Thursday, November 01, 2007

Livin' The Dream - A Look Back

At the time of this writing I am back in Los Angeles. When we last spoke I was about to embark on my first trans-Atlantic cruise. We hit a bunch of ports in Spain, one of which was La Ceunta, a Spanish port on the coast of Africa... then spent six days at sea, hit St. Thomas, then after two more sea days ended up in Miami (which, by the way is way more humid than it needs to be for late October... Even Texas has cooled off by now... What's your problem Miami?).

So, I could tell you about the things that I did while in all these exotic Spanish ports, but I think this time I will dedicate this Blog to pictures I have taken and stories I can share about the Dream. Now, many of you that read this probably have spent a great deal of time working on ships, and while my cumulative is a little over a year, eleven months of that were spent on The Dream... Starting in 2005, and twice in 2007.

My experience with NCL started with a phone call from the infamous Jean Ann Ryan office, which many of you know as my absent minded employer who obviously doesn't have a clock, or one of those desk blotters with a calender on it. After the ill fated Silver Cloud experience, I was asked this time to board the M/S Norwegian Dream for ports ranging from Cozumel to Ketchikan, and all stops in between. I looked at my calender for 2005 (see JAR? Some of us have one of those.) and saw that I was free, so off I went. I spent most of that year laying on the sand in Mexico, hiking up the snowy mountain tops of Alaska, and twice going through the Panama Canal, wondering what the big deal was.

But before I could see all those places, I first had to meet the ship... So, in order to start going to all those fabulous places, where do you guess The Dream would be? Docked in some tropical paradise somewhere near Mexico? Or perhaps outside of Juneau? Maybe even someplace further south in Central America? Hell no... I was first introduced to the Dream as she was sitting on blocks in Mobile, Alabama.

She was in drydock to receive a complete overhaul, from engines to carpets

I wasn't lying about the blocks either, although it's still about as classy as blocks holding up a rusty Monte Carlo in someone's unkept front yard.
And even though we call her a she, she looks like a he, doesn't she?

Now, The Dream has four engines, two large and two small, which move us around and generate electricity. The dry dock, of course, was to provide maintenance to the engines to ensure smooth sailing on all the cruises to follow... at least, that's what NCL had hoped for.

Katie, Mickelosh, and I were having dinner in The Trattoria during our third (of twelve) Alaskan cruises. The Trattoria is on Deck 11 all the way aft, with sweeping views of... well... whatever is behind us at the time. We were enjoying some wine and bread when the ship started to rumble. It wasn't the kind of movement that we were used to, like swells in the ocean, but a vigorous vibration. It lasted four or five seconds, knocking pitchers of water and trays off of shelves. And then, as soon as it started, it stopped. "We must have hit a whale" I joked... nope. Turns out one of our engines threw a rod and stopped working.

Thankfully, no one downstairs was hurt, but that engine pooping out (and the persistant rumor that one of our smaller ones never worked out of dry dock) crippled The Dream and her timeliness to make port. NCL had to drop back and punt, and poor ol' Sitka was dropped off of the itenirary for the rest of the Alaskan season. How did the passengers take it? In a word...


Now, let me tell you there are a lot of thankless positions to have on a cruise ship. You can turn beds all day long, or wait tables... but the worst of them all must be at the reception desk. That is the go to place for anybody who is upset about anything... and let me tell you they got an earfull. Pax wanted refunds, vouchers, you name it.

Now, I am sure that somewhere in the fine print of NCLs ticketing procedure they have it worded so their butts are covered in a situation such as this... but still passengers did some crazy things to get attention... and not just that cruise, but nearly every one that followed. Before one of our Country Gold shows, a group of pax got on stage and said their piece to our audience... got them nice and warmed up for us, thanks very much. Or how about the people that started petitions? They would walk around the vessel, spreading the word about how upset they were, and pissing on everyone else's vacation. We even had a couple come back for a second cruise to pass one around again. It was all great fun.

Still, I don't want to be unfair. Passengers did more than complain... they also slept.
This photo was taken in the Stardust, but I have seen them sleep everywhere... The Stardust, The Coffee Bar after some a nice book... even at the bar. But back to our engines...

My favorite story of the infamous engine that couldn't, though, was one particular cruise where we hobbled into Seattle something like seven hours late. Almost every passenger on board had to reschedule their flights... The conference rooms were setup as a nerve center of telephones, and free ship to shore was enjoyed by all. Pax could also take advantage of our internet service, but it is so slow I doubt they could get anything accomplished.

Finally, when we arrived at port, everyone got off, and a new group embarked, and they were probably wondering just what they were getting themselves into. Rumor had it that CNN was on hand with Anderson Cooper, telling the world about the floating ship of death as it takes another couple thousand people to their doom. But we made all twelve runs, and threw in some less visited, yet still... charming, Alaskan ports like Whitter and Haines. Oh, and for those of you who think Sitka is a must see city, because it was the first Russian settlement in what is now Alaska... it ain't. It looks like any other port town there... no colorful Russian spires, no signs of communism, no vodka. Just an old barn and a church. And just in case you don't believe me... here's the church.

Having now been to Russia, I am now able to compare the two, and can safely urge you to plunk down the extra dough and cruise the Baltic. Nothing Russian about Sitka, although once I had a hamburger there... and it was awesome.

In 2007 I was asked to return to the Dream to replace a singer, and once again found myself on the beach in Cozumel, this time with a hefty amount of beer consumed. Most recently, as most of you have read, the Dream called me back for two more months, this time to replace a singer who literally went AWOL in Germany. This time I traded the sun of The Caribbean for the wind and rain of Northern Europe. All in all, its been a great ride.

Since I was hired to actually work, let me start by telling y'all about my office, the Stardust Lounge. Now, the lounge is a theatre from where I stand... there's an elevated stage, a light grid, a couple of wings, some dressing rooms... the lounge begins where the stage ends: a shallow rake going from the lip of the stage up to the sound booth, with nothing but deep cushioned chairs and small glass cocktail tables in between. Also, and unfortunately, another reason this is considered a lounge and not a theatre is the lack of competent technicians running the show from the booth (for the most part, as we all remember Action Dan with great fondness). Here's the Stardust ready for a couple of Sea Legs shows:

"Why do actors always gripe about the techs?" I get asked by... well... Techs. Well, lemme tell ya... Those of us who sang on The Dream, especially this last time, waded through forty-five minute sound checks that should normally take five minutes or so. We tried giving the benefit of the doubt to the techs... "Maybe it's the board," we thought. Feedback was more prominent than the sequined Captain Outfit I wore in Sea Legs. Old ladies were literally lifted off of their seats in the front row, and slammed into the back of the house from the cacophony of noise coming out of our speakers. Some shows were more like the second coming than a shoutin' laughin' rockin' rowdy country gold party (tonight).

Skip to my last day on the Dream. I was packing up my room when I noticed a bag. It was left by a friend of mine, that was given to her by our last sound tech. It was full of things that he didn't want to take with him and that could be dispersed amongst the crew. Leafing though it I found a blue binder, which basically was a "How To Be A Sound Tech" instructional booklet. I leaf to a random page, and it read something like the following... "Sometimes a singer will sound bad from the stage. While that may be because the singer is bad, it could also be because of the gain." It then went on to define "gain" and how it works. Reading this book solidified our suspicions that Deck Hands and Room Stewards have gotten strange promotions.

Still, there is more to our Lounge than just its stage, chairs, and booths. Each show I have performed in my seven hundred seat office has been unique in it's own way. How about the audience? In spite of the myriad of complaints concerning the ear piercing volume from our speakers, young and old alike have enjoyed a nap in the front row. Could be the comfy chairs... maybe the booze... but we have lulled many a passenger asleep with our stirring renditions of "Rock This Town" and "Old Man River." Or how about the last Sea Legs we performed during the Spring of 2007, where the tape that plays the backing track, the one that the band and singers perform over, snapped. We did the rest of SLAS unplugged... talk about a plan B.

Now, another glaring difference from our stage and others is our lack of a backstage area. A backstage is useful for getting from one side of the stage to another, in various stages of undress, to make your next entrance, or to quickly jump into your next sequined mess of a costume. Well, directly behind our stage is the Deck 10 Forward elevator corridors. Separating the eager pax from us are two large, heavy fire screen doors. We close them before a performance in order to keep the pax out and give our quick changers a place to change. Not only are the doors hard to open for the uninitiated, but there are signs, in five languages, that instruct the Pax NOT to proceed though the doors, and instead to cross through Deck 9 and back up to enter the theatre.

Do they read it? Maybe... Do they care? Nine times out of ten, no. So, they open the door, drink in hand, and are greeted by the sweaty butt of one of our dancers, clad in only his dance belt, as he is in mid bend putting on the next outfit. Well, that's what ya get.

Then there's all the alternate lyrics, crude behavior, and horse play going on back stage that I can't mention here. I can say that it hasn't changed much since I was called to the office for it in High School, only now there's no office, so I don't get called in. Here are people's exhibits A, B, C, and D.

This must have been one of the last Sea Legs back in 2005... And the drink? Uh... water.

Here are Denise, Eric, and Michael... possibly seconds from going on stage.

Peter used to like to pick me up and have someone take a picture, but the trick was he didn't want either of us to smile... Even though it was his idea, usually it took three tries to wipe the smirk off of his face.

Steve and I getting into character for another heart pouding Sea Legs... are you getting the idea that SLAS is the show where we screw around the most? Look at the costumes... wouldn't you?

Speaking of which, let me get off track for a second and address the costumes. In Rock This Town I usually wore a tuxedo, which was usually previously worn by a giant half ape half man ten times my size... Still, with some alterations it would fit. Probably a little more strange was the costume I wore when I sang "Rock This Town."

I know what your thinking... Man that is a sharp, polka dotted vest... I know.

Moving on, Country Gold had me wearing more socially acceptable clothes, such as:
Here is Lyle, Eric and myself... a little too happy looking.

That's more like it... two brooding guys alone in a dressing room... wait, that's not good either.

Ahh... that's better. The lone cowboy, off stage right. That's the title to my new Country album.

Then there was Sea Legs at Sea... just the acronym SLAS reminds me of the sound the clown made when it threw up my costumes. Many of you have commented on the overuse of shoulder pads and sequins, some less polietly than others... still, while I agree, I have to say that when you wear them on stage... you still feel like a complete idiot. Here is my opening costume:

Now, refer back to the picture of Peter holding me up... notice that my sequined shirt is merely a dickey... or bib if you will. Also notice the insignia on the hat. That's NCL's old logo... just to give you an idea of how old the show and costumes really are. The pants, in case your interested, are white with a sequined stripe going down the pant leg. Ahh... what could be worse?

Answer: The finale costumes! They're much worse! From the sequined anchor, to the sparkly gold sequined bow tie... the gold shoulder things that shimmy when you walk... What you can't see are the turquoise pants with the gold sequined stripe down the leg. Cap it off with white shoes and you have one gay looking costume. So there you have it, while some folks wear a suit and tie to work... Anyway, back to the theatre.

Another glaring omission from our digs is the green room. We simply don't have one. So, we employ the Deck 11 Forward elevator corridor. There's really nothing there for the pax to do. Just a pair of doors that lead to the bridge, lots of plaques marking our first visit to ports of call, and stairs on either side leading up to the Observatory and down to the Stardust. We pull curtains on either side of us, locking us in a small area with the plaques and elevators. Pax who are constantly lost (even on day 15 of a 16 day cruise) arrive there, always looking for The Trattoria, which is on Deck 11 Aft. So, when we're not telling Pax where to go, we sit there, in between shows... some check E mail, others eat. There have been poker games, amateur chiropracty, and most recently lots of crocheting (seriously, and not by yours truly...). So you see, working on The Dream has its own unique flair.

But, as you all know, working on the Dream is something I do as an afterthought, given the immense amount of free time I have. For example, I was asked once just how much work I have done in the past contract... So I did a little math. In the two months and four days I was on board, I performed in 28 shows. That's four and a half cruises of "Rock This town" "Country Gold" and "Sea Legs At Sea"... Two performances each night. Counting the time spent waiting in between shows, and also including the rehearsal time which precedes every show night, it all adds up to 104 hours of work. I was on board for a little over two months... So, in order to make everyone sick, let me state the following...


So, just in case there were any doubts, working on the Dream is in fact a vacation from real life. Sure, I have worked many 12 hour work weeks in California... and I grossed about the same as one hour of work on the Dream. Sad but true.

Some of my co-workers have offered up endless entertainment as well. There was Billy, one of the many dancers we went through back in 2005. Something like 20 or 6 years old, his night time routine involved going to Dazzles, getting drunk off of drinks that were bought for him by crew and pax... then proceed to yell the F bomb to anyone who was walking by. On one particular evening he did all of the previous, and ended the evening by asking pax in the bathroom to buy him more drinks, and then punching out a light. Stylish? Uh huh... So stylish that after he quit, he was rehired some months later to work on a bigger nicer ship. Oh that JAR office...

Or how about another dancer, Eddie, who would call our company manager at 3 O' Clock in the morning, to tell him that he lost his bag. Or the time he called to say that he threw up on the floor, as if he needed advice on what to do next... There was the time Cherry wrapped Tracey's room in toilet paper and tampons.

Or the time Nick was told he had fog watch duty... this is a good one. At the time our Safety Officer was Matthew "Magnum" Conolley. The Magnum comes from his resemblence to Tom Selleck. His job, other than being in charge of all things safety on the ship, was to hit on every female on board... pax, crew... he never discriminated. On this particular occasion he targeted Nick, who must have appeared to be very wet behind the ears. While Nick was going through his mandatory safety training, he was told by Matthew that he was to attend fog watch training the following week. It was even printed on the schedule.

So, one night, Matthew marched him onto the bow of the ship, had Nick put on his life vest, and strapped him to the pole sticking out of the very tip of the bow. His job? Look for large rocks in the ocean that could damage our hull. He was armed with a walkie talkie, and was also charged with ringing the bell on the pole. And there he was, strapped to the pole, while everyone on the bridge laughed at him.
Some folks have also been duped into bringing a saucer of milk up to the bridge, because their duty was to feed the Captain's cat... there is no cat. Here's a picture of Magnum and I...

Marvelous... But enough about work... Lets talk about some of the other areas of the ship. How about the miles of red corridors that line both sides of Decks 4-8, and parts of 9 and 10... While a hallway may not seem interesting to you, it's where all the pax travel the most. And oh, the things I have seen.

Now, many of you have probably snuck out of your front door to grab the paper wearing a bath robe, or your pajamas. But what about on a ship? Does it happen? Yes... and I have yet to see a bath robe. Instead, old men wearing a wife beater tucked into their BVDs walk out of their room to hang the room service menu on their door. Or the guy with the belly so big I could barely see the boxers hanging from his body, complete with sock lines still fresh from his night out... rearranging his suitcase for disembarkation the following morning.

Or what about the folks coming from one of our many bars? The booze flows like wine on The Dream, and our bar staff makes sure that we lose several tons of weight from our stacks of bottles to your mouth, all to be dispensed of outside the 16 mile barrier (that's called black water, because it's mostly poo and pee...). It's been said that the best way to combat rocky seas is to drink lots of hooch, therefore canceling out your stumbling with the motion of the ocean. This is why rails run the entire length of our pax corridors, and also why there is nothing sharp on the walls. I've been told I was "GGGGrrrrreeeeeaaaaat!" by many inebriated pax, seen my friends serenaded (by other drunk pax), and smelled the end result of too much sea and booze at once. Then there was Spring Break, 2007. Instead of retelling, let me pull from one of my earlier blogs...

March is upon us now, and spring is in the air… The snow is beginning to thaw, trees are blossoming, the birds chirp and sing… and on board the Norwegian Dream its one big friggin’ boozed up spring drink stagger-a-poloza! Come one come all, and join us as this once majestic cruise liner magically transforms into a party barge! The Gulf of Mexico becomes more of a Lake Travis as the median age of our passengers plummets from 52 to 41 this cruise, and by next cruise about seven hundred people will be between the ages of 18 and 26. The times they are a changing’ around here. Even the first night of this cruise there was a feeling of transition on board…

Not my cabin, but one of the passengers’ down the hall from mine. If this boat’s a rockin’… Still, for every night there must be a day, and the next morning as I was walking out that very same corridor the sock was replaced by the unmistakable smell of pee. Ahh… pee… As a matter of fact, the smell of pee lingered heavily in that general area for several days. Sometime yesterday, I think, they finally steamed the carpet, but the gentle aroma lingers… of pee.

There was so much drinking going on, both off and on the ship, that the medical center was busier than during our Panama Canal cruise. Wheelchairs were employed for the clinically inebriated, hospital beds were used for the pumping of stomachs, and the waiting room was full of Senor Frog's blue ribbon holders. I think this is why ports like Cozumel appear to be so clean... just when they get too sick to drink, they get packed on board a ship to vomit and pee to their hearts content.

Maybe New Orleans should take example from all of this... Having been there several times, I can safely tell you that pee is the city's official smell. Here is a picture of a passed out drunk passenger, complete with huge-ass sombrero and Mexican blanket, fresh from the shores of Cozumel. Asleep in our lobby, Michael and I took several pictures with our unsuspecting borracho. Oh, and in case your wondering, Michael is holding two loaves of delicious pumpkin bread, made by the wife of Sam Greisbaum, a very funny comedian who cruised with us for awhile.

Still, I can't say the passengers are solely the source of literary inspiration in the vast red miles on the Dream. What about the crew? Well, most recently there was a poker game in 5269 that ended with a chair being taken out of my room and swapped with another that was down the hall. Steve was the chair carrier in question, and after he had made the switch, I felt a tap on my shoulder... security. He told us to put the chair back. And so we did. This particular security guard had no shortage of high five's for me before that moment... afterwards, I never received another high five. I later realized that I successfully upheld the fleet wide fact that JARs are a lousy bunch of hooligans. Here's Steve doing his thing...

Other hallway stories involve sitting outside JAR row, 5266-5269, directly in view of all the other pax cabins, having conversations and drinking. Then there was the legendary night where a very drunk Peter and Natalie decided to have it out in the hallway (let me remind you, a pax hallway). Phones were thrown, things were yelled, punches were traded. I was two doors down and slept right through it. The pax that called it in to security was obviously not asleep. Luckily, the two of them somehow escaped being fired, and had their blue card status taken away for a month. I was there the day they got their cards returned... They celebrated by going out to Mexico and drinking. Here's two happy parolees, blue cards in hand for the first time in a month.

Speaking of drinking, what about all the bars on board the ship? I was sitting in the Coffee Bar a couple of weeks ago, trying to count all of the watering holes the ship has... Let's see...

1. Dazzles Disco
2. Lucky's
3. The Coffee Bar (yep... liquor with your coffee... a winning combination)
4. The Rendezvous Bar
5. The Observatory Lounge
6. Topsiders Bar
7. The Pool Bar
8. That other bar outside the Pizzeria

Of course, you can get liquor in any of the restaurants, as well as the Stardust, but I believe we have eight bars for the pax (the crew bar, of course, is only for us. If they only knew what they could pay for that six dollar bottle of beer...).

The Rendezvous bar is probably the bastard kid step brother of all the other bars on the ship. It sits outside The Four Seasons Restaurant, only to be hidden by the throng of people wanting to eat right at 5:30 in the evening. I don't think a single drink has ever been served there, nor has anyone uttered the cute phrase "Hey! Lets Rendezvous at 6 O'clock... Where? Outside the Rendezvous Bar of course! Tee Hee!" That's a shame. If I ever come back as a pax, I'm going to say that everyday, to strangers. I might even say it today.

Then there's all the bars on the pool decks... Three of them... Topsider's, The Pool Bar (where it's patrons sit in the water), and that other bar by the Pizzeria. These places stay fairly busy during the day, and the really dedicated drinker will linger there late into the evening, when the ocean sends up its icy gusts of wind, freezing everyone working there. But there they sit, the pax warm from all the fruity mixed drinks and beer, sitting in their swim trunks and swapping stories.

How about the Coffee Bar? It's generally a nice place to relax, listen to some light piano, and have a conversation and a drink before dinner. Tracey (a good buddy of mine who has been in every contract I have worked on The Dream, and many more that I haven't... the poor, poor girl) and I have spent many sea days having what amounts to an admirable attempt at cappuccino, swapping stories of contract's past, current contract's exploits, and why the Hell Jean Ann Ryan still hires the people they do. Actually, that's not true... the cappuccino is sometimes so awful, it's less of an attempt at coffee, and more of an attempt to get us to drink warm, dirty bilge water. I secretly believe that somewhere in the ceiling is a closed circuit camera that pipes our image to the Bridge, giving them entertainment while they steer the ship... All the while saying things like "Look... their drinking that warm, dirty bilge water! Lars, you owe me fifty Kronner!"

Still, out of all the bars there, Dazzles is by far the most popular... Not because it is an awesome place to have a drink, but more because it's the best of what the ship has to offer. There's a bar on one side, a small dance floor on the other, with couches, seats, and cocktail tables on all sides. Most nights the DJ is hard at work spinning tunes for no one in particular, since most the folks who cruise with us are asleep by eight. Sometimes the place is open until three in the morning, but that usually happens when we are off the coast of Mexico. Other times the only reason it stays open is because of all the crew who got permission to go to Dazzles for a drink that evening. Here's a picture...

Still, the nights in Dazzles that I remember the most came about during my run on the Dream in 2005. Let's see... There was the night that about twenty pax and some of us JARs had a night of Tequila... which ended in my being escorted back to my room by one JAR and one pax, complete with the undressing and putting to bed, trashcan safely at my side. Here's a picture of us bright eyed and only one shot in... Pictured from left to right are Michael (pax), myself, Michael (dancer), Kane (pax), and Udi (gymnast).

Then there was the time that a bunch of pax and some of us JARs decided to play spin the bottle... thankfully the same night that security decided to not include Dazzles in their rounds. There was Fernando, my favorite waiter, who would bring me drinks before I would ask for them, and never seem to charge me.

Or the many nights I spent with all my buds from the ship, thinking of creative new acronyms for NCL (Nobody Cares Lady) and STYLE (Sex 'Till Your Last Erection), talking about women, shore leave, and what went wrong with the last show. There were toasts (Here's to your health, your lover, and extra spending money!), old sayings ("What are ya, new?" and "In times of war, every hole is a trench."), and the retelling of ship stories, like the infamous story of the Cruise Director on board The Pearl who got fired after getting caught with a passenger IN THE CHAPEL doing the nasty. Now that's Style.

Then there's the crew bar.

Located in the middle of Deck 3, safely away from the droning and complaining pax. Here crew gather after a hard day of waiting tables, turning beds, and listening to the pax complain about the weather in port, and have a tall cold one... or ten. Two things make this bar unique to any other I have bellied up to. One is that beer is generally a dollar, and bottles of wine are something like five. Secondly, when you go up to get your drink, you order as much as you want, partly I think because the service is so freakin' slow. So, you show up, get a six pack of Corona, some Heineken, and some Cheetos... pay about ten bucks, and bring it back to your pals at the table. Usually by the time it's gone, more has arrived, and so on and so forth. At two in the morning (and not a minute later) security comes in a turns on the lights, kicking us out.

I never really hung out there much in the past, as up until recently it was a smoking bar. Now, I am not being a priss, but two minutes in there and from your clothes to your hair, you smelled like cigarettes... and not those weird clove ones... no, you smelled like smoke and beer. Recently the ship became a mostly non smoking vessel, which included the crew bar. So, that's where I ended up most nights... drinking with my friends, learning Spanish, dancing, and drinking. The other day my liver sent me a card, thanking me for getting off the ship.

So, now you know (in case you didn't) that drinking is to cruise ships as popcorn is to movies... but what about the food? Well, we have six restaurants to serve you.

1. The Sports Bar
2. The Four Seasons
3. The Terraces
4. The Trattoria
5. Le Bistro (which is French for The Bistro)
6. The Pizzeria

Okay, lets get the disgusting part out of the way first. The Sports Bar and The Pizzaria are "serve yourself" restaurants. And all of us have witnessed pax serving themselves with their bare hands.

And not something innocent like a piece of fruit, or a roll far away from other encroaching pieces of bread... No no... they will employ their hand as a human crane and grab fistfuls of French fries (say that five times fast), cookies, and other things with tongs in clear sight. Why is this such a big deal? GI my friends... Gastro Intestinal... You get it by passing germs from hand to mouth, more or less, with a carrier like a hand rail, an elevator button, or... wait for it... FOOD. When GI attacks, you'll do nothing but poop... and then the ship will quarantine you for THREE DAYS. And sometimes it becomes an epidemic... a few people become dozens in no time flat, and ship evacuations have occurred because of it... no joke.

So, that being said, how often have I seen people use their empty water bottles at the juice dispenser... with the mouth of the bottle all over the orange juice nozzle? Lots... People grabbing food with their bare hands? Tons... Plus, people put up a fight when they enter a restaurant, the Sports Bar in particular, when they're asked to sanitize their hands. "I'm allergic" I heard one pax say when another pax called him on it. Please people... sanitize, and quit using your hands when getting food. I don't want to poop for three days because of you.

Pooping aside, our restaurants seem to attract people who like to stand in front of the food, many times without plates, and mumble the names of the food to each other... I don't think they're there to actually eat, but just to stand in my way so I can't. Again, I think the Captain is behind all of this, commissioning them to hold up my dinner for a free tour of the bridge.

The Four Seasons and The Terraces are two separate restaurants at opposite ends of Deck 9, with the same menu. They open at 5:30 PM, and as if there is some kind of blue plate special, the pax form a line that almost meets in the middle of the two restaurants. They must eat, and they must eat NOW! Something I have noticed about these places, including The Trattoria, is that every other table is next to a serving station, which consists of a metal surface and some metal drawers. While they appear to be there to hold fresh plates and silverware, their real purpose is to be clanged and slammed as loud as possible, giving everyone in earshot a headache. And since there are literally dozens of these things in each restaurant, you are guaranteed a throbbin' noggin' to go with your overfed belly.

The Trattoria is the most mispronounced place to eat on the entire ship... The folks who come to visit us on Deck 11 Forward, step out of the elevator, look around confused, and ask us where the Trat-o-ria is. The Trat-o-ria also features Nino, the Maitre De. I was never sure if he said this to the pax, but every time one of the crew would ask him how he was doing, he would reply "Sexy, as usual." No matter where or when you asked him... the crew bar, out in port... "Sexy, as usual." I suppose that's better than saying something like "good." Nah, his is more inspiring.

Finally, let me take a moment and mention Le Bistro. French for "The Bistro, " (ahh, that gem never gets old) it is the ship's only alternative restaurant. For fifteen dollars you can eat a meal that would cost you seventy plus on land, wine not included. The restaurant is small and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the other places. The only chink in the armor is something maybe only I can notice.

If you are there celebrating an anniversary, or with a loved one in general, all the wait staff will gather around your table and sing the always popular "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Come on, you know it... that turn of the century American folk tune that still gets air play on Clear Channel's Top 40 stations... The lyrics go something like this:
Let me call you sweetheart, I'm in love with you
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too
Keep your love light showing and your eyes so true
Let me call you sweetheart I'm in love with you
So, what's wrong with this? By itself, not much, I'll admit. But when you are there for a couple of hours and hear the song five times? It must be standard reading for the people that work there... and the quality of the song itself? Remember the end of The Christmas Story? When they are at the Chinese restaurant? If you were at Le Bistro and you ordered the duck, call yourself Ralphie and ask for a Red Rider next Christmas. Still, the escargot is marvelous.

Oh, and the Pizzaria... I can only say one thing... The pax aren't the only things on board that need life vests to stay afloat... seriously, I have never seen so much grease in one tray of food in my life. Am I a cynic? Not after the years of artery clogging taco stand food I have greedily eaten in my life... After hundreds and hundreds of carne asada fries and burritos, I still won't go near that stuff.

Still, the pax do more than eat and drink on the ship... they also fart... a lot. I am sure that if you have read any of my previous entries, you realize that the common thread, besides The Dream, loads of run on sentences, parentheticals (and ellipses)... is farting. Luckily, I find farting funnier the older I get, even when it is I who has gotten farted on. There was the time not so long ago when Tracey got farted on in the theatre, and she was only three feet behind the pax in question. Or the times I have been farted on waiting in line to get back on the ship. Or ALL THE TIMES I have smelled farts walking down the pax corridors... you see, the exhaust vent from the bathroom feeds directly out to the hallway... Now that's Norwegian engineering. Hey, there's even a huge vent letting go of noxious fumes on the starboard side of the outdoor Promenade deck... and the worst part is that the pax will just stand there, looking out onto the vast ocean, breathing in the smells of poop. How do you explain that?

Still, there was one time when I got back at them. It was back in 2005, and I had stepped into a pax elevator. Behind me were two shoppies... I hit 5. On deck 9 a pax got in and pressed 4. Now for whatever reason I was inspired to make my very realistic fart noise with my mouth... so I did. She immediately turned and gave me an evil glare, and when the lift stopped early on deck 7, she got out. I felt I had truly accomplished something, and the shoppies couldn't control their laughter. It was a good day.

But, my all time favorite fart story (concerning The Dream... I probably have many others in different subjects... yeah, I'm quite a catch) happened during a performance of Country Gold. It was back in the Spring of 2007, and we were finishing the opening number. After that number is finished, there is about three seconds of silence in the track and a blackout on stage. Dancers are repositioning for the next song, "Man I Feel Like A Woman." Then the chords start, lights up, and Tracey starts to descend the stage left staircase, singing. It goes this way every show, except for this one time...

Let me preface this by explaining our microphones for this show. They are head mikes, worn around the back of the head, with the boom sitting right in front of you mouth. Now, since I sing in the opening, and introduce Tracey's song, my mic is on the whole time. So, the opening song ended, the audience is cheering, and I get inspired... PPPPPPFFFFFFFTTTTT! Right into the mic, which again is resting immediately outside my mouth. The sound of my fart reverberated through our monitors, crystal clear. It was also broadcasted out to the house, who by now had probably stopped clapping and were saying to each other "What was that?" knowing full well what it sounded like.

The music starts, the lights come up, and everyone on stage can't keep a straight face. Through the entire number people are chuckling to themselves, and to me. It was great fun. After the show, Tracey came to me and politely asked me not to fart during a show again. Hey, I didn't know there was a rule against that! She then told me how funny it was, but she had to uphold her company manager status. And I stayed true to our agreement, never more farting in Country Gold. No, from then on I only farted during the end of "Home Away From Home."

All right, I am sure most of you have skimmed down to this point... Hey, I don't blame ya. So, why don't I stop typing and show ya some of my favorite photos taken while on board The Dream. Who knows, you might be in them... dressed like a woman, or holding me in the dressing room while I put on my makeup...

Lets start with my contract in 2005.

Michael and I, somewhere in the Caribbean, on the mooring deck.

Enjoying a guys night out with Udi, Lyle, and Mickelosh.

Michael, Udi, and myself taking in the Hubbard Glacier from the crew jacuzzi on the bow of the ship. Yes, it was cold... and yes, that was my farmer tan.

Lyle and I getting ready for another Rock This Town, apparently tucking our shirts into our underwear... must not have gotten that memo.

Doing my usual air guitar getting ready for some SLAS (notice the different costume for the opening... our then costumer Michelle thought the red sequined dickeys were awful.)

Tracey and I about to go sing "We Dance" in SLAS

Lyle is the ugliest woman I know

Wait a second... Michael is the ugliest woman I know

Here are the fellas playing a little poker... From left to right is Eric, Michael, Udi, Lyle's hand, and myself.

Me and the Dream in the Panama Canal

Udi, Michael and I celebrating Halloween 2005 on Deck nine aft. Oh, made the scars myself... Yeah, I took a makeup class.

Probably my favorite picture with Diana Ross, Godmother of the Dream...

Next up are a batch of pictures from the Spring of 2007...

Peter and I either getting ready for Rock This Town, or to serve food in Le Bistro (French for The Bistro)

My personal tattoo artist, Anna Mona, with the first of many manly tats I received.

My buddy Federico, with his buddy Johnny

The Spring 2007 cast of Rock This Town

Here is my friend Cindy hanging out with me in the crew jacuzzi, taking in the Caribbean

Peter, Andrew, Federico, and me taking a break from poker to make fart noises

Here is Will, Lisa, Dom, Peter, Federico, Natalie and Andrew helping me celebrate my 30th Birthday

Tracey, Peter, Natalie, and I dressed up for Sea Legs... My God...

It's true... Federico, Peter, Natalie, and myself... we love to fart.

Here's our award winning Style video from that Spring. In it are my buddies James, Ferdi, and Tracey.

And Finally, pictures from the fall of 2007...

Here is Federico and I, enjoying some tall cold ones in the crew bar

Federico, Tracey, Villam and I enjoying a drink before dinner.

This is Michael, our Trombone player... Since he is from Texas, imagine his elation when he found the ship had some cases of Shiner Bock lying around from our last trip to the Caribbean. So, we decided to take pictures of us drinking Shiner around the world... Here is Michael enjoying some Shiner in Russia as we sail away.

Here I am with Fay, a close friend of mine who joined us during one of our Baltic cruises

Here is the long awaited video of the Dream's Final passage through the Keil Canal

John, Michael, Fran (all members of the show band), and I during a crew party

Here are Ana and Kathy. They taught me to dance Salsa and say things like "Chupa Chella"
Elvira (Massage Therapist) and I during one of the six days at sea

Save a horse, ride a cowboy

Here is Villam, trying to shake the cold of the Baltic with a blanket and hot coacoa
Tracey and I before our last Sea Legs... I received an E mail from her not half an hour after it was found out that the singers jumped ship. How's that for job security?

Above is my favorite memory from this last contract. Imagine six days at sea, crossing the Atlantic... We finally make it to St. Thomas, and the coast guard decides to have a drill... Well, some of us fortunate enough to get off the ship take in the drill from a different perspective.

I am sure I am forgetting lots of stories about life on The Dream, but I think this gives you an idea of what living on the ship was like. If you have stories that I forgot, let me know... I can always make room for more!

So, there you have it... She may be getting old, smaller than most of the ships in the fleet (which means she is usually last picked in football, basketball, even dodgeball)... she doesn't move as fast as she did (another strike against competitive sports), and yes... she has a smell, but she is still our Dream. The little ship that could.

In the fall of 2008, NCL will ship her off to The Orient Line, where she will be gutted and turned into a gambling ship (not like now where you gamble on making port, but gambling for money with cards and dice and such). Still, while in the future she may carry current and future members of AA and GA, lets all remember her as she is now... a small ship with a big heart, and a sometimes bigger smell. We'll miss ya.

In closing, here she is in some of her ports of call.

Cancun, Mexico


Haines, Alaska

Cozumel, Mexico

Skagway, Alaska

Seward, Alaska

Stockholm, Sweden

Dover, England

Oslo, Norway

Whittier, Alaska


La Ceunta, Morroco

Funchal, Spain

St. Thomas

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola
NOVEMBER 28th, 2007...

My buddy Elvira posted this on the web. Its a bunch of us in the crew bar singing a little "Home Away From Home." Watch as I have to ask how the last part of the song goes, since I had had a few... everyone proceeds to laugh at me (since I had sang the thing overa hundred times).