Sunday, September 02, 2007

The European Dream Part One - Embarkation

It seems like this is the way I started my chronicles of The Dream last Spring… At least as far as my immediate location is concerned. Here I am, sitting in The Stardust Lounge, located on deck 10 forward. Since it’s the middle of the day, NCL is hard at work paying bills by hosting the umpteenth bingo for the cruise. As a matter of fact, someone just won, playing “Texas T”, a whopping one hundred and seventy big bingo dollars. But, outside, its much different from the Spring. Instead of sunny Mexico, it’s overcast and I’m somewhere between Denmark and England.

You might be saying “Huh? I thought you just moved to Los Angeles!” Yes, I did… What can I say, I’ve never been to the Baltic. And it’s been a few years since I’ve seen the Mediterranean. How did this all happen? Surprisingly, this time the story is a little unique.

First of all, for those of you who have known about my previous contracts on board The Dream, and even way back when I was on The Silver Cloud, understand that The Jean Ann Ryan Company is not known for their timing, punctuality… generally speaking they don’t give a fella a lot of notice. This contract, like two of the previous three I have worked, came to be a last minute affair.

When I was on board last Spring, I tried to extend my contract to The Baltic. And why not? I had nothing pressing to get home to, the shows would be (as they will for all eternity) the same, and I would be seeing some new places. But I never heard back from JAR HQ, so I made my way back home, packed up a few boxes, and moved to Los Angeles. I start auditioning for everything I could, and using the real world as my classroom, began my journey through LA 101. Included in the program are clinics in coping with traffic, parking, and patience.

Still, I was making some headway, doing a student film and teaching a series on how to play pool, which can be seen here: POOL. I had also sent out almost three hundred headshots to prospective agents, and after meeting with several (somehow a 3 to 300 ratio is pretty good) I found one that I liked. I had just made an appointment to go back in and discuss headshots when I get the phone call from Florida.

“Michael, it’s Kevin. What is your availability like for the next couple of months?” At least that’s what my voice mail told me. My E mail said the same thing. Now, I had already heard through the grape vine what had happened on the Dream… Two of the singers on board, the same two who were part of the cast that we handed over to back in the Spring, were not enjoying their time in The Baltic. So, they did what anybody would do in their situation. They started mailing all their stuff home until they had just enough to get by, and then walked off the ship, never to be seen again. No kidding.

But what about passports? Well, usually the ship holds on to them, but in some ports that we hit, its required that we have them on hand when in the country. And out of the few that require this, Germany is the easiest to fly out of. And that’s what they did… Walked off the ship, passport in hand, and flew back home. No two week notice… just went AWOL. So that put the cast on board in a bind, which put JAR HQ in a bind.

So I got the call, and when I was told that I’d be earning the same as I always have, for the past few years, I said no thanks. Yep, I almost didn’t go, on a matter of principle. I mean, I was in the middle of callbacks for The Full Monty, just joined an Improv Troupe, and had more auditions lined up. Still, since most of my contracts have been a matter of me dropping everything to save someone’s ass… Well, I felt that my stock had gone up… I spent that night wondering if I had made the right decision, and the next morning when JAR HQ called me back, this time the numbers made sense. And, as usual, I was on a plane in 48 hours.

Flew from San Diego (that’s where I store my car) to San Francisco, to Frankfurt, and finally in Helsinki, something like eleven hours ahead of the west coast. Had no problem with any of the flights, and actually had enough of a lay over in Germany that I got out of the airport and explored the city a little. Pictures would normally be here, but since my camera was in my suitcase (somewhere in the belly of a plane) all I had was my camera phone, which has no cord to my computer at the moment. But I went out with a couple of people I met on the plane ride over and explored a little, seeing an old church, a river, and a city square… all with my guitar strapped to my back.

“Guitar on your back? Why?” Well, I thought that since I’d have a fair amount of time on my hands in between shows, that I would bring it along and play. So I carried it on, with no problems, on my trip. I only say this because I did actually have one problem. Getting back into the airport in Frankfurt was pretty easy looking. Short lines, go through and they want to check my guitar bag… no sweat. So I unzip it, they look at it, then they unzip the side compartment… leaf through it, then ask me to wait in the room. Uh oh.

Well, here’s the problem, and your first picture (I know, I’m kinda chatty today… did you skim?)
Seems as though I could use one of these strings to choke someone, cut wrists, or… I dunno… STRING A GUITAR. Plus, the fact that it has a drawing of dynamite didn’t ease matters much. Slight oversight, I suppose. In any case, once they realized that I was an idiot they let me go, with all six strings intact.

So, back to Finland. I arrived in Helsinki after traveling for 30 hours. Yes, I was beat, but it was only six in the evening. I figured I had a good chance of beating the jet lag if I could make it until 10 that night. So, I got out my jacket and camera, and started walking towards town.
Here is my first view of Helsinki from outside my hotel room.

Walking from my hotel, I see a church in the distance.

Here I am standing outside the bay and the downtown shopping district...

A government building by the bay.

In the downtown shopping district.

Basically I just followed my nose. With no tour guide, I just walked wherever, trying to remember where it was I came from. Saw an old church (the second of many I imagine), the downtown shopping district, a small marina, and many statues. It was getting cold and rainy outside (10 degrees Celsius… cold) so I made my way back towards the hotel, stopping in a pub for a night cap that would ensure I would get a good night’s sleep. After a dark and heavy beer I trudged back to the Hotel, and slept the trip off.

The next morning I strolled through the farmer’s market, had breakfast, then got in a taxi and headed towards the Dream. I immediately knew that even though the itinerary was vastly different, the overall feel of The Dream would be exactly the same. This was because outside my hotel were two cruise ships. They were docked in such a place that offered a five minute walk into downtown, where I went exploring the night before. The Dream, as we all know, prefers the remote parking lot, usually one found in a less aesthetically pleasing industrial area. I laughed out loud when I saw her bow sticking out between my view of stacked container boxes and small water towers. I had arrived.

I’ve pretty much gotten the embarkation process down. Get on, hand over my medical (yes, the one that I didn’t have last time… having one of these makes getting on the ship a lot easier), get my bags checked for liquor (if there is a next time I want to put a gun in there, just so they can see if its one of those trick guns that hides scotch in the barrel), go to personnel for my ID badge and name tag, and finally move back into good ol’ 5269... Last door on deck five port side. The room was almost as I had left it, and after a little unpacking I was good to go.

Got refitted for my costumes, which as usual are way too big for me… it seems that the guy I’m replacing is something like twice my size. Still, Michelle, our costumer, got them all fitting fine. Now, since I’m joining the ship mid cruise, we had Country Gold the next night. So, we have a midnight rehearsal. Since this is my third time living the Dream, I have practically sang every song in every show. This time around, I’m singing most of what I did back in the Spring, and some of what I did back in 2005.

Country Gold was a piece of cake, singing nearly every note I did previously… with the exception of a couple of different harmonies. Did two shows that night, and had an awesome time in the process. Oh, and that day I also got a couple of hours in Stockholm, Sweden. With just enough time to get some lunch and coffee, I met up with my good buddy Tracey (who has been a part of my previous two contracts on The Dream singing) and her friend Villam (Shore Ex Manager from South Africa). Snapped some pictures along the way, and while I can’t say much about them, here they are!

A view of the old city from The Dream

Many of the old city's streets are narrow and have a colonial feel to them, with lamps coming out of the walls.

Another view of the narrow streets, busy withe people and full of coffee shops, restaurants, and pubs.

The next day was pretty much a sea day, landing us in Copenhagen, Denmark, around seven in the evening. During the day we rehearsed Sea Legs at Sea, and again my part in that show is identical to what I did in the Spring, minus one harmony, so rehearsal was a piece of cake (which sounds awesome, doesn’t it? White icing… and some fruit on top… oh, and a big glass of milk… sorry, what?).

We enjoy an overnight in Copenhagen, not setting sail until noon the following day. I set out with some of the guys in the band (Michael from Texas who plays trombone, John from LA who plays the trumpet, Dan from Utah who plays Drums, Sam from Texas, who plays bass) and a couple of Pax. Now that I mention it, this is probably the biggest group of Americans I’ve ever seen assembled in one place during any contract… and three of us from Texas no less! Anyway, Sam was the resident expert, and lead us down to the main part of town, with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars. When in Copenhagen… go to an Irish Bar, that’s what I always say! Stayed there for a couple of hours, enjoyed some Carlsberg Special, listened to some authentic live Irish music (yes, in Denmark… I know) and made our way back to the Dream.

The next morning I went out for a stroll, saw a lot of statues, including a famous small mermaid.

Not sure why, but a lot of folks like to take pictures of her

The locals also like to saw her head off, so I hear, but luckily they also like to replace it. Continued on to see more statues, fountains, and churches… I knew that I was defiantly not in Mexico anymore. Again, no tour guides, so I just took a bunch of pretty pictures…

Here I am with my buddy John enjoying a frosty Irish brew in the Rover at Copenhagen.

Okay, not a pretty picture... looks like someone dropped something heavy from a very high place.

Then it was back on board to set sail for Dover, our disembarkation and embarkation port. That night we did two rousing (yet still slightly nauseating) Sea Legs At Sea. I still get to sing NCLs official good bye song “Home Away From Home” which, like wearing a sequined captain’s outfit, is a guilty pleasure of mine. Which pretty much brings us back to the present…

It’s the final sea day of our 12 day cruise… and I’ve only been on board for five days. There are still many more ports to see, and I still have yet to revisit Rock This Town, the show where I sing the exact opposite of what I did back in the Spring. Tonight it’s poker with the guys… some things, fortunately, don’t change around here… Unfortunately, it still smells like a fresh fart throughout the ship. As a matter of fact, after discussing it with Tracey, we agree that it’s actually worse now than back in the Spring. Our friend The Dream is getting older, and needs to lay off the dairy.

And I believe that’s going to be all for now. Going to get cleaned up and have some dinner in the Trattoria. Keep on livin’ The Dream.

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola
(About to blow up the Dream from high atop Dover Castle... more on that next time)

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