Meredith Shay, a former flight attendant, recalls coming back from a trip to Colombia earlier this year and walking through a chaotically crowded Miami airport — on a Tuesday, no less — and thinking to herself, there has to be a better way to travel. By chance, she stumbled upon a captivating option later that night, and groggily put down a $500 (refundable) deposit for a cruise called Life at Sea, becoming the first person to sign up for a three-year around-the-world cruise, the first of its kind.
Longer-form cruises have been gaining popularity in recent years, but none as ambitious as Life at Sea, which departs from Istanbul on Nov. 1, with plans to visit 135 countries across all seven continents. Stops include Bora Bora, Tokyo, Alaska, Amsterdam, Mozambique, Madagascar and many, many more.
“Travel is my life. And that’s what I love doing, so this couldn’t be any better,” Shay, who refers to her age as “vintage,” says. “I’ve been to about 50% of these places. But for instance, the island in the Seychelles— I was there in ‘89 — I visited is no longer there. So it’s going to be interesting. I’m gonna be seeing it through different eyes this time.”
“It’s really something the whole industry is going to watch,” says Kendra Holmes, CEO of Miray Cruises, which owns and operates Life at Sea. “We’re also offering a new kind of program where people can embark in different locations after Nov. 1, starting their three years then. After the first three years end, we’re going to extend the itinerary to go to ports that we haven’t visited, so it gives people who join in December or next February or next June, the ability to still have that three-year experience, and in addition, our residents can now extend and stay on longer than three years.”
In that sense, the cruise is never-ending. It’s also what one might call a social experiment. The ship can hold about 1,400 people, but Life at Sea plans to only be at about 85% capacity to give people space. Currently, about 50% of the ship has been reserved by people from all over the world. According to Holmes, about 30% of those who signed up have never been on a cruise before. Passengers range in age from 35 to 85. Cost varies, and many people were able to lock in early-bird pricing. Currently, cabins start at about $38,000 per year per person, with each cabin sized for two people. If a single person doesn’t want to pay double to have privacy, they will be assigned a roommate. And because three years is a long time, roommate rotations have been discussed among the single passengers. Cats are also permitted, but must remain in the cabin at all times.
“There will be a lot of residents on board that actually specialize in psychology and other mental health professionals, so we’re really going to rely on them to help each other and create their own community,” Holmes says. “Putting all of these people together, of course, there’s going to be conflict. But the passengers are unique — who can literally just pick up and go for three years? They all have different reasons why they’re leaving their lives behind on land.”
Ron Hillman, 67, is among those who signed up for the cruise and opted into having a roommate, the part he is most nervous about.
“I first heard of these types of cruises about five years ago. But the companies that proposed them were never able to get their act together, to get the financing they needed,” he says. “It appeals to me because I’m getting older, I’m not as mobile and I don’t really have a home base. And this lets me see the world. Sure, I’m definitely apprehensive about the roommate. But if I don’t get along with anybody — which is unusual for me, but possible — I can spend time alone or leave.”
Hillman was also enticed by the cruise’s flexible guest policy; if your family or friends want to hop on for a bit, they can do so, for a rate of $33 per day per guest for between seven and 30 days per quarter, depending on your cabin situation.
Shay, who opted to splurge on her own cabin, says she’s nothing but excited.
“You can’t be fearful if you’re in a state of love. And that’s how I feel,” she says. “I’m not fearful at all. It’s just going to be such an incredible adventure.”