The Man Who Lives on Cruise Ships

If you’re planning a vacation in the future, there are a lot of different options — ski trip versus the beach, sightseeing versus relaxing, staying local or going far, etc. For some, the idea of going on a cruise is nausea-inducing — seasickness, norovirus breakouts, and small cabins are dealbreakers for many. But for others, the idea of spending a week or so at sea, with all of your needs taken care of by someone else? That sounds great. But the expense of a cruise can be prohibitive, especially when you upgrade your meal package and amenities. For most, a week on a cruise ship is an annual event at best, and more often, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And then there’s Mario Salcedo. For him, the cruise ship experience is his lifetime. Except for a 15-month gap when the industry shut down due to COVID-19, Salcedo has spent nearly every waking minute of the last two-plus decades at sea.

In the early 1990s, Salcedo worked in a corporate finance role, based out of Miami. But Salcedo didn’t spend a lot of time at home. According to the New York Times, Salcedo “had been living out of his suitcase, traveling extensively for his corporate job as the director of international finance at a multinational corporation. He spent more time in and out of hotel rooms scattered across Latin America than he did at his home in Miami.” And in 1997, inspiration hit. It turned out that travel wasn’t the problem — it was the flying, the constant changing of hotel rooms, and never having a sense of “home.” That year — age 45, and single — he booked himself a cruise from Miami to Grand Cayman. And he fell in love with the experience. So, he decided to never leave.

Since taking that trip, Salcedo has gone on more than 1,000 cruises, the vast majority — at least 900 — of which are Royal Caribbean cruises, easily a record for the company  He’s on ships so often that he almost never leaves. As he told Conde Nast Traveler in 2016, he has bookings down to a science: “he books an interior stateroom [and] schedules trips around two years or 150 bookings ahead. That way, he can remain in the same room for an extended period of back-to-backs, as continual sailings are known.” He’s rarely off-ship — per Conde Nast Traveler, “he only logs 15 days or so on land every year, almost all of them isolated one-offs when he’s flying between ports or spending a day filled with appointments at the doctor or the bank.”  (The big exception: according to Auto Evolution, Salcedo spent that 15-month period on an island: “when the cruise industry came to a halt and he isolated to Aruba, at a friend’s beach condo, because it was the next best thing to being out on the water.”)

Salcedo estimates that he spends in the ballpark of $60,000 to $70,000, He pays the bills by working on the ship as an investment manager for a handful of high-net-worth individuals. His status with Royal Caribbean gives him two perks that help him do that remotely: first, he’s earned free WiFi (which normally would run him $30 or so a day), and second, and more importantly, he has his own semi-private little place on one of the pool decks. The ship’s crew ropes off a small area for him and places a sign near it that reads “Super Mario’s Office,” sharing the nickname that two decades of cruise line staff have given him.

While Salcedo’s lifestyle isn’t for everyone, he tells everyone who will listen that he loves it, calling himself “the happiest guy there is.” The reason? His life is simple and, in a way only an investment advisor could appreciate, optimized. As he told independent filmmaker Lance Oppenheim (in a video on the above-linked New York Times article), “I don’t have to take out the garbage, I don’t have to clean, I don’t have to do laundry [ . . . ] I have eliminated all those non-valued added activities and have all the time in the world to enjoy what I like to do.”

Bonus fact: Given how much of his life Salcedo spends on cruise ships, there’s a good chance his final days will be on one, too. If so, it’s likely that the crew will be prepared for that. As Yahoo! Life notes, “Most large ships have a designated morgue in case a passenger passes away during a sailing. They also have body bags and, if death occurs, they’re prepared to hold a body —or bodies — there until the ship reaches a port large enough for arrangements to be made to return the deceased home.”

From the Archives: The Cruise Line That Can Hardly Contain Itself: Another way to cruise the seas.