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.


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.


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

The Most Fun Cities in America, Ranked

iStock
iStock

You can argue all you want about how great your favorite city is, but the data doesn’t lie: If you want to have fun, head to Vegas. WalletHub compared 182 different cities across the U.S.—the country’s overall most populous cities, plus at least two of the biggest cities in every state—to come up with a list of the most fun cities in the entire country, and Sin City took the cake.

The scores are based on 56 different metrics in three different categories: entertainment and recreation; nightlife and parties; and cost. The metrics included appearances on lists like the TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for top destinations; the number of beaches, movie theaters, casinos, hiking trails, festivals, bars, and clubs; how accessible bars are (both in number and geographical proximity); and the average cost of food, wine, hotels, and movie theater trips. Some of these metrics were adjusted to account for differences in city size, since, for instance, New York City would obviously have more restaurants than a smaller city like Lincoln, Nebraska.

Accounting for all these factors, these are the most fun cities in America, according to this particular dataset.

1. Las Vegas, Nevada
2. Orlando, Florida
3. New York City, New York
4. Atlanta, Georgia
5. Miami, Florida
6. Chicago, Illinois
7. Portland, Oregon
8. San Francisco, California
9. New Orleans, Louisiana
10. San Diego, California

Though the order of the rankings might be a little surprising, many of the cities are well-known as vacation destinations. Vegas, obviously, is a legendary destination for partying. Orlando is home to not just Disney World, but Universal Studios Florida (where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located) and SeaWorld Orlando, among others. New York City hosts the most tourists of any city in America each year. New Orleans is renowned for its food, bar scene, and music, in addition to the two weeks of parades and celebrations the city hosts during Mardi Gras—and yet it barely managed to break into the top 10, at No. 9.

Indeed, while the top 10 list isn’t necessarily surprising on its face, the order may be. Atlanta managed to beat out Miami, though the latter is more famous for its party atmosphere and picturesque beaches. Disney World apparently beats out the Statue of Liberty and 30 Rock, because Orlando is ranked as more fun than the Big Apple. And New Orleans was surpassed by less-popular destination cities like Portland and San Francisco. (Not to mention the fact that poor Los Angeles, the country’s second-biggest city and a major tourist destination in its own right, didn’t even crack the top 10, coming in at No. 13.)

As for the least-fun major cities included on the list— which you can dive into below—you may not have ever heard of them. Aside from perhaps Juneau and Pearl City (on the north shore of Pearl Harbor near Honolulu), most aren’t tourist destinations. Perhaps they’re better for residents than they are for tourists, though. Both Oxnard and Bridgeport appeared on National Geographic's list of the happiest cities in the U.S. in 2017.

1. Pearl City, Hawaii
2. Oxnard, California
3. Bridgeport, Connecticut
4. Santa Rosa, California
5. Fontana, California
6. Yonkers, New York
7. Rancho Cucamonga, California
8. South Burlington, Vermont
9. Juneau, Alaska
10. Moreno Valley, California

Disagree with the list? See where your favorite city ended up and the breakdown of scores of on WalletHub, or explore the map below.

Source: WalletHub

See Which Ingredients Cooks From Around the World Love Most

iStock
iStock

Food is incredibly regionally specific, and cuisines have been refined over millennia based on what ingredients have been available and what local cooks have come up with. Even though global trade has made the same spices and other flavor staples available virtually anywhere in the world, Mexican food still tastes radically different from Chinese food, and Italian food from Irish food. We know this intuitively—few of us pick up a bottle of soy sauce thinking we’ll use it in a traditional Italian pasta dish—but it’s still fascinating to see a breakdown of just which ingredients certain cuisines have cornered the market on, as you can in these charts.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData visualized the most-used ingredients in 20 different cuisines, using data on ingredients from Yummly to figure out what distinct flavors and ingredients country-specific cuisines gravitate towards.

Across the world, salt is king. It’s the most-used ingredient in 75 percent of the cuisines Yau looked at, and the only cuisine in which it doesn’t appear in the top five most-used ingredients is Korean food—but, like in other Asian cuisines, Korean recipes use soy sauce more than any other ingredient, and that in itself is very salty.

Because so many cuisines rely heavily on the same ingredients, like soy sauce and salt, Yau also calculated the ingredients most specific to each cuisine: the ones disproportionately used in one country’s traditional cuisine. This is where you start to get a picture of the kind of ingredients we associate heavily with particular regionally specific dishes. Mexican food relies on tortillas; Greek food, feta cheese; Korean, kimchi; Thai, lemongrass; Russian, beets; and Cajun, andouille sausage. Some ingredients may come as a bit of a surprise, though. Southern cooking in the U.S. uses vanilla extract more than other cuisines do, and the French love shallots. Cajun cooks are big fans of celery ribs, and somehow, though numerous cuisines use onions heavily, Brazilian cooks use them slightly more than anyone else.

The data relies on Yummly recipes, so the results are limited to what the recipe recommendation site has available. It's possible that home cooks working in each cuisine do something slightly different that might move the data in another direction. But, since Yummly currently has more than 2 million recipes available, it seems like a relatively large snapshot of cooking options.

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more at FlowingData.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER