It Might Cost Less to Live on a Cruise Ship Than It Does to Live in a Major U.S. City Right Now — We Did the Math

Hear us out, what if you sublet your apartment for four months?

The Viking Star and Viking Sea Ocean Cruise Ships seen from Santorini, Greece.

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

High cost of living is the trade off for living in the world’s most exciting cities. Whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, London, or Singapore, the combined costs of rent, groceries, entertainment, and transportation add up to a small fortune. Of course, salaries are often higher in major cities, but they have to be — living expenses can easily exceed $5,000 a month for a single person and slip into the five figures for a couple. Families with kids have extra bodies to feed, clothe, and house, and they pay ungodly amounts of money for daycare, after-school activities, and summer camps. 

But what if you could spend the same amount of money and have a view of something other than that exposed brick wall or the neighbor’s bathroom window? What if your view changed every day, and included some of the most breathtaking ports, iconic skylines, and remote destinations across the world? What if you could dine out at every meal, have unlimited gym access, and enjoy frequent Broadway-caliber shows, all while visiting multiple continents? And what if you never had to make your own bed? 

Travelers who take off on months-long, around-the-world cruises enjoy the combination of daily resort-style perks and once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences only long-distance cruising can offer. And while such an extravagant journey might feel, well, extravagant, it might not be that far-fetched — especially if you live in a high-rent city. We’ve done the math, and say it’s time to sublet that pricey apartment in exchange for a few months on the high seas. Because this is one of those ideas that’s so crazy, it might actually work. 

According to NerdWallet — and just about anyone who’s ever shared cramped quarters and packs of ramen in a fifth-floor walkup, New York City is the most expensive among the 300+ metropolitan areas in its database. According to its data, median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is more than $4,600. Even for a smaller apartment, new renters can easily expect to pay $3,000 a month and up. Factor in utilities, groceries, dining out, commuting via subway, taxi, or Uber, plus laundry and other essentials, and an average couple can conservatively spend $6,000 or more per month to live in New York — and that doesn’t include any leisure travel. 

A stateroom with a balcony on board the MSC Magnifica

Ivan Sarfatti/Courtesy of MSC Cruises

That same duo could spend a little more and see the world in four months. For $15,199 per person, or $30,398 per couple, they can set sail in 2025 on a world cruise aboard the MSC Magnifica. These 117-day sagas start and end in Rome, Genoa, Marseilles, or Barcelona, and circumvent the globe, with stops at 50 ports and 21 countries across Europe, South America, the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, before swinging back to the Mediterranean. 

Interior of a dining room on board the MSC Magnifica

Ivan Sarfatti/Courtesy of MSC Cruises

All meals in the ship’s main dining room are included, and an early booking special includes wine, beer, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. Fifteen shore excursions, including in Rio De Janeiro, Auckland, and Petra are included, as are gym and pool access, guest speakers, language classes, and entertainment — plus daily housekeeping. A family with kids can travel for even less per person with MSC’s kids-sail-free program — and save thousands per month on daycare. A kids' club, kids' play areas, and a waterpark are all among Magnifica’s amenities, as is a kids’ dining room with special menus. 

The MSC Magnifica in Flaam, Norway

T. Jacobsen/Courtesy of MSC Cruises

Certainly, not everything on board is free, and there are plenty of ways to run up a hefty tab. Wi-Fi costs extra on MSC, as does laundry, sauna and steamroom access, speciality restaurants, any alcohol that's not included at lunch and dinner, and excursions beyond the 15 included in the base fare. 

If you want a more all-inclusive experience, you can choose a higher-end around-the-world cruise as an alternative to say, living in Santa Monica, California. We queried friends who live there and well, let’s just say a cruise might be more affordable. Their two-bedroom apartment near the beach is $4,000 per month, plus another $1,000 for utilities. Two car payments (because it’s LA, right?) with insurance cost them about $1,000 monthly, and gasoline is at least $500 per month. Because they’re both constantly on the go, they spend nearly $3,000 a month on meals, plus an additional $1,000 on groceries. Gym memberships and fitness classes are an additional $600. On the low end, their cost of living is about $11,000 per month, and in reality, it’s probably much higher.

Exterior of the Azamara World Cruise sailing
Courtesy of Azamara
Interior of the Azamara Onward

Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Azamara

For about $35,000 each, that couple could sail around the world on Azamara Onward for five-and-a-half months, and enjoy the added perks of free Wi-Fi, a premium beverage package, free weekly laundry, and free business-class airfare to the departure port — in this case, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They’d sail through the Panama Canal, and visit Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and Bora Bora, all in the first month. From there, they’d sail on to Oceania and then Asia, with stops in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Singapore, before touring the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean prior to disembarking in Barcelona. Shore excursions do cost extra on Azamara, but guests can always opt to explore a port of call on their own. 

The roof deck pool on board the Viking Ocean ship

Courtesy of Viking Cruises

To be fair, most around-the-world cruises price out at well over $50,000 per person, especially for luxury lines like Viking, which offers a 163-day world voyage, Oceania’s 180-day world cruise, or Silversea’s 133-day Pacific cruise. They’re not designed with working professionals in mind, but rather affluent travelers who have the luxury of free time and ample disposable income. But, but … if you long to see a huge swath of the world in a single voyage and are willing to do a little creative bookkeeping, subletting your place and working remotely from the deck of a cruise ship might just make you the most clever guest on board.

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