Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Dream Part Eight - Disembarkation

The last week… the last week of anything usually makes one think of things that he hadn’t done yet, and the importance of such compared with the scant amount of time left. In my case, I can safely say that I have done everything I wanted to during my two months on board The Dream, so everything that happened this week was icing on the cake. Cake? Where? Can I have some?

First off, the last week became very real for all the JARs when the replacement cast came on last Saturday (the 7th of April). These folks have been in Ft. Lauderdale (JAR HQ) for the past three weeks learning all the shows. Now onboard they have a transition week, where they watch us perform the shows, and rehearse and tech their shows while we are in port and after midnight. It’s a tireless week for them, and a senior-itic week for us. The only odd thing about the whole process is the invited runs they have, where we get to watch them perform the same shows we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. Its like giving a small part of you away, seeing someone else do something you’ve done a hundred times… But life goes on.

But, lets talk about the week that was… the cruise kicked off for me with a little Easter Mass. Held in the Stardust Lounge, the mass was at 8:30 in the morning, with about 200 pax in attendance. Led by a retired Naval Chaplin, it was a simple service… not a lot of extraneous talking, just the usual repetition with little of the pomp and circumstance found in such a mass on land. But hey, the important thing is that as a twice a year Catholic, I have fulfilled half of my yearly schedule.

Of course, temptation is everywhere, so once you leave the safety of the church, you’re back in the real world. This is doubly as apparent on a cruise ship. Think about it… After mass I walk back to my cabin. I do so by walking out of the Stardust, through a casino, two bars, loads of duty free shops, and by an all you can eat buffet. I’ll take two helpings of irony, please.

Then it was back to my room for a little Lint payback time. So, I click on the television set… think I’ll watch a movie. And there I was, staring slack jawed at “Batman Begins.” I haven’t felt the urge to watch any TV after that… I mean, seriously… “Batman Begins?” Pfffft.

That afternoon Andrew, Rashiff (JAR Dancers), and I hid Easter eggs for the kids in the Observatory Lounge. At first I was a little worried about the prospect of finding the eggs, since instead of hiding hard boiled eggs, or brightly colored plastic eggs, we hid about 50 pounds worth of those little non-descript foil wrapped eggs… the small ones that you can hold about seven of in your hand… the ones that you find in your car many months later… those ones.

In any case, we hid seemingly thousands of these things in the Observatory. Of course I am using the word hid loosely, since we were more or less dumping them on all the couches, chairs and tables. Here’s some pictures of the level of difficulty the eggs were hid with.

Afterwards the horde of about 500 kids were let in the lounge. Each of them had a cup, and once the cup was full of eggs, they were done looking for them. Much to our surprise, every egg was accounted for. I suppose that when you are pint sized, the floor doesn’t challenge the senses as it does us five foot and over folks. Here’s a picture of the kids in action. If you happen to be a small chocolate Easter egg, you’d better skip past this picture.

That evening it was a double feature of Rock This Town. Sad to see it go… we all had a good time singing and dancing our guts out. Both shows went without a hitch, and unfortunately that means nothing of interest to write about.

The next day was our dear friend Progresso. We’ve all come to appreciate this sleepy little town for it’s laid back beach atmosphere, coupled with the great food and dollar cerveza. So today, like any other, was spent eating and drinking on the beach… Until the postres guy came. Usually we say no thanks, or if I’ve had a toot of tequila (did I just say toot of tequila???) I’ll buy some Mexican chocolate with some cats on it. But today, since it was a special day, and since I am seemingly persuasive, Peter and I decided to chew a yard of gum.

Yes, Mexico is known for many things… but it’s three feet of gum is one of it’s best kept secrets. Of course, why would you want to savor thirty-six inches of cavity-inducing pink sugary goodness? I mean, you wouldn’t want to keep it tucked away for those special occasions when you have a graduation or kidney stone passing, would you? Heck no, you’d want to shove it all in your mouth at once! And that’s exactly what Peter and I did…

My teeth still hurt from this… but we did it, got all three feet in our mouth. I think it would have been easier if we weren’t laughing so hard. Funny thing is the following picture…

Here we are, choking down a yard of chewing gum, and here comes someone trying to sell us shirts… I’M BUSY CHEWING GUM! LEAVE ME ALONE! Seriously, I think we looked a little preoccupied… In any case a good time was had by all, which included my good buddies Peter, Natalie, Andrew, and the newest addition to the group Cindy (Port and Shopping Consultant).

After wiping the sweet nectar of gum and spit from our face and clothes, we laid out on the beach, caught some last minute rays, then bid a fond farewell to our friend Progresso. On the way back I saw an old friend of mine… She’s a sweet old lady who waits where the buses pick us up to drive us down the four mile pier back to the ship. She takes any empty bottles you have and dances with you. I saved a few for her, gave her a hug, and danced with her one last time. Didn’t get a picture, but here is one of she and I a few weeks ago.

The next day was Cozumel. Today we got off the boat, grabbed a quick bite of queso at a local spot we liked, then I got a small local’s tour by my friend Cindy. Turns out that she has relocated to Cozumel recently, and has a nice house on the island. Got the five cent tour, and then had lunch at the newly opened Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Food was surprisingly good, and the company was exquisite. Here’s a picture.

Afterwards it was down to business… boot buying business. I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, and a insatiable thirst for snake skin boots. So I met up with Peter and Natalie at a boot store, and we started our shopping trek. A couple hours later, Peter had bought a very nice pair of leather boots, and I a pair if viper boots. Aww yeah. Here’s a picture of my new kicks…

Then it was time to say goodbye to Cozumel… Before we left, we went to the square for one last picture… Here I am with my good good buddies Peter and Natalie.

That night it was our last two Country Gold shows. Again, not much to speak of… just two damn fun performances. Since the nature of the show is kinda loose anyway, there was a fair amount of screwing around… a little more yee-hawing that usual… and the addition of new boots to the costumes. I think we’ll all miss this show the most… I mean, after all, it was more than a howdy… it was a shoutin’ laughin’ rockin’ rowdy country gold party… tonight. Here are Peter, Andrew, and myself before we go on one last time.

Then it was early to bed so Peter, Natalie and I could get up bright and early and go cave tubing in Belize. Everything was in order… had our tickets, bathing suits, sun block (which, since we were going to be cave tubing… in caves… wasn’t all that necessary)… unfortunately that morning Natalie and Peter had some strange sickness… not GI, but definitely Montezuma’s Revenge… so I had to go without them.

For those of you who didn’t get my letters back in 2005 when I went, cave tubing is exactly that… tubing down a river through a series of natural caves. In order to get there, you take about a 45 minute bus ride to the jungle and pick up a tube and life jacket (which you attach to your tube because it’s old and smelly). Next you ford across the river (your eventual finishing point), and then walk for about half an hour to get to the starting point. You can then wade into the river, or jump in from about ten feet… after that you click on your provided water proof head band miner’s light thingy and let the slow current whisk you into two long and windy caves.

Not much history here, except that the Mayans used to think the caves were evil, and they would make sacrifices in there and stuff… but they made sacrifices anywhere for any reason anyway, so that little tidbit wasn’t a great big deal to me. Too bad they didn’t have big black inner tubes back in Mayan times… maybe that’d make them chill out about the whole “killing people to satiate the Gods” thing… Instead they’d be all like “Hey you wanna go kill Fred?” and like “Nah, lets grab a six pack and go tubin‘.” I think Fred would have appreciated that.

In any case, I successfully completed my journey, then it was back to Belize for one last beer at the Wet Lizard. Met up with Cindy there, had some tall cold ones, then back on the boat.

The following two days at sea were a mix of uneventfulness and preparations for our final disembarkation. I did, however, get to the bow of the ship for some hot tubbin’. None of the JARs were brave enough to get in the water (even if they eat, drink, and bathe in it), but I was able to snag Cindy to soak up some rays and a lot of water purifying chemicals. Here we are living the Dream.

You can’t tell, but we are in the middle of the ocean… Pretty cool little spot for the crew to hang out. After that, I thought I would display my own little version of NCL Style…

See, it’s freestyle cruising! That’s why all the fish are going one way except for the white one! It’s like “Hey guys… I think that big fish eating shark wants us to play a game of hide and seek! He’ll never look for me in it’s mouth!” You know, that sounded a lot funnier in my head than on paper… still, I leave it in… I see a lot of myself in that little fish, don’t you?

That night it was the last JAR show, the always elating, audience pleasing, and yet somehow nauseating Sea Legs at Sea. And huh, I actually have something unique to tell you about this one… Now, you’ll recall that all of our shows have a live band playing to prerecorded tracks of a live band playing the show. It gives the show a fuller (fuller? Darn near killed her!) sound, a click track for the drummer, and a chorus of back up singing for the dancers to lip sync to. This is all contained on a DAT tape, played by a DAT tape player… see where this is going?

The first show went without a hitch, but the second… Well, mid way through the show, right after “Vuela Vuela” and before “We Dance” the show… well, stopped. Tracey was on stage, ready to deliver the intro… but there was no music. At first, we thought there might be an emergency, as the bridge can override the theatre’s audio with announcements… thankfully, there wasn’t.

Instead, we receive word that the DAT machine went belly up. So, what that meant was that the numbers following that had live band accompaniment were played just with the band, and the numbers that were just tracked were skipped. So we did “We Dance,” skipped the very sexy dance number “Cobra” as well as Dominic’s silks number, where he swings and flips on these silk fabrics that are lowered from the grid (and is pretty much the real reason he does these shows… is for this one number), and went right into the finale.

What this meant is that Peter now had a quick change from We Dance into our Ice Cream Man on Acid Finale costumes… so he sat out of half the closing number changing his costume, and I sang his part with mine… then we all came together and sang the end and put SLAS to sleep in a very unique way.

After the show, Ricky, our Cruise Director and a damn nice guy, had a champagne reception for us. So we all got together, toasted out a great contract and all the wonderful friendships we’ve made. Here’s a picture of the entire gang.

From the top left is Will, Tracey, Adrian, myself, Peter, Domonic, and Sasha. The bottom from the left is Jessica, Charlie, Ricky (our cruise director), Natalie, Danielle, Andrew, and Natalia. All great people, and great friends.

The last day was spent filling out custom declaration forms, packing (which took all of half an hour for me, and all day for others), and one last dinner with the gang, which consisted of Peter, Natalie, Domonic, Cindy and myself. I would have taken a picture, but I had packed my camera…

But why would I end this blog so hastily? There is still so much to share! How's about a heapin' helpin' of videos? Sure, why not...

First up is a video I shot of myself the night of my thirtieth birthday party. A lot of us were gathered up in Lucky's for a celebratory drink... From Dazzles we could hear the thumpity thump coming from the dance floor. The following is a little impromptu music video...

Next up is the popular Fountains. On the last sea day of the cruise, the crew puts on a Crew Talent Show for the pax. Like I mentioned in a previous chapter, the talent show is put on by the room stewards, waiters, shore ex staff, etc... And many of them are very talented singers, dancers, and musicians! At the end of the show, some of the crew (myself included) put on the following... Many passengers, for better or worse, think this is the highlight of the cruise! Thanks to whoever posted this on the internet... I just happened to stumble on it while surfing today!

Finally in my trifecta of videos I bring you yet another slideshow displaying why you should never leave your camera with me... unattended I will take picture after picture of my ugly mug! Many thanks to Peter, without whom I would not have had such a great camera to take many pictures with...

And that, unfortunately, brings my Dream journey to a close. Hard to believe two months has flown by so quickly! At the moment that I am writing this, the Dream has already moved on… making her way to Miami, and then braving the waters of the Atlantic as she repositions herself to Dover for a summer of Baltic cruising. As for me, at the moment I am spending a few days in my hometown of Waco visiting family and eating everything in sight. Then it’s back to San Diego… life is pretty sweet.

I’d like to end this little ditty by sincerely wishing all my pals that I met on the Dream all the best. You are all fantastic people and y’all have made the last two months exciting and memorable. I wish all of you the best in the future, and I sincerely hope our paths will cross again. Until that time comes, keep on livin’ the Dream… JARs 4 LIFE!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola


Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Dream Part Seven - Beaches And Caves

As I approach the end of week 7, I am reminded that most of my coworkers are nearing the end of week 29. Quite a difference when you consider they have been doing the same shows for almost six months, and I am only getting at two. Of course, when it’s all said and done, my cumulative total will be nine months of the same show… but the year and a half break in between helped work out the monotony.

Still, what a week it was… Our time off the boat this week was very well spent, and we saw much more of Cozumel and Belize than we had in the past. First off lets talk about Cozumel. Now, for the uninitiated, Cozumel on foot is nothing more than a conglomerate of booze and jewelry stores. There are a couple of places to get in the water, but nothing that smacks of the phrase “tropical paradise.” Also, you’ll recall that last week we tried to get over to a place called “Bob Marley Beach” over on the northern part of the island. Thwarted by a taxi cab driver who demanded more means for the way, we tucked our tails and settled for Playa Del Carmen… but this week we figured things out.

After the formality of Country Gold rehearsal Peter, Natalie, Domonic, and myself jumped off the ship (and since we were docked, the jump was well timed) and headed toward town. First item of business: renting a car. Now there are lots of countries that are represented by the automobiles they manufacture… Germany has Porsche, Italy has Ferrari, Hell even Korea has Kia… While Mexico can’t claim the El Camino or Nova (Spanish for no go… hahaha), it did at one time continue to manufacture the old body style Volkswagen Beetle. So it’s no wonder that there are more black and blue arms due to a rousing game of slug bug in Mexico than any other country in the world. And we got ourselves one.

A white convertible VW Bug… a testament to the Mexican perfection of German engineering. Our bug was loaded with features like door handles, seat belts, and a pretend hand brake. But the important thing was that it cranked and got us places. Plus it helped that with the top down and four passengers inside, she was still able to go 120 KpH!!!
So off we went, pointing our trusty bug north, in search of water, sand, and sun… About half an hour down the road we found it… The fabled Bob Marley Beach. Nothing more than a restaurant on the beach side of the road, and a grass hut covered gift shop on the other, the place was colored in traditional Rastafarian green, red, and yellow. Had Bob actually patronized this tropical beach, ordering up a frozen lemonade and a cheeseburger in paradise from the menu that is nothing more than a painted piece of wood? Doubtful… but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the afore mentioned food and drink.

Afterwards we went and looked at the gift shop across the street… only once there our eyes were immediately drawn to the two huge friggin’ pigs sleeping in the shade by the building. They looked so comfortable, sleeping and snorting… So comfortable that I thought I might want to cuddle with one…

Okay, so I decided to keep back just a little… pigs they might be, but I don’t want to wind up hugging the one with an attitude and track star abilities. Still, the pig and I held a moment together… then it was off to find a beach and jump in.

About ten minutes down the road we picked one… it was the same one we’ve been driving by the whole time, but it was away from the assorted mom and pop restaurant and watering hole. Still, it wasn’t desolate since there was a fair amount of trash washed ashore… Luckily for us that was during high tide, so when we got there the water had receded and the trash was a fair distance away from us and the water.

And how about the water… The waves were huge… really huge. It took a little doing to get out to sea past the shallow section of the beach. If you didn’t dive through the wave that was crashing over your head… way over your head, you’d lose about 30 or 40 feet as you tumble back to shore. Diving through the wave got you further, but also gave you two sensations… One being the brick wall the water feels like on your head, the other being the perplexing sensation of playing hide and seek with your swim trunks. In any case, once out past the crashing surf, Peter, Domonic and I body surfed huge waves all the way back to the shore… Okay, so Dominic and Peter body surfed… I just caught waves that threw me back… hard… towards the shore.

After some vigorous exercise playing in mother nature’s spin cycle, we ventured out of the ocean to soak up the sun’s warming rays. And dammit if we didn’t look good doing it…

Yeah, that’s how we roll… JARs 4 Life.

After watching Dom do some back flips on the beach we piled into the Bug and scouted some other points of interest. As we drove along the north coast, we found some craggy land bridges coming out of the ocean. And we went and stood on them… Good times… standing on the craggy rocky points. Wanna see?

At this point on the map of Cozumel we had reached the Northern most point, and are now hooking back South, as the tip of the island is not that far across. Coming back down the south side, we found a pleasant looking beach oasis, and stopped in for some more frozen lemonade (no drinking on a show day…).

After enjoying our frosty beverage it was back into the ocean to let the waves take us to the mat for twelve rounds. Again Peter and Domonic body surfed, and I got beat to Hell. But it was great! At this point we had to start thinking about getting back to the ship. Fortunately for us, we had made a giant U along the North part of the island, and were now directly West of the city. So we piled back into the Bug, with yours truly at the wheel, and drove back to town. Before leaving… I had to make sure that the bug could respond properly to revving the engine and popping the clutch… It did. And it was good.

Back in Cozumel we had one last errand to run before getting back on board. We had to buy shirts… but not just any shirts… the “I Love To Fart” shirts that so many of you have complimented me on. Yes, I have excellent taste in clothing, and my friends are beginning to develop a keen eye themselves. So now Peter, Natalie, Frederico, and I have a matching set. And we took a picture to commemorate it. So now, I give to you, four people who genuinely love to fart.

As we said goodbye to Cozumel, we also had to bid a fond farewell to our four fendered friend. here’s the Cozumelian Dream Team…

Good times… good times… how could they get any better? Belize it or not, they can, and did…

This cruise marks the end of Frederico’s tenure with the Shore Ex department on board The Dream. While we are sad to see our friend leave, if only a week before us, he did give us one helluva time in Belize.

Our day started with a 1 pm meeting on Deck 4 so we can board the tender for shore. This time the Belizean Dream Team consisted of Peter, Natalie, Michela (Cruise Staff), Federico, Domonic and I. Now, since Frederico deals with the locals at all the ports, he builds a working relationship with some, and a friendship with others. So, a buddy of his meets us at the tender port, and we follow him to a van waiting just outside the port buildings.

At this point, Frederico doesn’t know what is planned either, so we all hop into the van and drive out of town and into the Belizean countryside. After half an hour we arrive at a dirt road, where waiting for us were two Land Rovers… and not the ones you see poking around in the states… I mean off road Land Rovers.

So Freddie took the wheel of one, and Peter took the wheel of the other, and off we went down an old gravel road, past a limestone quarry, around a mountain, and into the jungle on a beat up old dirt road with lots of pot holes, bumps, and other things that Pete and Fred aimed the Rovers at. Then we drove into a clearing with a couple of wood and leaf pavilions, a rope bridge, and a river.

Once assembled, we meet our tour guides. They hand us wearable flashlights, and we make our way into the jungle. After learning about some trees and plants that can cure everything from snake bites to diarrhea (and if you eat to much, it’ll give you constipation… and that ain’t no sh!+) we ended up at some natural caves.

Full of stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, bats, and spiders, we got a private tour of some genuine Belizean caverns.

We walked, crouched, and crawled through some really awesome caverns… some expansive and large, others small and claustrophobic. Here are some pictures of our spelunking trip.

After our adventure it was back to base camp for some fruit and rum punch. Then, after we were well nourished, we ran down the hill to the river. We played in the water, swimming upstream and floating down, enjoying more fruit and punch. But, since we are employees of NCL, every day must end on the ship… So we piled back into the Rovers, this time with Domonic and myself at the helm. Again, it was pot hole target practice, with the yelling and screaming matching the mud being slung on the windshield.

Back in the smelly metropolis of Belize, there was time for a trip to the Wet Lizard for some cold Belikin Beer. Thus ended two consecutive best days ever… oh yeah, you better Belize it.

Of course, it would be rude to forget our dear friend Progresso… Our laid back Mexican friend is always consistent with its plentiful supply of sun and surf. While in port, Peter and I got a massage on the beach from a transplanted English woman. Not the best massage we’ve ever had, but for $10 we got a half hour that include a thorough chakra cleansing… oh brother…

Still, the sun was warm, the ocean cool, the cerveza cold, and the company fantastic. And did I mention the Nachos?

Finally, as I end my progressive gloat of The Caribbean, I show you how Peter and I are constantly striving to lower our tan lines.

And that pretty much is what my world was like during week 7 of my Dream. The shows are the same as they were last week, as well as last month, last year…

Oh, there was this one guy in the gym… Don’t ask me why he said the following things to me… but he did… Anyway, he was probably 17 or 18 years old, working out with free weights, and said:

Guy: Man, working out on the ship is hard.

Dola: Yeah, but it’ll work you core out with all the balancing (yeah, I work out…)

Guy: Cool… Hey check out my fists.


Dola: Whoa… you got that from working out?

Guy: Nah, I punched a metal door.

Dola: Oh, I see.

Guy: Yeah, I’ve got anger issues.

And that’s all I got. Talk to y’all next week… my final on board The Dream.

Your Pal,

Michael Lamendola