Interview with Life at Sea: The Three-Year Cruise of a Lifetime

by Paul Joseph  |  Published May 2, 2023

In November 2023, thousands of travellers will embark on the ultimate bucket list cruise across the oceans that takes in 135 countries over three magical years.

The Life at Sea cruise liner out on the ocean (Photo: Life at Sea)

Offered by world cruise operator Life at Sea, the epic journey has been designed to allow passengers extended stops in each port destination, sometimes stretching to several days, giving them ample time to explore at their leisure with no rush to get back on board. We spoke to Kari Tarnowski, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, to find out more about this unique travel opportunity, the kind of people it’s attracting, and what to expect from your three-year life at sea.

TravelMag: Could you start by telling us a bit about the origins of this cruise idea?

Kari Tarnoswki: Well, the idea really originated with our founder and managing director, Mikael Petterson. He conceived of it before the pandemic and really wanted to turn the concept into a reality for travellers, with a particular focus on retirees – the demographic that you usually find on world cruises – and the increasing number of remote workers, or digital nomads as they are often called, around the world. And an extended life at sea really promises the opportunity to slowly travel the world with minimal planning on the traveller’s part.

How did you determine if there would be sufficient demand?

It’s really over the last few years that we’ve started to see extended world cruise that promise the opportunity to slowly travel the world with minimal planning on the traveller’s part. When I first started in the industry, a world cruise was considered something that began in January ended in April – with many travellers based in the northern hemisphere using a cruise almost as a winter home. But in recent years, you’ve seen this increase from four months to six, to nine, to several months at a time. I’ve even known of a traveller who would go home for a month and then come straight back on board.

Combine that with the way COVID has changed working patterns so that you can work from pretty much anywhere, and you can see where this market has emerged. And the technology has really advanced the concept, too. Foe example, we’ll have Starlink WiFi [a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX] on board and available to all of our guests. And so the idea of working and living on a cruise just makes sense now that you don’t have to sit in an office, or even at home, in order to be connected.

One of the cruise’s high-spec cabins (Photo: Life at Sea)

What would you say really sets this offer apart compared with a more traditional world cruise?

Let’s take a typical example from a traditional cruise. Say you’re docking in Beijing for 12 hours, the chances are for seven of them you’ll be stuck in a queue trying to get onto the Great Wall. That barely leaves time for anything. With us, however, you’ll be in Beijing for six whole nights, which makes it a far more leisurely experience. And that will be the case at all of the ports we visit. Quite simply, we give you the time that you just can’t get with our competitors.

Can you give us a taster of some of the experiences residents can look forward to?

Where to start! The whole journey will encompass 130,000-mile journey, stopping at 375 ports, with travellers able to spend multiple days in some destinations. Some of the experiences that might whet the appetite include visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Mexico and Belize, the beaches of Fiji, the mountains of New Zealand, and the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Or how about spotting big game on an African safari, eating world-class Sushi in Tokyo, and discovering the unique landscapes of Alaska? In a nutshell, the entire world will be at your fingertips.

How was the vessel chosen for the voyage?

It was selected partly on size, as we wanted to make sure there’s plenty of space for everyone on board as well as enough space for the level of amenities that we’d planned, such as an extensive business centre. The priority is fostering an atmosphere in which you don’t feel you need to shout to be heard because it’s so crowded. So it was really about finding a vessel that lent that sense, not just of luxury per se, but of the luxury of space.

A meeting room in the on-board business centre (Photo: Life at Sea)

How does cabin pricing work?

So, the price  a traveller – or ‘resident’ as we are calling them – pays for the trip depends entirely on the cabin they choose. Our starter cabin, which is about 130 square foot, is $36,000 per person per year. That then rises all the way up to our 210 square foot cabin, which includes a balcony, and costs $121,000 per person per year.

But what’s included in that is access to all of our on-board services and amenities, including three meals a day (plus beer and wine at dinner), WiFi, wash-and-fold laundry, plus all entertainment and leisure facilities, a lecture series, learning and volunteering opportunities, and even your port charges and taxes.

Do you have to sign up for the full three years?

Yes, you do. But cabins are completely transferable with a few weeks notice. So, say, for example, after two years you were lucky enough to have a grandchild and you wanted to go home, the option will be there to transfer your cabin. And once you’ve determined who’s going to take on the final year from you and worked out the finances, we’ll help you finalise the rest.

Can you sublet your cabin?

While we do encourage residents to complete the three years, there is the option to divide up the cost of your cabin with other people and we’ll be offering ‘friends and family’ policies for this purpose. Once again, while the financing and other arrangements are the responsibility of the resident, we’ll be on hand to assist in facilitating the process.

Cruise reception staff at your service (Photo: Life at Sea)

Can you elaborate on what the business facilities will look like?

Many of our residents will either be working or have business interests to attend to while on board,  and so optimising our business facilities was a huge focus for us. We’ll have a first of its kind business centre complete with meeting rooms and offices and a business library. All of them will be kitted out with everything you need to be as productive as possible, such as conference equipment, printers and scanners.

What about entertainment and leisure?

To start with, we know this isn’t a normal vacation where people will be happy to let indulgence run free. So we’ve made sure people will be able to take care of their physical and mental health. There’ll be a state-of-the-art wellness centre, a spacious sundeck, an outdoor swimming pool, a gymnasium, fitness and yoga classes, and more.

One thing we’re also really excited about is that we’re going to be introducing a Golf around the World programme with a PGA golf pro – to be announced soon – who will accompany you to courses in some of our stop-off ports. So, whether you want to learn from scratch or simply improve your game, this will be a great excuse to do so.

As for entertainment, there’ll be lively bars and lounges where you can listen to live music, including performances that often specific to the region we’re in at the time. Or you can socialise, dance, try your hand at karaoke, or pretty much whatever takes your fancy.

Finally, in ports with beaches, there’ll also be motorised and non-motorised water toys, including paddleboards, snorkelling gear, kayaks, and jet skis available for the use of residents. We’ll also be working with local operators to offer bike rentals at a number of destinations.

A hot tub on the vessel’s outdoor decking (Photo: Life at Sea)

Let’s turn to food and beverages – what can you tell us? 

All residents will be offered three meals a day, plus snacks, with every preference catered for. You might be an early riser that wants a quick buffet selection first thing in the morning before heading onto land to explore, or you might be someone that wants to sit down and be served a relaxed three courses at breakfast.

There’ll be a choice of two restaurants, one a buffet and the other a sit-down venue. One will also be a little more regional, based on where in the world we are, and the other will feature many of the common staples that most of us are familiar with back home.

How will it work when it comes the re-stocking of provisions?

In that respect, it’ll be just like an ordinary cruise liner. As we’re coming into certain ports and people are disembarking, the provisions will arrive at the same time. The nice part of this is that residents will have the chance to sample produce from all over the world over the course of the trip.

One of the cruise’s sumptuous dining rooms (Photo: Life at Sea)

I understand there’ll be concierge services too?

Absolutely. Concierge staff will be available to help you plan your time onboard, make spa bookings, tell you what events and activities are going on, etc. And there’ll also be a dedicated shore excursion team that can offer tips on what to do when we’re in port, whether its restaurant or excursion recommendations, or anything else.

Will there be any self-catering facilities?

There won’t be any self-cooking areas onboard, but each cabin will have its own refrigerator so you can keep your own perishables nice and fresh at all times.

A stylish on-board communal area (Photo: Life at Sea)

Are there any plans to allow residents to meet each other prior to the voyage in order to help foster a sense of community among those who will be living together for three years?

Yes, indeed. It’s really important to us that we build a community at sea. We’re planning a resident familiarisation cruise sometime in South Florida in July, which will allow residents to meet and get to know each other, if they wish to do so. We’ve also created an online portal for residents with all kinds of social interaction, matching services, and so on.

What’s the typical profile of those who have signed up so far?

I would say the majority of residents so far are aged 40 to 50, with a mix of single and married people. And I think the reason we’re attracting this demographic is because our offer is designed to really facilitate their preferred lifestyle which allows them to work, but also travel, explore and discover new places and people.

One other thing to mention is that the offer is exclusively for adults, so we don’t allow any children under the age of 16.

In a way, the concept seems tailor-made for a reality TV show – have you had any enquiries?

Firstly, we’re very aware that we don’t want this to be seen as a kind of ‘social experiment’. But yes, it’s fair to say we’ve had a lot of interest and we’ve had talks with a few production companies about some opportunities that could be workable. It’s no surprise really, because it’s just such an unusual concept. But needless to say that, if anything like this was to take place, no resident would be required to be a part of it.

And the majority of residents so far, where are they from?

Right now we’ve sold approximately half of the available cabins and about 75% of our residents are from North America. Saying that, we’re finding a growing percentage are from the UK. But there’s still many months until departure, so we’ll see how those numbers evolve!

Finally, when does the vessel set off and where does it start its journey?

The exact itinerary is still subject to change, but currently we’re planning on a departure out of Istanbul, Turkey on November 1st. And to any of your readers who might be tempted, we’d absolutely love to see you onboard!