Francesca Street, CNN
When Sharon Lane heard about a cruise company offering a three-year-long voyage around the world, she immediately started fantasizing about life on board.
Life at Sea Cruises is selling places on board the MV Gemini, which sets sail from Istanbul on November 1 on an epic global journey that will take in most of the planet’s prime cruising destinations.
Lane, a 75-year-old retired high school teacher from California, is a travel enthusiast. Back in the day, she taught foreign languages and loved taking her students on trips to Europe. In the 1990s, she decamped to Cape Town, South Africa for two years of adventures.
More recently, Lane’s become a cruise convert — not just because of the opportunities it affords her to see the world, but because the feeling of being adrift at sea is one of her favorite sensations.
“I actually prefer the ocean days, when we’re just sailing through or powering through the oceans, it just thrills me,” Lane tells CNN Travel.
While it’s long been Lane’s dream to live on a cruise ship full time, the steep cost has always been a barrier. But when Lane heard about the three-year-voyage from a friend on a Friday night Zoom call, she hung up and spent the rest of the evening researching and budgeting.
The cheapest rooms on the MV Gemini cost around $30,000 per year, including a discount for solo travelers. Lane calculated this cost was manageable, and decided to dive in.
“By midnight that night, I had done enough research that I booked a room,” she says.
Now, Lane is busy preparing for MV Gemini’s November disembarkation. She’s selling most of her possessions, giving up her rental lease and preparing for a long stint at sea.
“The logistics are crazy,” says Lane. “It’s a leap of faith, but I know there will be a place here when I get back. Or maybe I’ll end up living in another country. I don’t know, the sky’s the limit.”
Preparing for a new life
Lane has opted for one of the cheapest cabins on board — what Life at Sea Cruises’ is calling a “Virtual Inside” room. The 130-square-feet cabin has no window, but guests have been promised a screen that will broadcast live footage from outside the ship.
“It shows literally what you would see outside your window if you had one,” says Lane. “And that’s enough for me, it really is.”
Lane insists the prospect of three years living in a room with no natural light isn’t daunting. She plans to treat the cabin like a bedroom — she’ll sleep there, but she won’t spend a lot of time there otherwise. During the day, she’ll relax elsewhere on the ship, walking around soaking up the ocean views, or she’ll be busy enjoying exciting excursions.
While she plans to sell “95% of her possessions” before setting sail, Lane says she’ll bring along a few family photographs to make the cabin her own. She has a favorite picture of her now-adult grandsons back when they were kids and she took them on a whale-watching trip.
“I have that laminated and I’ll take magnets and I’ll stick it to my door for two reasons,” says Lane. “One, I get to see their faces every time I go in, which is always fun, and the other reason is it makes it really easy to know which door is yours, because you’ve got your grandsons smiling back.”
Lane hasn’t yet told her daughter or grandsons she’ll be embarking on the cruise. “I don’t want them to try and talk me out of it,” she says. Lane thinks they will support her decision, but three years is a long time, and it’s likely she won’t see much of her loved ones on land while she’s circumnavigating the world.
But Lane’s looking forward to video-calling family and friends from far flung locales — and she’s excited to forge new connections on board. She’s heard there will be many solo travelers on the voyage and reckons they will be keen to socialize. In fact, the cruise line has already connected many of the guests via an app, says Lane, and “it’s already a good time.”
“We’ve already gotten to know each other — already volunteering to help each other on things and giving each other ideas and answering questions and making plans. It’s already fun.”
Lane’s been happily single for a long time, and dismisses the notion she might find romance on board.
“That will not happen. It is completely out of my head. I have no interest. I want to make friends,” she says.
Plus, when she was making the decision to book onto the three year cruise, she found herself extra thankful for her independence — she’s spoken with people who’ve said they’re keen to sign up, but their partner or spouse isn’t interested, so it’s not happening.
“I don’t have that,” she says. “I can stay home if I want to. I can go someplace if I want to. The only thing that keeps me from doing things is health. As long as I control that I’m okay.”
Lane suffers from a medical condition in her lungs which she says makes her more susceptible to the effects of Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses. She’s rarely been out of her home, let alone on vacation, since the pandemic took hold.
But rather than being apprehensive about boarding a cruise ship, Lane suggests she’ll be more comfortable on board than on land — she’s confident in the cruise’s Covid measures and the medical facilities available on board, and also plans to take her own precautions.
“When I’m on the ship, when I’m any place where there are other people, I’ll wear an N95 mask, a surgical mask and goggles,” she says.
Lane won’t disembark the ship in certain destinations, like Antarctica, where the cold air might aggravate her lungs. But she’s very excited for much of the ship’s itinerary, including stop offs in Scotland and Ireland, places she believes her ancestors hailed from, but which she’s never visited before.
Life on board
In total, the MV Gemini will stop at 375 ports over its three-year voyage, with 208 of these including overnight stays. The ship will stop everywhere from India to China to the Maldives to Australia, with some multi-night stopovers.
Lane’s excited to see the globe and glad travelers will have time to soak up each destination, but she thinks she’ll spend more time on board the ship than many of her fellow passengers.
“For me, the ocean’s the thing,” she says. “The ship itself in the ocean, that’s the draw.”
Lane plans to blog her experience — “my goal is to write something every day,” she says. She hopes that the blog, which she writes under a pen name, will allow her to savor the journey and share her adventures with loved ones back home and strangers alike.
Lane hopes her dispatches might inspire others to take a risk and push themselves out of their comfort zone. She still regrets the years she spent in midlife, putting off traveling.
“I think I was always waiting for the perfect time to go when everything is right in life, when money is right, when appointments are right, when other people want to go,” she says.
“Don’t stay home,” she encourages. “Home may be where the heart is, home may be where you hang your hat — hang your hat, and then get on the boat, get on the plane, get in the car, go somewhere.”
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