During retirement, there may come a time when maintaining your current household just becomes too difficult. When the yard work and housecleaning become too much, or when you begin to struggle to get meals on the table, the obvious option many seniors consider: assisted living. 

Unfortunately, assisted living can be very expensive and, for some seniors, moving to an assisted living community signals a loss of independence and the end to a retirement spent traveling and enjoying life. 

Elderly couple on a beach.

Image Source: Getty Images.

But, assisted living isn't the only option for seniors who find living alone too burdensome. There's an alternative that could be less expensive while providing some of the same perks and benefits: life on the high seas.  

That's right-- living on a cruise ship could be a lower-cost way for seniors to take advantage of similar amenities to those provided by assisted living facilities, like all-you-can eat meals, a swimming pool for low-impact exercise, regular companionship and entertainment, and even access to on-board doctors. How does living on a cruise ship compare with assisted living? Let's take a look. 

Costs of cruise ships vs. assisted living

Cruise ship living is an attractive alternative for seniors because, in many cases, the costs of cruising are lower than costs of an assisted living facility. 

Average costs for an assisted living facility, as of 2017, are around $3,750 per month, according to the Genworth Cost of Care survey .  This is around $45,000 annually. The nightly cost of a cruise, on the other hand, averages around $100 per night  or less.

A 12-night cruise of the Southern Caribbean, available for an average cost of $779 per person,   is just $65 per night.  For a senior couple traveling together, discounts of 50% for the second passenger lower combined costs dramatically. Senior discounts, points for frequent cruising, and booking with a rewards credit card keep costs down even further, especially if you opt out of pricey extras like alcoholic drinks or shore excursions . 

Not all ships allow full-time residents onboard, but many cruise lines make accommodations for seniors who want to become long-term passengers and remain on the same ship for months or even years at a time .  There are also options like Oceania's Around the World Voyage, which is a 180-day cruise  happening annually from January to July.

For seniors looking for the very best prices, moving from ship-to-ship to see different areas of the world allows for extra adventure at an especially affordable cost. If you book cruises leaving from the same departure ports, you'll keep transportation costs low. While this makes it impractical to own many possessions, paying for an on-shore storage facility is an option at less than $200 monthly .  When combined with an annual cost of a generous $100 per night for cruising, combined annual costs of around $38,900 for ship accommodations and storage are more than $6,000 cheaper than the average assisted living facility. 

Amenities of assisted living vs. cruise ship living

For seniors considering cruise ship life, it's important to evaluate whether a cruise ship can provide the same level of service as an assisted living facility.  The good news is, in most cases, seniors would get fairly comparable assistance. 

Assisted living facilities are distinct from nursing homes because assisted living facilities provide less care and support than nursing homes. Nursing home staff helps with routine activities of daily living, such as bathing, using the restroom, and consuming food and drink. Seniors with dementia who require supervision and bedridden or wheelchair-bound seniors who rely on caregivers to tend to basic needs require nursing home care. Seniors in assisted living facilities, on the other hand, often have their own independent apartments or rooms, and the help they receive is typically limited to medication management, transportation, housekeeping services, entertainment, and some meal services . 

Cruise ships offer similar amenities to paying passengers of all ages. Most cruise ships have all-inclusive food offerings available throughout the day. There are regular social activities aboard the ship, including games and shows. Cruise ships also have onboard pharmacy services as well as infirmaries with doctors and nurses. Medical staff is typically on-call 24-hours daily for emergencies, and ship healthcare facilities on most major cruise ships are largely comparable to ambulatory care centers . 

While there is a cost to obtain medications or use the services of the ship's infirmary, healthcare services are typically not included at an assisted living facility, either. Medicare pays for covered services provided on cruise ships if those services are obtained within six hours of a U.S. port , although visiting a doctor covered by Medicare is easier for seniors residing at a U.S. based assisted living facility than for a seniors at sea.  Seniors could also choose to purchase travel insurance to cover both the costs of treatment aboard the ship and more costly services, such as helicopter transport to a U.S. hospital in case of a serious medical emergency. 

For seniors who need a higher level of services that only a nursing home can offer, or for seniors with complicated-to-manage medical conditions who need to see a doctor regularly, cruise ship living is not the answer. But for relatively healthy seniors who can no longer handle the demands of living alone and who want a fun alternative, a cruise ship may just be the ideal retirement option.