A three-year cruise sounds like a costly, sweaty nightmare. But then you start doing the maths …
It is a juvenile but bankable way to pass time and lift one’s spirits without too much exertion: I’m talking about identifying ways in which the lives of rich people suck, a list that is always imaginatively growing. Gwyneth Paltrow, testifying in Utah, has delivered solidly on this front this week, but there’s an even more gratifying story you might have missed. For a mere £75,000, people with what is officially known as more money than sense can embark on a round-the-world cruise, taking in 135 countries and docking at 375 destinations. If that itinerary sounds overloaded, it’s because you are a wage slave who only takes 14-day holidays. This particular cruise takes three years.
I know, right? Three years on a ship playing “indoor golf” with the characters from Triangle of Sadness. It is so perfect a punishment for a certain type of hollowed-out plutocrat it might have been created by a limp, mid-list satirist. According to Life at Sea Cruises, the company behind the venture and a subsidiary of Miray Cruises, demand for the cruise is “unprecedented” and it also goes without saying that the word “cruise” in this case, is a misnomer. Cruises are for people who get excited by the presence of jumbo prawns at the buffet. By contrast, life aboard the “400-cabin MV Gemini” is, says Mikael Petterson, the managing director, “a way of living as opposed to travel”.
And what might that way of living be? Let’s look through the porthole at those who will serve time on this cruise, which, Petterson informed the Times this week, will visit 13 of the 14 wonders of the world, including the Taj Mahal, which is some 750 miles from the ocean. “It is going to be a very long drive, but we will offer it.” Promotional material for the cruise advertises the stripping out of the existing vessel, currently operating as a conventional cruise ship, to be fitted with features more suitable for long-haul cruising and a more discerning customer. Gone is the onboard casino, to be replaced with a “business centre”, giving the enterprise the vibe of an episode of Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partridge.
The kids’ club is becoming a “panoramic lounge” and the whole experience is angled at self-identified “digital nomads”, a kind of floating WeWork if you will, forcing one around the iceberg of a very obvious joke. Other pertinent facts: you can sublet your cabin; there is capacity for 1,074 travellers; and there is free wine and beer at dinner. There is also an onboard mortuary. (Perhaps there is always one of these on the big cruise ships? Anyway, it’s listed as a feature). And while the shipping company imagined that the cruise would attract mainly older customers, according to Petterson the average age is 56, and a quarter of passengers are under 47. The biggest headache organisers are currently facing is that some of these people want to bring their dogs.
What’s most baffling about all this is that anyone, post-Covid, goes on cruise ships at all. It doesn’t even have to be Covid that comes for you. What happens if/when norovirus rages through the ship? What happens to your mail for three years? The fact is that the three-year duration is clearly a marketing tool rather than a template for a new kind of living, or a commitment many passengers will see out. One assumes that the vast majority of takers will use the cabin not as a substitute for an apartment, but as a kind of timeshare opportunity to be dropped in and out of depending on where in the world the ship is.
This odd setup is reflected in the price. At a glance, the cost of the most luxurious cabins looks expensive for anything billed as a vacation. Start doing the maths, however, and £75,000 for three years of food, booze, accommodation, wifi, entz and full medical coverage – £25,000 a year – is a fraction of what a “luxury” life on land costs. How this works I have no idea, but it does make one twitch with an impulse to give it a go and, like those people who get banned from the all-you-can-eat buffet for sneaking in an empty Tupperware, seeing just how much value can be extracted from this peculiar premise.
In which case, hurrah for this cruise! Not, after all, a product pitched at the hyper wealthy, but an escape hatch for the middle classes squeezed by the soaring cost of living. It won’t be easy. There will be sacrifices to be made and covert plastic containers to be filled. But if the cost of avoiding an unaffordable land-based existence is three years of exile at sea and a 22-hour coach ride to the Taj Mahal, it might be a price worth paying.
Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist