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It’s a Wonderful Life


I just returned from my honeymoon. We took a week on the Crystal Serenity and, boy oh boy… It was hard to leave that ship. Between our honeymoon and my birthday, I was drowned in celebratory champagne. When the drink of the day is champagne and St-Germain – one of my absolute favorites – you know you’ve found your tribe.

There were some pretty cool people on board including an A list TV actor and a guy who founded one of the famous retail chains of the 1980s. But the coolest lady of all was one Mrs. Lee Wachtstetter, known to all on board as Mama Lee.

Mama Lee, a former Floridian, who looks much younger than 88-years-old, has lived on the Crystal Serenity for eight years. She and her husband were avid cruisers, and when she was widowed, she decided to continue to travel. She loves to dance and meet new people and thought living on a cruise ship sounded appealing. She’s seen most of the world several times over, and she now tends to stay on board unless a particular port really calls to her, or she’s in Florida where her family lives.

I saw Mama Lee at a table in the Palm Court, doing needlepoint during the formal afternoon tea (I swear, I gained 10 pounds simply from the scones and clotted cream.) I asked if I could sit with her for a bit.

I asked her what she was working on, and she told me it was the Crystal Serenity crest. She’s finished hundreds of canvases during her time at sea and gives most of them to the crew – many of whom have become like family. She is happy to help any passenger with needlepoint tips. On her table she keeps photos of her own family, including the most recent additions, 7-month-old twins. She’d recently visited them in Florida. The hardest part of living on a ship is not seeing her family all the time, but she keeps in touch through email.

I asked what she did when the ship went through its recent renovation. She said they worked around her and – when they needed to work in her room– kept her valuables in the ship’s jail. They customized her room with a special Styrofoam-backed board where she can keep all of the earrings she’s amassed on her travels.

With her big personality and jewelry from all over the world: she’s Iris Apfel at sea.

I commented on her youth and asked if she used any special creams. She told me she uses nothing special. Her secret is her lifestyle. She’s found a way to surround herself with everything she loves: dancing in the Palm Court, doing needlepoint and watching beautiful scenery. Her gratitude is palpable. She believes she’s the luckiest woman and lives the most wonderful life. She’s writing a book about her experiences, and I cannot wait to read it.

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With an MBA in Finance, JEN LAWRENCE worked in investment banking; was Executive Director of a Children’s Museum and is a pioneer mommy blogger. Jen writes and speaks about women in business, critical thinking, strategic planning and is the author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team. When your world’s been blown apart, Jen Lawrence can help you pull yourself together, and pinpoint those next steps that will help you find your new normal. She can also be found at

12 thoughts on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  1. Love this. I had read about her but you actually met her!! How very cool.
    I can totally relate to the lifestyle!

  2. I’ve never heard of anyone living on a cruise ship unless they’re part of the crew. Brava to her for finding a lifestyle that works for her. So many of us, after our spouse dies, our world narrows and we become older than our age. You can tell by her beautiful face that she’s engaged in life. Thanks for inspiring us Mrs. Wachtstetter! xoxox, Brenda

  3. Firstly, congratulations on your wedding and happy (belated) birthday! I love this story, Jen. Thanks so much for sharing Mama Lee with us, what an inspiring woman. I love how women like her redefine the rules around what life can look like in our later years. I imagine it must have taken a lot of courage to pursue this lifestyle, especially as she set out to do so aged 80! Esther xx

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