Here’s my Hollywood pitch for the next big dystopian film: a middle-aged yoga queen has woken up in a ship’s cabin, having agreed to cohabit with an early-retiree crypto enthusiast to bring down costs. They met via social media, natch.
There’s a catch. This isn’t a quick tour of the Mediterranean. It is a three-year global cruise, with no escape. As each participant has sunk more than £70,000 into this trip, there’s no room for regret. In fact, not much room at all. Shared quarters measure 130 sq ft, with no window. The WiFi has gone down.
Sadly for me, Life At Sea Cruises, a subsidiary of the Turkish cruise line Miray, has already nabbed my idea and turned much of it into reality. The MV Gemini will weigh anchor from Istanbul this November. Onboard will be passengers who’ve signed up to the promise of “13 of the 14 wonders of the world”, on a tour that will include every continent, including Antarctica, along with top-quality WiFi. The starting price per person in a two-berth interior cabin is $90,000 for the full three years — shorter terms are not on offer; triple that for a suite with a balcony. For those who prefer solitary confinement, it’s just under $170,000.
Where will they find 1,074 fools for this ship? Seemingly it is not so difficult. There’s a private Facebook group for people considering signing up for the trip. Here’s the plot twist: the group doesn’t just consist of boomers looking to burn through their pensions, but also mid-life singletons, many of them searching for companions to take the other bunk. Strangers were responding, agreements being negotiated, reality being suspended.
In media interviews, even Life At Sea’s managing director, Mikael Petterson, seemed surprised at the demographic. The pitch to Americans was that it was cheaper than assisted living and the company had even installed a morgue onboard. The average age of sign-ups is in the fifties and 26 per cent are under 47. A quarter of all would-be passengers describe themselves as “digital nomads”.
The younger members showing interest so far appear to have had regular professional careers or run their own businesses. A few are considering taking their teenage children along. On the Facebook group in early March, Petterson claimed to have received 120,000 contact requests in just nine days. There was scepticism from those interested about whether the company could meet its promises or would just sail off into the sunset with their dreams. There were also folk who’d announced they had paid their deposits as if they’d struck gold. If they follow through, Life At Sea residents will be an odd collection of seasick romantics, well-off retirees, thrill-seekers and boredom-avoiders.
The desire to be free of the bonds of the real world is strong. Reddit commenters have already queried whether being at sea for three years means governments can’t dip into your pay cheque. Is being trapped on a storm-tossed vessel with strangers wanting to make small-talk worth the tax break?
There may be some higher aspirations. Seasteading — the idea of creating semi-permanent settlements out on the water — taps into utopian dreams of an alternative society, like communes and geodesic domes. Proposals for on-sea communities are often floated: Buckminster Fuller’s Triton City; the Freedom Ship, for tens of thousand of inhabitants, designed and costed back in the 1990s; more recently, the ill-fated MS Satoshi, aimed at crypto bros, which was to be moored off Panama, and Storylines’ MV Narrative, a luxury liner launching in 2025, on which a studio starts at around $600,000. Most don’t make it off the ground, let alone into the water.
Yet, I suspect that for some it’s not just the freedom of the seas, from Polynesia to Alaska, that is spurring this but a more mundane allure. Included in the price are three cooked meals a day, with wine and beer at dinner, daily housekeeping and a weekly wash-and-fold service — not such a bad deal when compared with the cost of living in a global city.
It is another form of escape — a return to teenage years when time was plentiful, responsibilities scarce and deep friendships fleeting. But the experience also eliminates one of life’s most significant burdens: choice. The next destination is planned, dinner options onboard are limited, your contract is binding.
When the MV Gemini sails, it will be a petri dish for the study of human dreams versus disappointment. The plot of this movie has an easy course, already charted. Despite the passengers starting off enthusiastic and signing up for regular “enrichment seminars” on deck, disillusionment may set in at every new longitude and latitude.
Thirty-foot waves will harass the ship. Passengers will harass the captain if the Starlink satellite WiFi connection collapses. Instagram followers will disengage as enthusiasm for photographs of ocean horizons dwindles. Factions will develop. Mutiny may be threatened.
The pursuit of happiness is often fraught with misery. That’s a lesson better learnt in two hours in a movie theatre than three years in the middle of the Pacific.
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Source: Financial Times