What it's like to live on a cruise ship for eight years

By Lee Wachtstetter

Lee Wachtstetter points out an earring holder made by one of the crew on the cruise ship on which she have lived for eight years. Photo / Si Liberman
Lee Wachtstetter points out an earring holder made by one of the crew on the cruise ship on which she have lived for eight years. Photo / Si Liberman

I still remember his words. "Don't stop cruising," my husband told me the day before he died of cancer in 1997.

Mason was a banker and real estate appraiser who introduced me to cruising. During our 50 years together, we had taken 89 cruises.

Alone and struggling to maintain a large four-bedroom home after his death, I took my daughter's advice, sold our house and a lifetime's accumulation of furnishings and collectibles and became a permanent resident on a five-star cruise ship.

That decision took quite a bit of soul searching. I worried about distancing myself from friends and family. But as I thought about it, I realized that my children were grown and doing their own thing. Nothing was holding me back.

Here I am today, nearly eight years later, turning 88 in May, sailing to Sydney. I've been on this 12-year-old vessel longer than almost all of its 655 crew members.

At the captain's cocktail parties, I'm often honored as the passenger with the greatest number of Crystal cruises (400 altogether, including 15 world cruises).

I rarely go ashore nowadays because I've probably already been there several times. When most everybody else goes, it's so quiet, and I have almost the whole ship to myself. I'll read, watch a movie, continue my needlepoint work or just take a nap.

What most I miss, of course, is my family. I manage to get my mail and keep in touch with my three sons and seven grandchildren with my laptop. I'm also blessed with a 2-year-old great grandson who'll be getting twin brothers in July. I hear from a family member almost everyday, and visit with them whenever we dock in Miami. Last year we docked there five times.

Cathy Lee, my daughter, died five years ago at age 59. Most of my close friends in Florida are also gone. Now, as a longtime cruiser, though, I get to make new friends all the time.

Three other women live on the ship like I do, but none for nearly as long as I have. Perks come in the form of nice floral arrangements, occasional shipboard credits and actual cash rewards upon reaching high-level cruise number milestones.

About $450 (NZ$664) is my daily average cost. It's pricey, but luckily my husband was an excellent provider.

Crystal Cruises' reputation and the availability of dance hosts for passengers traveling alone (there are meet-and-greet cocktail parties and other events for people traveling alone) are what really sold me on the Crystal Serenity.

I enjoy dancing, and this I believe is the best cruise line that still uses dance hosts. My husband didn't dance, just didn't like to, but encouraged me to dance with the hosts. Before the Serenity, I lived on a Holland America liner for three years. The day they announced they were stopping the dance host program was the day I decided to leave.

I love to eat and regularly dine at a table for eight. You meet interesting passengers that way. Since coming on board more than seven years ago, I've put on 23 pounds (10.5 kilos). To shake them off, I went on a four-month liquid and fruit diet. It was working, but the pounds came back after resuming my normal eating habits. I just order half portions now and believe what they say. "The older you get, the harder it is to lose weight."

Most days I spend quite a bit of time in the bright Palm Court lounge doing needlepoint work. It's my second love. Been doing it for 50 years and have helped teach it to other passengers. Whatever I make, I give to crew members. They really bend over backward to keep me happy. If they don't have what I want, they get it even if they have to buy it off the ship or custom make it. One crew member built extra storage shelves for me. Another made a neat framed cushion wall hanging that holds almost all my earrings.

As a former registered nurse with a good immune system, I've very rarely felt the need to see the ship's doctor. But trying to get rid of a lingering, nasty cold once, I did. His RX: "You have laryngitis. Don't talk."

I'm so spoiled that I doubt I would ever be able readjust to the real world.

Lee Wachtstetter is an 87-year-old Floridian

- Washington Post

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