Would you want to travel the world every day of your life? That’s what 86-year-old widow Lee Wachtstetter has been doing for the last seven years. She calls the 1,070-passenger cruise ship Crystal Serenity her home. Mama Lee, as Wachtstetter is affectionally called by the crew, has been cruising since her husband died in 1997, but not before telling her, “Don’t stop cruising.”
Throughout their marriage, the Wachtstetters cruised the world. “My husband introduced me to cruising,” Mama Lee told USA Today. “Mason was a banker and real estate appraiser and taught me to love cruising. During our 50-year marriage, we did 89 cruises. I’ve done nearly a hundred more and 15 world cruises.”
Dancing through life
After selling her Fort Lauderdale home that sat on 10 acres of property, Mama Lee had enough money to live on the high seas for years. High on her list of requirements for her permanent home was the entertainment available on the cruise ship. For Mama Lee, the only entertainment worthwhile on cruise ships is ballroom dancing with dance hosts. Mama Lee lived on a Holland America ship, part of a cruise line owned by Carnival, prior to living on Crystal Serenity. For three years, Mama Lee enjoyed her stay with Holland America. However, she soon had to leave.
“The day they announced they were stopping the dance host program was the day I decided to leave,” she said. Mama Lee decided to jump ship toCrystal Serenity. The luxury liner is one of two ships of Crystal Cruise Lines, a Japanese luxury cruise line consistently rated highly by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure for 19 years. More importantly, they offer dance hosts for their passengers. Mama Lee told USA Today, “I enjoy dancing, and this was the best of the remaining ships that still use dance hosts. My husband didn’t dance, just didn’t like to, and encouraged me to dance with the hosts.”
The cost of cruising
Being a permanent resident on Crystal Serenity is not cheap. This year, Mama Lee expects the high life on the high seas to cost her $164,000. That cost includes a single-occupancy stateroom on the seventh deck of the luxury liner, full board including the specialty restaurants on the ship, along with all of the ship’s services, amenities, and entertainment available. No mortgages, no groceries to think about, no other bills to pay. Isn’t that the life?
Been there, done that
Mama Lee has been to almost any country with a port, but rarely goes ashore nowadays. She just enjoys the quiet and solitude of having the ship all to herself when the rest of the passengers get off the ship to explore. That is, except when Crystal Serenity docks at Istanbul.
“I can’t resist the Grand Bazaar,” Mama Lee said. “You can find gorgeously regal or glitzy outfits there, perfect for formal or casual wear and not terribly expensive. I have to restrain myself every time because of my limited cabin space.”
Whenever the ship docks in Miami, Mama Lee visits her sons and grandchildren and keeps in touch with them with her laptop. She remembers, “When my children were all young, I took them on cruises many times. Now they have families of their own and do what’s right for them.”
Living it up
Mama Lee usually holds court in the Palm Court lounge doing her second love, needlepoint. She has been living on Crystal Serenity longer than most of the 655 crew members. The crew dotes on her, often accommodating her needs and wishes even if they’re not readily available on the ship. With her 87th birthday fast approaching, Mama Lee is looking forward to another great year on the ship.
“All the time I’ve been here I have never had a sick day,” she said. “I’m so spoiled I doubt that I would ever be able to readjust to the real world again.”
Mama Lee certainly has figured out how to live out the rest of her life, and on the seven seas to boot. Have you figured out how to live yours?