Life At Sea is Dead

Life At Sea, one of several companies working to break into the Residential Cruising market, has failed. They are not one of the companies we have been working with.

Update: Passengers claim fraud.

In the previous article, When Your Residential Cruise Launch is Delayed, I noted Life At Sea had delayed departure “to November 11. It’s only going to take them 10 extra days to buy, retrofit, staff, and launch a ship? Hardly seems likely! Especially now.”

Especially-especially now: they have admitted they cannot deliver and have canceled their offering entirely, promising to make refunds to passengers, and to fly home any passengers who traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for the departure on LAS’s assurances that they would depart on time.

Worse, many had shipped their belongings ahead to be left in their non-existent cabins for them to have upon their arrival. LAS says they will ship those belongings back to them.

But none of this is really enough.

No Restitution

The company says it had sold 111 cabins. Assuming some portion were sold to solo passengers (vs. a couple, and presuming no children on a school-less ship), that’s likely around 200 affected people.

“I don’t think they will ever understand how much damage they’ve caused us,” one passenger told CNN for an article published this morning. Many passengers expressed their displeasure with LAS, noting that even flying them home is a problem because they have no home to go “back” to — they sold their homes and belongings, and now what? They’re literally homeless.

And all the passengers that CNN contacted wanted to remain anonymous in fear that they won’t get their money back. LAS says they will make refunds in “installments” starting December, and finishing in February. If they in fact do make full refunds, that’s at least a reasonable amount of time, though it probably won’t feel that way to the affected passengers.

“There’s a whole lot of people right now with nowhere to go, and some need their refund to even plan a place to go,” another passenger told CNN.

When we did our research of the players in the business, we rejected LAS completely; we didn’t even consider them as a good deal at the time, and by the time I wrote the previous article I had serious doubts about their viability. I just didn’t think they would take quite this long; I guess their lack of viability finally became clear to them, too.

Again, this is not the ship we are planning to sail on.

Wait… What?

“Miray is not such a big company to afford to pay 40-50 million for a ship,” said Miray Cruises owner Vedat Ugurlu; Miray is behind the LAS brand. He went on to say that the company had “presented the project to investors, and had official approval from some of them to buy the vessel.”

Life At Sea’s MV Lara actually never belonged to them: Celestyal Cruises bought it out from under them, creating a crisis for LAS. (Miray Cruises photo)

SOME OF THEM?! But then at least some portion of the investors “declined to support us further due to unrest in the Middle East.”

My gut reaction is that’s a flimsy excuse: there has been “unrest” around the world since well before any of the cruise companies pushed into the residential space. They were making assurances this month that they would launch, which is why so many passengers headed to Turkey. The Israel-Hamas war started in early October. Russia went to war with Ukraine in 2014, and escalated it with a full-scale invasion in early 2022. And there is more “unrest” in other places. What …really… has changed?

Mixed Messages

The cancellation announcement was delivered by CEO Kendra Holmes — who had resigned days before. It was apparently a private video message delivered to passengers and not available to the public, but what a boneheaded move on Miray’s part. It was reportedly sent to the passengers on November 17, by which time many were already in Turkey.

Also a gut reaction: I wouldn’t be surprised if Ugurlu was hesitating in informing the paid passengers that the 3-year cruise just wasn’t going to happen, so Holmes resigned in protest, recorded the video, and sent it to the passengers to force Ugurlu’s hand. He didn’t make any announcement himself for about 48 hours, when he made the comments quoted above, noting he was “extremely sorry for the inconvenience.”

He couldn’t help but add, “If we will not be able to sail on December 1, we will offer you to sail on another departure date or refund all the payments within a short schedule.” How, exactly, wasn’t mentioned. “We have tried everything to make your dreams come true and we will continue to do so.”

The message was so mixed that the next day, LAS COO Ethem Bayramoglu followed up: “In case we weren’t clear, the Life At Sea cruise trip is canceled,” and provided details of how to get refunds.

But after that clarity, more message mixing: “Although we are all disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t sail this time, it is important to us that you feel positive overall about your experience with us,” he said. “Vedat in particular is still hopeful that Miray will someday soon have an option for you to consider.” He then personally stepped forward to help passengers get “home” from Turkey.

“The company seems to have no consideration about what they’ve done to our lives,” another passenger told CNN. “I never imagined I’d be in this position as a senior citizen.”

Now What?

Assuming passengers get their money back and aren’t feeling too burned, there are other options available. The choice with the earliest possible sailing date is with Villa Vie Residences, which I’ll be writing more about soon. I’ve spoken to their CEO directly and stressed the importance of hitting their promised departure date with no hitches. He knows the pressure is on, and that’s even before LAS as a company sank into the depths. Fewer options make it easier for the other players to fill their ships.

Another interesting twist? Villa Vie was founded by the marketing team at LAS, who bailed when they lost faith in the company. Holmes says she is going to do the same thing with another existing recreational cruise company, HLC Cruises: build that company a Residential Cruising subsidiary, and they want to be aggressive in their launch date to maybe pick up passengers dumped by LAS.

Clearly all of these folks absolutely believe there is viability in the Residential Cruising dream.

So before you ask, Yes: Kit and I certainly are still committed to this lifestyle.

In Conclusion, I think it’s quite sad that Life At Sea has failed. It creates doubt upon the entire industry. We have to remember that this business sector is in its infancy and we are pioneers. There of course have been delays as the companies (plural) figure out this challenging new business. Kit and I hope the passengers stranded by LAS will flock to the other offerings available.

Read the full sorry story at CNN.

[4 Dec. Update: Life At Sea’s web site now promises “Sailing on November, 2024”. A bit odd, grammar-wise, but they are apparently attempting a reset for a year away. We wish them luck.]

January 2024 Update

Screencap of Good Morning America’s report on LAS being accused of fraud.

Life At Sea customers are seeking fraud charges against the company, the New York Times reported on January 17, with 78 passengers joining together to petition the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida to ask for an investigation of Miray, LAS’s parent company. They note that a month after the cruise failed, they have not received refunds.

On January 18, ABC’s Good Morning America show covered the fraud angle. You can bet there will be more.

But it makes me wonder: all this after just a month of no refunds? This ought to have Victoria Cruises Line, with its huge backlog of refund requests, sweating bullets.

Last Updated January 18, 2024
Originally Published November 24, 2023

12 thoughts on “Life At Sea is Dead”

  1. I am very frustrated that so many organizations and companies are so incompetent. I don’t trust anyone.

    Same as on my previous article: it’s a brand new sector, and it’s tough to get something this big off the ground from scratch. I’m still definitely not worried about it. -rc

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    • I understand your frustration. I don’t share it, though. We expected hiccups, and have gotten them, to be sure. We’re taking the adventure in stride.

      Frustrated would be an understatement if I were in Istanbul right now, though. What happened to the LAS residents is unconscionable. I wish them the best.

      Reply
  2. This has to be stressing you guys, I imagine — not knowing when, or really, even IF, your dream will gel for you. So sorry you’re faced with this!

    Hopefully, the narrowing field will help other lines fill their necessary quota so you can sail soon. Although the cynic in me is concerned about the possibility of a line suddenly realizing they’re unprofitable at their 5th, 7th, or 9th port o’ call. What recourses would be open to you in that event?

    Holding good thoughts, though… fair seas and following winds and all that!

    I’ve added emphasis to the article that this is not the ship we were sailing on. If anything, this benefits us in that some who were sailing on other lines are moving to the survivors. Once any ship actually gets going with a reasonable number of passengers (where “reasonable” means break-even, which I figure is around 50% occupancy rate), the monthly cash flow will keep them going. Most are aiming for around 80% occupancy, which will give them a nice profit. -rc

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  3. Saw the article on CNN, immediately thought of the two of you. Fingers crossed, good luck in making sure this is a dream come True.

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  4. “He [Vedat Ugurlu] went on to say that the company had “presented the project to investors, and had official approval from some of them to buy the vessel.””

    Yep, sure sounds like LAS needed official approval from all of them in order to buy the vessel. In short, he needed everyone to come before he could build it.

    Glad you and Kit weren’t on that one.

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  5. I believe in this lifestyle too, but if and when it happens, I’m of a mind to keep a small apartment somewhere and do this six months at a time. I dunno.

    It’s because we “sold everything” that we’re able to be nimble, such as grabbing a short-term furnished apartment in a city with lots to do. If there is a delay with our ship, we can easily switch to a different city and repeat. That said, we’d certainly rather be at sea! -rc

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  6. Do remember that this is a first world problem and have a laugh.

    Well, not a laugh since those passengers had trust and were let down. But indeed, much worse could happen, and didn’t here. -rc

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  7. They’d only sold 111 cabins? That’s nowhere near what they would need to make it anywhere close to cost effective by my reckoning.

    I’m wondering what the numbers are on the other providers?

    I also wonder if any of the cruise lines have looked at the possibility of working a sort of residential deal, where the cruiser would sign up for a fixed number of continuous days of cruising at a discounted rate, and the cruise line would handle the transfers from ship to ship — since staying on the same ship would likely get boring fairly fast, since they tend to run the same schedule back-to-back.

    The idea of residential cruising is attractive (when I retire in about 11 years) but I’m just a bit doubtful about the business plan. Do you know how many outfits are there out there trying to set this sort of thing up, since it sounds like you’ve researched others? And I’m glad to see you weren’t with Life at Sea — I rather obviously had not caught that in the previous post.

    I’m not hugely surprised by low sales numbers months before launch, since people want to be sure the ship is going. So yes, that LAS said they were sure they would sail and it was STILL only 111, that’s pretty bad. -rc

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  8. Being an early *Technology* adopter is one thing, and I’ve always considered myself to be there as well. However, that said, this may be a bit TOO early to be viable — and I’m glad to see that you and Kit are making the best of it.

    You do have the opportunity to travel and live pretty much anywhere as long as you want — while you wait for something like this to truly work.

    Depending on how much churn you want in your lives, there are a LOT of cool places to go for a month or two and then move on. YMMV!

    We do want to SEE a lot, but we don’t particularly want to MOVE a lot, as in packing and unpacking. Vegas is fun since there’s a lot to see and do, but we definitely don’t want to summer here. Yes, we can go someplace else if needed, we just hope it’s not needed. -rc

    Reply
    • Tried the RV Lifestyle?

      You control your itinerary, and the Northern and Southern continents are full of. Wonder.

      Yep, it has its attractions, and I’ve done a lot of travel in the U.S.; I’ve seen most states. I still want to see the world. But I don’t want to spend my time driving — I need time to work. I don’t want to cook. I don’t want to clean. I don’t want to take days off to do laundry. I also want a stable population around me to get to know — community. That doesn’t work with an RV. What I really want to do is live in a 5-star hotel that goes places and I step out to look around, and then go back in to my room to sleep, and have meals with my community. Sounds a lot like … a cruise ship that goes around the world. -rc

      Reply

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