Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The First Dream - Greetings From the Hubbard Glacier, Alaska!

Originally mailed May 25, 2005.

All right, don't want to keep you waiting... here it is, a glacier:

As with the Panama Canal, as I'll get to in a minute (or more depending on how good of a reader you are... you don't skim my letters, do you?) the crew gets the best seats in the... boat. As with the Silver Cloud, the bow of the ship is a crew only area. So when all the Pax are pushing and shoving for a clear view of stuff, we just walk out to our little area of the ship and sit right on the damn edge of the boat. Its pretty cool and surprisingly I have only seen one couple do the Titanic thing. But, its taken us a long time to get to this big ol piece of ice, so let me back track a little...

When we last spoke I was just leaving the Cayman Islands, where the rum flows like wine. That was something like day 3 or 4 of our 16 day repositioning cruise through the Panama Canal. 16 days... Now, I don't have the schedule on me anymore, but I am pretty sure that out of those 16 days, 12 were Sea Days (and yes, I am counting the Panama Canal as a sea day. unless I get to get off the boat and push buttons, it's gonna be a sea day). Man, this ship can get pretty small when you spend 2 and 3 consecutive days at sea. It really made you appreciate the ports and the few hours we get to horse around on dry land! Fortunately the ports have been getting more exciting since our days in Cozumel and Belize (Unbelizeable!).

So, the Panama Canal... I woke up that morning, opened up my port holes and saw nothing but a cement wall... we were already in the first lock and filling up. I rushed out on deck 12 and 13 (the upper most decks on board and exterior) and couldn't find a place to stand... then I remembered Deck 7 Foward...

I was surprised at how fast they can fill each lock, taking no more than 15 minutes... See past the lock? That's the water level that we are going to match. Went through three locks, then a lake, then a couple more locks. For some, this was the sole reason they were on board, the other things like Bingo, "How to Make A Paper Box", and Napkin Folding all are just icing on the cake.

This is a shot taken from the Bow looking towards all the people who wish they were standing where I was. If you listen close, you can hear the faint murmur of old people complaining.

Next stop, after a couple more days at sea, was Categena, Columbia. This is where I finally learned how important it is to take a taxi. Without a taxi, these ports will never be more than get off the boat and shop. So Tommy (Host on board... his job is to play with the guests) Megan (Show Dancer), and Eddie (Another Show Dancer) and I took a cab to the Old Town of Categena. Our cabbie took us to the old battlements that surround the old town, then to the heart of the city. It had a very European feel to it, with narrow cobblestone streets lined on both sides with 3 and 4 story buildings. (There was a town in Italy I visited last year, the name escapes me... very similar).

Now, every city has a trade, cash crop, or business that keeps it going. Texas was big cotton, Georgia has its Tobacco... Now you would figure that legitimately Columbia's big export would be coffee, right? Well, imagine my surprise when I learned that coffee ain't even close. I think I was asked a million times, by a million different people, to buy name brand sunglasses WITH the case for only $12. Twelve dollars? And I get the case? Now wait a second... are those lenses UV protected? One hundred percent... Gee, that's a nice case! Now the strange part is that with all these people selling sunglasses, and them being so readily available... how many locals do you think I saw actually wearing these sunglasses and toting along with them a very fashionable case? Not too many... I had to reach back to my days of Spanish I and II taught by Senora Croft... No quiero antiojos del sol! Other common Spanish phrases that might come in handy if you visit Categena... No Quiero Relos... No, ella es solomente me amiga, no mi novia... Mi tortuga y mi gato es en mis pantalones (that one usually gets them to leave you alone).

We had lunch at Paco's, which we discovered was an Italian restaurant... I had a Pita filled with chicken, apple, lettuce, tomato and topped with a light green curry sauce (the majority of the items on the menu were Italian, trust me...) The rest of the day we explored the city, chased birds in the square, and took lots of pictures...

Then a couple more sea days passed...

Next stop, Punta Arenas, Costa Rica... Nice and hot... They had lots of kiosks along the boardwalk selling Rum and cigars and stuff. I did partake of some of the rum and found the Amaretto rum to be the best... If you ever come visit me I smuggled some back to my cabin, but don't tell anyone... We were ported next to the city, so I took a stroll into town, looked around, and came back... Did I mention they rum is exquisite?

Then a couple more sea days crawled by...

Acapulco! Now, this was fun... This time in the Cab was Lyle and Denise (Singer and Dancer) Katie and Michelosh (Adage couple) and myself (funny thing... there are four passenger cabins, and in each of them are a couple... except for me... did I miss something in my contract? I'll be holding interviews next week.) So, we took a cab ride outside of the city about 45 minutes away to the Princess Hotel. Went to the beach, played in the water... Rented a boogie board and rode some waves (big waves... I mean huge, the kind you mother would not let you play in when you were a kid) I boogied on several waves, thanks to the boogie lessons I was given last summer by my buddy Lauren in San Diego.

From left to right: Michelosh, Katie, Me, Sr. Boogie, Denise, and Lyle

Then three days passed...

Los Angeles... Well, actually San Pedro... Most of the passengers got off, some came on... Now we are embarking on a 3 day cruise to Vancouver, Canada... No stops along the way, just a boozer to Canada. Yes, I said boozer, cause that's all the passengers really did... booze.

Three days...

Vancouver! All Canadian jokes aside (eh...) Vancouver is very nice. Lots of shopping, an interesting arts district, and stuff. Picked up more passengers for our first Alaskan cruise. Oh, and in case you didn't know... it's gotten nice and cold outside.
That's Vancouver's skyline as we were leaving that afternoon. Oh, speaking of afternoon... all those rumors were true... Its 10 O'clock right now, and its still light outside. Sweet... When I was a kid that meant that you could stay out later and play football out in the street. Now it means more water skiing behind the boat!

So, when we cruise Alaska, the cruises last either 10 or 11 days. The first half of the cruise goes into the inner passage. It feels strange, since previously all of our sea days have been nothing but that... just sea. Now, you see land on either side of the ship, and the views are astounding!

And these pictures are just a few of the different sights... sometimes it feels like we are cruising on a narrow river, with pine trees and waterfalls close by on either side of the boat!

Our first stop in Alaska was a small town called Kechican... I have to admit that I don't have the correct spelling of the town in front of me, but it sounds like "Catch-e-can." This town, like the majority of those in Alaska, is pretty small. Which is funny when you look out to the water and see three huge ships dumping thousands of people into these little towns. Kechican is a port town nestled in-between big ol mountains. Each store, and there were quite a few, had frontier stuff like ubu knifes, stuff with fur on it, ivory... but for some reason there was more charm to it than the stores in the Caribbean that generally did the same thing. There is also a lumberjack show, where a bunch of guys climb up trees and chop trees and saw trees... oh, they also stand on trees floating in the water and try to knock the other lumberjack off... I can't wait to go next time!
I went past all the tourist shops, and up into a residential street. This is a common view from a front porch in this area. Of course, it'd be a lot whiter most of the year.

The next day we were in Juneau, Alaska. The weather was perfect that day... no clouds in the sky and the high was supposedly 68 degrees. I got off the boat and started talking to some of the shore excursion people. One of them gave me a tram ticket that goes half way up Roberts Mountain. Half was 1800 ft above sea level, and the rest was up to me to hike. There was a little loop trail that covered no more than a quarter of a mile, then there was a 3 mile hike up the mountain that I took.

So up the mountain I go, armed with my all terrain Sketchers running shoes. The trail was hard to follow at times, other times covered by big ol snow drifts (several hundred feet across). The trail usually decided to go up than switch back and forth, and a couple of times I wondered whether coming down was going to be on my shoes or butt. But I pressed on and made it to the top. 3,600 feet above sea level. The wind was whipping me back and forth, hardly any vegetation. And you could see forever...
If you could see through the bottom of the snow, you'd see pieces of the town and out ship. Way off in the distance is another mountain chain... It's kind of hard to capture how far up you are with a camera, but trust me, I was up there.

Look real close at the top of the mountain, come down the peak a hair... see that little bump on the horizon line of the mountain? That's a person standing around where I was when I took the previous picture.

On the way down I realized that it'd be a shame to come all this way and not make a snowball...
The hard part was keeping the camera balanced on the rock and toss the snowball in the air at just the right time when the camera took the picture... These are the things one can do when time is unlimited...

So, I came down the mountain (on my shoes thank you very much) and still had the whole day to kill (we were there until 10 pm, and it was only 2). So, after a fantastic morning of hiking and fresh air, what do I do? What else? Spend 4 hours in a pool hall shooting pool! Hot damn! Lyle had been here before, and knew of a place to go... and since he and I played in Florida he had told everyone that I was good. So now I have to go and live up to the hype... and I did. So we shot pool for a long time, and then back on the ship! Good times.

Finally, the next day (yesterday) we stopped in Skagway (Alaska has some of the most interesting city names I have ever heard).

This time Katie, Michelosh, and I went hiking. This hike took us to a mountain lake, then we thought that we were hiking to the upper lake. We made it to another lake, then kinda followed our noses along a pipe that was probably hooked to the upper lake to help with water flow. Now again, the pictures don't exactly show you how big this was... Instead of finding the lake, we found a big ol' waterfall... (Reid Falls, we later discovered).
To get this picture, we had to go under one of those yellow ropes that mean something like "Don't go here" or "Danger"... I don't know... Anyway, we were standing on this little piece of land that was jutting out from the cliff. Had a couple of trees on it, and some rocks... Enough to take the picture. The water was falling fast and hard, and the temperature dropped so much that we could see our breath (hiking up we were fine in our T shirts). But that wasn't quite all, because we continued to follow the pipe right up to the top of the waterfall.

Now this time there wasn't a rope blocking us off, but there was a small climb to this 10 or 15 foot iron walkway hanging on the side of the cliff looking OVER the waterfall.
Its hard to tell, but you're looking straight down the same waterfall in the previous picture. I'll be coming back to this one for sure...

The town of Skagway is a very small community, with one main street lined with Souvenir shops and bars. They have a railway system that dates back over 125 years, and takes you along some of the gold rush lines... That's about all I know about that so far...

Downtown Skagway... There really isn't much more to this town than a few more streets running parallel to this. Again, its interesting to see this town with three ships parked outside (that's the Dream looking like it parked itself on the street).

So what else besides all these ports has been going on?

Here's a funny story. Many of you have probably heard my chicken songs... Well, I am proud to say that now over half the cast will cluck at random to any of our three shows during rehearsals. Plus, and this one still gets me... We have a sextet backing us up in all three shows. Now, all the band members are Polish (as with nearly every show band on a cruise ship...) and for the most part the guys don't speak much English. During Country Gold they are playing up stage. Okay, so its the very beginning of the show... I am placed Up Stage with the band and the curtain is down. What happens before the first number is the sound of an old radio tuning in between old country songs before finally stopping on our opening song, raising the curtain... Well, the last song the radio tunes to before our song is "Stand By Your Man." So, I'm standing there waiting when I hear the sax player (someone whom I have really never talked to) cluck to the melody! I turn around and he's just clucking away. You see, music can break any language barrier...

And the selection of books to check out on board is a little weak. Tell me, if you were on board and were looking for something to read, would a selection of cook books interest you?

Oh, and in case you ever wondered... Elvis is still alive...

All right, that's about it for this installment. We're going somewhere tomorrow... I forget where, but I am pretty sure it's going to be Alaskan.

Hope all is well with everyone, and keep in touch!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

The First Dream - Greetings From The Cayman Islands!

Originally mailed May 4, 2005.

How are y'all doing?
At the moment I am somewhere outside of Grand Cayman, having left about an hour ago. Next stop, after a day at sea, is Columbia, and then the Panama Canal. Once we pass through, we'll be on our way to Alaska, where I will be for the next four months.

So, what's new... Well, what can I say about the Caribbean... Hot? Definitely. Muggy? You bet. Worth visiting? Jury is still out on that one... I have learned a little about the business of cruise ships since boarding NCL (Which stands for No Cash Left when you talk to certain people on board). I figured that all these ports, like Cozumel, Belize, Cancun, Grand Cayman... I thought that they were like grocery stores. You park in front, get out, and go in. Nope! There are better places to park your ship than others. It seems from my experiences thus far that NCL takes the "park out as far as you can and walk in" approach to ports of call. Let me explain...

Turns out (and nobody ran this by me) that there are several different places to park your boat at each place, and some places charge you a bit more to dock than others. So, consider the nicer place to port valet parking, and where we ported... You ever try and find a yellow zone in downtown San Diego on a Saturday night? Yeah... That'd be it. Now as a passenger you have the option of purchasing tours at all of these destinations. You can go see ruins, snorkel... good stuff! But since we have just now gotten all three shows down to where they don't need constant attention, we haven't had a chance to try the tours out yet (in the fall, when we get back...) So, come with me on a poor man's journey into the Caribbean!

After careful examination of the city that is within walking distance of the ship, I have discovered that only two things exist here.

1. Jewelry, mostly Tanzanite. Not sure what Tanzanite is, but they got it.
2. Vanilla Alcohol

They also have tourist junk and food, but so does everywhere else! Still, Cozumel is beautiful once you get out of the city.

Just outside this beach area, I came across what looked like an airport that was also or is also an aircraft base. Now, coming from Texas, I know how easily a mascot can strike fear into an opponent... Like the Mart Farmers. Still, if I were in a dogfight with a Fat Cozumelian Duck Bandito, I think I would surrender... Well, would you?

Still, I was able to eat in Cozumel, and the Langosta was muy fabuloso!

Only got an hour here, as we were tendering in. (From the bottom of the ship to the ocean floor is about five feet in places close in, so we use boats to get the passengers back and forth here, and actually in most of the places in the Caribbean.) The beach was sandy and white, and the water was a deep blue...

This picture was taken as I was leaving the ship on the tender. It was also the only picture I took in Cancun. But I can tell you that the beach was kinda small, and on either side was nothing really. Almost like a tourist oasis in the middle of "Real Cancun." There were the usual assortment of tourist shops, expensive themed restaurants and the like. I was fortunate to find a taco stand, where I enjoyed a Chorizo Torta and an orange soda (Why I capitalize the sandwich and not the soda? I don't know, just came out that way). Then I got back on the boat.

After that day, the weather got extremely hot. In the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean, it felt like you were standing in a sauna, and there was no breeze at all! This carried through for several days.

In a word, Unbelizable! (Interestingly, that was not used on a single T shirt there... I think I may have found an untapped market.) Well, the day that I was there was the most stagnant and hot day I have ever experienced. It beat the worst days in August back in Texas. It was just plain hot. We found sanctuary in an indoor shopping mall, with... wait for it... Jewelry, Alcohol, and tourist stuff! Yay! Well, it was cool, so we weren't complaining. After leaving there we found ourselves in the back parking lot, Some folks there told us that if we went one way, we'd go to a flea market... go that way and you'll hit downtown. Well, shoot, if you had the choice between a transistor radio and a velvet Elvis at one side of town, and the Arts District, Financial buzz, and culture of Downtown... Which would you choose?

I pet this thing. Some guy, who also had a snake around his neck, invited me to play with this thing. I forget what it was, but he domesticated it, along with 15 other species of things. So far my hand is hanging on.

Downtown Belize. Not bad from the picture. Behind me are lots of shops selling clothes, shoes, and stuff. You ever leave a pair of shoes in the back of your car on a hot day? You ever leave a hundred pairs of shoes in a small room on a hot day? Overall Belize was loud and kinda dirty. Probably not the best place in the world to visit. One guy walked up to us and offered us water from his bottle for a small donation, in the middle of traffic! Unbelizable...

Grand Cayman:
Its like Cozumel, except the stuff they sell is expensive and nice. They give out samples of Rum Cake everywhere you go, and they drive on the other side of the road (Someone should tell them that before someone gets hurt). This place wasn't so bad to visit, but again, unless you're looking to buy something like jewelry or cigars, taking a tour or excursion would be a better bet.

We were one of four ships visiting that day (ours is hard to see, it's behind the one on the right. Our bow sticks out a little past the one in the foreground.)

So, that's what I have learned about the Caribbean thus far. When I come back in the fall, I'll go cave tubing in Belize (Unbelizeable!) and hopefully go and see some ruins and stuff...

Shiplife is great. Right now we are on day 3 of a 16 day cruise through the Panama Canal, which we will get to on Saturday. And yes, even in a 16 day cruise, we still only do our three shows twice each. That averages out to roughly 3.5 hours of honest work a week. Its weird. We did Country Gold last night, and today is our first of five days off before our next show. So, what does yours truly do? Write the next great American novel? Solve intricate mathematical equations? Discover ways of communicating with stuttering whales? (Little known fact, over 30% of whales have some sort of speech impediment, leaving them to be bullied by other fish in their school... you know how kids can be...) No, no, none of those things will do... I can't be bothered... I am sleeping. Man, you draw those curtains on your portholes, and you can sleep and never wake up! One morning, I woke up on my own at 1:20 in the afternoon. Never woke up beforehand, and I went to bed around midnight.

Still get confused when I come down the stairs to Deck 5. I come down, turn right, sigh, turn left go to my room. I feel like Odie... Have to turn around three times before I can go to bed (5 points, what's the reference?). Sometimes I walk clear to the other end of the ship before I realize the numbers on the doors are going in the wrong direction.

Food on board is getting better. I went to one of the restaurants last week. I can go whenever I want, and they're all inclusive, but until then I guess I never thought about it. Food is good there! Had some Calamari, an Italian white bean soup, and osso bucco.

Oh, and my room steward can make my towels look like animals with my sunglasses! Check it out!

Oh, and when I was in New Orleans last time, I snuck out to the New Orleans Jazz Festival! Oh my God, it was so cool! They held it over at the Race Track. Think of the Del Mar Race Track, but kinda opened up. Put about ten stages, pavilions, lots of food and stuff. Everything was there. Jazz, Blues, Tower of Power, Second Line, Gospel, Funk, Zydeco, Country Swing... Holy Crap what a lot of good music! I was only able to spend about two hours there, but I heard so much great stuff... Dan: Heard one band, called (Not making this up) Bonearama. Think funk brass lead by four trombones.

Oh, and on my way back from the fest, I saw this on the street... I didn't arrange this in any way, and I feel it sort of encapsulates New Orleans...

Well, not much else to say right now. I'm going to try and get recordings from the shows and E mail them to y'all that have asked... They are better than the last shows on the Silver Cloud.
Thanks for all the kind wishes from y'all! Its good to hear from all my pals. Keep in touch!
Your Pal,

Michael Lamendola
Unbelizable is my new band

The First Dream - Greetings From New Orleans!

Originally mailed April 19th, 2005.

Hey Y'all!
Well, where to begin. Although a month has nearly gone by since starting on this cruise, it feels like I am just getting started! After spending three weeks in Fort Lauderdale rehearsing and generally petering my time away, we made the hop over to Mobile, Alabama. Why Mobile? Because that's where the ship was dry-docked. Now, before I came to Mobile, this is what my buddy Mike and I thought the situation might look like:

Well, scratch that. Not even close. Here is what it does look like

I passed a dock worker and asked him if he ship is really on blocks. "Yep, just blocks." Incredible. Oh, and in case you wondered, everybody that works in a big boatyard like this one has to do two things. One: Wear a hard hat. Two: Ride a bicycle. Oh, and they do it at the same time. While smoking cigarettes. Well, I thought it was funny.

We were warned to expect the worst when we were boarding the ship, as often times electricity, plumbing, and AC are off during dry-dock. Fortunately, it was a relatively painless process. Everything was covered in plastic, there were several mountains of chairs in the theatre, and there were contractors working 24 hours a day cleaning and repairing stuff onboard (and outboard... outside the ship... whatever.) One interesting thing though is that since there are no passengers on board, somebody who has the power to plays lots of Motley Crue and Bon Jovi over the ships intercom system. Rock on!

The theatre itself is fairly nice. Its bigger than the one on the Silver Cloud, probably seats 600-700 people. None of the instruments are automated, however, which surprised me coming from the other ship which every light was DMX. Still, like the other, the house is decorated in bright colors and is mainly cabaret style seating. There's also a sextet that plays every show with us, but haven't met them yet.

Oh, and the ship is bigger than the Cloud. It holds 1,748 passengers (double occupancy) and has 700 crew. The Cloud was something like 396 passengers and 350 crew. The Dream has 13 decks, 6 restaurants, lots of bars, a library, 3 pools and Jacuzzis and stuff. No big surprises, its the usual cruise ship stuff to do.

As for me, I get to walk around and do as I please. I have passenger status which allows me anywhere on board (minus the casino), I don't have to abide by any dress code, and can visit any restaurant I like without being invited or asking permission. Not a bad deal! Oh, and I have a passenger cabin too. I am on deck 5 aft (in case you're in the neighborhood). Its really nice, has some portholes, big ol' bed, little ol' fridge... Here are some pictures.

The bathroom is like any other on a ship. Stand in front of the sink and you can bump the toilet with your right leg, and get your foot wet in the shower with the left. Plus, the toilet has a neat sticker that warns you from flushing large items into it, with items pictured including tissue, combs, a knife, a bottle, and something that is either an entire package of cigarettes or a thing of french fries. Either way, they don't belong there.

I was able to go out and visit Mobile's finer sights, like Wal Mart. There's a bus that left the shipyard every hour, and hit downtown, the mall, and Walmart at exact times past the hour. Have you ever been in a slow check out line? Irritating, isn't it? Still, you eventually get out, get to your car, and go on about your day. Ahh... well. I spend 15 minutes in a checkout line, and miss the bus by a minute. You really haven't experienced Mobile until you spend 2 hours at a Wal Mart, with at least one hour spent sitting on a curb outside in the dark waiting for a bus. Good times... good times.

Still, eventually all good things must come to an end, and on the 17th we left Mobile for New Orleans. On the 18th we were seeing land and some off shore drilling rigs. Then at one point during rehearsal, I notice that we are docking. Sweet! Rehearsal ends at 5:30, and at 6 I am on land. Found my way down to Canal Street, and later Bourbon Street. Got me some oysters, shucked right in front of me. Then I went looking for music. Didn't have to go far either. From nearly every bar, there was jazz, blues, funk, rock... No dance clubs, all live music. Stepped into one and listened to some tower of power type music, then on to the next which had a quintet playing some jazz and Dixieland jazz. Later I visited a blues bar where the singer was 485 pounds, or so the sign said.

Today, I went out and had a muffelata at the Central Grocery, where they claim to have invented them. And now, I am waiting to do a small boat drill. I won't have any crew staff duties during this contract, and I believe that the safety drills include me only once a month. So, I am going to have lots and lots of free time on my hands! I have aspirations of writing and playing more piano, so we'll see how things turn out.

As for the shows, they are coming along very well. Today we start our first cruise, a 5 day in the Caribbean. Since it is a shorter cruise than normal, we are only doing 2 of our 3 shows, that being Country Gold and Rock This Town. Then we have a 7 day cruise, and after that we cruise through the Panama Canal, which is something like 15 days from New Orleans to Los Angeles. And in that 15 days, we still only do 3 shows. Think I might learn a new language.

All right, I gotta go... Here are some more random pictures of stuff...
Here is the ship dry-docked at night.
I have heard that ships are named after women, but after seeing this I think my ship is a boy ship. (See the blocks? I wasn't kidding.)
Bourbon street.
Typical Bourbon Street

It's not the typical Arnold House Jazz Jam, but it's close (a typical Arnold jam has more than 5 players... Bourbon Shmerban)
Okay, next time I talk to y'all I'll tell ya about the Caribbean!
Your pal,
Michael Lamendola

The First Dream - Greetings From Florida!

Originally mailed March 29, 2005. This was my first mailing of the 2005 Dream Contract. I hadn't yet boarded the Dream, and was writing about the 3 week (ugh...) rehearsal in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

So, I'm sitting here typing this letter outside my hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. It's almost 7 pm, the sky is dark with gray clouds moving in over the river that runs outside my hotel. I can see the other side in the alley created by the "mega yacht" Battered Bull, and the huge ass sail boat with a mast that's at least 5 stories tall called Kokomo. There are yachts and water buses cruising along the river, and down the way, past the big ol draw bridge (that incidentally has to open up to allow that big ass sail boat access to the other side), are about six cruise ships that have docked here for the night.

In case I never got around to telling all of y'all, I have decided to go out again for another shot at cruise life. Many of you know about the last time around, and there's no sense in getting into that can of worms, so lets leave that behind us and discuss what's happening now.

This time around I am going to be cruising on the Norwegian Dream. I'll leave out of Alabama, where the ship will be dry-docked, and head over to the Caribbean. I'll be porting out of Houston and New Orleans and going to places like Cozumel, Belize, and St. John. In mid May I'll shoot through the Panama Canal and make my way to Alaska where I'll spend the bulk of the cruise (porting out of Seattle). Then sometime around mid September I'll come back through the Canal and head back to the Caribbean for the fall, then in mid November I hit the end of my contract and head home!

The ship itself is going to be much different from the good ol Silver Sea. Besides the different itinerary, it is a much bigger ship, carrying 700 crew members (Silversea had 350) and I believe the number for passengers can get to 2500 if all the rooms are double occupied. It has the usual stuff one would find on a big ship like lots of restaurants, several pools, a night club, and all that good stuff... For more info, head over to

As for the shows, thankfully they seem pretty fun. First up is Rock This Town, which is a pseudo pop revue. Pop if your idea of pop is Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington! (Perhaps its a Pops revue...) In either case, I am singing Crunchy Granola (Neil Sedaka? Neil Diamond?), Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller), Solitude (Duke Ellington), Hollywood Nocturne (style of Brain Setzer) and Sing, Sing, Sing. All the arrangements are well done (and in my key, hah!).

Next is the surprisingly good Country Gold. I was joking to my buddies that since I'm from Texas, I'll probably get most of the songs in this one. Yep, I did! I can't think of the names of the folks that sing most of these, but they run the spectrum from ballady to singing fast about driving my pick up and stuff. Songs are "He's Gone Country," "Be My Baby Tonight," "What Was I Thinking?" "That's Just That" (Rio Diamond), "Desperado" (I still think the Eagles are more Rock than country, but I ain't complain' bout this one). I also get to sing some by Garth Brooks: The Dance, American Honky Tonk Association, and Ain't Going Down. It's funny how many of these songs are almost a country type of rap, just rattling off lines as fast as they can. Word Y'all.

The third show is gonna be a Cirq type show, and all I know is that I am singing an up tempo vrsion of Old Man River. Picture Sammy Davis Jr. putting his spin on it, with total disregard for th meaning behind the lyrics. Poetry...

Oh, and for those who are interested, I had my burrito on Easter Sunday after going to mass. It really is sad, giving up California Mexican Food for Lint, leaving California before Easter, and having to explain to someone what a California burrito is. Sure they thought I was crazy, putting French fries in the burrito (French Fries in the Burrito is my new band, by the way) but they did, and I was happy, and it was good.

So, what can I tell you about Ft Lauderdale... It's got a lot of little islands on it, I believe most are man made. They made rivers that separate the islands, and it gives some of the neighborhoods a canal feel. I go jogging over the draw bridge (Each time I picture it opening up and dropping me into the river while the dude who operates it points and laughs...) to a neighborhood like this. It goes like this... Street, house, water, house, street, house, water, house... Oh and those of us from the South and Midwest know that when ya own a boat, you usually rent a slip in the marina or drag it out at the boat launch. Well, since these folks have water for a back yard, they park there boats outside the house!

Oh, and these boats aren't the small fishing boats and pontoons that we're used to. These suckers are huge. Big. I don't know how much they're worth, but when you look at the houses, which makes the houses in La Jolla look like shanties, holy cow what a big freaking house! Outside the houses are stables of expensive cars. One house had a Hummer, convertible caddy, two coupe infinities, and a stretch. Across the street was an older house, although still nice, and as I was jogging by a silver Honda S2000 Roadster came backing out of the driveway. And it's jerks like that bringing the property values down in this neighborhood with their simple 3 car garage filled with paltry $35,000 automobiles. Jerks, why can't they think of anyone else but themselves...

Pretty humid here in Florida too. Actually am getting bit my mosquitos as I type this. Haven't been bit by those suckers since I lived in Texas!

There isn't really much more to report yet, but I should have some interesting stories very soon. I rehearse here in Florida until April 11th, then I fly to Alabama to plug it in the ship, and the 19th we officially open. Oh, and we show schedule is kinda like last time. We do each show twice a cruise, so three nights of doubles a week (or 10 days when in Alaska, or 15 days when heading through the Canal). I am gonna try and put another jazz set together while onboard just for kicks.

All right, I gotta go check my laundry now. Hope all is well in California, and anywhere else this E mail lands. If you got this letter twice, let me know. If someone sent you this E mail and you want to get the rest directly from me (I spritz cologne on each one) then let me know.

Talk to y'all later!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

The Lost Contract... Silver Cloud Part Two

Originally mailed May 1, 2004. Shortly after this letter was written, JAR HQ brought a replacement cast on board to replace us (without any prior notice). It was a shock to us all in that tiny five person cast, and while that water has long passed under the bridge, I often shake my head that I still work for this outfit. Still, I didn't know at the time we were going to be laid off, and life couldn't get any better. Here's a copy of what I wrote:

Hey Y'all!

I looked at the calendar today, and besides finding out that today is Saturday, that it is also May 1st! Looks like I've been on board a whole month now! How about that...

Time is flying by, but I am having a great time! At the moment we are docked in Bordeaux, France. Spent the morning walking around town, discovering a huge farmer's market, which was mostly flowers, and a large antique flea market type thing. Hate to say it, but French antiques are just as expensive here as they are in America. Saw lots of amazing statues and fountains, and then found my way into this really nice park. Hard to put into words that aren't cliche, but it was what you would expect. Beautiful old buildings, trees, rolling hills, a little river with old boats docked on it. The only thing I found peculiar was that next to this playground, and I mean right next to it, was this old, old cemetery, with about a dozen headstones that were so old you couldn't make out any words at all. Its my theory that having the playground so close gives the dead a chance to feel young again... Still, when I was a kid, I loved to dig.

I basically just followed my nose around the city. Today is some sort of French Holiday (Someone told me it was Labor Day here) so most of the stores were closed. Oh well, I'm not really a shopper anyway. Fortunately, most of the pastry stores were open, so I got me something good, with lots of filing, and walked the streets eating it (Something about eating and walking in Europe... more appealing here)

Getting here was difficult though. We picked up our charter cruise on the 28th in Lisbon, Portugal. (A charter cruise is when somebody or something like a corporation buys out the ship for a cruise, in this case Merrill Lynch) The schedule was to be at sea on the 29th, and on the 30th arrive in Bilbao, Spain. Well, our day at sea was choppy and rough. Our ship got tossed around pretty good. I don't mean gale force winds here, but enough to make life a little difficult. I was on ping pong and shuffleboard duty that day, and no one showed up. That was fine with me, as by noon I didn't want to do much standing anyway. I spent as much of the day as I could in bed. Then, I hear that we ain't going to Spain, something about the dock being closed because of bad weather. Crap. Another day at sea. The next day, more of the same. I spend all day in bed, until around 9 when I was called to do the show. Thankfully, at nine we also came into the mouth of the river that leads us to Bordeaux, so by 10 we did a show and I was back to normal. Still, for those two days I did not eat, I did not walk, I simply did not.

Oh, and Lisbon... They have the biggest suspension bridge in Europe there, as well as the huge Statue of Christ, an exact match of the one in Rio. Went walking around the old part of town underneath the bridge. It was there that I saw a great many dogs up three stories from the street on little balconies, barking at everyone below them. Imagine the power they think they have, a king presiding over his kingdom.

Exercised my Spanish in Spain... Somehow it didn't occur to me that when you buy a calling card in Spain, it ain't gonna talk to you in English when you call it up on the phone. Found this out when I tried to call home from Cadiz, Spain. Somehow, I caught enough Spanish to manage to get a couple of calls across (Marque means push, in case you hear that following a number or two).

Also spent a day in Casablanca, Morocco. Probably the dirtiest, yet most interesting city I have seen on our itinerary. Escorted a tour to the Grand Mosque (Third largest in Morocco). This puppy was built only 12 years ago, taking only 7 years to complete. Inside there is room for something like 25,000 people (no chairs or pews here) The middle is for the men, and the outer part of the room for the women. There was this huge door that opened up to the sea, so the room could be a little chilly, so some smart Moroccan put in heated floors so they wouldn't freeze. Down below is where they wash for prayer, and there are all these basins and fountains. They wash right, then left body parts, three times a piece (except the face... just once!) You'd figure a hall that big would rent out like gangbusters for bingo, covered plate, Kiwanis meetings... nope, never happens.

Oh, and there is no bar in Casablanca that the movie based its bar off of. You can find "The Casablanca Bar" in the Hyatt Regency with pictures, but it really isn't a big deal. They had a piano player there, but again, his name wasn't Sam.

So I get back from the tour, and then go back out to see the market. The market is like what you see in the movies. Thousands of shops lining little roads and streets (no cars). Lots of commotion, noise. Shops sell the usual music and shoes with a lot of local culture as well. I was going to buy some bread when I noticed the Moroccans don't mind handling ALL the food with their hands, arranging it several times, then the kids get involved, arranging and rearranging. They love to arrange their bread. I bet the bread is real good. Anyway, I was with some girls from the ship, who were out to by shoes (Shoes??? Shoes???) We went into one shop, when this dude starts talking to us. Before we knew it, he was taking us to about a dozen shops, all of them his, and all of them spread out. Didn't know where we were going, got to a shop, then zoom! Off to the next. Before I knew it, we were in a men's Moroccan store, and I was wearing a nice men's dressing gown, white and ornate, and it came all the way to my ankles. Nice, but not something I would wear outside of the house. So then I start trying on men's blouses (actually it was more like the dude throwing shirts on me, one after the other.) So I find one I like. Its dark blue with black lacing going up the sleeves and down the collar. Great! Wrap it up, I say. But before I can finish, he starts wrapping the turban around me. So I had the turban on, the shirt on. Interesting look, but not the ensem I was looking for! Still got the shirt though. Oh, and the dude, who is born and raised Moroccan, has a girl friend in Wichita Falls, Texas... Huh...

Other things...

TO ALL MY FELLOW ACTORS AND MUSICIANS- We all know how hard it is to hold jobs during the day, many of us teaching, and therefore spending all of our energy and voices. Still after doing what we gotta do, we still have the time and energy to do what we love at night. So, being here and playing shuffleboard for work, then doing a show might make me soft, but I will never complain about my daily duties. Other entertainers that I work with seem to be put out by working a 5-6 hour day playing ping pong and checking out DVDs to the guests, and have voiced their complaints. I don't agree with them, and want to tell them about all my pals who are making it happen at home, but working long hours to do so. Anyway, I think of all y'all... You all deserve to be here.

Speaking of the entertainers... I have to share this story. One of the girls, Fiona, is from Canada. She was telling me about a job she had acting on some island East of Canada that I had never heard of, close to Halifax. Something like IPC. (Already forgotten) Anyway, she seemed upset that I didn't know anything about Canadian geography, and started railing on how stupid Americans were, about how we don't care about Canada, and about how she could name all 52 states...

Another theory... One common thread in every tour I have been on is that we always visit a church, always. I mean, its nice... Old architecture, paintings, history... But I wondered something. After talking with several passengers that I had become chummy with, I have come to the conclusion that many people (myself included) see inside more churches in a week long cruise than in several months at home.

One of the passengers came to me during one of my social visits in the bar and said she needed to apologize to me. This lady and her friend had been on 2 or 3 tours that I had escorted, so I had talked to them and gotten to know them a bit. She said that she had just realized that I was a singer on board, and this being the last day of the cruise and no more shows, said that she was sorry for missing my performances. I asked her if she saw my name tag that I wear on the tours that says "Michael" and below it "Singer" She said yes, and told me she thought it was my last name!

Met a man who graduated from TCU back in the late 60s. Big Texan. He told me a story about how he didn't care much for his new son in law until they got into a boxing match using autographed gloves he had in his game room. He knocked the boy down once, giving him a black eye, and the boy landed one on his chin, sending the man down three bar stools. That's when they made the father son connection. The conversation ended by him slipping me a hundred dollar bill. I tried to refuse when he says "Are you a Millionaire? Are they paying you a million dollars to be here?" I said "No, sir, but I guess I am one step closer."

Duke - I still need your street address

Dan & Duke - worked up a jazz set with the band... Should be up next cruise

Jessica - I went to eat in the dining room the other day... They had this thing draped on the table. It confused me because at first, I could not even see the table! I mean, I could feel the table, but where was the table? Oh, and Andre says hi.

Randi - Finished two whole books, and am now reading two more concurrently.

Jesse - I was right, Lemons really are green over here! (Oranges are orange)

Okay, I guess that's way long enough... Till next time,

Your pal,


The Lost Contract... Silver Cloud Part One

This was originally E mailed April 21st, 2004. Way before my contracts on the Dream I had my first contract with JAR on board the Silver Cloud, a fourth of the Silver Sea fleet of ships. I was given three days to pack my life away (the start of a disturbing trend) and join the ship in Italy... the name of the town escapes me. So, here is what I wrote:

Hey Y'all!

Had a second so I thought I would drop a line to catch ya up on what's going on. It's a lot actually, so feel free to skim, take it in sections... whatever.

First, it's important to know that when you have been on board for a couple of weeks, you soon forget about day and date. Unless I look at a calendar or ask several people (because they don't know either) I have no idea what the date, or even the day is! So, the following is sort of a collage of events that have happened to me that I feel are interesting to share.

So, since getting here, I have opened all three shows, cruised to ports up and down Italy and Sicily, and at the moment am at Barcelona, Spain. Italy is just as wonderful as you can imagine. I have walked around the port areas of most of the cities, as well as escorted some tours. Escorting a tour basically means that I go along with the passengers on a tour that has been set up by the ship. My job is simply to count heads, be there for safety, and to be a representative for the ship and the better interest of the passengers. The ship provides me with a backpack that I carry on the tours. The backpack contains a first aid kit, a bag of handy wipes, and on top of everything... the first thing I can access upon opening the backpack, is a roll of toilet paper. Fortunately, I have not had to use any of these items. The passengers have said good things about me, and I am already referred to by the tour managers as the Star Escort. They say I will be getting a name badge that says that too! Anyway... I have escorted a tour to Lucca (a historic older town outside of Piza), Pompei, and recently a tour of Palma De Mallorca, Spain. Its really cool that I get to do this because I get to meet the passengers (I have met several Texans already, a few from central no less!), and see some amazing things! Plus, when you meet the passengers, you get invited to dinner... ahh, dinner.

I have had the fortune to eat a galley brunch with some folks, which is a buffet style serving that takes place in the galley (kitchen)! Very nice spread... For a moment I forgot about my precious California burritos (but not totally). Dinner on board is also very nice, and is served in a course style. You don't have to eat every course, but the choices the night I was there were great (I had Osso Bucco).

Work on the ship, besides the show, is interesting. Not sure if I mentioned this stuff in my last letter (those who know me know one of my faults is the retelling of stuff over and over) but here are some examples of a "work day"

10:00 AM - Host Ping Pong
11:00 AM - Host Shuffleboard

Another day was:

3:30 PM - Scrabble
4-6 PM - DVD Checkout in the library (Yes, Randi, I am actually reading... quite a bit!)

Other days I am "needed" in the bar for socializing. That means carrying a Gin and Tonic (thanks for the introduction Colleen!), around and meeting all the guests. Some folks on board, who also are called upon to socialize, ask me how it is so easy for me to talk to strangers... I tell them that it was an area of study in my MFA program (right Karen? Elliott?)

The shows themselves ... well, what can I say. They are VERY presentational. The Broadway show is probably my least favorite. It really has no direction, and the flow of songs makes no sense. Two of my biggest gripes... One is that of my solos, I sing Razzle Dazzle from Chicago. Nice song, but get this... On the top of the score for that number it says "Florence Henderson + Three Guys" Since the show is tracked, I am singing a song for a low alto, singing B, A, and G below the staff. Wonderful. My other gripe is that somehow they have included oldies rock and roll such as "shake, rattle, and roll" by referring to some show that ran in London's West End in 1989 called "Forbidden Planet." Seems like a cheap way to vary the material, but I digest... Still, I get the eleven o' clock number in the show. Give My Regards to Broadway (I think its taken from the Fosse revue that Reinking did, I think.) I get to rif the hell out of it, so its cool.

The Latin revue, Copa De La Vida, is actually a pretty fun show. I sing a lot of Latin Pop songs, and dance just a little bit.... just a bit...

The third show, cirque Noveau, is visually pretty cool. We have a web (spinning girl in mid air while she does tricks) a silk (our adage team does aerial tricks suspended by a large red fabric) and some other nice combinations. The only reason I am involved in that show is to sing "Starlight Express" and to walk around in my Peacock feather jacket and be very "Copperfieldian" to the dancers on stage.

Other things...

In Trapini, a fishing city on the Northwest corner of Sicily, I saw old men knitting fishing nets and old ladies lowering baskets out of there third story windows to their husbands in the street, who placed groceries and things in them to save them a trek down flights of stairs.

On the main street in Barcelona, there are street performers who stay frozen like statues until someone puts a euro in their basket, and then they come to life like a marionette and do a little act, only to end frozen. Also, street beggars are missing at least two appendages.

In the huge cathederial in Palma De Mallorca (name I forget... another one of my qualities) you can find 5 forms of architecture (Gothic, Neoclassicism, Baroque, Art Nuveau...) But there is also a huge rose window at the front. The tour guide asked us to study it, and see if anything was wrong with it. All of a sudden, I saw it. In this huge rose window in a catholic church was the Star of David! When Takamadah (you can't Takamadah anything!) came though town with his Spanish Inquisition, he told the Jews to convert, move and leave your valuables, or die. A lot of clever Jews stayed, and said that they would convert, and to show their new chosen faith, made the rose window for the church! Then they would go to church to pray, and there they had their secret place of worship! Pretty cool. They also went as far as to have pork BBQ's in their front yards, to avoid persecution.

In every town I visited in Italy, there were cars parked on either side of the street, facing either direction. The mopeds cut off the little cars, which cut off the big cars, which cut of the tour buses, which have to be greased on both sides to fit in-between buildings with no sidewalks or curbs separating them from the street which was made hundreds of years ago so two horses could pass side by side. I have come to the conclusion that whoever is in charge of the DMV and highway system there has declared a motorist "free for all" until they come up with a set of laws.

My theory on how the ship is powered... In Deck 3 is the Crew Bar. This is where everyone comes to get together, drink, and smoke... smoke a lot. I haven't found it yet, but I am positive that there is a vent there that sucks in all the smoke from all the cigarettes, takes it through some engine, and out the stacks. People smoke on board all the time, but how can the ship rely on the crew to power it 24 hours a day? Wouldn't the crew run out of cigarettes? Well, someone thought of this too, and invented the "Slopchest." Not sure of the origin of this word, but it occurs about once a week, and this is where the crew can buy direct from the ships cabinet at a very low price (everything in American dollars). Here, the crew can buy three things: Water, Alcohol, and huge cartons of cigarettes. So, the ship has it all figured out. By directly supplying the crew with the fuel the ship needs to move, at a reasonable price, then supplying the crew with a weekly wage that will go back to buy more cigarettes... Man, what a system.

In Spain I bought some music from a street performer named Aaron Lordson. Pretty good stuff. Check him out at (Spanish Jazz mixed with R + B and Pop)

Dan and Duke - Put my jazz set together. Mostly ballads... its gonna be so sweet. Lots of good stuff like April in Paris, Lush Life, Autumn Serenade, and all the ones we would do together.

Colleen - closing the set with Funny Valentine

My friends at Lambs - I hear South Pacific is going to be very cool indeed! More details!

Matt - Gym on board stinks. They do have lots of free weights (up to 25 kg). Need some info on some good exercises for the basic stuff.

Les - How's Joseph going?

Mom and Dad - have found calling card, and will have time off the ship to call very soon, I promise!

Bresky - Yes, I thanked the big guy. He said to tell you hello, and that he sees everything...

So, I guess that's all I can remember at the moment. I am closing this letter with an excerpt from my journal for the night before Easter (Yes, I went to midnight mass). I think it is a perfect illistration of how life on board can be so different from the "Real World" and how we should all concentrate on the little things.

Miss all of y'all, and let me know how y'all are doing!

Your pal,


Here's the passage.

Anyway, so I watch some television, then I put on my suit to go see the Circ show, the last of three to open. I see the show, and decide to take a walk. Again I hear music, this time coming from the forward section of deck 4 in the crew hallway. There were a lot of the same crew guys who play guitar, there jamming and singing. There was a mostly eaten bird of some kind, and a half drank bottle of Jim Beam and lots of glasses. They welcomed me in and immediately poured me a double of Jim. Now, I have had a drink or two each nite I have been out, as they are free, and you look strange not holding one when you are socializing in the bar. So this night I really didn't want to have a drink at all. Still, it would have been rude for me to turn down the drink, so I took it, sang some old Beatles tunes, cheered someone's birthday, and drank my bourbon.

I go into the lobby and bump into the Father who will be doing the midnight mass. This is a first. Once he finds out that I am Texan, he makes fun of me and asks where my boots are. Never been put down by a Father before...

Next I go to the bar to listen to the band play and get some songs in. I meet the new head bartender, Yohan or something. Anyway, he invites me for a drink, and before I could politely refuse, he has me in the liquor cabinet off of the theatre and he has all the bottles at his disposal. So I ask for a Gin and Tonic, and he makes me one. Now I am drinking the Gin and Tonic, and feeling a little light headed... and its nearly midnight... time for the Easter Midnight mass. So I attend mass knowing full well that I am a little drunk. Can't say I have ever done that before. Still, it was a nice mass. The father had been gotten last minute because the scheduled one had broken his foot previously. So, we had mass in the theatre, and nearly no one was there, even though it was open to passengers and crew alike. But it was a nice ending to a nice day.