Tuesday, June 17, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Three - Beach Days and Mooring Deck Nights

At the moment I am sitting in the men's dressing room, up on deck 11. One deck below me is the stage for the Stardust Lounge, and on that stage is Kenny, Lindsay, and Katie, dancing to “Vicky And Mister Valves.” Tomorrow we'll arrive in Bermuda for the sixth time, and I'll do what's become the norm for a Tuesday: Get up at my own pace (I'll leave the exact time to myself, so as not to disgust and anger you), clean up and go visit the Sport's Bar for lunch, then grab my beach towel and head to Gate's Bay for a little sun, sand, and surf (and volleyball, but wouldn't it sound better if it was called Solleyball?). After that, I'll make my way back to the ship. Clean up, maybe take a nap... From there I might get dinner, maybe play some scrabble or take in a show, and end up at the small boat that is docked outside the Majesty for a little drinking and debauchery. All in all, things get pretty routine when you visit the same port over and over... and believe me, I ain't complaining.

So, with that in mind, what can I talk about that isn't a repeat of things I've already mentioned? Let's see... Well, last week Steven, Jayson, and myself grabbed a bus and headed out towards Horseshoe Bay, which from what I understand is one of the better known beaches in the area. From St. George's we caught a bus to Hamilton, and then another to Horseshoe. The trip was something like 23 kilometers, and even though the transfer from one bus to another took only took a couple of minutes, the entire trip took about an hour. There really isn't such thing as a highway around here, and all the roads I've traveled on are barely two lanes, with no shoulders or sidewalks, winding up and down hills and around lots of colorful houses and buildings.

The day we chose to take the trip was an overcast one, and while it didn't rain, the sun never came out to greet us. Horseshoe is definitely larger than the three beaches in St. George's put together, but it's still pretty small. Here are some pictures.

It doesn't show in any of the pictures I took, but Horseshoe bay is known for it's pink beaches... and true to what's said, there are lots of little pink bits of coral and shell mixed in to the sand. You'll have to either come see it for yourself, or take my word for it.

Anyway, hung out there for a little while, mostly swimming and napping under a cloudy sky. From there we grabbed a bus back to Hamilton for some fried chicken and a movie. There are two chicken places that I know of, located literally next door to each other. One is the universally known KFC, and the other, “Mr. Chicken.” We ate at Mr. Chicken. I don't really have anything else to say about Mr. Chicken, or any reason to have brought up Mr. Chicken in the first place... I just like saying Mr. Chicken.

After dinner, we had some time to kill before our movie began, so we walked around the city a bit, stopping at a street corner up a ways from the theater. At one point we were approached by a man on a bicycle. I don't need to tell you what kind of man he was, as anytime you are approached by someone you don't know, it's usually unwelcome. Anyway, he informed us, without any invitation or prodding on our part, to the dangers of drugs, gave us his opinion of that stupid bitch he calls Karma, told us about his children that he can't visit back in America, showed us a picture of his girlfriend (lucky him if it's true), and in closing told us to “be nice to women, children, and animals, and kill the rest. You can take from my experience what you want, but I learned that if you stand on a street corner after dark for too long, you deserve what's coming to you.

After the strange man on the bicycle left, we were approached by some pax from our ship. They were clearly drunk and from Boston (redundant?). They talked to us for a moment, then went into the liquor store that we were standing in front of. A little while later they left, and we noticed that the store owner came out on her phone, looking for the group. Soon after a policeman (complete with dress shirt, blue shorts and socks) arrived on his moped, and spoke to the store owner. Coming out of the store, they asked us where the group went. Having seen where they went, I pointed the policeman in the right direction. He drove off, and a minute later a police car drove past, going in the same direction. I guess Bermuda has some sort of “don't be drunk in public” law, and yours truly helped to send a group of pax to the Bermudian drunk tank. This is the Norwegian Way. Oh well, I didn't see them at any of our shows.

After all that excitement, it was time to go see the new Indiana Jones flick. The movie theater, aptly called “The Little Theater” (but wouldn't it have been awesome if it was called Mr. Little Theater? I know, not really...) was exactly like its title implied. Here's a picture of the little movie theater:

The screen is definitely small, but the sound is HUGE. Plus, as you can see in the picture, the restrooms are located right in the theater, so if you are a frequent pee-r, then we will all know about it.

From the theater we caught the last bus back to St. George's, changed clothes, and hopped over to the drinking boat... for drinking. More people jumped in the water, and a good time was had by all.

Other than that one particular outing, it has pretty much been beach days when we are in port, sometimes preceded by a rehearsal, and most of the time not. While Tobacco Bay is prettier, it is usually saturated with pax, so the crew all go to Gates, which is where Catherine's Fortress is. One day, in between napping and swimming, I decide to venture out to see the cannons that lay at the base of the fortress wall. Here they are:

Try doing that on anything old in America... Like the Bill of Rights or the Liberty Bell... only on small Bermudian islands and Mexico can you straddle relics. Oh, and I mentioned earlier that I play a little volleyball (Sollyball if you really read it). Here is a picture that pretty much sums up my solleyball playing skills:

Let's turn now from the beach back to the ship. The other night we had a party on the mooring deck. One of the unique pleasures of working on a ship is the interesting places in which the crew can gather. Don't ask me what happens on a mooring deck when mooring is taking place. All I know is that there are lots of ropes and things that probably keep the ship from floating away while we are in port. The only fact I am certain of is that every time I have been on the mooring deck, there is loud music playing, and trashcans full of beer. Imagine how funny it would be if they confused a mooring deck party with the actual function of the mooring deck. Here we are, pulling into port... the guys down on the dock are waiting for the ropes to be thrown down, and instead of ropes they get tossed some “tall cold ones.” Oh, the hilarity... here are some pictures from the afore mentioned mooring deck party.

A view of the party from my vantage point.

From left to right are Gareth, Alison, myself, Fred, and Ashley. We've had to say goodbye to Fred, unfortunately, for various reasons. While I am unable to quote him here, you can read his own thoughts about his short time on the Dream HERE. For what it's worth, he's eloquent.

Lindsay, Jayson, and myself, enjoying the party and a tall cold one.

Life on board the Dream is pretty much the same, as to be expected. The only kink is the introduction of Freestyle 2.0 that I mentioned to you last time. I am not sure how it is affecting the larger, newer ships, but we are definitely going through some growing pains here. Mostly because our ship was never meant for Freestyle cruising, partly because we are understaffed, and due in part largely to our hotel director who wants to control the entertainment department, things have been a little difficult around the office. For example...

The days in which we do our shows never change. Rock This Town on Monday, Country Gold on Wednesday, and Sea Legs at Sea on Friday. Also, we have grown accustomed to a show time schedule of 7:30 and 9:30, give or take fifteen minutes on the late show. Well, one night I was in my cabin... it was about 6:45 in the evening, and we had RTT at 7:30. So, I was about to take a walk to the theatre when I got a knock on the door. At the other end was Kenny, half of our adage team, there to tell me that the show was in ten minutes... Awesome.

So, I stroll to the theatre. Nothing I have to do but put on a tux and grab my microphone, and the commute only takes a few minutes, even with heavy traffic (!!!). So I get there, and the JARs are slowly trickling in from the mess and their cabins. Long story short we go at 7:15 while a frazzled cruise director's head is spinning, and loads of dancers upset because they didn't get the proper time to warm up... and why did this all happen? To alleviate lines to the restaurants.

The change to the shows' schedule was made after our schedule was printed for the week, so none of us knew about it. Since then, we have heard about the possibility of having shows at 5:30 and 7:30, or two shows on a port night... It's been quite an experience, let me assure you. Bottom line is, our HD (who is not from America) doesn't get the fact that Americans like their dinner early, say from 5:30 'till 7:30, and no matter what she tries, people who are used to the Early Bird Special will not fore go that right just to see me skirt around the stage in a sequined captain's outfit. But, the hilarity continues...

Last week we were performing SLAS... Nothing out of the ordinary. We were putting the cap on the second show. Individual bows were made, and after a black out we all lined up for the final group bow. As the lights came up, Fith (our Cruise Director, and yes, supposedly his real name is Fith Fithian) started speaking into the microphone. Something like “Ladies and Gentleman, your Jean Ann Ryan Company” or something. Like they were all hearing their master's voice, the ENTIRE audience, standing or not, stopped clapping immediately and stared at us, while we were bowing. We bowed twice to a bewildered group of five hundred or more, standing there with their heads cocked like a dog hearing a strange noise. Surreal.

After that, we dash offstage and I strip out of my teal and white sequined excuse of a costume and into my tuxedo for the final “Home Away From Home” song that I sing. As you know, the song is sung at the end of the cruise, while crew from every department comes on stage and sways back and forth to that and to several choruses of “We Are The World.” Anyway, the song starts with Christy singing the first verse, and my singing the second verse. As I sing, I descend the stage right staircase, and meet Christy down stage center. Well... I was coming down and misjudged how many steps were left... leaving one step unaccounted for. So, I stumble down the final stair onto the stage, much to the audience's delight. As I regain my composure physically, I start to lose it emotionally, laughing at myself and losing track of the song a couple of times. Finally I make it to the chorus, thankful that Steve was on mike singing it behind me, so I could drop out for a moment and laugh it out of my system.

One of the people in the audience was Tim, half of a comedy duo on board. Not one to ever let a joke pass by, he reveled in my misfortune, pointing at me and laughing throughout the rest of the song. The following night, I attended his show, and watched as he gleefully brought up my mistake to the audience five times... and each time he would look at me and chuckle. Good times.

I had made Tim's acquaintance earlier in the cruise, as he and his comedy partner Steve joined us for poker. Even though I lost, it was the best ten bucks I have spent thus far, as he rode Fith to the ground, poking at him and cracking jokes at his expense. He even went as far as trying to make Fith flinch, and when Fith would, Tim would punch him twice in the arm... Now that's a classic. We all like Fith, don't get me wrong, but he runs his poker games like a traffic cop, waving us through the intersection and keeping a rush hour pace.

Here is my favorite picture of the night:

To make a long story short, Tim (well dressed man on the right), told Steve (JAR singer on left) that he would eat a cheeseburger freshly wiped on Steve's butt, five and ten second rules be damned. Unfortunately Fith (center) didn't allow it to happen. Just another slice of life on board the Norwegian Dream.

Since we have been a little short staffed, Steven and I have pitched in here and there, selling Krak-its to the pax on the last sea day. An equivalent to lottery scratch offs, pax can win two thousand bucks by matching symbols a la slot machine imagery. In return for our time, Fith takes Steve and I to the Bistro, our alternative restaurant, for a nice meal. The Maitre'd there, Michelle, has gotten to know us, and now helps us finish our dessert.

The Krak-its have one two thousand dollar winner per box, so to make things fair one of the cruise staff has to put the krak-its through the randomizing machine before they can be sold. It's a very complex ordeal, but in order to demystify the process I am making public, for the first time, how the randomizing takes place:

Basically Dara takes all the Krak-its and throws them on the floor over and over.

Oh, and aside from all that, we are still enjoying all that Boston has to offer... Here are some pictures from Bean Town.

Here I am outside the Bull and Finch Pub (otherwise known as that place they shot the exteriors for Cheers at). I also ate inside the place the other day. Now I can tell you that it is also the place that inspired Applebee's, Chili's, TGIF, and Bennigans.

Oh, isn't the irony delicious?

I found this kind of amusing. Here is a bum with a new pair of Nike shoes... which obviously make a great pillow.

Ahh, I got nothing.

And that'll be all for this installment. I am finishing this blog in the Mariner's center in Hamilton. We were due to arrive in St. George's around eleven this morning, but due to the inclement weather later in the week, the Captain turned the Dream around with only a half mile to the St. George's cut and rerouted us to Hamilton. If there's bad weather on Friday, our chances of leaving St. George's port would be slim, and a lot of Bostonians would miss their flights home... wait a second. Damn.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola

With Steven and Jayson, taking in Hamilton's harbor


Please help me welcome my new working television to my cabin.

Not only does it have sound, but picture! Wow! Just this morning I decided to hang out in bed for a moment, and see what was on the tube... Until I discover the remote control doesn't work...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Two - St. George's Reality

It's a calm day at sea as we travel from Bermuda to Boston. Yesterday we were leaving a mostly overcast St. George, a port we were intended to reach on our first cruise, but didn't make it in until our third. Later this afternoon we'll have the first Starseekers of the season, and tonight I'll cap off this cruise by spitting water at people dressed in bedsheets. It's all another day at the office here on board the Norwegian Dream.

A couple of cruises have gone by since we last spoke, and not to sound like an ungrateful Betty, but not a whole hell of a lot has happened, especially on land. You'll recall a few pictures from our alternate Bermudian port, Hamilton, from my first letter out. Our second cruise had much the same weather as our first, with the crossing to Bermuda windy and tumultuous. That sea night we performed two rocky Rock This Town's, and afterwards the cast consensus was to change the running order of the shows for the following week. I guess it can be difficult to dance, do back hand springs, or lift somebody in the air with one hand and catch them in another... as long as the ship doesn't keel over, I'll just stand in a wide second.

Our second cruise to Hamilton was identical to the first, in that we saw very little sunlight and a good amount of rain. It certainly didn't make me want to get off the ship, and none of us really did that much. We did discover the Mariner's Center a short walk away from the ship, which offers the all important free wi-fi, and at least while it's raining continues to be the most popular spot for the crew to hang at.

Fedé, my buddy in the Shore Ex Department, did take some of us out on a sunset catamaran trip. When we got to the boat, the skies were dark and cloudy... it didn't look so much like rain as it did an evening trip without a sunset. But hey, when you have a never ending glass of rum swizzels, who really gives a damn about the sun anyway? But we got lucky as the evening waned on, and the sun soon appeared as it set under the clouds. Here are some pictures:

Here is the catamaran we took. There were a handful of pax on board with us. They mostly sat in the back, and us crew hung out on the front.

Fedé and Emma, hanging loose.

The sun finally broke through the clouds.

When we got back it was almost two hours later. We had a performance of Country Gold in a little over an hour, so we started to head back towards the Dream, stopping once to take a picture.

And aside from our sunset sail, there wasn't much happening in Hamilton that week. Our cross back to Boston marked the first calm sea day we'd had since boarding on May 9th. Fortunately, the days at sea since then have been equally uneventful, and as I look out the window sitting here in Lucky's, all I see are blue skies and a flat horizon.

Our days in Boston have been a nice break from the rainy monotony of Bermuda. We actually left nicer weather in Boston our first two Bermuda cruises, much to the dismay of our paying guests. The subway is a short bus ride to the terminal building, so we pretty much have all of the city within our reach. I've spent most of my time in an area which has a lot of shopping, and is close to a large park and a couple of extremely old cemeteries. An ironic feeling of relief washes over me as I walk around the city... there isn't any rain, and there are lots of people lounging on the grass enjoying a warm spring day. Our last trip up brought us to Newberry Street, which has a whole lot of boutique stores and small cafés. It was here that I reached one of my goals for this cruise:

Here I am kicking back a Sam Adams Summer Brew in Boston... Dammit.

Speaking of Boston, we had an interesting E mail come in a few days before. Turns out the BPC (We're guessing that stands for the Border and Port Control; although Bacon, Pickles and Cheese doesn't sound so bad either.) wants crew off the ship first thing. Usually we have to wait for most of the pax to disembark, which only gives us a few hours in Boston. With this new system, our window for getting off the ship is from 8:00 to 8:15. Now we have more time off the ship to enjoy the day. Of course, nothing is open 'till after ten anyway, but we can crowd the door until they do. Here are some random pictures of Boston:

Newberry Street

Random fountain in front of seemingly important building in a park that I am sure everyone reading knows the name of, except for me...

Art imitating life? Life imitating art?

So after a day of shopping, and a couple pints of beer to accompany a big ol' hamburger, it was back on the ship for week three of our Bermudian season. On the way over, the sea was calm once again, so we were all wondering if we'd get to see St. George's this cruise. Rumor had it that we were actually going this time around. Imagine my surprise when I awoke the following morning, opened the curtains, and caught my first glimpse of Belize... Wouldn't that have been nuts? So, we made it to St. George's.

I caught the sail in right as we were entering the cut. True to what I had heard, it was an even narrower passage than entering Hamilton.

We shared our small bay with the Norwegian Majesty, an even smaller ship than us who is headed for the same fate as the Dream.

In case I never mentioned it, St. George's is a small island in the North East tip of the Bermuda island chain. When I first got off the ship, I grabbed a map, which has several points of interest for the tourist to visit, including several beaches; the only thing I could not find listed was a ratio of inches to miles. With the ship docked on the south side of the island, and the closest beach, Tobacco Bay, on the north side, I made my way towards the beach. It took me 15 Minutes to reach the beach from the moment I started my walk away from the ship... This island is small.

There are three beaches listed on the map, and they are all within a quarter mile of each other on the northern shore. Around the corner from Tobacco Bay is Gates Bay, which is a longer stretch of sand and water that is next to St. Catherine's Fortress, which at the moment is closed to the public, but is pretty much an old stone wall fort with huge rusty cannons rotting away along the shore. On the other side of the fortress is the third beach, Achilles Bay, very small and secluded, with very little room for people. Below is a picture of Tobacco Bay, and following that is a picture of Gates Bay.

My time in St. George's was spent going to the beach, and coming back to the ship. I jogged once, went for a walk around the city... nothing monumental. One night Fedé invited us to a party being held on a local boat that was docked out near the Majesty. The boat was more or less a two story flat deck affair, with an open bar at one end, and countless drunk crew members taking up the rest of the space. We had gotten there fairly early, and were welcomed by several drunk representatives from different departments of the two NCL ships.

We weren't there an hour before people started stripping down to their underwear and jumping from the top deck into the freezing water below. Back on the boat, our Russian dancer, Victor, was feeling particularly amorous... becoming sort of traveling Russian kissing booth, pouncing on his unsuspecting victims with a kiss on a cheek that would eventually move towards the mouth like... well... like a drunk Russian... no sly metaphors here. The evening ended with more drinking, jumping into the water, and a healthy mix of tropical rain... Next week they will charge a little more for the drinks, but I am sure the water will feel just as cold.

Things on the Dream are interesting, and if you can believe it, different. At the moment we have a whole bunch of suits from NCL HQ on board to check on the state of the union on our smelly little home away from home. Even though the Dream is taking a dirt nap later this year, it is still being included in NCL's big changes. NCL is upgrading it's Freestyle to... wait for it... Freestyle 2.0 (no kidding), and things on this ship are changing, let alone the idea of Freestyle on the entire fleet. Pretty much everywhere I go, I see one of a handful of people walking around with department heads and writing things down on official NCL stationary.

So, what's different? Well, everyone is tense, that's for sure. I mean, not me... while I would welcome a fresh set of sequins on my teal colored pants, I live my life on board with the realistic notion that ain't nothing gonna change in my office... although we do have a meeting this evening with one of the suits... Anyway, the biggest difference I've seen thus far is in the Sport's Bar, our little buffet afterthought located on Deck 12 Aft.

Last night I went for a bite in between Sea Legs shows. Normally, there is only one buffet line, even though we have the capacity for two. The Dream usually only has one line operating, since we understand there is nothing better than a long line of people waiting to dip their thumbs in vats of food. But someone decided that tonight we would have TWO lines of food! What a concept... Not only that, but the buckets in which the food was served were half the size... which not only made more room for variety, but also ensure a better chance at a fresher bucket... amazing. Plus, gone is the constantly repeating song such as “Love Shack,” which literally will play on a loop for an impossible amount of time. Instead, all of the TVs (in the SPORTS BAR) were tuned away from CNN to ESPN (in the SPORTS BAR) and for once were taken off of mute so you could hear the sports you were watching (IN THE SPORTS BAR). That, my friends, is Service, Teamwork, and Yes Leading to Excellence Two Point Friggin' Oh.

Plus, last night the Captain hosted a deck party which was open to all pax and CREW. Huh? This is the same Captain that doesn't allow any music in the Observatory after midnight... the same Captain that never socializes with the pax or takes pictures, the same Captain that has never, until the suits came on board, delivered a farewell speech to the audience after my stirring rendition of “Home Away From Home” (the other Captains do). No, this Captain is a homebody, and if I ever get a picture of him, you'd agree that he looks just like Andy Griffith... a tall Norwegian Andy Griffith.

So, out of the blue (it wasn't even in the Freestyle Daily) the Captain hosts a deck party so the pax can mingle with all the crew, who were attending with the promise of free booze. Plus, the Chocoholic Buffet was also being offered at the party. Wow, our Captain is quite the host, in theory, since I saw him there for all of five minutes. He smiled and waved from his post way off the side of the party, and then, like a ninja, disappeared into the night. The party was a lot of fun, with dancing, chocolate, and pretty decent weather. Here is a picture of the party, as it was winding down.

Later that night I was leaving the party, walking forward on deck 12 towards the gym to get back in the ship. On my way, I discovered the remains of the Chocoholic buffet. Want to see what hundreds of pounds of uneaten chocolate dessert looks like?

So, the party was a big success... another direct effect of this new fangled Freestyle 2.0. However, I am reserving my full belief of all these changes until next week when all the suits leave. Sure, things are great now... but come on, seriously, the Dream is an old ship who is set in her ways... do you really believe that she's gonna want to change things around just because some seemingly important people come on board and start pointing at this and changing that.. I don't think so either. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

So, next week, I expect the lines in the Sports Bar to extend out to the bow of the ship, with only one line of food to serve them, all to the soothing sounds of the same damn song being played over and over and over and over... The captain will burrow himself back in his cave on deck 11, and all the crew will be barred from ever traveling upwards of deck 2... Row! Row! Row! Row!

But whether things change around here or not, no matter if it's Freestyle, Freestyle 2.0, or any other little thing, the crew morale will remain the same. Take this next picture for example. The other day I was coming up the stairs from personnel when I came upon this. Feel free to blow up the picture and play a game of find the hidden items. How many can you find in this picture?

  1. Key Card (to room 3212)

  2. Beer Bottle (extra points for brand)

  3. Milk Carton

  4. Used Condom

  5. Crew Internet Cards (can you spot all three?)

Well, I gotta get going. I am sitting in the Stardust behind a gaggle of red hat ladies, and it's almost time for Starseekers... I think they're going to be playing kazoos! (UPDATE: They did, and it was awesome.) Life does not get any better.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola

(With Steve, getting ready for another rousing Rock This Town)


I just got out of a meeting with one of the afore mentioned suits. He gathered all of the cruise staff, Youth Counselors, JARs, and members of the assorted bands and duos on the vessel for a talk about Freestyle 2.0, how it affects the entertainment department, and how we can implement it during future cruises. For the better part of this cruise, that's all I could hear anyone talk about... 2.0 this and 2.0 that... Freestyle 2.0 dining experiences, and Freestyle 2.0 entertainment options. Well, this fella from NCL HQ gets done telling us about how 2.0 is going to affect this ship, and how we can expedite the changes, and finishes by asking us if we have any questions. From the back of the group, a band member raises his hand and asks, after a week of hearing about NCL's Freestyle 2.0, “So, does this affect the entire fleet or just this ship?” Steve and I could not keep our cookies together. Thank you, numb nuts... you really made my day.