There’s now a three-and-a-half-year cruise planning to set sail in May

Villa Vie Odyssey is scheduled to set sail in 2024.Courtesy Villa Vie

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The three-year cruise is dead – long live the three-and-a-half-year cruise.

As the dust settles on Life at Sea Cruises, which canceled its three-year voyage shortly before departure, having not secured a ship, another possible heir to the throne is emerging.

Villa Vie Residences, another long-term cruise startup, has confirmed the purchase of a ship for its own three-and-a-half-year journey around the world. Departure is scheduled for May 2024.

The company has bought the MS Braemar from Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, renaming it Villa Vie Odyssey. The vessel was constructed in 1993 for Crown Cruise Line and marketed by Cunard, before passing to Majesty and then NCL, then returning to Crown, and finally being bought by Fred. Olsen in 2001.

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Peter Deer, managing director of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, confirmed to CNN that the ship had been sold to Villa Vie, adding: “It is due for delivery at the end February 2024.”

While it’s 30 years old, the Braemar has not been going to seed during that time. In 2009, it was enlarged during a refurb, and was renovated again in 2019 – the same year that it became the longest ship to squeeze through the Corinth Canal. The company put her up for sale in November 2022.

It has a capacity of 924, across 485 cabins, and its relatively small size means that it is capable of docking in the heart of destinations, Villa Vie said in a statement released exclusively to CNN. Its flatter hull means it can navigate inland waterways, too.

As the Odyssey, the ship will have eight decks, a wraparound promenade and an enlarged pool – combining the current two, so that passengers can swim laps. They are also adding Jacuzzi tubs to bring the on-deck total to four.

There will be three restaurants, eight bars and four lounges, as well as a spa, fitness center, library and medical center.

The ship is 30 years old, but it has been well maintained.

The ship is 30 years old, but it has been well maintained.Courtesy Villa Vie

So far, so regular. But then there are the touches that anyone traveling for 1,301 days across 147 countries and 425 ports: fast, reliable internet from Starlink and Viasat 3, and an “interactive culinary center” for those missing the kitchen, as well as for cooking classes.

There will also be a golf program with a simulator on board and outings to greens around the world.

Port stays will vary from two to seven days, allowing people to scratch below the surface of the usual “hit and run” cruise ship approach.

For those intrigued by the idea of a long-term cruise but are wary of committing to the full three and a half years, there will be the ability to book “segments” from as little as 35 days onboard. There’s good news for those for whom 1,301 days is not enough, too – the plan is to run the cruise into another, and then another, so that people can spend their lives at sea.

“It’s really less of a cruise, it’s a lifestyle – a home with ever changing backyards,” says CEO Mikael Petterson.

Life at Sea's three-year cruise has been canceled.

The three-year cruise is canceled

Cruising from under $33,000 per year

Cabins with balconies are the most expensive.

Cabins with balconies are the most expensive.Courtesy Villa Vie

Villa Vie was started by former members of the Life at Sea executive team who quit when the original team split in May 2022.

CEO Mikael Petterson – the former managing director of Life at Sea – says that the concept was informed by what customers interested in the other cruise were telling him.

“I spoke with thousands of people and we created Villa Vie based on what we learned from Life at Sea,” he tells CNN. “People want the flexibility of paying as they go, coming and going, instead of paying upfront for three years. Many wanted to own a cabin and have a say in the business.”

He calls it “quite different” from his previous colleagues’ offering, with a smaller ship and “pay as you go” shorter stays allowed onboard.

Prices are not far from the introductory offers of Life at Sea, although there are more options: namely, that passengers can either buy a cabin (to be generously known as “villas”), or rent it.

Those renting – essentially paying for the voyage, as on a normal cruise – will pay from $89 per person per day for an inside cabin. That works out as $32,485 per person per year, or $97,455 for three years. Outside cabins start at $119 per person per day, and balconies at $199.

There’s no obligation to sign up for the full three and a half years. The 1,301 days will be split into segments ranging from 35 to 120 days. Passengers can buy as few or as many segments as they like.

Buying is the smarter option if you're planning to cruise for more than three years.

Buying is the smarter option if you’re planning to cruise for more than three years.Courtesy Villa Vie

Meanwhile, buying entails paying outright for a cabin – starting at $99,000 for an internal one, $149,000 for an outdoor and $249,000 for a balcony. Owners must then pay monthly fees starting at $1,750 per person, $2,500 per person, or $4,000 per person respectively – or $21,000, $30,000 or $48,000 per year. Owners can then rent it out to other people themselves (for no charge) or through Villa Vie for a fee.

Those buying a cabin will be guaranteed it for 15 years, which is the estimated life of the ship.

Petterson says that the long-term goal is to buy more ships – in which case owners can get a 50% credit to move onto another, at the end of 15 years. If that doesn’t happen, they will get 15% of their payment back as scrap value.

Prices are based on double occupancy. Solo travelers get discounts of 30% for an internal cabin, 20% for an outside one and 10% for a balcony.

“If you stay for less than three years, it pays to rent; if you’re going for longer than three years, it’s better to buy,” says Petterson.

All food and soft drinks are included, along with alcohol at dinner. WiFi and medical visits (but not procedures or medicines) will also be included, which makes an attractive proposition for US customers. There’ll be weekly housekeeping and bi-weekly laundry service at no extra cost.

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‘Quite different’ from the three-year cruise

Former Life at Sea signups only have to pay a 5% deposit.

Former Life at Sea signups only have to pay a 5% deposit.Courtesy Villa Vie

Many people will be feeling burned after the failure of the Life at Sea departure, but Petterson says that Villa Vie will depart as planned.

Passengers must make a 10% deposit to secure their place, and all deposits are being kept in escrow until February 15, at which point they will take payment for the first 90 days of the cruise. Payments will then be taken for each segment 90 days before its start date.

Private investment has paid for the ship. Petterson says that “not a cent” of people’s deposits will be spent any earlier than February 15.

Now that the vessel has been acquired , the next step is a 10-week refurbishment, including a fortnight in dry dock.

Staterooms – or “villas” as they’ll be known – will be upgraded, while a business center will be added, and the pool extended.

The bars and restaurants will largely stay as they are, says Petterson, who says the ship is already in a good state.

So why trust Villa Vie after the Life at Sea debacle? “We are quite different,” says Petterson. “We’re not asking people for hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront. We’re asking for a small percentage to see who’s serious, and actually coming.”

Because former Life at Sea signups have “shown their commitment” to a similar project, they will only pay 5% deposit, he says.

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