Till death do us part
A new market for floating hotels
The Economist, 28 October 2004
haunted by thoughts of spending your golden years vegetating in a dingy
old folks' home, supping on denture-friendly peas and boiled beef, and
playing endless rounds of cribbage? Fear not, there is a cost-effective
alternative: life on a cruise ship. A year in an “assisted-living
facility” costs Americans, on average, around $28,500 a year. In large
cities such as Chicago, costs are even higher, topping $40,000. Living
in a dedicated cabin aboard the Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas,
on the other hand, rings in at a rather competitive $33,260 a year.
liners offer many of the same amenities as old folks' homes: meals and
housekeeping, laundry and hair-dressing services, and even an escort to
dinner. They have handgrips in the toilets and walk-in showers. And
they also provide plenty of things that land-based facilities do
not—such as premium-grade ozone, nightly entertainment and
round-the-clock access to medical care.
“Cruise ships could be
considered as a floating assisted-living facility,” says Lee Lindquist,
a geriatrician at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine
in Chicago. She first took a cruise last year and was struck by the
untapped potential. She has now proposed a new model for old-age
living, which she calls “cruise-ship care”, to be published in
November's Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
above the competitive pricing, Ms Lindquist thinks that cruise ships
will actually provide a better service to the elderly. It is hard to
beat their staff-to-client ratio—one employee for every two or three
passengers, compared with one for every 10-40 residents in the average
home. And while the rooms may be smaller, the dance-halls and decks
should more than compensate. The extra incentive to get out and about
could add years to an old person's life.
Dining-room staff on
cruise liners routinely memorise patrons' preferred dinner drinks, and
have them ready when they arrive at their table; medications might be
dispensed in a similar fashion, suggests Ms Lindquist. And who knows,
maybe fewer drugs will be needed: about a quarter of elderly people
suffer from depression, she says, but the combined effects of sun and
socialisation might help combat that.
Ms Lindquist envisions no
more than 15% of a ship being dedicated to old folks so that they are
able to mingle with the more youthful regular clientele, a clientele
that could become even younger. Grandchildren may well be more inclined
to visit granny if she lives aboard a liner in the Caribbean than in an
old folks' home on the fringes of Chicago.