Austin Wells loves to travel the world.
But he doesn’t like long flights, jet lag or an unsettled routine.
And that’s why, Wells, who is 28 and lives in San Diego, leased a residence on board a luxury boat that he will move into — and work remotely from — for at least three years as it sails around the world. It comes complete with medical services, a farmer’s market, private kitchens and an exercise center, along with 24-hour room service, a co-working space and spa.
His room is on a mega cruise ship named the MV Narrative, made up of more than 500 private rooms and apartments, which will be home to around 1,000 residents who will live on board more or less permanently.
“The thing that most excites me is I don’t have to upend my daily routine, in order to go see the world,” Wells told CNBC by video call.
“I’m going from this model where you want to go somewhere, you pack a bag, you get on a flight, you rent a room, to now my condo, my gym, my doctors and dentists, all of my grocery stores travel the world with me,” he added.
Wells — whose job at Meta‘s augmented and virtual reality division, Reality Labs, is fully remote — plans to continue to work U.S. West Coast hours as the ship visits European cities.
“My working hours will be shifted towards evenings, nights and very early mornings. But that does open up the ability for me to … maybe see a city midday to afternoon and then start my workday around six or 7 p.m.,” he said.
“This is probably the first time ever that there is even the ability to have a standard job and even consider working and living from a floating apartment complex,” Wells added.
What is the MV Narrative?
The MV Narrative is an upscale residential ship being built by Storylines, the brainchild of co-founder and CEO Alister Punton, a former construction and property executive who had never been on a cruise before founding the company, he told CNBC.
Noticing that large ships tended to be scrapped, Punton and co-founder Shannon Lee saw an opportunity to redevelop them instead.
After some false starts — they bought and redesigned two ships that turned out to be unsuitable, either for the lifestyle residents expected or because they did not meet new environmental laws — they commissioned a new vessel. The MV Narrative is now under construction in Split, Croatia, from where it will set sail in 2025.
A computer-generated image of a bedroom and living area on board the MV Narrative. Long-lease residences are priced from around $875,000 to $8 million.
There will be 11 types of residence on board, with the largest — “Global” at 1,970 square feet — on two levels, with up to four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large balcony, a dining room that seats six and a walk-in closet.
Some apartments are located on a deck with a Champagne and whisky bar, cigar lounge and small pool at one end, while others have observation lounges and event spaces.
Other facilities, spread across 18 decks, will include 20 restaurants and bars, a 10,000-square-foot gym and spa open 24 hours a day, three swimming pools, a school, library, bank and office spaces. The ship will also have a theater for performances and movies, though unlike traditional cruise ships, extravagant entertainment won’t be much of a focus, Punton told CNBC.
Where the ship will go
The MV Narrative will dock at ports for around three to five days, which Punton said is longer than average for liners, allowing residents to explore. “Most people … will be out in the local cities and doing day trips and overnight trips, hiring a car and going out for three or four days and meeting the ship at its next destination,” he told CNBC by video call.
A sample itinerary might include three days docked in Rome, then three days in Naples, followed by stops at smaller places such as the seaside towns of Sapri and Marsala, and eventually reaching Venice before sailing on to Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Greece and then Turkey.
The ship will also go to the Arctic Circle. In total, it will spend three years or so traveling the world (the full itinerary is yet to be announced).
The MV Narrative, the first cruise ship from operator Storylines, is scheduled to set sail from Croatia in 2025.
Wells plans to spend time exploring on land too. “Revisiting all of Europe, I think, is what I’m particularly keen on … so much of the interesting parts, in my opinion, of Europe are towards the center,” he told CNBC.
What it costs
Wells spent around $300,000 on a 12-year lease for an entry-level “Discover” studio, which at 237 square feet includes a foldaway bed, pantry area, desk and separate shower room. (Most leases are either for 24 years or for the life of the vessel — around 60 years — but as an early customer, Wells was offered a shorter option.)
Punton wanted the MV Narrative to be more affordable than other residential boats. The World, for example, is a lavish liner where a penthouse apartment costs around 20 million euros ($20.5 million), and there are only around 150-200 people on board at any time.
While the MV Narrative’s units are still pricey — at around $1 million to $8 million for a life-of-vessel lease —it launched fractional ownership options in November, with a 25% share starting at around $600,000, allowing residents to stay on board for three months a year.
A computer-generated image of the bathroom in a “Global” penthouse residence on board the MV Narrative cruise ship. Such units will be on two levels and are on sale for around $8 million.
“All-inclusive living fees” come on top of the purchase price, starting at around $2,100 a person per month, covering things like food and drinks from the ship’s restaurants and bars, laundry, fitness classes and medical checkups.
“We’re still competitively priced to the market,” Punton said.
Residents will also be able to rent out their units if they are not on board — regardless of whether they are full or part owners. A studio apartment like the one Wells bought could generate around $4,500 a month, according to a calculator on the Storylines website.
Wells expects to be one of the youngest adult residents on board — around 30 when he moves in. Residents will range from mid-life entrepreneurs to families with children, he said.
Children can attend the ship’s “world schooling” program, which blends online learning with small group teaching, field trips and workshops with experts from the countries the ship docks at, according to Storylines’ website.
A rendering of a residents’ lounge on board the MV Narrative cruise ship, which is expected to carry around 1,000 passengers.
Retirees and those close to retirement are also buying into the ship, Punton told CNBC. One future resident is an ER nurse with about 30 years of working experience who is keen to work in the MV Narrative’s medical team part time, Punton said. He also hopes to recruit owners from other types of professions such as acupuncturists and physiotherapists.
“I always say to people, you can come and drink pina coladas by the pool all day if you like and not lift a finger … But that gets old pretty quickly. So, you want to keep doing [the job] you do, right, so this is a way for people to be able to do that,” said Punton. “That’s a fundamental difference [between] us and a cruise.”
The Storylines head office will also be based on the MV Narrative, with company executives living on board. Punton will move onto the ship with his wife and two children, who are currently two and five.
A computer rendering of the living quarters of an “Envision” residence on board the MV Narrative cruise ship. This type of residence has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large balcony. It costs from $3.3 million for a long lease.
“For me, I’m, you know, pretty much seven years into this project already. And by the time we hit the water will be a decade. It’s a long portion of my life. And of course, I want to live this lifestyle as much as anybody else,” he told CNBC.
Wells expects to make friends for life on board. “The goal is to actually have a community of residents on this ship. And so you will establish new friends, you will largely travel the world with them, which is potentially a way to create some of the deepest friendships you’ve ever had,” he told CNBC.
Could Punton foresee someone living on the ship for the rest of their life? “People can actually [own] in perpetuity … so it can actually be gifted into their estates and passed down through the generations … and their family can continue to live on the next ship as well.”
There is a second vessel in the offing once the residences on board the MV Narrative are almost all sold (around half have been bought so far), Punton said.
“We have identified a really big market here. And there’s a lot of people who want to get involved and be a part of this,” he said.
— CNBC’s Tom Huddleston Jr. contributed to this report.