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 Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

20 Attempts to Describe the Taste of Durian, the World’s Smelliest Fruit

iStock.com/Worradirek
iStock.com/Worradirek

The durian is a beloved delicacy in Malaysia, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Its taste and smell, however, take some getting used to. The creamy fruit is notoriously potent—in fact, it’s so smelly that Singapore’s public transit systems tell passengers not to bring them onto subways or buses. And yet, despite its stinky reputation, it can be found practically everywhere: In curries, cakes, and even ice cream. For visitors, biting into the fruit can be an utterly confusing and contradictory experience. Here are some outsider opinions from the past 400 years.

1. “The flesh is as white as snow, exceeds in delicacy of taste of all our best European fruits, and none of ours can approach it.” —Jacques de Bourges, 17th Century Missionary

2. “Comparisons have been made with the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese; while one disaffected visitor to Indonesia declared that the eating of the flesh was not much different from having to consume used surgical swabs.” —The Oxford Companion to Food

3. “Tastes lightly sweet and deeply musky.” —Frommer’s Guide to Malaysia

4. “[I]ts odor is best described as pig-sh*t, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.” —Richard Sterling, food writer

5. "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect.” —Bayard Taylor, 19th-century Journalist

6. “To anyone who doesn’t like durian it smells like a bunch of dead cats. But as you get to appreciate durian, the smell is not offensive at all. It’s attractive. It makes you drool like a mastiff.” —Bob Halliday, Bangkok-based food writer

7. “Vomit-flavoured custard.” —The Rough Guide to Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei

8. “The smell of rotten eggs is so overwhelming. I suppress a gag reaction as I take a bite.” —Robb Walsh, food writer

9. “Like all the good things in Nature … durian is indescribable. It is meat and drink and an unrivalled delicacy besides, and you may gorge to repletion and never have cause for penitence. It is the one case where Nature has tried her hand at the culinary art and beaten all the CORDON BLEUE out of heaven and earth.” —a "good friend" of Edmund J. Banfield, Australian Naturalist, as quoted in Banfield's 1911 book My Tropic Isle

10. “[Has a] sewer-gas overtone.” —Maxine E. McBrinn, Anthropologist

11. “Like pungent, runny French cheese … Your breath will smell as if you’d been French kissing your dead grandmother.” —Anthony Bourdain, Chef and Host of Parts Unknown

12. “On first tasting it, I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction, but after four or five trials I found the aroma exquisite.” —Henri Mouhot, French Naturalist, in Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China: Siam, Cambodia, and Laos, During the Years 1858, 1859, and 1860

13. “[Like] eating ice cream in an outhouse.” —As reported in Jerry Hopkins's Strange Foods

14. “I must say that I have never tasted anything more delicious. But not everyone can enjoy or appreciate this strange fruit for the disgusting smell that distinguishes it and that is apt to cause nausea to a weak stomach. Imagine to have under your nose a heap of rotten onion and you will still have but a faint idea of the insupportable odour which emanates from these trees and when its fruit is opened the offensive smell becomes even stronger.” —Giovanni Battista Cerruti, Italian Explorer, in 1908's My Friends the Savages

15. “It tastes like completely rotten mushy onions.” —Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods

16. “Like eating raspberry blancmange in the lavatory.” —Anthony Burgess, Novelist

17. “A rich custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavor that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes." —Alfred Russel Wallace, 19th-century British Naturalist

18. “You will either be overcome, seduced by its powerful, declarative presence, or reject it outright. And run screaming." —Monica Tan, The Guardian Journalist

19. “Carrion in custard.” —A “Governor of the Straits” quoted in 1903's Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive

20. “Yes, I freely admit that when ripe it can smell like a dead animal. Yes, the fruit is difficult to handle, bearing likeness to a medieval weapon. But get down to the pale yellow, creamy flesh, and you’ll experience overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard. That’s my attempt at describing durian. But words fail; there is no other fruit like it.” —Thomas Fuller, New York Times Journalist

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