For most people, a cruise ship is a place to relax for a week or two out of the year but for 86-year-old Lee Wachtstetter, the Crystal Serenity cruise ship has been her permanent home for the past seven years – amounting to an annual payout of $164,000 (£108,215).
After the death of her husband, the Florida widow took her daughter’s advice and sold her ten-acre, five bedroom home in Fort Lauderdale, replacing it with a 1,070-passenger vessel.
Speaking to Asbury Park Press, Ms Wachtstetter said it was her husband Mason who sparked her passion for cruising.
“During our 50-year marriage we did 89 cruises. I’ve done nearly a hundred more and 15 world cruises. The day before my husband died of cancer in 1997, he told me, ‘Don’t stop cruising.’ So here I am today living a stress-free, fairy-tale life,” she recalled.
Known aboard the 11-year-old Crystal Serenity ship as Mama Lee, Ms Wachtstetter has been living on the luxury vessel for longer than its 655 crew members.
After visiting more than 100 countries in her lifetime, it’s rare that Lee goes ashore and prefers to have the quiet ship to herself while passengers leave to explore the visiting destination.
The only time she makes an exception is when the vessel stops at Istanbul. “I can’t resist the Grand Bazaar. 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,” Ms Wachtstetter admitted.
Living on a cruise ship means that Lee often misses her family. Her daughter has since passed away but she keeps in touch with her three sons and seven grandchildren via her laptop computer.
But despite being away from her loved ones, Ms Wachtstetter is far from lonely and frequently makes friends with passengers.
She spends lots of her time onboard in Crystal Serenity’s Palm Court lounge doing needlepoint work – a favourite pastime for the last 50 years.
There are three other women who also live on the vessel, but none have been residing for as long as Lee.
Hubert Buelacher, Serenity’s hotel director, described her as “an amazing woman, one of a kind”.
Would you ever live on a cruise ship?