640 Cruises and Counting: Tips From Royal Caribbean’s Most Loyal Passenger

April 18, 2012 | By | 38 Comments

Mario Salcedo may be the only passenger you’ll meet onboard a cruise ship who isn’t the least bit wistful that a voyage is coming to an end. Why? Because “Super Mario,” as he’s fondly known, is Royal Caribbean’s most loyal passenger: He’s been cruising nearly full-time since 1997 for about 50 weeks a year — for a total of about 640 cruises to more than 100 countries. And the 60-year-old shows no signs of slowing down: Come April 30, he’ll be embarking on his 500th Royal Caribbean cruise.
We caught up with him on Allure of the Seas, where he shared five lessons for anyone considering a life at sea.
Book early, not late. Do you save more money by booking a cruise early, or by waiting to score last-minute deals? “The earlier you can make the commitment to cruise, the better,” recommended Mario, who keeps detailed spreadsheets of cruises he’s taken for the past several years. The stats cover a period of the worst global economic meltdown in decades, when one might have assumed slashed pricing would be the rule. It wasn’t.
In fact, 65 percent of Mario’s cruises from 2008 to 2010 rose in price after he booked; 20 percent stayed even; and 15 percent became cheaper (those were mostly off-season sailings). He stayed in junior suites on every cruise, 80 percent of which traveled to the Caribbean.
Crown & Anchor loyalty program members pay a $100 deposit to lock in a fare, ship, sail date and choice of cabin. Mario books two to three years before the sail date — or as soon as a cruise is open for booking – so that if the fare dips, he can re-price his cruise before making a final payment 75 days prior to the sail date.
Have a plan. Mario, who moved from Cuba to Miami as a boy, exited the corporate world to go cruising. He’d spent years travelling throughout the Caribbean and Latin America as a senior finance executive for a multinational firm, and the “dream became stronger as the years went by.” So he formulated and followed through on a step-by-step plan.
He quit his job at age 48. He tested the waters with six back-to-back sailings on different lines. He drew up an annual budget for fares, port excursions and expenses (amounting to $125,000, net of loyalty program freebies). And he lined up a flexible source of income to provide continued cash flow (he now manages clients’ trading portfolios from the pool deck).
In sum, says Mario: “You have to focus and really say, ‘this is what I want to do: I’m going to cruise for the rest of my life.’”
Discover your cruising style. Mario first tried Princess, Norwegian, Carnival, Holland America, Celebrity, Silverseas, Seabourn, Cunard and Costa Cruises. But he became a Royal Caribbean devoté after Voyager of the Seas debuted in 1999: It was the largest ship of its time, featuring cruising’s first skating rink and a massive horizontal atrium (today known as the Royal Promenade).
By last fall, Mario had cruised with Royal Caribbean 475 times. He took Navigator of the Seas every other week until the ship was relocated to Europe in 2007 and had sailed 100 times aboard his favorite ship, Liberty of the Seas.
The takeaway: Shop around and don’t settle until you find the winning formula for you. “I’d sampled everything, with no loyalty to anybody,” Mario explained. “But the crew of Liberty told me ‘We’d like to adopt you’: I became adoptable, and since then, I’ve lived my most memorable moments onboard.”
Travel agent vs. DIY. The veteran recommends booking onto newer ships, but he doesn’t always follow this advice. When we spoke to Mario, he was hours from embarking on one of the oldest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, Majesty of the Seas. A ship-hopper, he needs to be opportunistic: “I have a little hole in my schedule next week, and it just fits,” he said.
Mario has 120 open bookings through 2013 and delegates their management to his longtime travel agent at a small, independent agency in Cincinnati (thousands of miles from Miami, where he keeps a condo to use as a between-cruise crash pad and storehouse for treasured cruise memorabilia).
It would be next to impossible to juggle the complex logistics of his weekly cruising alone — and having a great agent means he doesn’t have to. Nor does it hurt to be his agency’s largest customer. “They need to take good care of me; otherwise, they’re not going to stay in business,” he said.
Answering the big question: Should you retire at sea? Mario said those craving stability, or the comfort of neighbors, friends, even grandchildren, may have trouble adapting. And retiring on land is cheaper than cruising — he figures that a decent retirement home in Miami would cost around $8,000 monthly. But his average seven-day expenditure is $2,500 — or $10,000 monthly.
“This isn’t for everybody, even though it’s everybody’s dream,” Mario told us. “When people say, ‘It’s cheaper to live on a cruise ship,’ I show them the answer is no. Is it more pleasurable? It depends on the person. You have to be liberated and totally independent from any commitments to do what I do. And as long as I’m having fun, and I’m in good health, I’m just getting started.”
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    Comments

    38 Responses to “640 Cruises and Counting: Tips From Royal Caribbean’s Most Loyal Passenger”

    1. linda sparrow
      April 18th, 2012 @ 11:30 am

      I saw Mario last week on the Liberty. One thing is certain, he gets a free bottle of champagne weekly at the repeater’s party!

    2. Monty
      April 18th, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

      Someone has way too much $ ! Boy, do I envy this guy, but if I had the dough I’d go, in fact I think I would live on one. What a way to go …

    3. Robert
      April 18th, 2012 @ 1:06 pm

      Is the $10,000/month single or dbl occupancy. does he share a cabin?

    4. Paul and Tina
      April 18th, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

      We have had the pleasure of meeting with and hanging out with Mario, most recently this past February on the Liberty. He is a class act and a great pleasure to hang out with. We look forward to seeing him again next near on the Liberty.

    5. Geoherb
      April 18th, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

      Sounds like a great way to live.

    6. vicki stinnett
      April 18th, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

      Awesome Mario! Kudo’s for you;) Enjoy, enjoy!!

    7. Stacey
      April 18th, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

      I’m actually surprised the cost is so low! I was expecting it to be much more to cruise in a JS almost every single day of the year.

      Good for him!

    8. Deb Kelly
      April 18th, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

      $10K a month seems low to me too…what cabin category is he staying in?

      Unless he gets a lot of “perks” for being so loyal to RCCL.

      Good for him!

    9. George
      April 18th, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

      So he is in a JS Suite at 150% Single Supplement. This is because he is above the Diamond+ 350 day level. So one could travel in in a lesser cabin like inside/outside/balcony for less cash. I think one could do this for $3000-$4,000 monthy. Plus all the onboard credit and other bonuses, not a bad deal.

    10. Beeker123
      April 18th, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

      If you sailed on Carnival 100 times, its free.
      with a loyalty program and amount of sailings, he should have a free cabin.

    11. Laurel Nickerson
      April 18th, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

      We cruised with Mario on the Explorer of the Seas in 2007 and my friend Ronna discovered that he is an excellent dance partner. Glad to hear that things are still working out for Mario.

    12. Pat
      April 18th, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

      I think if I had that kind of money, I’d buy or charter a small ship of my own, and hire a staff to run it. Then I could cruise when I want, go where I want, AND have family and friends aboard whenever I want. But, maybe he’s a real sociable type who likes making new friends every week.

    13. Ramona
      April 18th, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

      What a great way to retire! I will look forward to meeting you on a cruise someday.
      The sea is calling!

    14. Charles Warrington
      April 18th, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

      GO MARIO GO.

    15. william & zoila catron
      April 18th, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

      Zoila & I have sailed with Mario two times. We shared a morning smoke and conversation each day at the pool deck on the Majesty in Sept. ’10 and sailed together to Barcelone on the Liberty in Apr. ’11. So we just want to give a shout out,\Hola\,to a real gentleman. Zoila says, \thanks for the memories\. Mario is one of many great personnalities we now consider sailing friends. It speaks well for RCL’s ship’s personnel to have made Mario, \Loyal to Royal\, as they have for Zoila & I.

    16. SunnyRegards
      April 18th, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

      Now that is the definition of ‘Living the good life’. Kudos to you Mario.

    17. Cheryl Debenham
      April 19th, 2012 @ 7:07 am

      Congratulations Mario your doing what I would love to do. Im a CruiseAholic and have the time of my life at sea. I love going back onboard to meet up with my cruise family, and I like you have been adopted by the crew onboard. If ever you need company I’m only a message away lol. Live Life, No Worries Be Happy – Cruise for Life, Cheryl from CruiseAholics Social Group. Love to have you on my facebook page to tell my group about cruising x

    18. Cheryl Debenham
      April 19th, 2012 @ 7:19 am

      CRUISE FOR LIFE

    19. Dave
      April 19th, 2012 @ 9:05 am

      We did a B2B Cruise on the Liberty Of The Seas March/April 2011. We got to know Mario and even had dinner with him one night at the Captains Table. He has a very interesting life and is passionate about Cruising.

    20. EdNv
      April 21st, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

      Hmm, I am sure it would complicate his schedule but cruise lines have changed a lot since 1999 when he ‘stuck’ with RC.
      I only have 12 or 13 cruises but RC is the worst line we have ever traveled their staff all around were the absolute worst — Surprisingly Norwegian has proved to be the best so far with Holland a very close second.
      He is right about booking early, we always book a year or two in advance.

    21. Veena
      April 25th, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

      Wonderful!
      I wish I could be so adventerous.
      Happy cruising,Mario!

    22. Cherri
      April 25th, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

      You are living my dream, Mario. I am a retired educator. I cruise as often as I can afford. I’m making it once a year and loving every miunte of it. I always try to find someone I know to share the cost, and that is not always easy. I hope to meet you one day. Those who have met you are very complimentary. ENJOY

    23. Marlene
      April 25th, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

      Mario, we are a group of ladies from USA/South Africa sailing on the inaugural voyage of the Carnival Breeze on 3 June12 and we’d love to chat to you about your travels.

    24. alice
      April 25th, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

      I’ve seen Mario on the Liberty and know who he is, my friend is on Liberty this week and said Mario is on the transatlantic cruise. Liberty is one of my favorite. Royal caribbean is number 1 with me as well. 62 cruises – 36 with Royal Caribbean. Love them.

      Have another great trip and if you see Nancy with the blonde short hair – thats my friend this week, say hi from Canada.

    25. Robin
      April 25th, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

      Mahalo for all your information because my Husband & I can not wait to go on an Alaska Cruise for one of our Anniversaries!

    26. Danny
      April 27th, 2012 @ 11:35 am

      Pretty sweet.

    27. Annmarie
      May 2nd, 2012 @ 11:04 am

      Good for him. Living my dream! I also love RCL. Beautiful ships excellent food wonderful staff.

    28. Lenore
      May 10th, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

      agree with EdNV
      Norwegian is surprisingly fantastic. I’m cruising Princess again in 10 days but I felt the same way about NCL

    29. Thomas Farricker
      May 17th, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

      NOw, Let us See, Cruise ship——Nursing Home. Is that really a choice?

    30. Vicki Sensat
      May 17th, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

      Well Mario, you are living my dream!! I’ve been on 24 & would go even more often if I could find a cruising partner. I retired young also & all my friends are at work. :(
      I am SO happy for you. When I used to sail on Commodore years ago, I knew a nice man that sailed every other week. See you on the sea!!!

    31. Lorie Franklyn
      May 17th, 2012 @ 9:12 pm

      Mario is living my dream! My husband and I have only been on four cruises so far, one per year until this year. We bought a house last spring, and on our income, budgeting a cruise just wasn’t do-able this year. We are planning now for next May from Boston to Bermuda with Norwegian Cruise Line. We always travel Norwegian as every cruise has been WONDERFUL, we love NCL. We are not into arranged designated dining or formal nights, and we like NCL’s “Freestyle” cruising. Obviously Mario found “his” cruise line with RCL. It’s funny how certain cruise lines just seem like “the one” for some people. Cruising is our favorite way to vacation now, and we can’t wait to get back onboard with our NCL family.

    32. Lindsey
      September 19th, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

      Pretty sure he was on a cruise with us in February… hangin’ at the bar… livin’ the dream! I definitely aspire to be this person, lots of work to do though!

    33. Susan
      September 19th, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

      What a great story! This would be my dream too. I am another RC loyalist and love their service food and entertainment. We have just booked the Baltic next summer on Vision and can’t wait. Keep living the good life Mario, it suits you.

    34. Cliff
      March 15th, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

      I met Mario on the Liberty in April of 2012, his 498th RCCL cruise. I had a group of high school students with me that had do interview someone from a different country every day and journal the experience. After 1 student scored an interview with the Captain, another “trumped” him by scoring an interview with Mario. Mario was a consummate gentleman, and had an inspiring story that was shared with the class when we returned to Ohio.
      Cudos Mario, you da man!

    35. birgit
      September 5th, 2014 @ 10:23 am

      Hello Mario i now that you will keep Liberty home from Europa to USA have a nice and safe cruise i go on Explorer of the seas from Cap Liberty
      from Birgit (queen og Liberty HAHA)Denmark

    36. joseph blum
      September 10th, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

      mario,you the man!! i sailed on rcl ncl and princess.i have totaled 16 cruises.i just love each one differently.
      the best pizza is on princess
      the best gambling is on ncl epic very large
      the best fun was rcl ,why because i had lots of family join us.
      so!if i was by my self ,i could live on pizza and
      move in to a balcony on the aloha deck only,why,because i had a condo in maui for 10 yrs
      and loved watching the cruise ships come into lahaina.
      mario,we shall meet one day for sure.stay healthy and keep it going.

    37. Arubalisa
      September 24th, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

      Would love for CC to do a Mario update! Is he still cruising?

    38. Bill D
      November 22nd, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

      Mario,

      Loved your “cow bell” at the Oct 2014 sailing.

      Cheers!

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