Carla Bastos: Dreaming of a multi-year world cruise? Do your research

The failed Life at Sea around-the-world cruise has become the stuff of legend. The three-year excursion was billed as a dream journey – circumnavigating the globe while passengers live and work comfortably and affordably aboard ship, checking off a lifetime of bucket list destinations.

Of course, it never happened.

After some paid hefty deposits, even selling their homes, Life at Sea announced only a few weeks before they were scheduled to sail that they hadn’t even acquired a ship. At this writing, many would-be passengers have still not received refunds.

Residential cruising is not new to the one percent. The World, a residential vessel currently at sea, is strictly for multi-millionaires. But, as remote work became all the rage in recent years, demand grew for the same nautical opportunity for regular folks.

Was it even possible?

Life at Sea targeted retirees and digital nomads, but couldn’t pull it off. Then there’s Storylines, whose years-long effort still hasn’t materialized.

Enter Villa Vie Residences

Last fall Villa Vie announced its new 3.5-year circumnavigation, with a target sailing date of May 2024. An all-inclusive offering with affordable “villas,” (and even solo discounts!), a business center for remote workers, etc., it all sounded so tempting. But then, so did Life at Sea.

I’ve closely researched and monitored the new venture, as I did with the first one. Again, I was intrigued but wary.

So, here’s what I’ve found.

First, Villa Vie actually has a ship, dubbed the Odyssey. Several of its staff, including CEO Mikael Petterson, were formerly with Life at Sea. They “jumped ship” when the company began making questionable decisions, and undertook this new endeavor.

Second, several prospective Villa Vie residents are among those duped by Life at Sea. Perhaps for these reasons, Villa Vie seems to be making concerted efforts to avoid the same missteps.

I’ve attended several webinars over the last few months, two of which were conducted aboard the Odyssey. We were given a virtual tour, meeting with the company overseeing renovations. Webinars have included the health care company that will staff and run the ship’s medical facility; and others addressing matters of vaccines, visas, insurance and more.

Much information has been provided, questions continually addressed, and efforts seem transparent.
The ship’s cabins and dining, entertainment and recreational facilities are not unlike other cruise ships I’ve sailed with, although they do appear to be a step up and more accommodating or actually living, rather than vacationing (including a pool deck with fire pits).

Also impressive is a Portage Club offering residents the opportunity for hands-on volunteering and cultural exchange, in partnership with NGOs and nonprofits in various destinations. The company also touts its sustainability efforts, with a goal “…to minimize its environmental impact, using cutting-edge technology and eco-friendly practices.”

Dollars and cents

The Odyssey, formerly the Braemar, was purchased from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. As Captain of the Braemar, Jozo Glavic was the first ever to usher a cruise ship through the narrow Corinth Canal. The ship must be close to Glavic’s heart, because he has now signed on to captain this new adventure.

The Odyssey’s inaugural voyage from Southampton, England is scheduled to begin 15 May. It will sail to all seven continents, 147 countries and over 400 ports, docking in several for seven days or more and allowing for extensive exploration and excursions. Future residents have already connected, planning various clubs, classes and social events.

So far, so good, right?

But, only when it came down to dollars and cents could this dream become a reality for skeptics like me. The clincher was all about options. Villas can be purchased or rented, and rather than committing to (and paying for) the full 3.5 years, individual segments can be booked. A 10-percent deposit is required, with the balance for each segment due 90 days before sailing.

This was huge because I couldn’t imagine forking over a boatload of money for something that I wasn’t even sure was going to happen!

Keeping its promises … so far

According to the Villa Vie website, there are different levels of residents–“founders,” or investors; owners who purchase cabins starting at $99,000 but also pay monthly fees of $,1750 per person double or $2,500 per person single; and renters based on segment duration, starting at $89 per day per person for double occupancy.

Ownership duration is for the “operational life of the ship,” with a guaranteed minimum 15 years and buyback and trade-in options throughout.

The company seems to be abiding by its all-inclusive promise and is forthcoming about things that are fluid and changing decisions, i.e., it was recently announced that there would be an upcharge for the gourmet restaurant (but not the other two). Gratuities are included.

Medical care is included but not procedures and medicines; wifi is included and the business center is open to all but private offices must be rented; and, certain excursions and spa treatments are extra. Housekeeping and laundry are also included, as well as amenities such as a library, a culinary center, an observation deck with telescopes, a pickleball court and a golf simulator. Friends and family can visit and occupy vacant cabins for a fee, and residents can also “earn” friends and family visits over time.

Owners are free to sell or rent out their cabins.

The Odyssey is quite small at less than 700 feet, with 485 cabins, the smallest being single inside at 130 square feet and the largest 300 square feet. It accommodates about 900 people. The environment seems akin to a river cruise ship – much more intimate and comfortable than those large cruise ships with 4,000-plus passengers on board.

Prior to sailing, the ship is being refurbished at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast where the Titanic was built. 

Arrivederci Tuscany, Hello World

I chose two consecutive segments – to include 35 countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America and Antarctica – for a total of seven months on board. And, since I won’t board until September, I can monitor the cruise’s progress to see how it’s all panning out before I commit further.

(But, if all goes well, going on to circumnavigate the globe sounds pretty appealing.)

Given the sketchy history of other attempts, obviously caution is the order of the day. And, it’s important to consider whether you’re even cut out to live on a ship for months or years at a time. (Having served on a mercy ship delivering relief supplies to developing countries for over two years, I can safely say it’s my forte.)

It’s certainly not for everyone but, for retirees and digital nomads with that touch of wanderlust, there’s a new option out there that may just work for you.

As for me, it looks like it may be arrivederci Tuscany, hello world!

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Carla Bastos is an expat writer living in Italy.

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