If you have even been on holiday aboard the Crystal Serenity, chances are you’ll have passed Lee Wachtstetter – the ship’s only full time resident for the past seven years. Better known as Mama Lee, the 86-year old decided to sell her Florida home following the death of her husband and move aboard the luxury ship.
Mama Lee has a long history of cruising, having enjoyed 89 different cruises with her husband during their 50 year marriage – so it seemed only natural for her to spend her retirement on the seas. She stopped counting how many countries she had visited once she reached 100 and estimates she has visited just about every country with a commercial port.
Explaining her unusual retirement plan, Lee enthuses: “My husband introduced me to cruising. When my children were all young, I took them on cruises many times. Now they have families of their own and do what’s right for them.
“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.”
Before moving aboard the Crystal Serenity, Mama Lee lived on a Holland America Line ship but decided on a change of scenery following a policy change.
“I enjoy dancing, and this was the best of the remaining ships that still use dance hosts. My husband didn’t dance, just didn’t like to, and encouraged me to dance with the hosts.
“Before coming aboard this ship I lived on a Holland America liner for three years. The day they announced they were stopping the dance host program was the day I decided to leave. I dance every night for a couple hours after dinner, have been doing it for years. And I’ve also trained with the ship’s dance instructors.”
Alongside dancing, Mama Lee enjoys the fine dining aboard the Serenity and needlework in the ship’s Palm Court lounge, regularly teaching the skill to fellow passengers.
Mama Lee estimates it costs roughly $164,000 (£107,000) a year to support her lifestyle, but that covers her accommodation, food, entertainment and nightly ballroom dancing as well as access to the captain’s cocktail parties, movies, lectures and daily activities.
“The crewmembers bend over backwards to keep me happy. Some are almost like family now. If they don’t have what I want, they get it. Even if they have to buy it off the ship or make it to my specific needs. I’m so spoiled I doubt that I would ever be able to readjust to the real world again.”
The Crystal Cruises fleet plays hosts to three other permanent residents, although none have resided aboard a ship as long as Mama Lee.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Docklands Tony, Gary Bembridge