Janice Sinardi had been in sales for Princess Cruises for 10 years when she decided at age 55 to join her husband in retirement. I had been working in the travel industry since I was 18, and I was just tired, she said. Working for Princess, Sinardi was tasked with calling on travel agents throughout western Florida to promote the cruise line and wanted a break from being on the road so much. Yet retirement, she quickly discovered, did not suit her. I was bored and realized I had retired too soon, Sinardi said. I still had a passion for the industry and wanted to be involved again. That’s when she started looking for a home-based travel agency with a strong reputation and solid support for their franchise owners. In 2008 she discovered Cruise Planners and by January 2009 was in business for herself. I spoke to a lot of my cruise-line friends and colleagues, and about 95 percent of them recommended Cruise Planners, she said. The company is affiliated with American Express as a travel representative company, and that brand strength was another attractive feature, she added.
There’s a home-made sign on deck 11 of Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas that reads ‘Super Mario’s Office’. Every morning, a dapper, tanned passenger perches there, quietly tapping away at his keyboard. An office corner rather than a corner office, this is the HQ for 65-year old Mario Salcedo’s investment management business at least when he’s not ballroom dancing, scuba diving, or smoking a Cohiba in the cigar lounge on board. While for most people, a cruise might be an annual vacation, for Mario, it’s his everyday life. Though he keeps a condo in South Florida, Salcedo has effectively lived full time on a cruise ship for almost twenty years, making him part of an élite cabal of permanent passengers. He didn’t initially intend to become a full-time cruiser. When I hit 45, I wanted to start a new chapter in my life traveling around the world that was my vision, he explains, from onboard the Navigator of the Seas, en route to Grand Cayman. But I didn’t know about the logistics, whether air, train, or sea.
Living in South Florida, he’d seen plenty of ships berthed at the Port of Miami, so he decided to start with a cruise and never looked back. Salcedo shopped around, road-testing different lines until he booked a stint on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas. It was the biggest cruise ship in the world at the time, and so revolutionary the first ice skating rink, the first rock climbing wall, so many elements that took cruising to another dimension, Mario recalls. He has not stepped foot on another liner’s ship since and is about to celebrate his 6,000th night with Royal Caribbean that is around 850 individual cruises. Nothing could lure me away from them, because I get treated like royalty, he chuckles, punningly, the captains all know me. Indeed, it was Liberty of the Seas captain Charles Teige who first called him Super Mario a decade ago, a nickname that’s stuck from ship to ship.
Salcedo budgets around $60-70,000 per year for his travels, paying for the voyages by credit card so that the miles earned will cover any flights in between sailings if he lived in London, of course, that could be a saving on his regular rent. He books an interior stateroom I don’t do anything in my cabin other than shower, get dressed and sleep, he says 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. Usually solo travelers like Mario are charged a 200% single occupancy supplement, but thanks to his status in Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society loyalty club, he’s only levied 150%. And though most cruisers gain around a pound a day when sailing, Salcedo has remained trim. I don’t eat like a regular cruiser. I skip one meal a day, and eat smart, he says. I do lots of dancing and walking. I only put on a couple of pounds when I’m on land eating at McDonald’s and Burger King.