That would bring the $130/day average to $172/day or $62,780. Multiplied by two, you’re looking at a double occupancy cost of $125,560 to sail on a Carnival ship for an entire year.

While that’s not chump change, according to Paying for Senior Care, the average daily cost of a nursing home in the United States is $245/day or $89,425/year (that’s $178,850 for two people). So, all of those claims and articles that it might be less expensive to retire on a cruise ship, could indeed be true – but that’s followed by a lot of asterisks and fine print.

Asterisks and fine print: If you’d like to move from that interior room to a balcony, your daily rate increases significantly. Similarly, if you decide you’d rather retire on Carnival Corp sister brand Princess Cruises instead of Carnival, your daily cost could easily triple!

Let’s say you’re fine with the standard interior on a Carnival cruise ship. And your expenses roughly match those listed above. The final thing you need to determine is how many years you plan to live on a ship. The below table provides you insight into what your nest egg would need to look like to make that happen (total cost for two people):

YearsCost/YearTotal Cost

Note: Table figures do not account for inflation or other costs that may arise (e.g., a pandemic that shuts down the industry for 18 months!)

Moral of that story: Depending on how long you plan to live on a cruise ship, you’re going to need a pretty nice nest egg. Especially considering those numbers don’t take into account inflation and other costs you may have outside of the cruise ship (condo, mailing address, cell phone, etc.).

While the thought of being at sea every day is an attractive one, a more reasonable financial goal might be half-time at sea, half-time on land. This could allow you to stretch your retirement savings much further and more likely achieve your dream of living at sea.

Disclaimer: This article is purely for fun and fantasy. No claims are being made and you should consult your own financial and tax advisors as you plan for your retirement.

3 thoughts on “How to Retire on a Carnival Cruise Ship”

  1. Great article! I just have one question. Are you booking these cruises week by week, or cruise by cruise, and paying in advance for them, or is there away to book through, say 6 months or a year and pay monthly? I pay over a period of about 8 months for a 2 week cruise so I’m wondering how you started out. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the note! For the article, I used an average price across my previous bookings to come up with my calculation of $100/day. These would have all been booked on a week-by-week basis. However, in theory, you should be able to get the average price point down a little bit if you were to cruise full time and you could book longer cruises as these generally have a lower per-day price point (e.g., the Carnival Ecstasy 10-day out of Mobile this September has an $85/person/day price point). In terms of paying over time, Carnival attempts to make that easier with their EasyPay option. It’s not a financing option, but rather, a charge-your-card-monthly option to allow folks to pay over time. There are no interest charges which makes this an attractive option (I’ve not used it, so I can’t speak to it from first-hand experience).

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