An estimated twenty-four million (24,000,000) people are expected to take cruises this year. One report showed more than a quarter of them are age sixty (60) or older, and more than one fifth are retired. For many of those passengers, ships are like a second home. But for one woman the ocean liner is her only home. CBS News Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg met her while covering another story on board. Peter, good morning.
Uh, good morning, Noreen. Part of the reason cruises are so popular for retirees is because so much is taken care of for them, the cooking, the cleaning, the entertainment, all the activities. But when the cruise is over almost all the passengers return home to their regular lives. But Lee Watstetter showed us how she found a way to travel the world without ever leaving home.
Crew member: Did you miss me?
Lee: I did!
You could say 88-year-old Lee Watstetter has earned her sea legs.
Crew member: How often are you talking to the family at home?
Lee: Oh, I talk to them every day.
Crew member: Okay.
Lee: I’ll talk to them twice a day if it means I don’t have to be there.
Aboard the Crystal Serenity, she’s known simply as “Mama Lee.” And she’s been living there for the past eight (8) years.
Lee: I don’t have to shop. I don’t have to cook. I don’t have to do anything. I do what I want when I want if I want.
She and her late husband, Mason, took nearly one hundred (100) cruises together before he died in 1997.
Lee: The last thing he ever said to me – This was the day before he died. – “Don’t you quit cruising!” I started frequent cruising, but I got very, very tired of packing and unpacking. So, I said, “There’s gotta be a better way to do this.
And the answer was, how about, I don’t leave at all!?
Mama Lee sold her house in Florida along with her car and most of her belongings and never looked back.
Vorland: Everybody knows her, and she knows everybody.
Berger Vorland is Captain of the Crystal Serenity.
Vorland: She’s a little bit of a diva in a good way. She gets along with her day, and she makes herself busy, and she has her things and her opinions, and she’s a wonderful person.
At your age, there are a lot of people who would say, “Well, I’m going to go to a retirement place…
Lee: Oh, hell no!
Lee: Not me. Why do that? I’m now a great grandmother, and my grandchildren are having children. But I don’t want to be there every minute for that. I love babies. But they grow up.
Mama Lee has now done more than two hundred and forty cruises (240) around the world and visited hundreds of different ports. But where the ship is going? Irrelevant. For Mama Lee these days, the ship is the destination.
Lee: Everything is “been there, done that.” If I’ve been there and done that, I don’t go off the ship. And I love it when everybody goes touring I’ve got the whole ship to myself with all the help.
You’ve got this figured out.
Lee: Oh, absolutely!
And you don’t really get off the ship anymore.
Lee: What for?
Cruise Director, Rick Spath considers himself part of her extended family at sea.
Spath: That’s Lee. She doesn’t care where the ship goes. She loves to dance her way around the world.
Lee: I dance every single day at 5:15, seven (7) days a week.
Have you ever sat back and think what your life would be like if you weren’t on the ship?
Lee: Very boring. I think I live a fairytale existence. It’s, it’s not a real life, I realize that. Not everybody does this. But they… a lot of people could. (as she is dancing: This is as good as it gets.)
Crew member: I still think I do the same dance step with every dance.
Lee: Yeah, you do, but that’s okay.
Crew member: Thanks darling!
Now, I know what you’re thinking. How much does it cost Lee Watstetter to do the cruise. We estimated about one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars ($175,000) a year. And by the way, since she goes on the cruise wherever the ship goes, she’s one of a thousand (1,000) passengers who spent twenty-two thousand dollars ($22,000). That’s the other story we’re covering.
This ship is actually going to be the largest ship ever to attempt the Northwest Passage. They started sailing from Seward (Alaska) all the way north going five hundred (500) miles north of the arctic circle back to New York. It’s a thirty-two (32) day voyage. And to put this in perspective, when it was first done in 1903 it took them three (3) years.
Is there one place she will get off the ship?
Yes, when the ship goes into dry dock – Here’s what happens. It only happens once every, like, six or seven years – They literally, pull up to the harbor, pull up to the dock. There’s another ship there, and they walk her fifty (50) feet and she goes on another ship.
Where does she get her doctor’s appointments and stuff like that? I mean, doesn’t she, I mean…?
So far, she is dancing.
Yeah. That’s great.
She still is on the Crystal Serenity. Peter, thank you.