Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Dream Part Four - The Pearl

Today I am writing to you from Lucky’s Lounge… just forward of the art gallery and aft of Dazzles Disco. I am sitting by the window, watching the clouds cast shadows over an ocean that is calm and grey in the late afternoon haze. Around the corner James is singing in his best Irish tenor in preparation for tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Our art director Ben has just come on the intercom to bait the pax into one more chance at buying one of his framed posters…err, fine pieces of art, in his finest cockney drawl. Plus, in just fifteen minutes the last session of giant jackpot bingo will take place in the Stardust Lounge, where a cash purse of “well over one thousand dollars” will be given away. All in all, another day on board the Norwegian Dream.

This week has gone by routinely, much like the weeks previous. The shows went well, aside from a senior moment where my feeble mind decided it would be best to sing the second verse of a song in place of the first one, as well as it in its rightful place as the second verse. But no one seemed to notice, since spring break is upon us. Our group of pax this cruise is well at capacity with over two thousand in attendance. And, much like a tool box, they are drinkin’ screwdrivers, gettin’ hammered, and goin’ nuts (and they can’t pliers themselves away from the bar… ahahaha… I made all of that up myself)

Our ports are just as we left them last week. In Progresso I joined my buddy Natalie (JAR singer) and her visiting mother and aunt on a two dollar convertible double decker bus tour. Worth an actual dollar twenty-five, the bus showed us the beach, some buildings, explained why broken bottles are cemented into the stone walls of properties (to keep wild dogs out) that the miniature water towers on each of the houses are really there to hold beer and tequila (un chiste!), and finally showing us where the children go to school (a school). But the tour did have it’s exciting points, especially when we were driving through the town and the man on the microphone told those of us sitting on the top to duck as the bus grazed under the cities power lines.

Once the tour was over, it was back to life as usual for me in Progresso. Grabbed a cerveza, walked to the beach, ate some nachos, and played some volleyball and soccer. Now that’s what I call a day well spent. In Belize (Unbelizeable) I got off the boat with my buddy James and walked into town and watched him attempt to deposit a check at the bank. Not only had it already closed, but they informed him that they wouldn’t deposit his Canadian tax refunds into his account anyway… Poor Canada, even the Belizeans don’t trust ‘em. The day ended with a dirty banana at the Wet Lizard, and chased with a Belikin Beer (the official beer of Belize, and surprisingly dark for the region). Oh, I nearly forgot… I took this picture while inside a hardware store in Belize.

You may not be able to see it, but the beer bottles have been filled with un-beer like substances and labeled with tape and a marker. When you reach for a tall cold one, think twice before drinking a “Sanding Sealer,“ a “Contact Cement” or the enigmatic “L. Thinner.” You’ve been warned.

Now, on to Cozumel, and the meat and potatoes of this little ditty…

Recently it has come to my attention that NCL has other ships in its fleet besides The Dream. It has also been explained to me that while The Dream seems big… it ain’t. So, to educate and inform on the difference between a cruise ship and a friggin’ cruise ship, I tagged along with Brett (our cruise director, and a damn nice guy), Andrew (JAR dancer), Dominic Dillan (JAR gymnast), Adrian (JAR costumer) and James (cruise host) to tour NCL’s flagship, the Norwegian Pearl.

Lemme tell ya, this ship is huge. Every other Cozumel we tender in so this monster can dock. As you walk up to it, the ship seems big… then as you get closer, you feel the ship is getting farther away, cause the size gets daunting. Then you get right up next to it and you realize just how big it is (and how small our Dream is). Now, I heard the gross tonnage of The Pearl versus The Dream, and I know it’s way more… but surprisingly the ship only holds near 700 more people than we do. What that translates to is a ship that has a lot more variety in places to eat and drink, lounges to entertain, and outside decks to play.

Here you see the shadow created by two huge cruise ships. You’ve got a Carnival monster to the left, and The Pearl on the right. Way off in the distance is The Dream… if you listen close you can hear it say “Hey guys, heard there was a party!” But the big ships just ignore it. Poor Dream… poor poor Dream.

Once we boarded and received our visitors pass, it was immediately apparent that this ship is big and new. It has only been in service for three months, and everything looks and feels fresh. It seems that NCL as gone away from the pastels they used on our ship, and instead have made everything dark and masculine… save for the Casino and various lounges. And, unfortunately, a common phrase uttered by all of us about a million times was “Wow, this is so much (nicer, better, newer, bigger, cleaner, fresher, gooder, butter, darn near killed her) than our ship!” Rather than waste words, let me take you on a pictorial tour of NCL’s pride and joy. Keep in mind that for many of the pictures, it was difficult to get the massive size of the rooms, but believe me when I say this place was nice and big…

There is a lot more to catch your eye on this ship. Take for example this bar, complete with a color changing water bubble thing.

Here we see the very impressive piano lounge. With seating for at least two hundred, it is flanked by a couple of bars, and sits below several restaurants, including a coffee lounge, sushi bar, and one of those places where the guy cooks the food in front of you and flips shrimp into his hat. While I wouldn’t recommend eating the shrimp after it has been in some dude’s hat, it’s still a pretty neat trick… unless you happen to be a shrimp, in which case you would get really hot, disoriented, and then wind up in some dude’s hat. Let’s face it, being a shrimp sucks.

Here is The Pearl’s casino. The room is probably the same size as our theatre is on the Dream. Plus, with all the colors and lights, it looks a clown threw up… but in a good way.

Then we made it into The Stardust Theatre

Now, I’ll make no bones about it… this is a theatre. While we have a Stardust, our signs call it a lounge… and for good reason, since instead of theatre seats, the room is stuffed full of cocktail tables, chairs and couches, festively colored in shades of pink and tan. The Pearl’s Stardust, however, must seat over a thousand people. It has two levels, and all the chairs are green and oh so plush. The rigging (yes, the theatre has a fly system) is all electronic. All the instruments are DMX (meaning they flip, twist, and change color on their own), and the stage has a turntable down stage and six platforms up stage that raise and lower six feet hydraulically.

The dressing rooms are three times the size of ours, and upon close inspection, the costumes appear to be brand new (our costumes ,once cut open, have at least a hundred rings in them). The shows are more Vegas style than ours, with fewer numbers and a helluva lot more glitz. Not to mention this particular JAR cast has BMX riders that (no kidding) do tricks on their bicycles off of ramps and things. No word if they also have to sing and do a double jazz turn.

Here we are in the reception area. Again, this is a two story atrium type place. With plenty of loungy type chairs, a bar, a second story with more food and drink, and a two story television, this room is what the pax are first greeted with upon embarkation. Very impressive. Then we made our way through a mile of duty free shops, a impressive photography gallery, art gallery, into one of the coolest lounges on the ship, entitled “Bliss.”

The room was fairly dark, but think Chinese restaurant chic (ornate red furniture and things with golden dragons climbing up the walls) long couches and beds all over, and VIP lounges with more beds and plush hideaways with televisions on the ceiling. Plus, flanking the club on either side are two pairs of BOWLING LANES.

No kidding, bowling lanes. The lanes were a little shorter than the real thing, but believe me, this was a friggin’ bowling alley. They have the tacky red and blue shoes to rent, and the balls are brightly colored and nicked in places… The only thing it was missing was pitchers of beer and some guy yelling “WOOOOOOO! HOT DAMN! CHUCKA CHUCKA CHUCKA!“ while tossing his hat in the air and moon walking across all the lanes. Fortunately, I had a hat with me.

Anyway, looking at the eclectic mix of hip hangout and bowling alley, it’s like NCL decided to hedge it’s bets when designing this club. I can see them in the executive boardroom at NCL HQ…

“Well, Stan, I like the idea of an ultra hip club, complete with beds and dragons and stuff”

“Me too, Herb, but I think we should include some bowling lanes in the club, just in case Edith and Merle decide they want to trade Grey Goose for Miller High Life”

“You’re right Stan, now our club is truly crossing borders… Lets go get some tacos.”

And so it was born. Now the only curious thing about this club was what was playing on all the flat screens. Keeping in mind the ship is three months old, and that everything in Bliss is new and cutting edge, does it make much sense to play videos from 1992? No kidding, I bowled to Snoop Dogg singing “G Thing”, that dude that sang “Informer”, Naughty By Nature’s signature “Hip Hop Hooray”, and some Madonna song when she had short black hair… Peculiar…

Then we saw more restaurants… such as their version of our Italian Restaurant, which smacked of Tuscan style family dining, complete with long wooden tables and old world charm. Then we saw their steak house, one of their alternative restaurants, where for fifteen dollars you can get a four course steak dinner (this is where I cried a little… I love you Dream, but at night when I sleep, I dream of all the steak I could be eating on The Pearl… please don’t hate me). Then their was their all you can eat buffet, which really got us jealous for a myriad of reasons, since most of us dine at The Sport’s Bar on the dream because of it’s quick and easy nature.

Now, the Sports Bar was in its inception exactly what it says… a bar. Then, later down the road, NCL decided to transform it into a buffet. What that means is that you have a buffet that was poorly conceptualized and is plagued with traffic issues (yes, traffic at a buffet), and a small eating area for a collectively voracious appetite. What really got me wasn’t the fact that they had a ton more food to choose from, nor the fact that much of the food can be prepared to order (such as a crepe station, several carving stations, pasta station, etc)… no, what got me is that the food’s quality was better.

As my companions can attest, much of the food at our Sport’s Bar is suspect… Take for example the hamburger patties that need a life vest in order to stay afloat in the lake of grease they are served in. Or the meat at our carving station that while is freshly carved, is dry and disappointing. And nowhere did they have food that you looked at and said “umm… No.” Sigh... We all piled our plates with more food than we are used to eating, and the only sounds heard during lunch were sighs and exclamations of jealousy laced with rage.

After our meal, we visited the Cruise Director’s cabin… yeah, it was nice. Took this picture on his television set…

Here you see the bridge camera for the Pearl. And once again, as if to make us feel guilty for seeing another ship behind her back, was the dream… “Hey guys, I heard you were playing catch so I brought my mitt…” And the big ships just turn their backs on the poor old Dream. They didn’t want to play catch with the stubby old ship… Why, The Dream doesn’t even have a big yellow water slide on her pool deck.

We concluded our tour visiting the outdoor decks, complete with several pools and lounge areas with more food and drinks. They also had a full tennis and basketball court, climbing wall, and giant chess set, as well as the prerequisite shuffleboard. Then there was the kid’s play area, complete with their own disco (which was about the same size as ours on the Dream… no kidding). Finally we made it up to the observation lounge, which was amusingly close to the size of our theatre on the Dream. They use it for bingo and stuff… Poor poor Dream indeed. Here’s a picture…

There was also the health spa, with its huge gym and oasis of a spa area… There are also saunas with windows so you can sweat your guts out while getting baked by the sun. Three months and no sauna related fatalities… yet.

And thus ended our day on the Pearl. As we were walking out, we came down a corridor with pictures of other ships, and there, in the middle of it all was your friend and mine… The Dream

While she may be smaller than the rest of her class, and too old for the track team, and yes even a nagging odor problem, she is my home away from home. There is an upside to my story however. Since the Pearl is so new, everyone employed there is working under a microscope. This is aided by the fact that there are security cameras EVERYWHERE, so Big Brother will know if you sneeze into the food. Not so on the Dream… we can sneeze all we want. You know, it ain’t so bad here after all… I love you Dream.

So that brings us to the present tense. I just got done doing The Fountains bit with some buddies during the farewell show. Done to some Enya type music, we all slowly march on stage wearing togas, and essentially spit water at each other… I hope to get a video of it soon and post it, as it is much funnier than I care to explain here.

Plus, tonight we had a Med-Evac. The Captain came on the intercom and told us to basically stay clear of any outside decks, and not to take any flash photography. Basically they air lifted a pax onto a chopper (we have no heli-pad… we don’t even have a yellow waterslide) and flew him back to Houston, which is about an hour’s flight from our location at that time.

And for those of you who wonder what we do to pass the time during those long days at sea, I submit the following.

Here is Peter, Andrew, Federico and myself taking a break from poker so we can blow farts into our hands. Not pictured is Natalie, who was taking the picture and rolling her eyes… secretly wanting to blow farts in her hands, but she’ll never admit it.

So, that’s it for this installment. By the time many of you read this, I will be turning, or have already turned the big Three-Oh. I plan to celebrate a day early by eating a great big steak and drinking one or two pints of Shiner Bock at The Texas Roadhouse in Pasadena, Texas. And, for an early birthday present I got myself another neat tattoo. I leave you with that picture.

Your Pal,

Michael Lamendola


My “World’s Greatest Grandma” tattoo is more than a memory, since I had it on whilst I was playing in the Cozumelian sun. A subtle reminder of it is burned into my skin, outlasting the temporary ink for what could be months to come! Maybe being the world’s greatest grandma is my true destiny.

1 comment:

  1. Happy St. Paddy's Day and Birthday Eve, you luscious man! Hope your weekend is dreamy and filled with all your favorite things... I'll be eating baked chicken and artichokes and carrot cake tomorrow to celebrate my mom's big six-oh day--enjoy your shiners and steak. Sweet dreams, Dr. Payne