Lee Wachsfetter has lived aboard the Crystal Serenity for almost seven years

By Alex Heigl
Updated January 20, 2015 12:20 PM
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Credit: Frank Perry/Getty

Lee Wachtstetter isn’t your typical Florida retiree.

For one thing, she doesn’t actually live in Florida, and hasn’t for almost seven years, because she’s spent them aboard Crystal Serenity, a 1,070-passenger luxury cruise ship where she’s become a permanent resident, paying around $164,000 a year in “rent.”

Wachtstetter, 86, is known as “Mama Lee” on the ship, and has been aboard for longer than most of its 655 crew members. She sold the five-bedroom Fort Lauderdale home (and the 10 acres) it sat on after her husband Mason died in 1997, and took to the seas.

“My husband introduced me to cruising,” she told Asbury Park Press. “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.”

Wachtstetter said she stopped counting which countries she’s visited after 100 – “Just say I’ve been to almost any country that has a port.” She manages to keep in touch with her three sons and seven grandchildren with her computer, and visits whenever the Serenity docks in Miami, where they live.

Wachtstetter’s yearly “rent” covers her “single-occupancy seventh deck stateroom, regular and specialty restaurant meals with available lunch and dinner beverages, gratuities, nightly ballroom dancing with dance hosts and Broadway-caliber entertainment – as well as the captain’s frequent cocktail parties, movies, lectures, plus other scheduled daily activities,” according to the Press.

Interestingly, the Serenity is actually the second cruise ship she’s lived on. Formerly a resident of a Holland America liner for three years, Wachtstetter made the switch to Crystal (repeatedly voted the world’s best cruise line by Travel and Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler) when Holland discontinued their dance host program. “I enjoy dancing,” she said. “I dance every night for a couple hours after dinner, have been doing it for years.”

Wachtstetter calls the Serenity a “stress-free, fairy-tale life.” “The crew members bend over backwards to keep me happy,” she said. “Some are almost like family now I’m so spoiled I doubt that I would ever be able to readjust to the real world again.”

There are three other women living on Crystal ships, Hubert Buelacher, the Serenity’s hotel director, told Asbury Park Press, though Wachtstetter has the longest “time served” by far. “She’s just an amazing woman,” he added. “One of a kind.”