How Elon Musk helped usher in the age of ‘working from cruise ship’

All aboard: it's now much easier to find shipshape working conditions
All aboard: it's now much easier to find shipshape working conditions - baona/E+

Watching sunrises over opened laptops, answering emails in the spa and taking lunch breaks in the pool are just some of the bonuses of the new trend of working remotely from a cruise ship while sailing the world.

But it’s not all plain sailing – struggling with a poor signal, high Wi-Fi bills and hunting for power sockets can be the downsides.

Travel agent Walter Biscardi, 58, from Florida, is one of the business owners who prefer to have an office at sea – he spent seven weeks over the winter working online from six ships.

He says: “You get a lot of funny looks from people when you’re sitting in the same place for eight hours at a time, with a laptop propped open. They say: ‘You’re on vacation, what are you doing?’

“When I tell them every cruise is now mostly work for me, they’re usually surprised at how much I can accomplish on a ship. Everyone knows you can post on social media, stream videos – sometimes – and use browsers, but run a full company? That’s always a great conversation starter.”

Travel agent Walter Biscardi (pictured here on the Oceania Sirena) prefers a floating office
Travel agent Walter Biscardi (pictured here on the Oceania Sirena) prefers a floating office

As to why he chooses to have a floating office rather than a stationary one, Mr Biscardi replies: “Why wouldn’t you choose to work from the sea? Breakfast, lunch and dinner are just a short walk in almost any direction.

“There are pools and coffee shops – and at the end of the working day I have shows and other entertainment waiting for me. The crew takes care of my every need 24/7. A cruise ship is the ultimate ‘remote workplace’.”

But he admits there are cons, as well. “Connectivity is always an issue when you’re on a floating hunk of steel in the middle of a large body of water relying on satellites. Heavy cloud cover or rain can disrupt the signal until the weather clears. There’s nothing we can do about that.

“I always look for the Wi-Fi repeaters in the ceilings, the walls or wherever else they might be, and park myself as close to one of those as possible.”

Working remotely at sea has become much easier since cruise lines began installing the Starlink technology pioneered by Elon Musk – meaning ships are directly connected to a network of high-power satellites.

On the back of this, one line – Virgin Voyages – has introduced packages encouraging executives to book a month of back-to-back cruises in the Med so they can mix business with pleasure.

The first tranche, on debut ship Scarlet Lady, sold out so quickly – even at a cost of just under $10,000 for a two-person cabin – that the offer was extended to another in the fleet, Resilient Lady.

Cruise line founder Sir Richard Branson, who came up with the idea, says: “When I started the Virgin empire in the 1970s, I was actually working out of a houseboat. I’ve never thought of work and play as two different things, it’s all just living.”

Richard Branson worked out of his houseboat in the 1970s
Richard Branson worked out of his houseboat in the 1970s - Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Getty

Tom Henry, an accountant for a limo company in Richmond, Virginia, has clocked up 33 cruises since 2012 but still finds it best to start his working day early on board.

He says: “I’m up at 5am when the internet is better with most passengers sleeping – it’s great to look up and see the sunrise. Later in the day I’ve started taking a tablet-sized laptop to the thermal spa, where I work at the side of the pool.”

Mr Henry, 64, often travels with his wife, Cyndi. “My flexible work schedule has allowed us to cruise a lot the past two years to fill many bucket-list itineraries. Luckily, I have never had an issue with Wi-Fi on Norwegian, which is our main cruise line. Last August I was on Norwegian Pearl, which had Starlink, and I couldn’t believe the internet was so good.”

Tom Henry's cabin office
Tom Henry's cabin office

Hospitality consultant Paul Mooney, from Southampton, likes to sail with Viking, which offers free Wi-Fi, or Celebrity Cruises, but found the best connectivity on the new Sun Princess.

He says: “I work in my cabin or in lounges – it’s not ideal but you adapt to each situation and being always online can be expensive. If I need to send larger files I wait until a port day when most guests are off the vessel and there is more bandwidth available.

“Working remotely from a cruise ship allows me to have a work-life balance while enriching myself with different countries and ports.”

Steve Jones, the fundraising director of whale charity Orca, spends up to eight weeks a year on ships – some of it lecturing and speaking to guests, though he also does a lot of remote office work or training.

The 38-year-old from Portsmouth says: “A cruise ship is a great space to work independently and without distraction. Having the ocean surrounding me is such a peaceful and serene environment that I work more effectively.”

The ‘working from sea’ trend is fuelling a rise in demand for residential ships where passengers actually live on board. The original one, The World, has been carrying millionaires since 2002, and the company Storylines plans to launch a ship called Narrative in 2027, though construction has yet to start.

Dean Brederson and Misty Frost plan to work from the residential ship Narrative
Dean Brederson and Misty Frost plan to work from the residential ship Narrative

Two people who have signed up are private equity firm partner Misty Frost and software engineer Dean Brederson, from Arizona. The couple in their 50s have chosen a one-bedroom residence on the ship, which will have 20 dining and bar venues, a microbrewery, marina, three pools and a business centre.

On their working arrangements, Ms Frost says: “Obviously the first challenge is going to be the different time zones but I like the idea of getting off the ship and seeing some of the sights of Tuscany, for example, then going back to take a work call.”