Many dream of going on a cruise, while others feel nauseous at the thought of spending extended periods of time in a windowless cabin. But one man is such a fan, that he made it his permanent home…
Go on board any Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and chances are one will see a cabin labeled 'Mario's Suite' on the door. Over 500 cruises later, Mario Salcedo has become an honorary ship resident.
For 23 years, Mario has called the cruise ship his home. No, he does not work for the cruise-line company, nor does he have any professional affiliation - he just loves life at sea. Ditching his stressful career for a peaceful, calm life on board, this is his incredible and inspiring story.
Life Before Sea
Before becoming 'the cruise ship king,' Mario was living a pretty regular life in Miami, Florida. Working as a financier, he was working long, hard hours like most of his peers. Single, with no children, nothing was calling him home. He gave his life over to his career.
As part of his job, he was often expected to visit 'vacation destinations' for meetings. Here, amongst the carefree, swimsuit-wearing visitors, he would feel out of place with his briefcase and suit. These moments of isolation would prove to be influential in his future life decisions.
At 47 years old, Mario had had enough. Exhausted and overworked, he was burned out and decided to take early retirement. He wanted more from his life and wanted to feel the sense of ease he picked up on from the tourists he often interacted with on his work-travel trips.
"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 told BeyondShips.com. So what was next for Mario? Did he have a vision in mind for his next stage of life?
Back To Back Vacations
While Mario knew he wanted to use his newfound freedom for leisure travel - to be a part of that lifestyle he saw - the actual logistics were less mapped out. He was interested in cruising, but had never been on one before. So he booked himself 6 cruises back-to-back to see what it was all about.
With all 6 ships being different and run by various cruise lines, it was a fair and accurate view of life at sea. "It gave me a sampling of what cruising was like," he explained. "It confirmed what I had thought, and I said, 'I really, really want to do this for the rest of my life.'" But what was it that truly won him over?
For many people, the appeal of going on a cruise ship is what is seen in the brochures. Endless entertainment, shopping, beautiful facilities, and high-quality food - it's a life of luxury in a beautiful setting. The professional photographs sell a lifestyle most dare to dream of.
For Mario, however, this isn't it. While the facilities seemed great, these picture-perfect features were not what attracted him to cruising. For him, life at sea meant independence - a chance to live an unconventional life, abiding by his own rules. How a cruise ship allows for that will be discussed further later.
After thoroughly enjoying his six cruise ship vacations, Mario went on to book many more. "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," he told beyondships.com.
The departure ports of these trips were mostly in Florida. "I did a few in the Mediterranean, a few from the West Coast to Hawaii. I did Alaska. I did [Panama] Canal crossings but let's say 80 to 80% were from Florida to the Caribbean." In his first 3 years post-retirement, he took around 110 cruises.
“I Have Found My Place”
Everything changed for Mario in 1999 when the Royal Caribbean cruise line announced their new 'Voyager of the Seas' cruise ship. "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,'" he recalled to beyondships.com.
"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."
A Mutual Love
Acknowledging this loyalty, the Royal Caribbean cruise ship staff treat Mario like royalty. "I get super-duper Gold Anchor service," he boasted. Whether he's being invited to eat with the captain's inner crew or treated to free bottle service, he's top of the customer ranks.
He will often be invited on stage with the rest of the staff to say a company goodbye to the performers at the end of a cruise. The crew on board are practically family to Mario, with mutual love between them. In fact, it was the Royal Caribbean captain Charles Teige that gave him the 'Super Mario' nickname.
Royal Caribbean does not stop there in an attempt to keep Mario's business. Incredibly appreciative of his constant support, they have even invited him on all their pre-inaugural cruises on each of the new ships. These spots are generally reserved for press and travel agents.
After each cruise, they invited Mario to review the experience at the company's executive conference. Interested to hear opinions from the customer's viewpoint, they grew eager to listen to his thoughts and feedback. The company significantly valued his suggestions - he was their most valuable customer, after all!
A Home On Land
Despite living most of his life on a cruise ship, many would be surprised to learn that Mario does actually have a traditional-style property on land. He has a condo in Miami, Florida, which, of course, has an ocean view. "It is beautiful, and I love it," he told beyondships.com. He keeps the majority of his stuff there.
Additionally, he uses the apartment as the home office for his business and will work from there when he is not on a cruise. Once a week, the boat will return to Miami, and Mario will go to his base to drop off laundry for his maid. After spending the day home, he will return for the next cruise.
The Pandemic Strikes
That being said, Mario has made it clear that he does not necessarily enjoy his time on dry land. Like the rest of us, when the Covid pandemic hit, he was forced to stay put for the first time in over 20 years. "I didn't cruise for 15 months. It was miserable not knowing when ships would cruise again," he told All Things Cruise.
But it wasn't all bad. During the first lockdown, he was able to isolate himself at a friend's beach condo in Aruba. While it may have been the next best thing to cruising, he remained focused on his return to sea. "My first cruise back was July 2nd this year on Freedom of the Seas. Perfect name – Freedom."
A Day in the Life
As enjoyable as a vacation can be, the routine-lacking lifestyle can make people feel disoriented and uncertain. So, does living on a cruise ship feel like one long holiday? For this reason, precisely, Mario emphasizes the importance he places on having a routine during his life at sea.
Every day pretty much looks the same. After so many years spent on cruise ships, he's learned exactly what he likes and dislikes and where are the best places to do each of his favorite things. At specific points in the day, he's happy to act like one of the tourists on board - but most of the time, he's keeping to himself.
A Typical Morning
On an average day, Super Mario will wake up at 7 in the morning and begin to set up his boat office on the pool deck. Once the table and computer are in his favorite spot, which also allows for some casual people-watching, he'll make his first cup of coffee for the day.
Once the coffee is drunk, he'll head over down to breakfast around 7:30/8 am. After enjoying the breakfast buffet at a table overlooking the water, he'll head back to the pool deck to begin his work day. From around 9 am till around 2:30/3, he's working on his business.
Work From Home
In an effort to "stay stimulated" while permanently traveling and in order to help ensure a continuous inflow of cash to pay for these lavish cruises, Mario decided to set up a small wealth management company. Essentially, he manages other people's money from the comfort of a cruise ship.
Accumulating a small group of clients with lots of money, he's established a successful yet flexible side hustle that allows him to cruise comfortably. "It's low volume but high dollars. They pay me extremely well; they're very happy with my personalized service," he gushed.
Keeping a Low Profile
"The running all takes place on the pool deck – on a moving cruise ship," Mario clarified. "So, I'm trading millions of dollars of securities from the deck." But how do Mario's clients feel about him controlling their money from the comfort of a luxury cruise ship?
Well, considering they have no idea, we'd say they're okay with it! "They have no idea where I am. They think I'm in one of those office buildings over there," Mario laughed as he pointed out the window. "My clients are all international clients, not US-type clients that watch YouTube! I don't want them to find out I'm here!"
Work Hard, Play Harder
It's not all work for Super Mario! He made it clear to vlogger Alanna Zingano that while he works hard for his clients, he doesn't work 9-3 straight with no fun. "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!"
When he strolls through the ship, he socializes with the crew and guests, whom he is equally fond of. After his 3 pm snack, he heads to his cabin for a customary afternoon nap. When he wakes up, he heads to the suite lounge to enjoy cocktail hour with his onboard friends.
Front Row Seats
On that note, Mario uses his off-hours to make the most of all the facilities onboard during his off-hours. He loves to spend his spare hours and downtime by the swimming pool. The best part of this area for Mario is being able to sit and people-watch.
There are also some officially organized activities and performances to enjoy in the evenings. "My favorite show is Mamma Mia," he gushed to Alanna. "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."
Rule #1: No Dining Room
One of the most attractive features of a luxury cruise ship is the dining room - the best quality ingredients and world-famous chefs; it's the central hub of the boat. However, for Mario, the main dining room is the spot to avoid, choosing most days to eat his meals at the Windjammer instead.
"No main dining room for me," he told Alanna. "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."
The One Thing He Misses
Clearly a fan of the buffet dinner at the Windjammer, we would assume that all of Mario's food cravings are being satisfied on board by the professional chefs. Surprisingly, however, there is one type of food that is not available on the ship: fast food!
When asked by a fan if there's a restaurant on dry land that he misses eating at, Mario didn't hesitate with his response. "McDonald's!" he exclaimed. "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!"
15 Days On Land
For many, the best part about taking cruise ship vacations is the ability to travel to multiple different destinations along the way. However, Mario is not so thrilled about this part, usually choosing to stay on board the boat for these days or use the time to dive in the area.
Considering this and the fact that he will be on land on just the days between cruise trips, it's estimated that Mario spends just 15 days a year on the ground. These returns can be a tough adjustment. "I've lost my land legs, so when I'm swaying so much, I can't walk in a straight line," he told Condé Nast Traveler in 2016.
Exploring the Waters
As mentioned, one of Mario's favorite ways to use his time at the ports of call is to go scuba diving. In Mario's own words, diving and cruising are the ultimate combo - like "rum and coke." After setting sail on his first cruise ship and receiving his diving certification, he then trained to be a diving instructor.
He has now done over 2,000 dives, even outnumbering his cruises! Many fans wrote into Zingano's YouTube channel wanting to know Mario's favorite spot to dive. "Without a doubt, Cozumel!" he exclaimed. "It's made for diving; it's absolutely gorgeous, with beautiful reefs, colors, and walls. It's a drift dive!"
Breaking Down the Costs
The big question on everyone's minds is how does Mario afford to do what he does? Is his part-time business successful enough to cover the costs of cruising full-time and paying a mortgage on his home back in Miami? In a more recent interview with Alanna Zingano, he broke it all down.
Mario's overall budget to live full-time on cruise ships is around $60-70,000/year. In order to get the best prices, he will book the various trips at least 2 years or 150 trips before the departure date. In another smart move, he will pay for the trips with his credit card, earning miles to pay for any flights between sails.
Another way Mario cuts spending and saves money is by booking the cheapest interior stateroom without windows. "I don't do anything in my cabin other than shower, get dressed and sleep," he told Conde Nest Traveler. For this reason, this is the best place for him to cut down.
Solo travelers are usually penalized with a 200% supplement fee for sailing alone. For Mario, however, as a Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor Society loyalty club member, his price is capped at 150%. Another perk of booking his trips in advance means he can usually stay in the same room for a while and feel right at home.
The Hidden Fees
Getting into the specifics, Mario pays an average of $150 cruise fare/day. Keeping in mind this is specific to his chosen cruise ship line and route mix, this does not apply to all. It's also important to remember the taxes, which add around $20 per day to his spending. Tips will add another $14.50 per day.
Now at a total of around $185/day - this is what Mario will pay for the basic package on board. This does not include discretionary costs such as short excursions, liquor, specialty restaurants, spa, internet, or the casino on board. $185 multiplied by 365 days will give Mario a $72,093 minimum budget for the year.
Perks & Price Drops
One of Mario's best trade tricks is to book his future cruises while onboard a cruise. "You have the advantage of getting a $100 onboard credit," he explained to beyondships.com. But he's not spending his time while cruising personally dealing with this. He, of course, has a travel agent.
In exchange for the commission she receives on Mario's bookings, she is responsible for all necessary follow up. "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 noted.
Finding Love Overseas
Spending that much time on board with staff and passengers constantly coming on and off the boat, the obvious question has to be asked: has Mario ever fallen in love during all these years on board? Or does he bring companions on board with him for them to experience a day in his life?
In a documentary, Mario told The New York Times that he has fallen in love "many times on the ship." Not only that, "I've gotten married and divorced on the same cruise! By the time you get back, there's no alimony or child support!" he laughed with his friends in front of the camera.
Suitable For A Family?
On that note, Mario is the first to admit that if his life had worked out differently and he had followed the more traditional path of marriage and kids, he wouldn't be living the life he lives now. Although cruise ships are kid-friendly, they're not exactly the ideal location to raise a family.
"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," he told The New York Times. Although he said this with a confident tone, one can't help but pick up on a subtle note of sadness in his voice.
With everyone nowadays so focused on their futures and life plans, Mario is always asked the same question by those learning about his lifestyle. "What's next?" people want to know. Despite being on board for so long, the assumption is that Mario plans to pack it all in eventually and move on to the next stage of life.
When The New York Times posed this to him, Mario shared his thoughts. "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."
"Happiest Guy Alive"
"Adopting a cruise ship life is simply escaping from reality," Mario told The New York Times in the 2018 award-winning short film they created about his permanent life on deck. Based on his own words, it was titled Meet the Happiest Guy In the World, pushing the narrative that Mario is deliriously happy with his life at sea.
"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.'"
So, does the 'happiest guy in the world' have any regrets? Is there anything he would have done differently if he could go back in time? "At the beginning when I started living on a cruise ship, yeah, some points in time I had maybe some regrets," he said in conclusion to his New York Times short-film documentary.
"I thought, 'why did I leave everything behind?'" he confessed. "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."