The three-year cruise is going forward- with a larger ship. It seemed like a traveler's fantasy: a three-year trip around the world in quest of an endless summer at what appeared to be a reasonable fee.
Many people raced to book when Life at Sea Cruises launched its 36-month cruise in March, with staterooms beginning at $29,999 per person per year for an all-inclusive lifestyle.
However, that dream looked to turn into a nightmare in May, when the wheels fell off, with a portion of the staff leaving the firm over what appeared to be a disagreement regarding the ship itself, and passengers abandoning the venture.
The project looks to be back on track again, with a larger ship confirmed for the three years of investigation. The launch date remains November 1, 2023. Miray Cruises, a firm with a 30-year history of operating in the Aegean, currently owns and operates Life at Sea Cruises wholly.
Miray was the cruise partner that was involved from the beginning. Back in March, Miray's ship, the MV Gemini, was identified as the vessel to be utilized for the voyage, which became important to the breakdown in ties between Miray and members of the old Life at Sea executive team.
According to Mikael Petterson, the former MD, around 22 members of the team, including the MD, chief technology officer, and head of sales and marketing, "stepped away" from the project.
Irina Strembitsky, the sales and marketing director, went even farther, stating that the ship was declared "unseaworthy" by an engineer, who also voiced skepticism that it would be able to finish a three-year cruise - an accusation that is now at the center of Miray's defamation suit.
According to Petterson, all 22 leavers are now working on a competing project: Villa Vie Residences, which will be a global voyage... circumnavigating the globe every three and a half years.
Villa Vie is hosting webinars for prospective clients, but has yet to choose a ship or reveal potential price. Petterson told CNN that his team hopes to begin accepting bookings in August.
Staterooms on the new ship will have 20 square feet more per cabin
Meanwhile, Miray said its maiden Life at Sea voyage on its new ship will take place in November, as scheduled. According to Kendra Holmes, CEO of Miray Cruises, the MV Lara will be larger than the Gemini.
The ship, which was constructed in 2003 and is presently in service for another cruise line, has 627 rooms with a capacity of 1,266 guests, but Holmes stated that they intend to sell a maximum of 532 cabins, or roughly 85%, in order to keep things feeling large aboard.
Each cabin will have around 20 square feet more space than on Gemini, and whereas the cheapest accommodations on Gemini were on deck two, they will begin on deck three, with some entry level cabins on deck four.
According to Holmes, the firm has always planned to buy another ship in order to continue its Aegean routes. Instead of replacing Gemini, they elected to spend more money on a larger vessel for the three-year tenure.
The team first saw the new ship in March, when they were marketing the Gemini's round-the-world voyages. Holmes claims that they continued to sell the Gemini until they were confident that the Lara sale would be completed in time for the Life at Sea voyage.
We looked at a lot of different vessels and we liked her layout. She has lots of nice public spaces, an open pool deck, a running track – we liked the way everything was laid out on her.- Kendra Holmes, CEO of Miray Cruises
My big focus is on public spaces – you don’t want to be cooped up in a cabin for three years.[The Lara has] great covered outdoor spaces, open spaces, and a deck on top to watch the stars.- Kendra Holmes
You can get out close to the bow of the ship, and can see the ocean coming at you. She just met those criteria – and the restaurants are nice, the bars are big, there’s a lot of space… she just ticked all those boxes.- Kendra Holmes
Holmes won't reveal the current name of the ship that will become the MV Lara, or who Miray bought it from - but based on the information she can provide (it's currently in UK waters, and has recently completed a voyage around northern Europe), the odds are that it's the AIDAaura, one of three ships operated by AIDA Cruises, a German-focused subsidiary of Carnival.
The ship's godmother is supermodel Heidi Klum, and it boasts four restaurants, two lounges, five bars and clubs, and two pools, according to AIDA Cruises. According to AIDA's website, the firm will "say goodbye" to the ship in September after 20 years and over 800 cruises.
Some travelers have decided to cancel their trip completely due to the commotion. Sharon Lane, one of them, had earlier expressed her delight to CNN, but has since regrettably canceled her trip.
When traveling alone, especially as a senior female, safety is the primary concern. With the unsettling changes surrounding the three year cruise, I decided the risk was too great for me.- Sharon Lane
I am very disappointed, as I had my heart set on cruising the world for the next three years. I wish everyone who decides to go a happy and safe voyage.- Sharon Lane
According to Holmes, the firm is "approaching 40%" capacity with current bookings, which puts it at more than 200 rooms sold. When the Gemini was withdrawn, it had around 50% of its 400 staterooms pre-booked. She claims that new bookings have balanced out the cancellations.
We’re selling pretty steadily – not too quickly, which is good. We don’t want to force people into doing something they’re not 100% OK with. For me that’s more important than trying to get the quantity.- Kendra Holmes
The original offer required a $5,000 deposit to lock the rate in.
A lot did back out once they realized they couldn’t afford it, or weren’t comfortable being on the ship, or had family obligations. We had a few people trying to sell their houses and weren’t successful. A lot thought, ‘Yeah, I can totally do that,’ and then realized ‘I can’t afford to take three years off.- Kendra Holmes
However, not everyone takes three years off. The onboard casino will be demolished and replaced with coworking spaces and conference rooms. It also intends to make the cruise somewhat sustainable in what is widely regarded as an unsustainable business.
Miray intends to eliminate single-use plastic from the ship, clean bedding and towels on a weekly basis, and switch to LED lighting wherever feasible - "a huge fuel consumption saver," according to Holmes.
The visitors who have signed up so far are divided 60-40 between couples and singles, with ages ranging from 30 to 80. So far, the majority are Americans. Meredith Shay of Florida is one of the survivors.
I have no trepidation at all, I’m over the moon excited to just drop out and then drop into a new life.- Meredith Shay
Shay put down her deposit for a balcony cabin on March 2, and sees the company split as a “hiccup.”
It came and went in two days, and it all worked out.- Meredith Shay
The people who left are creating their own ship, and we’re all happy for them, but we’re a group that has stuck with this from the get go. And this Miray team is accommodating to everyone – If there are concerns, they fix it, if there are ideas they put them into place. It’s a real team effort because we’re pioneers.- Meredith Shay
Ingrid Warwick, another visitor, seems unfazed and has even sought an upgrade to a balcony cabin.
When the initial sales crew left we had concerns – theories can run rampant [on social media]. But we were impressed with how the Miray executive team handled the situation. Of course there’ll be ups and downs, and not everything will be exactly 100%, but they are putting the effort in.- Ingrid Warwick
The people who canceled certainly had understandable concerns – you plan to put your life on hold for three years and travelonboard with a foreign cruise line. That’s going to give you pause, and I understand their decision.- Ingrid Warwick
However, those going ahead have “really developed a bond,” she adds.
Her only complaint thus far? The ship's "islandy vibe" as it is.
It'll get old very quickly when you're living on a ship for three years.- Ingrid Warwick
Miray, on the other hand, has showed visitors images of their plans for additional cottages.
We know there’s a short timeline but we are hopeful that the accommodations are what were presented to us – or as near as possible.- Ingrid Warwick
Miray will take custody of the ship in late September, according to Holmes, with the trip sailing in November.
That’s actually a long time – we’re doing a lot of work but amazing things can be done in two to three weeks.- Kendra Holmes
The ship will be in dry dock for two weeks in Germany, where its hull will be repainted and work will start on the business center and offices, she says.
The rest will be done on the way back to Istanbul – there’s lots of work that can be done [during a voyage] as long as it’s not ‘hot’ work like welding.- Kendra Holmes
In response to their former employees' charges, Holmes deems the "unseaworthy" remark "defamatory," noting that ships undergo "multiple inspections" yearly to get passenger safety certificates, and that the assertion is "completely invalid.
An aerial view of the cruise ship
They have to go through so many different safety [certifications] to allow a passenger to set foot onboard, she explains. According to her, the Gemini's Passenger Ship Safety Certificate (PSSC) was last given in October 2022 and will be reissued next week.
Miray is suing Petterson on four counts, according to court documents: defamation, interference with commercial relationships, and making personal use of intellectual property and secret corporate information.
In an affidavit filed with the court, Holmes says that the contact information of Life at Sea clients was given to a third-party cruise operator, and that Petterson barred Miray workers from contacting their clients through 11 internet accounts.
Petterson told CNN that he will file a response as well as a countersuit with the court.
I stand by my comments on what has been said and what transpired and look forward to proving every detail in court. I am confident we will have a positive outcome.- Mikael Petterson
They decided to pick on the term ‘unseaworthy.’ Clearly the ship floats. However we have dozens of emails, recordings and messages suggesting the Gemini could not perform the itinerary as advertised.- Mikael Petterson
Holmes says that some guests signed up to the original cruise are waiting to go with Villa Vie Residences.
Some loved the last team and that’s totally fine – I’m sure they’re going to do a great job as well.- Kendra Holmes
Meanwhile, the countdown to the world's longest voyage has begun.
I’m traveling by myself but I don’t consider it by myself at all because the other people are amazing. I’m traveling with 500 other people.- Meredith Shay