Holidaying on a cruise ship can be a blessing and a curse, depending on the person. But for one man, cruises are so much more than a vacation - they’re home! Keep reading for Mario’s fascinating story.
After boarding 500 cruise ships over 23 years, Mario Salcedo is a fixture of all Royal Caribbean cruises. For those who are taking a cruise ship holiday, they may even see a cabin labeled ‘Mario’s Suite’.
In Mario’s eyes, these cruise ships are his home. Even though he has no business connections with these cruise lines, and has never been an employee of any of them, he has become a mainstay of cruise life for many people. And he loves his life at sea more than the conventional lifestyle he once had.
Before The Cruise Ships
But it hasn’t always been like this for Mario. 23 years ago he lived a comparatively “normal” life in Miami, Florida. He had a good career as a financier, and had worked hard to build a life for himself. But during those years he always prioritized his career over his personal life, leaving him single and childless.
Mario didn’t mind, and there were some significant perks to his job. For one, he was often sent to “vacation destinations” for work, where he would observe many happy holidayers swimming, sunbathing, and partying. He couldn’t help but feel envious while he worked away in his suit and tie. It was the beginning of a new path.
By this point, Mario was just 47 years old, but the long years of working late and starting early had taken their toll. He was experiencing extreme burnout and he knew he couldn’t go on for much longer. So he made the decision to retire from his job and begin a new life as a world traveler.
In an interview with BeyondShips.com, the retiree shared his experience from that time. "Finally, at 47, I left my job. I've had a good career, but now it is time to move on. I left a lot of benefits and money on the table because, at 47, you are not vested," he explained. But what was next for the former financier?
A Never-Ending Vacation
Mario had already decided that he wanted to travel above everything else. After decades of non-stop work, he wanted to experience a life of non-stop leisure, living as joyfully and freely as the holidaymakers he had always observed on his work trips. That’s when he thought about going on a cruise.
And not just one cruise - for his first vacation Mario booked tickets for six back-to-back cruise trips with different cruise lines going to different destinations. "It gave me a sampling of what cruising was like," he noted. "It confirmed what I had thought, and I said, 'I really, really want to do this for the rest of my life.'"
Why Cruise Ships?
So what is it about cruise ships that hold so much appeal for people like Mario? Well, for some it is the onboard entertainment, exotic shopping opportunities, and the endless buffet of delicious food. It gives people a temporary experience of a life of luxury that is normally very hard to come by.
As wonderful as these features may sound, they are not the reasons that Mario chose the cruise ship lifestyle. For him, the most alluring thing about long-term sea life is the freedom it would finally afford him - the independence to live a new and exciting life where he could make all of his own decisions.
Cruise After Cruise
And he wasted no time in experiencing as many cruise ships, from as many different lines as he could. In his interview with beyondships.com he explained. "I have pretty much done all the cruise lines, including a lot of the smaller ones like Crystal, Silver Seas, Seabourn, Regent, Windstar, Windjammer, and all the majors."
During those first 3 years, Mario boarded a whopping 110 cruises departing from Florida. "I did a few in the Mediterranean, a few from the West Coast to Hawaii” he continued. “I did Alaska. I did [Panama] Canal crossings but let's say 80 to 80% were from Florida to the Caribbean."
Finding His Place
But despite experiencing so many kinds of cruise ships, one stuck out the most - it was the 'Voyager of the Seas' cruise ship that was announced by Royal Caribbean in 1999. “When the Voyager of the Seas came out, it took my breath away; that was the one ship which made me say, 'Wow, this is magnificent,'" Mario said.
"What made the Voyager different from other ships? It was the largest cruise ship in the world when it came out. It had the Royal Promenade, and the Royal Promenade was unbelievable. The pool area, the whole ship just blew me away. At that point, I said, 'I have found my place.' From late 2000 to date, I have been loyal to Royal."
Love And Recognition
After so many years patronizing the Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Mario is well-known to the staff, crew, and operators of the cruise line. "I get super-duper Gold Anchor service," he declared. This included eating meals with the captain's crew and even being given free bottle service.
It doesn’t end there. Mario is so well-known aboard the Royal Caribbean ships that he is even asked to join the staff on stage at the end of the cruise, to farewell the cruise performers. There is a lot of love between Mario and the ship staff, and Royal Caribbean captain Charles Teige even gave him the nickname ‘Super Mario.’
A Very Special Guest
And for Royal Caribbean, it’s important that they satisfy their long-term guest. After all, Mario has given more to the company financially than any other cruise ship passenger by far, so they do as much as they can to show their appreciation. This includes inviting him to all pre-inaugural cruises usually reserved for the press.
And once those pre-inaugural cruises had returned to port, Mario was asked to give a detailed review of the trip at the Royal Caribbean executive conference. For the company, his feedback was very valuable, as by now he knew the international cruise ship industry inside out.
A More Traditional Abode
Though he lives most of his life in comfort on the high seas, Mario does still have a home back on land. After all, before retiring he spent some years living in his own condo in Miami, Florida. While cruise ships are his preferred home, he still needs a place to keep all of his belongings.
Not to mention, his condo still has stunning ocean views, something he is quite fond of. "It is beautiful, and I love it," he said. When he is not onboard a cruise ship he uses his condo as a home office and drops off some laundry to his maid before returning to the boat.
Covid-19 Changes Everything
Despite having a lovely home on land, it certainly isn’t an ideal place for him to be long-term. This was especially clear when the pandemic spread throughout the world in 2020, putting an indefinite end to Mario’s cruise life for the first time in more than two decades.
"I didn't cruise for 15 months. It was miserable not knowing when ships would cruise again," he shared in an interview with All Things Cruise. When cruise lines finally opened up again, he was overjoyed. "My first cruise back was July 2nd this year on Freedom of the Seas. Perfect name – Freedom."
An Average Day For Mario
For some people, the idea of living out an eternal cruise ship holiday doesn't sound too appetizing. After all, how does one cope with the lack of routine or security? But in Mario’s eyes, that is precisely the point: having a daily and weekly routine is an essential part of ‘cruise retirement.’
And after 23 years he has his routine honed to perfection. After all, Mario knows exactly what works for him and what doesn’t, what he likes and dislikes, his favorite places to go, and his favorite things to do. And he likes to swing between being a spontaneous tourist and spending time on his own.
Morning For Mario
Let’s take a look at what mornings look like on a cruise ship. Mario arises at approximately 7 am every morning to find a good spot on the pool deck. This is where he’ll set up a small table and computer for the day while enjoying some people-watching along with a steaming cup of coffee.
Around 7:30 to 8 am Mario wanders over to the breakfast buffet where he’ll enjoy a big breakfast with a stunning view of the oceans around the cruise ship. Once breakfast is finished, he’ll open his laptop and begin working from 9 am to 2:30 or 3 pm.
Working On A Boat
Hang on, he’s still working? Yes, while Mario did technically retire from his Miami-based job as a financier, he hasn’t given up on employment entirely. In his eyes, keeping busy with some side work is essential to "stay stimulated" while traveling, as well as maintaining a consistent income.
Currently, he is running a small wealth management company, where he handles a handful of clients and their savings, all from the comfort of the boat. And it’s a lucrative gig too. "It's low volume but high dollars. They pay me extremely well; they're very happy with my personalized service," Mario explained.
As small as he claims it is, the fact still stands that Mario is running an important business handling some very sensitive information. "The running all takes place on the pool deck – on a moving cruise ship," he acknowledged. "So, I'm trading millions of dollars of securities from the deck."
And for Mario, it’s imperative that his clients don’t discover his remote working situation. “They have no idea where I am. They think I'm in one of those office buildings over there," he laughed. "My clients are all international clients, not US-type clients that watch YouTube! I don't want them to find out I'm here!"
While Mario does live a very relaxed, ocean-bound life in his private time, he takes his work seriously. But that also means ensuring that he doesn’t work too hard and makes time for himself. "I don't just sit there and look at my screen; I take breaks! I look up and walk around. I do take breaks and work in a relaxed way!"
During his working day, Mario will take semi-regular breaks to rest his eyes and stretch his legs. During these periods he will stroll along the deck of the boat, making conversation with cruise ship staff and fellow passengers. At 3 pm on the dot, he’ll enjoy an afternoon snack and return below deck for his daily nap.
When he’s not working, there is plenty of options onboard to keep Mario entertained. He passes many an evening in the suite lounge for cocktail hour, and another of Mario’s favorite pastimes is lounging by the swimming pool, enjoying the sun, and watching his fellow passengers pass by.
When he returns indoors he loves to watch the many shows that are put on in the evenings. "My favorite show is Mamma Mia," he exclaimed to vlogger Alanna Zingan. "My other favorite show on the Independence is Grease! I've seen it at least twenty times. I also love Saturday Night Fever on the Liberty."
Dining In Peace
When new passengers experience a cruise ship, the dining room becomes one of the focal points of the ship. This is where the food is served by world-famous chefs and world-class service. But unlike many other guests, Mario rarely, if ever dines in the main dining room, favoring the Windjammer room.
"No main dining room for me,” he explained. "It's just too noisy, too many people, and too tight. It's not the best food on the ship. To me, being in the dining room is like being in a banquet room, like being at a convention – serving everyone the same thing. I like a more relaxed setting dressed in my flip-flops."
Just One Thing Missing
One thing is for sure - the buffets on offer at the Windjammer and main dining room have an amazing variety of excellent food and drink that can satisfy most people's cravings. But for Mario, there is one particular craving that can’t be fulfilled on board.
And that one thing is fast food! One fan of the permanent passenger asked Mario what he missed eating the most, and he instantly replied, "McDonald's! "I really miss McDonald's. I love that Big Mac with the fires and the mocha frappe. But I satisfy my craving for McDonald's on turnaround day before heading to my home base!"
Back On Dry Land
Considering Mario’s love of life on deck, it’s easy to forget that many people don’t board cruise ships just to enjoy the high seas. Most people also look forward to all of the exotic locations that the ship takes them to. But this isn’t true for Mario, who wants to spend as much of his time as possible on the boat.
Since Mario generally doesn’t take the opportunity to explore when the boat stops, it’s likely that he only spends as much as 15 days per year on dry land. In a 2016 interview with Condé Nast Traveler, he said "I've lost my land legs, so when I'm swaying so much, I can't walk in a straight line."
An Off-Deck Hobby
Mario might have lost his land legs, but that doesn’t mean he spends every moment of those 350 days on the cruise ship. One of his favorite past times is actually scuba diving, which he thinks is a perfect accompaniment for cruise life, as according to him they go together like "rum and coke."
He has since acquired his diving certification, undergone training as a diving instructor, and partaken in as many as 2000 dives! He shared his favorite spots on Zingano's YouTube channel, saying "Without a doubt, Cozumel! It's made for diving; it's absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful reefs, colors, and walls. It's a drift dive!"
Cruise Ship Budget
Two things that many people wonder when they hear Mario’s story is: how much does this lifestyle cost? And how does Mario afford it, especially when he’s also paying a mortgage in Miami? Let’s go back to his interview with Alanna Zingano, where he breaks down the cost of everything.
All in all, Mario puts aside a budget of $60 to 70,000 per year, all costs included, to travel on cruise ships full time. He tends to book all of his trips around two years before they’re scheduled to depart, and he pays for everything with a credit card that gives him plenty of points to buy flights from cruise to cruise.
But Mario does have a few tactics to keep his costs low and save money. For one, he books cabins without windows which tend to be the cheapest rooms on board. It doesn't bother him, as "I don't do anything in my cabin other than shower, get dressed and sleep," as he told Conde Nast Traveler.
Another way he saves money is through his membership in the Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor Society loyalty club. While most solo passengers are penalized with a 200% supplement fee for traveling as a single, Mario’s membership means he only incurs a 150% fee.
In the video interview with Zingano, he broke down his expenses even further. On average, one day on the cruise ships sets Mario back by $150 a day. But of course, Mario favors the Royal Caribbean line, so not every cruise will cost this amount. He also adds another $20 for spending and $14.50 for taxes.
So now his daily costs come to around $185 per day, the minimum that Mario pays to live aboard his chosen cruise ship. Of course, he still pays extra for things like spa access, alcohol, restaurants, off-board excursions, and the onboard casino. All up, he puts his annual budget at $72,093 for that year.
Some Extra Tricks
However, Mario still has a few tricks up his sleeve to save money. For example, he books all future trips while he is already on a current cruise. He told beyondships.com that "You have the advantage of getting a $100 onboard credit," which he puts toward future cruise fares. Although he doesn’t actually make the bookings himself.
Mario uses a travel agent for all of his bookings, and she is given a commission to check on all of his booking details. "I expect her to follow all of my 52 open bookings every week to make sure that if any of them have dropped in price, she will request the difference. That is the only thing she has to do for me," he explained.
Romance On The High Seas
Another thing people often ask when they learn about Mario’s lifestyle is how he maintains a love life. If he’s constantly surrounded by staff and fellow guests who are simply passing through, when does he have the opportunity to meet new companions, or even fall in love?
According to Mario, it’s easier than it seems. In a New York Times feature, he confirmed that he had actually found love "many times on the ship." He went further, explaining jokingly that he had even “gotten married and divorced on the same cruise! By the time you get back, there's no alimony or child support!"
No Family On Board
Living the (mostly) single life as a semi-permanent cruise ship passenger may be fun, but we wonder if Mario would have enjoyed a more traditional life, with a spouse and children of his own. After all, a cruise ship isn’t really the place to raise a family.
He answered this question when speaking to The New York Times, saying "I guess if I would have been keen on starting a family and having children and all that, I wouldn't be here. I would be on land like a normal person." It’s worth noting that there was a slightly sad, wistful note in his voice when saying this.
And despite his satisfaction with this unconventional life, people can’t help but ask Mario a singular question: “What happens next?” Even though he has been doing this for 23 years now, many still assume that at some point Mario will have to give up on his seabound lifestyle.
This same question was put to him by The New York Times reporter, and Mario responded with this: "A human being always had to have some goal to be achieved, but in my case, I really have exhausted; I don't know what else is out there. I don't have any more. The only thing I have to look forward to is the ships, and that's okay."
The "Happiest Guy Alive"
But despite his fatigue, Mario isn’t resigned to a life he doesn’t want, and he isn’t giving up on anything. He’s happy living on the cruise ships. "Adopting a cruise ship life is simply escaping from reality," he explained in the 2018 short film about his life, called Meet the Happiest Guy In the World.
"I don't have to take out the garbage; I don't have to clean; I don't have to do laundry. I've eliminated all those non-value activities and have all the time in the world to enjoy what I like to do. You're basically exiting the world as you know it on land and saying 'I don't want to be a part of that anymore,'” he explained.
Leaving It All Behind
Giving up on a traditional life can be a scary, yet thrilling concept. But does Mario Salcedo have any regrets about his unusual choices? "At the beginning when I started living on a cruise ship, yeah, some points in time I had maybe some regrets," he admitted in the short film.
"I thought, 'why did I leave everything behind?'" he said. "But then that sort of went away. Having to live my last years on land in a land hospital would be pure hell to me. But you know, I am not focused on that. I think that's still hopefully ways away, so I'm not worried about that."