Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Living like a sultan at sea

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun June 30, 2013
The cruise ship Costa Atlantica, in port in Singapore on May 3, features a luxurious atrium.
The cruise ship Costa Atlantica, in port in Singapore on May 3, features a luxurious atrium.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: On a cruise, if a guest cabin goes unoccupied, that's money that's lost
  • Greene met a man who was living virtually full-time on cruise ships at rock bottom rates
  • He was living the ultimate beach-bum fantasy, 21st-century style, Greene says
  • Greene: The downside is that you are cast adrift in many ways

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen"; and "When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams."

(CNN) -- The cruise-line industry is a rough business.

Every time a passenger ship leaves port with a guest cabin unoccupied, that's money the cruise operators are never going to see.

Last week Micky Arison, the longtime chief executive of Carnival Corp., announced that he will be stepping down; revenues at the world's largest cruise-ship line have been falling. Arison will remain as chairman of the firm, but a new CEO will step in.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

Cruise companies have always had to contend with uncertainties in the economy, which sometimes make travelers cautious about planning leisure trips, and Carnival has faced widespread unpleasant publicity in recent years. The Costa Concordia, owned by a subsidiary of the corporation, ran aground and partially sank off the coast of Italy in 2012, killing 32 people. This year the Carnival Triumph lost power in the Gulf of Mexico after a fire in the engine room, creating distressing conditions onboard for its more than 3,000 passengers.


The very nature of the cruise business -- the relentless competition between various lines, the need to fill those staterooms, a fickle public with a multiplicity of options for how and where to vacation -- might cause sleepless nights for executives, but for certain people, it provides a dream scenario:

A seldom-considered way to live the ultimate beach-bum fantasy, 21st-century style.

It's not for everyone. You need to, at least temporarily, have unlimited time on your hands, and you need to have saved, or come upon, some money that you won't one day regret using up this way.

He was eating gourmet meals, lounging in the sun, going to stage shows at night, sleeping in freshly made-up beds with the oceans of the world lulling him to sleep.
Bob Greene

And a desire, at least once during your time on Earth, to live your life as if it's a Jimmy Buffett song.

A few years back, I was on a cruise ship after a week at sea with the Surf City Allstars, the band with whom I occasionally travel and sing. Most of the passengers, on that final morning, were harried and tense about gathering up all their baggage and making the jarring reentry to the mundane real world. The fun was over.

But in a lounge area of the ship, one man sat near us as he waited for his debarkation group to be called. He seemed as serene and calmly blissful as if he was just getting ready to start a cruise, not end one.

That's because he was.

The way he explained it to us, he had parted company with the corporation that employed him; we got the impression that this was not voluntary on his part. He had been given some severance.

So, he told us, he had figured out a way, for a relatively small amount of money, to live, for a while, like a king. Like a sultan at sea.

He was now, he said, residing virtually full-time on cruise ships -- eating gourmet meals, lounging in the sun, listening to music and going to stage shows at night, sleeping in freshly made-up beds with the oceans of the world lulling him to sleep.

How could he do this?

Each week, he explained, he'd get on his computer and do searches for cheap, last-minute cruise deals. There are websites that specialize in exactly that.

He was counting on the need of all those cruise lines to fill every cabin -- he was counting on their willingness to do just about anything to get rid of their inventory (the unoccupied rooms) as their ships were about to sail.

He said that, by waiting until the last minute, and by not particularly caring where the ship with the best bargain was heading, he was able to find astonishing rates. The ship upon which we were talking had been sailing the Caribbean for a week. I believe he told us that the seven-day cruise, with all meals included, had cost him, as the clock ticked down and the rock-bottom price popped up, a little more than $300.

There is no way, on dry land, that you can eat a week of extravagant multi-course dinners in fine restaurants for $300 -- much less get living quarters, entertainment, recreation and all your other meals, too.

That winter, he said, he'd made the decision to base himself in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area, near the massive Port Everglades seaport. Occasionally he would have to pay for a night or two in a budget hotel before the next ship left, but his goal was to get off one ship, wait a few hours, and get right back on another.

And, while at sea, get on the internet and search for the next bargain.

For many people, a cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime treat. He had figured out how to make it his everyday world.

Now. . .there are tradeoffs. You don't get to plan in advance and choose exactly where you want to go. But if you do it every week, do you really care if, on a particular week, one of the ports of call is St. Lucia instead of St. Thomas? The Dominican Republic instead of Costa Rica? It doesn't matter -- for you, it's all travel roulette.

The downside -- and it's a huge one -- is that you are cast adrift in many ways.

Eventually, when your money runs out, you are going to have to think about rejoining the world of ambition and ladder-climbing, and trying to make up for lost time. You have to be the kind of person who can be content with the thought that you are accomplishing and accruing absolutely nothing while other people, back on land, are applying for jobs and working for promotions that will bring them financial security.

You have to be comfortable in the company of complete strangers, who materialize and then disappear week-by-week. You can't be a person with a family who is expecting you at the dinner table back home. And, although you don't have to be trust-fund wealthy, you have to somehow have $400 or $500 a week on hand, for weeks on end.

But the opportunity, for a particular kind of person, is there. The modern-day combination of a vast cruise industry, and an internet that makes finding 11th-hour bargains effortless, means that you can, for as long as you are able to get away with it, indulge yourself in an endless summer, letting rootlessness be a virtue.

Probably very few people reading these words will find themselves in a position, or a frame of mind, to do it, but maybe, the next time the cubicle culture begins to feel too confining, just the thought of it will bring a smile.

On gray days, it has for me. I've thought, from time to time, of that guy on the ship, and wondered how long he was able to make it last. Or whether it became a case of too much ice cream -- if he ended up deciding that the long meal of life was not meant to be an infinite succession of desserts.

And whether a fellow like Micky Arison, the head of Carnival, with all of the job's challenges and headaches, ever daydreams of being that guy instead.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT