Why my family wouldn't spend an extended amount of time on a cruise

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Mr and Mrs CouchFI went on a cruise trip at the end of 2019, and as with all our vacations, I ask the question: what if I could do this for several months or years instead of just a week?

The Cost

According to cruise market watch, the average per person per day rate in 2018 is $212.80. Which works out to be $77k per year for a single person or $156 for a couple. However, if you were to stay on a cruise full time, you could get a better rate through some deal with a cruise liner, not to mention benefits you might get by being a very loyal customer to a cruise line. Say these efficiencies bring your cost down to $120k for two of you to stay on a cruise for a year, and with some loyalty points, you get to take your children with you (remember retiring early means your kids are still living with you).

$120 per year is a lot to spend in a year, but as a parent raising a child in San Francisco, this is well within our yearly budget. From a financial perspevctive, this is doable. Let's check other categories.

Child Care

Child friendly cruiseliners like carnival cruises have day care programs on board, and as a family with you get to enjoy the cruise while your young children are having fun meeting and playing with kids from all over the country.

On the other hand, having seen how Carnival's Camp Ocean child care is run, your kids won't be getting a lot of learning time, so it'll make my kids dumber if they stayed on the ship for so long. 90% of a child's brain is developed in the first 5 years of life, and a being in a bubble like a cruise ship with very limited set of experiences could really distort how their brains develop. This by itself is a deal breaker.

The Food

A cruise ship is like an all inclusive resort. Most dining options are inclusive with a few upscale options being extra (usually still at a discout to similar restaurants outside the ship).

In our experience food was quite good compared to all inclusive resorts (maybe we haven't been to the good ones? our all inclusive resort dining experience has not been spectacular), but as someone living in a world class city like San Francisco, we can usually find better options with significantly more variety. I would not trade cruise ship food for what I can get within a 1 mile radius of my home. Plus I'd probably all gain a few too many pounds from the constant allure of unhealthy but tasty food like bacon and icecream.

Health

Staying fit on a cruise ship is a battle between a gym with gorgeous views of the ocean and bacon, a lot of all you can eat bacon. And icecream. Knowing my family, know which one would win.

On a more serious note, what if your family gets sick? In fact you'll probably be sick a lot from being close to so many guests and visiting different cities with very different climates.

The enterntainment

Cruises include all sorts of enterntainment options from late night comedy to live performances to movies by the pool and water polo. I'm sure I'll have no problem being enterntained for the first couple weeks.

If we stay on the same ship however, the enterntainment options will get old. To make it fresh, we'd probably want to jump to a different ship with different options every few weeks.

"Traveling"

A big selling point for a cruise is being able to visit many cities around the world without making any prior plans. However, this also means you're only going to tourist spots. As a parent with young children, this is fine by me. Taking care of a child is hard enough, I don't want to add the stress of planning a trip in multiple cities where we don't speak the language. Before kids or even after they are older, I would hate this kind of travel. Part of traveling is to experience places that locals experience and not just spend all the time at tourist areas with the same gift shops and overpriced food. To be fair, I do enjoy doing some of the tourist activities in a new city, but I'll be disappointed at a trip if that's the only thing we got to do.

Conclusion

By now, cruises rank very low as a place I would spend a significant amount of time, especially with a young family. It was great for a week, but there's so many better options to live locally and have the freedom to move around once we're bored of the place. If Mr. and Mrs. CouchFI decide to take a career sebatical, we'd want to go live in Europe or Asia (or both!) for a few months at a time, and that's a topic for another post.

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