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.”

10 Enchanting Places That Align with the Vernal Equinox

A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
A shadowy serpent appears at Chichen Itza on the equinox.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On Thursday, March 19, the vernal equinox heralded the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Ancient civilizations built calendars and observatories to track the movements of the stars and mark this monumental time. Now, people still partake in a variety of traditions and rituals to honor the day when light and dark become equal. To take your celestial celebrations to the next level, here are 10 places that align with the spring equinox.

1. On the vernal equinox, a massive snake appears on the temple at Chichen Itza.

Legend says that on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Maya city of Chichen Itza receives an otherworldly visitor: Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity. On these days, a shadowy snake slithers down the side of the god's namesake pyramid. As the temple darkens, a single strip of light stretches from the top of the northern staircase to the snake head resting at the bottom, creating the illusion of a wriggling reptile.

2. A beam of light illuminates a petroglyph within Arizona’s Boulder House each vernal equinox.

The Boulder House in Scottsdale, Arizona, looks like a strange home wedged amid a jumble of rocks. But it’s actually a modern house built around a sacred Native American site. The Empie family, who bought the parcel of desert land in the 1980s, commissioned architect Charles Johnson to transform the cluster of 1.6-billion-year-old boulders into a functional house. Johnson crafted a unique structure, incorporating the rocks into the house’s foundation and preserving the prehistoric carvings. On the equinox, sunlight pierces between two boulders in the unusual abode, striking a spiral petroglyph on the wall to create a dazzling piece of home decor.

3. On the vernal equinox, a group of Moai on Easter Island stare directly at the sunset.

Seven Moai gaze face toward the horizon
On the equinox, these Moai stare directly at the setting sun.
abriendomundo/iStock via Getty Images

People aren’t the only ones who pause to watch the sun slip beneath the horizon on the first day of spring. On Easter Island, at a sacred site called Ahu Akivi, a line of seven Moai—the island’s giant, mysterious heads—gaze directly at the point at which the sun sets in the sky on the equinox.

4. Each vernal equinox, light drenches a petroglyph-filled cairn at Loughcrew.

The hills of Loughcrew, one of Ireland’s four main passage tomb sites, are crowned by 5000-year-old megalithic structures. At dawn on the equinox, sunlight fills Cairn T, a passage tomb carved with astoundingly well-preserved examples of Neolithic art. As the light dissolves the darkness, the cup marks that dimple its walls and the symbols adorning its back stones blaze into view. The illumination lasts for about 50 minutes, giving observers ample time to take turns squeezing into the cairn.

5. On the vernal equinox, light streams through one of the Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples.

The Mnajdra Prehistoric Temples on Malta’s southern coast are archaeological wonders. They were built between 3600 and 2500 BCE and are believed to be among the world’s oldest freestanding stone buildings. Not much is known about the people who created these megalithic masterpieces, though it’s clear they constructed one of the temples with an eye to the heavens. On the equinox, the sun streams through the South Temple’s main doorway, flooding the structure’s major axis with light.

6. On the vernal equinox, the sun sits directly atop the main temple at Angkor Wat.

Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat would be a magical experience any day. Crowds hush as colorful hues paint the world’s largest religious structure with a gilded glow. Dawn at Angkor Wat is even more special on the equinoxes. Then, the sun rises behind the main temple before briefly seeming to balance on its tip like a fiery halo.

7. On the spring equinox, the sun rises through the entrance to Stonehenge Aotearoa.

Stonehenge has inspired replicas around the globe—including as far away as New Zealand. Stonehenge Aotearoa, which opened in 2005, was built by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. The structure is an astronomical tool for observing the local skies, and blends modern astronomy with ancient starlore. If you stand in the center of the circle on the Southern Hemisphere's vernal equinox, you can watch the sun rise directly through the Sun Gate, two carved pillars that flank the entrance to the henge.

8. The shadow of the intihuatana at Machu Picchu disappears at noon on the equinox.

A curious stone structure stands atop a temple at Machu Picchu. It’s one of the rare surviving intihuatanas that wasn’t demolished by the Spanish conquistadors. This “hitching post of the sun” is believed to have been an astronomical tool. At noon on the equinox, the granite pillar’s shadow briefly vanishes. Unfortunately, the invaluable object now looks a bit battered. In 2000, a crane toppled into the intihuatana during the filming of a beer commercial, smashing part of it.

9. At sunrise on the spring equinox, the sun bursts through the door of a temple at Dzibilchaltún.

Sunrise at Dzibilchaltún
Each equinox, the sun appears within the door of the Temple of the Seven Dolls.
renatamsousa/iStock via Getty Images

Though now reduced to a medley of ruins dotting the jungle, Dzibilchaltún was once the longest continually inhabited Maya administrative and ceremonial city. The star attraction here is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building named for the mysterious human-like figures discovered inside. At dawn on the equinox, the sun shines through the temple’s main door. It’s believed the sacred structure was aligned with the equinoxes to mark the beginning of the planting season and the end of the harvesting season.

10. The 'Woodhenge' at the Cahokia Mounds aligns with the sunrise on the equinox.

During the Mississippian cultural period, Cahokia's population exceeded that of London. In addition to giant pyramids, the North American city also featured circles of wooden posts, since dubbed “Woodhenge.” The wooden markers were likely used to track the sun’s movements. One of the posts aligns with the equinoxes, as well as with the front of Monks Mound. On sunrise on the equinox, it looks as though the sun is emerging from the enigmatic earthwork.

Lítla Dímun: The Smallest of the Faroe Islands Has Its Very Own Cloud

While some islands are known for their unusual geography or unique history, Lítla Dímun is notable for its weather. The island, which is the smallest of Denmark's Faroe Islands chain, is often capped by a lens-shaped cloud, making it resemble a scene from a fairytale.

According to Mental Floss's own Kerry Wolfe writing for Atlas Obscura, the cloud floating above Lítla Dímun is a lenticular cloud. This type of cloud forms when moist air flows over a protruding geological feature, like a mountain top. When the wind moving up the landmass hits the air current directly above it, a sort of wave is created on the downwind side of the mountain. The moist air falling down this wave evaporates and then condenses into a large, flying-saucer-shaped cloud atop the mountain peak as a result.

Another factor that makes Lítla Dímun distinct is that it's the only one of the 18 main Faroe Islands without human inhabitants. Visitors to the mystical location will instead find a thriving population of sheep. Originally, Lítla Dímun was home to a group of feral sheep likely dating back to the Neolithic era. But they were hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Domesticated sheep were introduced there around the same time, and today, farmers visit the island once a year to round up their flocks.

One of the few signs of human life are the ropes farmers use to scale the cliff faces bordering the island. Even if you have rock-climbing skills, Lítla Dímun may be dangerous to visit. A boat ride to the rocky shore is only possible when the surrounding sea is calm.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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