The Love-Your-Neighbor Boat

In case you were worried that the Great Recession had killed off conspicuous real estate consumption, fear not.

The Wall Street Journal reports that work has begun on a $1 billion cruise ship outfitted with 190 super luxurious private "oceanfront residences" priced between $3.9 million and $24 million.

True, many high end properties for landlubbers in Manhattan and Palm Beach are being marked down. But the owners of the Utopia - as the ship is so aptly named - believe these oceangoing units will sell because they combine home ownership and sumptuous accommodations with do-gooder activism.

Yes, this is the Charity Boat. Or as David Robb, chairman of Utopia Residences, puts it in the Journal, it's not simply about wealthy residents enjoying themselves on sea voyages. The Utopia is, in fact, a "platform for learning, cultural exchange and philanthropy."

Here's the gimmick: you cruise around the world in your private ship-board home, taking in cultural and sporting events -- like Wimbledon or the Rio Carnival, or perhaps Sydney for New Year's - and also engage in voluntary philanthropic activities along the way, according to the company website.

Forget the cruise director nudging you to play shuffleboard. This boat has a Philanthropy Concierge, who will "set up lunches, dinners or other meetings with like-minded individuals around the world," the website says. That way, residents can develop "a strong personal network with other philanthropists worldwide who have similar desires to make a difference."

To be sure, it's not a Disney-branded week in the Bahamas with shore excursions amid jostling holiday crowds in Hawaiian shirts.

At the low end of the 15-deck liner, residence options include 1,400-square foot one or two bedrooms (consider it steerage), while up top, a grand 6,000-square foot four bedroom "estate" is on offer. The usual diversions include pools, spas, retail, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as a private club for residents (so they don't have to mingle with other cruise guests).

Do high rollers really need a multimillion dollar residence on the high seas as a ploy to be charitable? Give them the benefit of the doubt: many probably fork over generous sums already. So just sell these properties for what they are: blue chip square footage with over the top decor and views to die for.
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