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I sold my house to board a three-year cruise, which then got cancelled

Keri Whitmas sold her house to pay for the £146,000 cruise
Keri Whitmas sold her house to pay for the £146,000 cruise - Keri Whitman

This week, Keri Witman should be sailing to Brazil. It should be the first month of a three-year round-the-world cruise – an epic adventure for which she sold her four-bedroom house, gave away her possessions and paid a deposit of thousands. But there is no cruise; in fact, there isn’t even a ship.

“It’s a good job I’m a glass-half-full kind of person,” says Witman with a wry smile, “but it’s certainly been a challenging time.” We’re chatting on Zoom, Witman calling from a co-working space in Cincinnati, Ohio – her home office now gone, and her few remaining belongings in storage.

“But I’m not the only person that sold their house to go on the cruise – lots of us did. I mean, why wouldn’t you if you were going away for three years? Other people rented their properties out, some took early retirement… Everyone has their own story.”

Keri Witman had planned to join a three year long voyage on the cruise ship MV Lara
Keri Witman had planned to join a three year long voyage on the cruise ship MV Lara - KEVIN IZORCE / Alamy Stock Photo

The £146,000 trip of a lifetime

In April, Witman, who is in her early fifties, saw an advert that would change her life: a round-the-world cruise with Life At Sea, a three-year voyage that would encompass “all 7 continents, 140 countries, 382 ports”, the company’s website promises. “I’d been fantasising about a big trip,” Witman recalls, “and this looked really good. The itinerary was crazy; we were going to start in Istanbul, then head to Spain, across the Atlantic, the Bahamas, down to South America, Antarctica, up the other side to Central America, the US and Asia. We wouldn’t have got to the West Coast until next fall – it would’ve taken almost a year to make our way there.”

The total price of her ticket, says Witman, was $185,000 (£146,553) – which she could pay in instalments.

“I did some quick math, and the price of the cruise was about what I was paying for my mortgage, insurance and healthcare. And it really did include everything: laundry, cleaning, food and drink, all the things you have to pay for to live, even tips.”

For couples sharing a cabin, the trip was priced from $231,000 (£182,990) – or $115,500 (£91,495) per person. And it was three years or nothing: the itinerary “cannot be broken down into individual segments,” the website advises.

“I went into high gear and called everybody I knew and trusted, to ask them: ‘Is this crazy?’” says Witman. “I also talked to my financial folks, and they were like, ‘It makes sense if it’s what you want to do’. I paid the $3,000 (£2,377) deposit four days later, and then went straight into planning mode.”

Keri spent months preparing for the trip
Keri spent months preparing for the trip - Keri Whitman

That initial deposit was followed by a first payment of $29,000 (£22,977) in August – both of which she’s been assured will now be refunded, though she is still waiting for the money to hit her account.

Life At Sea: what went wrong?

The trip was due to depart on November 1, 2023 from Istanbul, carrying around 1,000 passengers on board the MV Lara, a 627-cabin ship that was set to be purchased by Life At Sea especially for the sailing. But in September, the news broke that the sale hadn’t gone through.

“Initially, there were no signs that anything had gone wrong,” says Witman, “but we were asking, could we really leave on November 1 if at the start of October the ship wasn’t in their possession?”

The passengers – or “residents” as they call themselves – had been using a forum on the Life At Sea app to chat with each other before the trip, but socialising quickly turned to suspicion.

“The departure date got pushed back to November 11, then December 1. A few folks were getting angry, but I thought it was still going to go – but then on November 20 we heard for sure that it was cancelled.”

One day later, Vedat Ugurlu, the CEO of Miray Cruises – the owner of Life At Sea – issued a statement published in Cruise Industry News, citing “challenges due to investor renewal”. He promised, however, that this wasn’t the end of the line: “As we navigate these challenges, we are actively working on creating alternative plans for the future.”

The company has said it will make refunds in monthly instalments, reports CNN, from mid-December to late February. Telegraph Travel has contacted both Life At Sea and Miray International for comment, but is yet to receive a reply.

Starting afresh in a one-bedroom flat

The last news Witman heard, she says, is that Life At Sea is still trying to find a ship, with the aim of launching in 2024. Would she still be up for it? “Absolutely, I’m all packed and ready,” she laughs – remarkably – gesturing to her temporary office.

Keri Witman's belongings remain in storage
Keri Witman's belongings remain in storage

And she really is. Witman’s plan had been to work throughout the cruise, running her marketing agency Clever Lucy remotely from the ship’s business suite.

“It had super-fast Starlink wifi, so we could stay connected even in Antarctica,” she says, “and I thought it was the perfect balance: the opportunity to keep working while travelling, to have the freedom of exploration while also retaining a home – my cabin.”

Having a “hard deadline” of the cruise departure had galvanised Witman to address things she’d long been putting off. “I got my knee replacement done, and sold the house – I’d been thinking of doing that for a while, and it’s a really hot market so I was happy.”

Other would-be residents weren’t quite so fortunate: one couple told USA Today that they’d sold their Florida home at a $40,000 (£31,688) loss in order to go.

Witman’s three-storey home was “full” of possessions, which she quickly jettisoned too – selling, donating, and even giving things to the new owners of her old house. Before the cruise, she moved into a one-bedroom short-rental flat; when we speak she is still there, waiting to move into a bigger, though still temporary, apartment.

Is she bitter? “No, I feel light – I had a three-storey house with a basement, and all of those rooms were full of things, it was all just weighing me down. Though I do miss my recipe books, and I’ve just bought a new winter coat because I’d gotten rid of them all.

“The aim for this year was to shake things up, and I’ve certainly done that. Yes it didn’t go to plan, but the plan now is to enjoy Christmas and look for other opportunities to travel next year. Honestly, this feels like the beginning of my adventure – not the end.”