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The modern estate
When the Sea Is Your (Lavish) Home

By Katharine Davis Fishman

Homeowners on the cruise ship Magellan can expect extravagant amenities
like a microbrewery, a staff astronomer, a two-story waterfall, a helicopter fleet...

RealEstateTrends_MainImage.jpgImagine sailing around the world with family or friends in your own very elegantly fitted-out four-bedroom apartment, with staff on call, all conceivable (and some inconceivable) amenities for food, drink, sport, physical nurture, and evening entertainment sailing with you, no immediate worries about caretakers and upkeep, and no surprises except those you might find on arrival in Valparaiso or Petropavlovsk. That’s the current high concept in residential cruising, attracting a big buzz in the worlds of real estate and travel. Only one residential cruise ship, The World (which is cooperatively owned by its residents and professionally managed) is now afloat, launched in 2002, but at least three more are in the works.

The most lavish of these is Residential Cruise Line’s Magellan, due to set sail in May 2009: it will circle the globe over the next two years, then start over. Way bigger than its competitors, the Magellan—whose entrepreneur, Randall Jackson, an old sailor and flight engineer now developing real estate in Mesa, Arizona, found the quarters on conventional cruise ships too close for comfort—will be 856 feet long and 106 feet wide, with 15 decks and a crew of 300. These dimensions allow for such predictable (but more numerous than usual on cruise ships) amenities as an outdoor fresh water pool, an indoor saltwater pool surrounded by tropical plants, hot tubs and a two-story cascading tropical waterfall, four snazzy restaurants (promised to have name chefs) and a couple of informal ones, a food market and other shops, a hydrotherapy spa, housekeeping service on call, a 24-hour concierge to book your entertainment in port, a 450-seat theater, a casino, and a disco.

There are also some novel, even eccentric, flourishes: the ship’s own microbrewery! An observatory with an astronomer on hand full time to help you find Cassiopeia and lecture in the theater! More expedient, so to speak, is the heliport with a fleet of two Bell 429s to transport residents to and from meetings (or whatever) on request. And perhaps most fun is the retractable marina, which descends whenever the ship is in port with a netted seawater pool, a snack bar, and a selection of boats for sailing, fishing, and scuba diving.

All of this, of course, comes at a lofty price: The least expensive model, the one-bedroom “Madrid,” sells for $1.875 million, with an annual charge of $60,000 for operating expenses (called S.O.E.), while the grandest, the four-bedroom “Sevilla,” will cost you $8.685 million, with S.O.E. charges of $294,000. But Residential Cruise Line does offer “fractional ownership,” which is a one-month time share, in which you own your apartment for, say, February of every year. Like other time shares, this presents a scheduling challenge: If you can’t get away in February or don’t like where the ship will be docking that month and would prefer to travel in October, you’re out of luck, although you can certainly rent out your apartment when you don’t use it and rent someone else’s when you prefer to sail. A month owning the “Madrid” will run you $156,250, with a $5,000 S.O.E. charge; the same time in the “Sevilla” will cost $815,000, with a $24,500 S.O.E. And other apartments are available at different sizes and prices in between those models.

The biggest investment risk, of course, is that none of this exists yet—and modifications could be made before the ship sets sail in May 2009. As in all condos, you are going into business with strangers, who could conceivably default on their monthly S.O.E. payments: The company says that applicants are financially vetted, all monthly fees are due a year in advance, and people with criminal records or other known scary histories are kept out. If, indeed, the sea or the world is your home (as the literature of various condo cruise lines romantically puts it), prospective buyers may wonder if the sea and the world have less resale value than a choice piece of land in New Canaan or Hobe Sound. Still, cruising around the planet in your own opulent apartment promises to be an unparalleled adventure, a traveling option reserved for the very lucky few.

Hilton Vanderhorn
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