Sunday, May 18, 2008

St. George's Dream Part One - Embarkation

So where to begin...

At the moment I am sitting in 5267, two doors down from the cabin I stayed in last time. “But, I thought last time was the last time,” you might be saying. It's okay, I said the same thing once or twice myself. Outside my cabin is nothing but water... well, at least on one side. Thankfully, outside the other end is a more harmless looking red hallway. Behind us is Bermuda, but I am getting a little ahead of myself.

Like most other contracts, this one starts in much the same way. I was sitting in Los Angeles (yes, all of it, and it isn't as roomy as you would think), minding my own business when JAR HQ calls. It's the same story you've heard the past couple of times, but with a little twist. This time, instead of my boarding the ship mid contract, I am now replacing someone before the rehearsal process starts. What's this? I can pack up my life for a whole contract? Wow... this happened somewhere around April 21st. Now, the catch was they wanted me in Ft. Lauderdale for a two week rehearsal process for the same three shows that have haunted my dreams for the past three years. Knowing full well that whenever JAR calls me I am the last resort, I told them they were crazy, then told them what I wanted.

So, here's how the rehearsal process worked out. They wanted me there April 24th, to which I scoffed and gave my counter offer: May 5th. I figured that was fair... I'd only have to endure two days of rehearsal and then fly to meet the ship on May 8th. After a day of hearing several “I'll see what I can do's” and a couple more “well, they aren't going to like that, but I'll see's” I had my contract and was locked in.

Of course, many of you know that last July I packed up my stuff and moved to Los Angeles... Valley Village to be exact. How is that going? Well, let's just say that it didn't take long for me to weigh my options. On one hand I could stay in LA and hope that there might be a pilot season, or see if the actor's union is going to strike, or hope it won't be a slow summer like it usually is before the whole writer's strike threw everything off balance... I could play the odds there, or I could stuff some clothes into two suitcases and work seven day Bermuda cruises out of Boston. Needless to say, I already had my bags packed before the contract was faxed to me. But let's just keep that between us... no need in JAR HQ getting wind of this and pulling me back in for some “Retroactive rehearsal time.” Hey, it could happen.

Okay, so skip past the rehearsal process, which, as it was and will always be, focused on the dancers packing in three shows worth of choreography in two weeks (usually it's three), while the singers sit in the waiting room twiddling their freshly sat on thumbs. Its like Disney Land, only you never get to leave your car. And now that I think of it, more like Euro Disney during the rainy season. Anyway, we actually leave Florida a day late because, and I quote, “They don't have a gangway for us in Boston.” I'm still not sure how something like that is possible, but for whatever reason we held over in Florida for an extra day and finally arrived in Boston on May 9th.

As we were flying in, I catch a glimpse of the Dream in the water below us, being pulled by a couple of tugs. Heh heh... yeah, tugs. Here's what I know. When I was here last time (Fall 2007), she was scheduled to be sold over to the Orient Line (I think that's the name), gutted, and turned into a gambling vessel, and continue life sailing three day booze and gambling cruises somewhere out of Japan. Well, the buyers backed out, leaving NCL with a ship scheduled to go into a three week dry dock in preparation for the transaction. Kind of like when a used car gets that 30 point check up and a spritz of new car smell before hitting the show room floor, only in this case NCL didn't have a reason to put in the effort.

With that in mind, they shortened the dry dock period from three weeks to one week. Seeing the tugs in action, I am fairly certain that our bow thrusters still don't work. In case you didn't know, they make parallel parking the Dream... well... a dream. Also, I think I heard that at this point both our stabilizers don't work, which when working keep the pax from bouncing off their cabin walls and throwing up in the hallways. So what did they do during drydock? Beats me... probably go through a ton of duct tape.

In any case, she appears to be the same ship I left last fall. I haven't heard the captain mention anything about speed in his daily noon announcements, but I am fairly certain we are cruising at 16 knots, which is the speed the ship travels at when all her engines are working (knock on wood). My cabin is just like all the others I've stayed in. Passenger cabin deck 5 aft with a couple of portholes, bed, closets, desk, bathroom, fridge... and a great little tv that is all sound and no picture. Hey, some people are okay at a lot of things, but my TV chooses to do one thing really well, and I respect that. Plus, I get to use my imagination, which is awesome.

So, where the hell am I going? If you can believe it, we are doin' seven day cruises out of Boston to a small island in Bermuda called St. George's, staying there for four days and three nights, then turning around and heading back to Boston. Huh... it may seem like nothing for most people, but to work on a ship and get three overnights in port... that's like your parents leaving you the house for the weekend when you're sixteen, plus the keys to the car, a stack of money, and full access to the liquor cabinet. Not saying we would abuse those privileges, but this sort of thing doesn't happen often. It means that for the most part, we don't have to worry about all aboard times, and personally, I don't feel rushed to squeeze the marrow out of the port before I run of out time. I am going to get to know this place really, really well... Or so I think. But before I jump into that...

It's Friday, May 9th, and all the JARs are on board. We actually beat the Dream to the cruise ship terminal... not even on her first cruise out of dry dock and she's late to her own party. Love ya, Dream. Anyway, cabins have been assigned, and the suitcases have been unpacked. Since all of our Bermuda cruises leave out of Boston on Sundays, we have two days to kill. So NCL sold tickets for a little two day boozer out to sea and back. And holy cow, Boston... seriously... you can drink. A lot... wow...

Friday night I throw on some clothes and my name tag (some of the blue card rules have changed. We now have a stricter dress code, which includes the name tag in all public areas) and head out to explore the ship. First thing I do is catch the comedian in the Stardust. The comedian, following the comedian's handbook to the letter, has a section of his set devoted to questions that start with “Where are you from?” and immediately followed by the “What do you do?” Those two questions are like peanut butter and jelly, I swear... only I care a lot more for PB&J... doesn't that sound awesome? With a cold glass of milk... oh, and a big bag of ruffles, of which I will eat half the bag, and more than likely begin to dip the chips in the jar of peanut butter... dammit... where was I? Anyway, he's asking the pax where they're from, and while the Burroughs were all different, every stinking last one of them was from Boston.

Boston, you boarded this ship with a mission. And you weren't on board for more than two hours before you had exceeded your own expectations. You drank and drank and drank. No kidding... Boston, you drank so much that at this very moment, I swear to God, you depleted our supply of beer to points so low that we don't get any in the crew bar until next Sunday, and there isn't a single bottle of the ripple wine left that they sell you for fifteen dollars for us to buy for five in the crew bar. Dammit Boston, I may not be a big drinker, but like my television, you have chosen one thing that you can do better than anyone else I have ever met. I'd raise a glass to you, but it'd be empty. Salute.

So, after the comedian I make my way through Dazzles, which is packed to the rafters... through Lucky's Lounge, which was stuffed with even more eager drinkers in spite of the piano flute duo, and down the stairs to the coffee bar on Deck 9. At the piano is a man with a bald head, goatee, bright Hawaiian shirt, and matching white slacks, socks, and shoes. Crowned on his head was a New York Mets hat. I sit down to listen. A man walks by and gives the pianist a rib for wearing a Mets cap on a ship full of Red Sox caps. Freddy, the piano player, ever so eloquently in his thick Bronx accent, says in the microphone: “What, you bustin' my balls here or what?” I was starting to feel like this cruise was going to be different, but I wasn't sure until I was swarmed by seven drunk middle aged women.

“Hey, you're cute!” “Why are you sitting there by yourself?” “Can I take my picture with you?” All those things were yelled at me as I was attacked. Soon I had my picture taken by several cameras. Well hell, I had mine in my pocket... a brand new slim, sleek, and fast Canon, and I was just dying to try it out. So, when in Rome:

I think the eyes say it all...

The last one took me a minute to figure out just what I was looking at. Then I got it... I don't know who took it, or when... or why... but now I have it, and now you have it too. Can't tell what it is? Keep looking... It's like one of those 3D pictures where the deer in the woods comes out of the trees if you keep staring.

Anyway, it was at this point, after watching hammered Bostonians howl and laugh in the Stardust to a comedian from New York who actually let loose a punch line with the string of expletives including "that son of a B," followed by a jovial "F'ing something or other..." it was after Freddy the piano player from the Bronx who cracks on people from Boston using colorful puns including testicles... after I was attacked by the Boston Lady's Guild of Flying Purple People Eaters... it was then that I realized “Hey, this cruise feels different.” Later, my intuition was validated when I was hanging out with my buddy Fede from Shore ex when Fith, the Cruise Director, pulls me to the dance floor, instructing me to “take off my name tag.” A few minutes later, I was involved in a game where a passenger had to burst balloons off of my belly, butt, and lap in the quickest time possible. All I can do is shake my head.

It was one in the morning in the Stardust when our little ship broke a fleet wide record for bar sales during Karaoke. After the crowd had left the theatre, the place more closely resembled the aftermath of a crew party: empty beer bottles, wine bottles, and glasses by the gross as far as the eye could see. Late that night, after our rehearsal was canceled due to the afore mentioned record setting binge drinking sing fest, I lay in bed, feeling content with my decision to work one last time on the Dream... and all was right with the world.

So the two day booze cruise came and went. On May 11th we picked up pax for our first cruise out to St. George's. Now, at this point some of you would expect me to tell you all about St. George's, its wonderful beaches, fabulous resorts, fine dining and all the rest. For the rest of my faithful readers, you know better. You've come to expect surprises and last minute changes in my experiences on the Dream, and I would hate to let you down.

Let me start by saying the reason NCL is getting rid of the older ships like the Dream and the Wind (sister ships) is because NCL wants to be the youngest and largest cruise line on the planet. The Dream is both old and small, so it's no wonder that her bow is scheduled for the chopping block this Fall. But when I found out the possibility of our making it to St. George's this cruise, or any time soon, was because of our massive size, I thought they were joking. Turns out that the cut outside of St. George's is big enough for us to slip through on paper... but in reality those numbers become a little more daunting when you are trying to squeeze a ship through a narrow passageway with hull slicing rocks and land on either side. Add in the equation of wind, and it makes for a dangerous situation. So, with that in mind, the Captain changed course and took us to Cozumel... just kidding, but not out of the question...

No, we went to a place on the southwest end of the Bermuda Island chain called Hamilton. The difference between St. George's and Hamilton? From what I hear, St. George's has beaches and stuff, but not a lot of shopping, and it rolls up its carpet early. Hamilton, on the other hand, has a shopping district and lots of bars and clubs, but the closest beach is either a three mile jog or a fifteen minute bus ride. I can't tell you for sure because this week has been so hectic with late night / early morning rehearsals that I have only been off the ship once... went for a nice jog, got back on the ship.

Of course, whether we are in Hamilton or St. George's, we still stay for three nights, and eventually, when we get to July and August, the wind should die down and we can make it in. But for now, Hamilton will more than likely be our port of call for the next few cruises. I did bring along my camera the day I got off the ship, so here are some pictures of Hamilton.

View from the ship as we arrived in port.

I guess when it's your boat, you can call it whatever you want.

Getting to Bermuda is a whole 'nother story. The day and a half trip from Boston starts out calm, but by the next morning, the sea turns into a vicious monster. Outside the wind whips us around, and the ship cuts through massive swells that send water up TO DECK 10 AND HIGHER. We have been in the theatre for rehearsals, and I'll glance out the window just as I feel the ship hit a whale, and watch the large bay windows on either side of the stage get covered in water. For several seconds, you can't see out of them... crazy. The choppy seas last well into the evening, and thankfully have tapered off before our performances of Rock This Town coming in, and Sea Legs going out.

As for the shows... they're still the same. When doing research on St. George's, I found a section that dealt with cruise ships and how they affect the local economy there. One entry stated that while a cruise ship is in port, there can be no entertainment on board, unless it is provided by the locals. So, while we are in port, we can't do a show. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It is. That law is kind of like the driving with your cell phone law, or the mattress tag law. Still, with the pax on land, it doesn't make sense to do two performances, so on Wednesday nights we only perform Country Gold once. So, officially my work week has shrunk from 12 hours to 11... Funny stuff.

Life on board hasn't changed much either. Have already had a poker night with Fede, Fith, Steven (the art director), and the casino manager... seriously, who invites a casino manager? If the magician ever comes to play I'll just sit out and watch, thank you very much. So, did that once... have been out for a drink a couple of times on the ship. Gone out to see some shows, including Jane Powell, the Chocolate Goddess of Love, who is probably the finest cabaret act I have ever seen on a ship. Definitely no shortage of things to do around here. Here are some random pictures from my nights out...

Here I am with Fede and Emma (Adage) after opening night of Rock This Town.

Celebrating with Victor, one of our ancers from Russia.

Steve and I before doing Sea Legs

Steve and I after doing Sea Legs

So, with that all said I sit here in my room, listening to the Captain tell the pax about the cold front we'll be approaching (that's secret captain talk for rough seas and green faces) later tonight. It's four o'clock now, and soon I'll be performing our cruise opening number, “Fame.” No kidding... I'm gonna live forever. Next time I should have pictures and stories to tell of life off the ship, and an incredible tan line to back it up. Don't worry, I'll take pictures of that as well.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola (with Fede, about to go out and do some fountains)


Now that I have my new fangled camera, I am able to take them new fangled movin' pictures I be hearin so much about in the Gazette! Below is a little video footage of our voyage to Bermuda, and our passage out.


1 comment:

  1. Hey Mikey...Just a heads up. "... socks, and shoes. Crowned on his head was a New York Mets hat. I sit down to listen. A man walks by and gives the pianist a rib for wearing a Mets cap on a ship full of Red Sox caps. Freddy, the piano player, ever so eloquently in his thick Bronx accent, says in the microphone: “What, you bustin' my balls here or what?”..."That's a BROOKLYN accent!!! Mets fans from the Bronx might exist, but they'd be as rare as a stake still chewing cud.

    So, now you know.