Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean

The Life Aquatic: Meet Mario Salcedo, Full-Time Cruise Ship Passenger

Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean

Mario Salcedo doesn’t remember exactly when it started—it could’ve been after the first 100 cruises, or 500, or 900—but it’s still a bit of a problem. On one of the rare days he finds himself on dry land, his legs sway involuntarily, bracing for the movement of the ship they’re accustomed to having underfoot.

“When I walk from my kitchen to my living room, I stumble,” Salcedo, 66, tells mental_floss. “I can’t walk a straight line. I’ll run into the wall. I spill coffee.”

He has self-diagnosed the issue: “I’ve lost my land legs.”

More than 7000 days at sea will do that to you. For the past two decades, Salcedo has been a full-time occupant on cruise ships, spending less than two weeks out of the year at his condo in Miami, Florida. The rest of the time, he's taken up a floating, permanent residence on the numerous megaton cruise ships sailing out of Florida on the Royal Caribbean fleet. He dances. He scuba dives. He answers endless questions about the best restaurants on board. He operates a small business from his cabin. And he couldn’t be happier.

Salcedo (third from the right) with the Royal Caribbean crew
Royal Caribbean

When Salcedo was 7 years old, his parents fled the hostile political climate of Cuba to relocate in Florida. In college, he studied finance and economics, putting down roots at a Miami multinational corporation. The corporate ladder was lined with palm trees, but he was never in the office for very long.

“I racked up three million frequent flyer miles,” he says. The company sent him all over the world. After 21 years, 90 percent of which he estimates was spent traveling, an exhausted Salcedo decided he was finished. He walked into his boss’ office and declared he’d be leaving his well-paying job.

“Maybe you’ve been traveling too much,” his supervisor said. “Why not take some time off?”

“You don’t understand,” Salcedo told him. “I want to change my whole lifestyle.”

“Well, take a year off.”

“You don’t get it,” Salcedo said, and waved goodbye.

He knew he wanted to travel, but not by air. “I was sick and tired of planes,” he says. With a home in Miami and frequent visits to the Caribbean, he had seen cruise ships in port constantly and had always been curious. In 1997, he boarded his first ship.

“That was it,” he says. “I knew I wanted to cruise for the rest of my life.”

For the next three years, Salcedo sampled almost every cruise line and ship that he could book, searching for the right combination of amenities, atmosphere, and comfort. He sailed to Scandinavia, South America, and Europe, nibbled on the food, and interacted with crews. In January 2000, he stepped foot on the Voyager of the Seas, at the time the largest ship offered by Royal Caribbean: next to Carnival, it's one of the industry’s two biggest cruise lines. It had innovative attractions (like a rock climbing wall), generous rewards for loyal cruisers, and a staff that treated Salcedo warmly.

“I needed stability,” he says. “I picked the cruise line I thought was the best one, and it happened to be Royal.”

By this time, Salcedo had put the final touches on a financial consulting business that could be run remotely and still provide enough income to afford the $65,000 annually he needed for cruise expenses. After tussling a bit with family and friends—“They thought I was nuts to throw away my career”—he became a full-time passenger, or what the industry refers to as a “frequent floater,” booking over 800 voyages with Royal and counting.

Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas main dining room
Royal Caribbean

When discussing his preferred lifestyle, Salcedo likes to reference The Love Boat—a show he believes will help the average land-locked individual understand why he has chosen to take up cruising full-time. “Watch the reruns,” he says. “Everybody’s happy. Everyone’s defenses are down. Everyone wants to have a good time and socialize.”

A typical day for Salcedo might begin with a four- or five-hour work shift, often from a deck chair near the pool and overlooking the ocean. After clocking out, he might go for a swim before heading to one of the ship’s many lounges for some salsa dancing. On every cruise, he says, there are usually 15 or 20 people he befriended on a past voyage, many of them “frequent floaters” themselves.

“We share stories, talk about where we’re going next,” he says. He follows up with some via email so they can try and coordinate meetings or swap suggestions for things to do during destination cruises to Jamaica or Grand Cayman.  

In between, Salcedo gets peppered with questions from first-time cruisers who have heard through the grapevine about his permanent installation. With multiple restaurants on board all Royal ships--there are 22 on his current home, Empress of the Seas--they want to know where to go eat.

“I cannot eat like they do,” he says. “A regular cruiser will stuff themselves for seven whole days.” Salcedo keeps his weight under control by skipping meals and loading up on vegetables and lean proteins. If the captain invites him for dinner, he might splurge on a steak.

Walking, dancing, and scuba diving keep him fit. In 20 years, he’s never seen the inside of the medical bay on any ship. “I’ve never been sick a single day,” he says. “Never had norovirus, none of it. I eat smart, exercise, and I have no stress. Zero stress!”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Salcedo is a lifelong bachelor. While a transient lifestyle of cruising doesn’t appear to lend itself to relationships, he says he’s content. “I love to meet single ladies, and there’s plenty of them on cruise ships nowadays.

“Sometimes it goes beyond friendship. Two months later, they might come back to visit me.”

Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas
Voyager of the Seas
Royal Caribbean

Salcedo has been on 23 of Royal’s 25 ships. Two are new to the fleet, and he hasn’t had a chance to step on deck yet. His cruises are usually booked six months in advance so he can try to keep the same cabin without having to transfer his luggage to another room. In October, he’ll fly to Barcelona to meet a ship that will cross back over to Florida.

The Miami condo—where he sometimes sways on the floor—is empty most of the time, used only when he’s transitioning from one ship to another; his car sits in Royal’s terminal, waiting for one of his infrequent layovers so he can drive the 15 minutes home. There are no friends to take it out for a maintenance drive.

“Any of the friends I had on land pretty much gave up on me,” he says. “It’s one of the downsides. I’m never home, so they just kind of wither away.” At sea, it doesn’t really matter who Miami’s mayor might be, or which new business has moved in down the street. “You wind up losing touch.”

Although Salcedo has become something of a public relations gift for Royal, he says he doesn’t receive any compensation or discounts beyond whatever’s offered to high-ranking loyalty program members. As a single occupant, he avoids a 200 percent mark-up of his cabin: it’s 150 percent. And the company is willing to hear him out when it comes to suggestions. It would be nice, he once told them, if frequent floaters could have free wireless access. At $20 a day, it adds up.

They said yes. He’s still trying to get more channels on the cabin televisions. “I’d like to watch Fox News,” he says. “But there is no Fox News on Royal.”

It’s a minor inconvenience. Salcedo is booked for the next two years and has no plans to permanently disembark anytime soon. “I feel better at 66 than I did in the corporate rat race in my 30s. I’ll keep cruising as long as I’m healthy and as long as I’m having fun.

“I’m probably the happiest person in the world.”

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

This Just In
Fictional Place Names Are Popping Up On Road Signs in Didcot, England

Driving along the highway in Didcot, England, you may notice something strange: the road signs point the way to places like Neverland and Middle-earth.

The names of these and other fictional locales from literature were seamlessly added to road signs by an artist/prankster using Transport Medium, the official font of British road signs.

After some sleuthing, BBC News found the man responsible, who spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity. He told the BBC that he's been orchestrating "creative interventions" all over England for about 20 years under different pseudonyms, and that this project was a reaction to Didcot being labeled "the most normal town in England" in 2017, which rubbed him the wrong way. "To me there's nowhere that's normal, there's no such thing, but I thought I'd have a go at changing people's perceptions of Didcot," he said of the town, which he describes as a "fun" and "funky" place.

Oxfordshire County Council isn't laughing; it told the BBC that although the signs were "on the surface amusing," they were "vandalism" and potentially dangerous, since it would be hard for a driver who spotted one not to do a double take while their eyes were supposed to be on the road. Even so, thanks to routine council matters, the signs are safe—at least for now—as the Council says that it is prioritizing fixing potholes at the moment.

Jackie Billington, Didcot's mayor, recognizes that the signs have an upside. "If you speak to the majority of people in Didcot they're of the same opinion: it's put Didcot on the map again," he told BBC News. "Hopefully they'll be up for a couple of weeks."

There are five altered signs in total. If you fancy a visit to the Emerald City, you're pointed toward Sutton Courtenay. Narnia neighbors a power station. And Gotham City is on the same route as Oxford and Newbury (and not, apparently, in New Jersey, as DC Comics would have you believe). If you want to go see the signs for yourself before they disappear, you'll find them along the A4130 to Wallingford.

See the signs here and in the video below.

[h/t BBC News]


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