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Despite Coronavirus Outbreaks, Cruise Ship Condos Are Gaining Steam

Despite Coronavirus Outbreaks, Cruise Ship Condos Are Gaining Steam
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There are people who live on their own boats and people who share fractional ownership of a yacht and use it a few weeks per year like a timeshare. But selling off individual cabins like condo units has so far been a rare concept, pioneered by The World luxury cruise ship, which launched in 2002 and whose 165 units start around $3M apiece.

Now, though, several companies are competing in this sector. A company based in Port Canaveral, Florida, called Oceanic Resort Condos of America is launching home sales this week on the 290-foot-long Larga Vida, with an entry price point, at $298K, that even a middle-class couple might be able to afford. The ship will be based in Miami, sailing about once a month around the Caribbean, Latin America and wherever owners decide to go. Amenities include a $3M mini-submarine that each condo owner will partly own.

ORCA is an affiliate of Sophlex Marine Management Inc. The yacht will be owned by its residents, not the developer.

“What we’ve done is make the business model more affordable and regional,” an ORCA spokesperson said. “We don’t cruise around the world, but just in the Americas and remain in Miami most of the time, so living aboard would be perfect. The ship cruises 54 days a year and is in port 311 days.”

ORCA President Tim Levensaler will serve as the captain of Larga Vida, which translates from Spanish to “long life.”

“Imagine your upscale condo building has just 50 units, five free owner’s guest staterooms, a dance lounge, three meals a day, a guest gourmet chef every Friday, top-deck hot tub, gym, beauty salon, cigar bar, medical center, and, oh yes … a brand-new professionally piloted $3M sightseeing submarine that every resident gets to use,” Levensaler said in a statement.” And best of all, the yacht sails four days a month around the Caribbean and takes a 14-day extended cruise each year.”

ORCA began taking reservations for units on the Larga Vida this week. Its 50 condo suites will be priced between $298K and $468K. At 235 to 360 SF, cabins are larger than on a typical cruise ship, the company said.

The launch is moving forward despite the coronavirus pandemic, which is actually working in favor of the company, the spokesperson said, despite ports being closed and horror stories about sickness spreading like crazy on ships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suspended U.S. cruise operations until September at the earliest, citing widespread outbreaks on vacation liners.

People want to get out of crowded cities, ORCA believes, and the Larga Vida will be protected like a fortress, with a temperature scanning system that will discreetly monitor everyone coming aboard, a HEPA-grade air filter device and an onboard saliva testing capability. A doctor will live and travel with the ship while coronavirus is a problem, the spokesperson said, and later, they will have a traveling nurse instead.

The spokesperson said confidentiality agreements prohibit ORCA from disclosing details about the ship’s provenance, but that “she’s a quite new ship by vessel standards and cruises as a five-star luxury yacht. We are looking at a total of three similar size boutique ships to convert into private ownership for other Florida cities,” including Tampa and Jacksonville, he said.  

ORCA has determined three berths in Miami where the Larga Vida may be based but hasn’t yet committed to one. People who want to reserve units can make 10% down payments now, which will be put in escrow, and then when the ship is 70% sold, complete their payments. The launch depends on when units sell out, but the company is optimistic that could be as soon as October.  

A spokesperson for Utopia said via email that the company is still operational, that most of the largest units — three- and four-bedroom residences — have been sold or reserved, and that it will launch in about three-and-a-half years.

“The business is in the middle of converting the final architectural and marine engineering drawings into construction drawings and has completed the plans for its itinerary for the first year of operation,” the spokesperson said. “The pandemic caused us to pause some of the design and building efforts by major subcontractors who were required to cease operations. As of today, most of the suppliers and subcontractors are back to normal operations.”

“Our clients have realized it is far superior to take their home with them as they travel rather than checking in and out of a different hotel room that needs to be sanitized in every destination that they visit,” she added.

The ORCA spokesperson said that, prior to the Great Recession, other companies such as  Four Seasons and Magellan had hoped to develop ships to compete with the World, but all those plans stalled when the economy tanked.

“Our business model is the only one that works,” the spokesperson said.

Massive cruise ships make money on economies of scale, but aren’t nimble enough to deal with crises, he said. However, it’s a buyer’s market for smaller ships in great condition.

“With millions of wealthy people, selling 50 cabins should not be a problem,” he said. “It’s very reasonable compared to buying a condo in downtown Miami, and it’s like they get $50K in cruises each year free.”

credit: bisnow

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