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)


P.s.


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.



ML


Thursday, May 01, 2008

The First Dream - Greetings From the Gulf of Mexico!

Originally mailed November 10, 2005.


Hey y'all!

Welp, looks like this is it... Nearly seven months have gone by since I've been on this ship (eight if you count the three weeks spent in Ft. Lauderdale). We ask each other (the JARs) if we're ready to go, or if we would like to stay a bit longer... For most of us, it's time to go... getting a dose of senior-idis. For a couple of folks who are extending (for better or worse) they'll stay on until April. For me, the bottom line is although I have had a seven month cruise vacation with a sprinkle of work thrown in for good measure, I miss being at home. Personally I feel like this job no longer presents a challenge, so its time to find something else... In any case, what a trip it's been! Where else can you do what you love, get paid for it, and see the world all at the same time? Answer: The Navy.

So, what have I been up to since the last E mail? Welp, we had a Halloween party... two actually. On Halloween night I attended the Pax party, held up in the Observatory lounge (Deck 12 forward). I didn't really have a costume, so I made so scars with my scar wax, which I've had in my makeup kit since I bought most of it in 1995... Must say it works pretty good!

And yes, I made it from scratch... See, you do learn things in college... Anyway, went to the pax party, which was okay. Then the next night I went out to aft deck 9 for the crew Halloween party!

From left to right are my buddies Michael Ramey, Charles Peachuk (Juggler, and a damn fine one at that) and Erik Lillenthal. There was plenty to drink, Halloween Peeps, and a costume contest, all accompanied by some cool nighttime ocean breeze.

After the party, I took a walk around the ship. It was around three in the morning, and all the Pax had staggered off to bed (Caribbean cruises tend to be booze oriented). Took some pictures of the ship at night...

This was taken on Deck 13, looking down onto the middle forward section of Deck 12 (That light at the top is fixed onto the stacks at the rear of the ship).

What else... Well, I am also officially through with ports... Yesterday we were in Belize, and the day before that was Roatan, Honduras. Roatan was nice... just went out and found a beach. Swam, sunned. nothing extraordinary. Still, it was nice to get away, and to be someplace new.

Here is Roatan as we were getting ready to sail...

The next day, Belize, was a little more eventful. Uri and I scored some shore ex tickets and went cave tubing, and yes it is just as cool as it sounds.

In order to get to the river, we took a bus ride that took over an hour. When we got close it started to rain... hard. Now, we had the option upon arrival to buy aqua socks for the river, otherwise they recommended that we use our tennis shoes. This isn't because of jagged rocks in the river, but because of the mile hike from the place where we get our tubes to the starting point in the river. Uri and I decided to leave our dry clothes in the bus, and went out in our bathing suits and shoes. Well, the walk to the place to get our tubes was over a small hill, and by the time we got there, we were soaked from the rain, and saw no point of getting aqua socks when our shoes were drenched! So, we got our tubes and walked through the jungle to the starting point. The interesting thing was that where we got our tubes was at the finish of the river (or I should say, our tubing trip). We walked around a U section (give or take) to the starting point. So, we got to cross the river (in it), then walk a mile, then get back in the river! Once we got there, you could wade in the river from the rocky shore, or jump in from about 8 or 10 feet. Uri did like two flips and I just flailed.

From there we went through two caves. One had a flat ceiling about 12 feet above, the other was cavernous, had stalactites, and was much more dramatic. Oh, and did I mention that we each got miner lights on a headband? Yep, since there was no electric light in the caves, and they were long enough that there was no natural light, we had to use those. At one point we all turned off our lights... It was dark... big surprise but very cool! After the second cave we got out and sloshed to the place where we got our tubes, turned them in and had lunch. They gave us grilled chicken with rice and beans and some homemade habenaro salsa (turns out hot sauces are Belize's number one export).

Also, after the bus ride back to the city (Read: Nap) we ran into Victor and Christy. They were the original gymnast and singer when we got here in April. They are interning as Art auctioneer assistants on a Royal Caribbean ship for a bit before doing it for real on another ship. Uri and Victor were teammates in the Olympics, and its because of Victor that Uri is here, so they had some catching up to do. We met up with Lyle, Denise, Michael, Eric, and Natalie and Bruno (they were just leaving the Dream when I got here in April) at a local bar. Kind of a cathartic experience, having complete bookends of our contract here in one place, at our last port. In any case...

So that's about it for ports... Tonight we have our last show (Sea Legs at Sea) and then tomorrow its packing and waiting for Saturday! There's not really a whole lot left to say... So, in lieu of waxing poetic, I think I'll just share some of my favorite pictures from the past seven months...

Michael and I's idea of drydock (before getting to Alabama)

Drydock... after getting to Alabama (and it doesn't seem to matter much. We still have engine troubles).

Four cruise ships off the coast of Grand Cayman. (the 4th is kinda hidden)

Mickey, Katie, Denise, Lyle and I at the beach in Acapulco

Hot tubbin at the Hubbard Glacier


A lot of us hangin' out at the Viking in Juneau

Deer Mountain in Ketchikan.

High atop the mountains in Seward (In June...)

And the glacier in Whittier...

Katie and Mickey rehearsing...

Lyle and I sporting our end of show costumes for Sea Legs at Sea... ah... sequins

Save a horse... Ride a cowboy.

That's it! See y'all later!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

The First Dream - Greetings From Vera Cruz, Mexico!

Originally mailed October 30, 2005.


Hey y'all!

So, what's new? Welp, as I write this we are sailing away from Vera Cruz, Mexico, on our way to Progresso. We are now doing seven day Caribbean cruises out of Houston, Texas, and our itinerary is constantly changing due to adverse weather conditions and continuing problems with bad engines.

So on our first Caribbean cruise we were scheduled to go to Cozumel and Belize. Actually, way back when the passengers bought their tickets, the itinerary was going to be Cozumel, Cancun, Roatan, and Belize. Having bad engines has changed that to what we have now, or did have. Because of Wilma we skipped Belize and went to Progresso. We actually were in Cozumel about two days before Wilma hit there, along side the bigger, nicer, and newer Norwegian Sun.

On the next day we hit Progresso, which was surprisingly a lot of fun... This time we were docked across from the Carnival Elation... in a word: huge.

Yes, the bows were at the same point on each side... We were celebrating a fellow cast members birthday and spent most of the day (and night... we finally got a late night port!) eating fish tacos and drinking Pina Coladas. Oh, but before we got to celebrating, I explored the city with my buddy Amy, who is a personal fitness trainer on board. When I think of Progresso now, this image will flash in my head first...

Seems as though the highly popular "American Circus" has branched out to Mexico. They were doing a show at a local school, and obviously it wasn't time for the monkey act yet. I got a few pictures next to the monkey... well, I was next to the monkey... Amy was safely taking pictures from across the street. Later a young boy came to untie the monkey and bring it in to the school to do things like spread rabies and cause general fecal mayhem.

Whose my cute little monkey? Monkey wanna banana? Ahem... sorry.

Anyway, so after convincing myself not to pet the monkey, we went over to have birthday tacos and stuff. Later that night, Uri and I were walking around the town. I spotted the well lit lighthouse and decided that it'd be pretty neat to climb to the top. So, Uri spoke to the night watchman, and whaddaya know, next thing I'm seeing is Progresso from 120 something feet up... What would you do? Well, Uri and I pretended to fly off of the edge, which was quite low by The American Lighthouse Safety Organization's standards... (ALSO)

Oh, and for those interested in the historical aspect, the engine that powers the big rotating fresnel was built by a French company in 1893, and still works today... Or at least the day we were there.

The only other point of interest here is that we had yet another batch of petitioners. Brought together by Kismet, and the passion for pissing on everybody else's good time (most folks just dealt with the changes) a group of about 4 or 5 women bothered everyone they could to get a signature. They even got up on stage before one of our shows and without microphone said their piece for a good three some-odd minutes. That was the first time our show had an opening act.

So, this cruise we are going to Vera Cruz, and then Progresso. So far no one has complained... so far. Vera Cruz is probably the most metropolitan city we have visited in Mexico.

When we got off the ship there were hundreds of people crowding the dock, bands playing, local groups dancing... It seems that despite its exotic sounding name, Vera Cruz doesn't get too many cruise ships. Probably most amazing was the number of school kids who asked to take our picture! No kidding, every fifty feet kids were asking us to stop as they got out their cameras and cell phones. After a while, I decided I should get pictures of them...

Go ahead, make your jokes... But honestly at night there are a BILLION Jr. High age kids in uniform running around. I asked them in my best Spanish (more on that in a sec) why they were out roaming around at nine o'clock at night. Turns out that many of them have a class or two in the afternoon, then return at night to finish class for the day, er... night. So now you know...

Afterwards Uri and I ate some street tacos and then went to eat at a local spot... Which marked the triumphant return of Mr. Tortilla Face...

Wait a second... Sr. Fache de Tortilla. Not bad huh? Once I did that on a date... When I dropped her off at her house, she didn't even wait for me to catch up with her as she walked rapidly to her door. Ah, high school... now such sophisticated tortilla humor is met with thunderous applause from loved ones and strangers who proceed to lift me onto their shoulders and parade me around the restaurant parking lot yelling things like "Sr. Fache de Tortilla es muy guapo!" while horns from passing by motorists beep the rhythm to Shave and a Haircut... two bits. Later as I return to my booth the Maitre'D (or however it's spelled) brings me a rose and congratulated me on my remarkable performance. In any case...

Now on to my remarkable Spanish speaking skills, which is not to be confused with my afore mentioned remarkable performance of Sr. Fache de Tortilla. Although my grasp of the Spanish language might not make Sra. Croft, my Spanish I and II teacher too happy, I have come to the remarkable conclusion that although I am not that good at Spanish, I am quite fluent in the language of Mexican Restaurant. No kidding, sit me down in front of an extensive menu (in Spanish) and a large basket of freshly fried tortilla chips and pico de gallo, and I become well studied in the language. I can pronounce every word, tell you what kind of food it is, how it's prepared. I can then tell the waiter what I want, what I don't want with it, ask for little extra things... Bottom line is I can get fed with no international mishaps. As soon as I leave the restaurant, it's back to "Donde esta el bano?" and other classic gringo phrases.

They had another stage in a plaza area where they were dancing and singing, lots of music in the streets. And since we had an overnight there (first one since New Orleans... way back in April) we had all the time we wanted to explore and see the city. So we took a cab over to the Flamingo club, where a live 10 piece band played samba, salsa, and meringue! Very cool. It was mostly crew from the Dream, so it became a surrogate crew bar.

If you squint, you can see the band... Piano, electric stand bass, drums, bongos, three trombones, three singers... it was great!

Got in around 4 in the morning, and the next day Eric and I had lunch, and afterwards I took this picture...

Hey, when ya gotta go... Funniest part is that the poor boy had to go so bad (fumbling with my camera took at least 15 seconds)... he had to go so bad he was holding himself up by resting his head on the car. Anyway, just thought I'd share.

So now we're back on the Dream, hobbling our way back to Houston (I am now writing to you after hitting Progresso again, and in between shows if Sea Legs at Sea). We have two cruises left, then it's adios. Also, because of hurricane Wilma, the next cast has come to the Dream a week early. Seems that Wilma destroyed (among other things) the Marriott and the rehearsal studio, where you spend your days and nights while rehearsing for a JAR show. So, they are now onboard rehearsing their shows around our show schedule and all the other events scheduled in the theatre (Bingo). Unfortunately, that pretty much means rehearsals start around midnight... just when you thought your rehearsal schedule stank...

Well, I gotta get ramblin'... I'll be back to San Diego in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime it's still life as usual here. Hope y'all are doing well, and I'll talk to you soon!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola (who is interested in the same thing as both the monkey and that other dude)

P.s.

Look for another super cool song from our shows in a couple of days!

ML

The First Dream - Greetings From Prince Rupert, BC!

Originally mailed September 20, 2005.

Hey y’all! So, how's everyone doing? Good good… Yeah, I know its been awhile, but what can I say, when your work “week” is ten or eleven days and you work something like eight hours during that “week,” you get a little unmotivated. That, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but even an Alaskan cruise can get mundane and routine after your 12th time up. That’s right, I’ve taken twelve Alaskan cruises. That’s about four months of totem poles, ulu knifes, whale sightings (look, a spout!), hot-tubbin’ with glaciers, hand crafted beers (someone please tell me what the hell that means…), hiking, a million pictures of different mountains that somehow all look the same, and store after store of Alaskrap.

So because of all this, and my unwillingness to sit down and write a letter, I’ve waited a couple of months to let y’all know that I’m still alive and doing fine. Actually, pretty good. Its been sort of an Alaskan Wilderness Vacation. As I am writing this letter we are sailing away from Whittier on our way to Juneau. Not only is this our last Alaskan cruise, but tonight and tomorrow promise to be the rockiest sea days we’ve had. The forecast calls for 45-50 knot winds, and 6-8 meter swells. In layman's terms that equates to a whole lotta barfing. But we'll see. Tonight we have Rock This Town, and tomorrow is Country Gold, so everyone will be doing their best not to fall off of the stage, let alone break their ankles dancing. (That night, the swells and the wind were nothing as bad as they said it was going to be, so no barfing)

Oh, and speaking of breaking ankles, we’ve officially had six cast members swap out of our company due to medical or contractual reasons. Six people! Our cast is only thirteen. Lets see… First was Billy, who pretty much quit but was about to get fired. Next was Christy and Victor, who decided sometime around the first day of rehearsals that they didn't want to be here (took them about two weeks into the contract before they decided to let us know…) Then Megan hurt her knees dancing. Next Lisa, who was the singer who came in to replace Christy, had to leave because she was contracted to another ship. Finally Eddie had to leave us last cruise due to knee complications. Plus, we nearly lost Michael Ramey (one of our dancers) a few days ago when he slipped and hurt his ankle. So, instead of being the Jean Ann Ryan company, JAR now stands for Just Another Reblock. Even made a T-shirt commemorating our contract. Funny thing is that after it was made, we lost Eddie. So, like a new computer, our shirts was obsolete the day we got them.

So, what have I been doing lately? Welp, a lot of the same. For example, every time we’re in Juneau we go shoot pool at the Viking. When in Kechikan we go eat some Caribou steak at the Pioneer CafĂ©. Whittier? Have a buffalo burger at Bab’s. Still, there were a few interesting occurrences in the past couple of months… Like

Here is Michael, Uri, and enjoying a soak in the hot tub with some “adult” coffee while taking in the Hubbard Glacier. Probably one of the coolest places on the ship is for Crew only. I think the best place for a hot tub is the bow of the ship. We did this a couple more times, but the weather was never as nice as it was this day. Of course there was lots of memorable hikes, but probably the best was when Katie, Mickey, Uri and I hiked to the Glacier in Whittier

This is the waterfall that created the smallish river that separated us from the glacier itself. Most recently I hiked up to Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway. A little more than a 3,000 foot elevation change from trail head to the lake, the earth was very soft from constant rain and over saturation…

But there are lots of things for the crew to do on board, as well. Our crew steward, who also is the JAR dance captain, makes sure that the crew on board are well taken care of, and plans events like bingo, dance lessons, theme nights in the crew bar, and a talent show. I attended this talent show, in which there was lots of music, singing, comedy, magic… and of course, what talent show would be complete without cross dressing…

No, I didn't compete, but I had a front row seat.

But then there are the sights of Alaska that only I can appreciate, and since your reading my letter, you get to appreciate them too… How about this one. When in Haines, be sure to visit

Ever in Ketchikan? Try this restaurant…

Did you know that Skagway is the garden city of Alaska? I didn't either...

Juneau has a lot of stores along one of its main streets, my favorite being…

If you are visiting Whittier, you can see a real live reindeer!

And many restaurants offer reindeer sausage too, so there are many ways to enjoy Santa’s helpers.

Hey, here’s one. When I was in Seward I was pointed to a small stream where the salmon were literally swimming on top of each other…

Oh, here’s an interesting picture. I found this while surfing the net one day.

This is when they were adding the 150 foot section to the ship in 1998.

Speaking of the ship, we’re still hobbling along fine. Maybe you saw us on the news. Yeah, were pretty famous… You see one cruise a while back, we popped another engine (for the record I am not sure whether we have two or three working right now… One never worked out of drydock, and another poops out every now and then) which made us about seven hours late getting back to Seattle. Not only did it make nearly every passenger late for their flight, but CNN came by to tell the world that we were hobbling back to the ocean with only two engines working and a boat load of passengers that may or may not make it back. Well despite what Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper (remember when A C was a skinny dork on the school syndicated news show “Channel One?” I bet he doesn't want you to…) reported, we made it to and fro, missing Sitka as usual.

Missing Sitka has been sort of routine for us here on the M/S Norwegian Dream. You’ll recall back in June when I told you we were taking it out of our itinerary. Unfortunately, some of the passengers didn’t take the news as easily as I did. One couple in particular came back for a second cruise just so they could pass out a petition. They would approach people in the lounges and generally pee on their good time. Not sure if they got all the signatures they needed, but I am sure that somewhere in the fine print of the tickets it says something to the effect of “itinerary subject to change without notice.” In any case, they seemed to be having a good time when not collecting signatures… Oh well.

I still keep pretty busy here amidst all the sea days and repeat ports. Sea days have been the most challenging. Its difficult at first to be sedate and comfortable with the idea of not doing much. Because of this, many folks will gain weight during their various contracts on board. I have pretty much stuck to going to the gym five or six days out of the week… I mean, with all the time and ease of commute there’s really no excuse not to. There’s also a promenade on deck 7, which is nice to jog on when the weather and sea permits. Plus, when it’s a little windy, you make the turn coming around the bow and the wind will kinda pick you up and blow you along your way! Still, Deck 7 can be an adventure for the senses, well… sense. Let me explain.

Deck 7 port side smells. There, I’ve said it. Everyone notices this. But it just doesn't smell, it has altering smells, or moods I think, depending on where you are. Here’s a good example… We were leaving Prince Rupert and it was a nice day, so I decided to go for a jog. I start on Deck 7 Aft, on the port side, only because it’s a straight shot from my cabin. So, I stretch and begin my jog. The carnival of smells starts immediately. First, and all the way aft, was the smell of dead fish. Now this wasn’t NCL’s fault, since the cruise ship terminal (a.k.a. dock) is next to a fishery. So dead fish, no problem… I continue along my route up Deck 7, and mid aft I hit the smell of macaroni. Not a bad smell considering what’s next. There is usually some sort of kitchen smell here, and it varies, but today’s menu was a good one. I continue on. Now I’m midship, and then the smell hits me. Its one that’s usually lingering here, coming out of the ship somewhere close by, is some kind of gas… methane, sulfur… something foul. I’ve gotten good at holding my breath (yes, while jogging) to avoid this smell. Seriously, you don’t want to breathe this stuff in too deep. So I step up my trot to get out of that, and land right in the smell of poop. Yes, poop… You can find this smell all over the ship, mostly in the passenger cabin corridors. Somehow, and many people think intentionally, the passenger bathrooms exhaust all of the air outside to the hallways. My walk from the theatre (all the way forward) to my room (all the way aft) on Deck 5 is usually met at one point with the smell of poop… But I’m talking about my jog on Deck 7, so I won’t digress… moving on…

I’m smelling poop now, so I jog a little faster. Bow of the ship in sight, I’m now towards the front of the ship… hey, this is a new smell. Not really alluring, but unique. The Dream has really out done itself this time, for it’s mixed the smell of Gasoline with the smell of Poop! As I was jogging, I tried to think of a name for this amazing new smell… Gas-o-Poop. Then I hit the bow and come back on the starboard side, which incredibly has no smell except the clean smell of the ocean. Then I turn the horn for lap two… and in case you forgot the order… Dead fish, macaroni, gas, poop, and finally Gas-o-poop. To put this in perspective, I usually run ten laps. Three and a half laps equal a mile. So that’s nearly a mile and a half of stink. Still, the smells don’t stop there… read on…

Lets move into the passenger areas now… Lounges, theatre, restaurants. The average age of our 11th Alaskan cruise was 64. This cruise is supposed to be higher, and the Panama Canal repo cruise even greater. See where this is going? One night I was walking through the theatre, and I was behind an older gentleman. I’ve gotten used to walking at a slower pace… it doesn’t bother me… Unless the dude smells like diaper pee. It fills the room and lingers like turkey after Thanksgiving. And, unlike pee diapers, a turkey sandwich sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Finally, let me tell you a funny story about performing on this cruise ship. The wall of the proscenium arch that faces upstage has a huge vent on each side that blows cool air on the stage and somehow is supposed to cool the house as well. The air comes from outside the ship… somewhere. Now, in our eleven day cruises we stop in Seward, Alaska. It’s a late night port, and we also perform Country Gold at 8:30 and 10 pm. This isn’t an issue for audiences, since unless your on a tour there’s nothing to do after dark. But what’s the issue is the large fishery that’s next door to the ship. Imagine these two huge vents blowing the smell of dead fish all over the stage, the wings, and the dressing rooms. Its truly amazing. Thus concludes my section on the smells of The Dream.

So, we have about two months left in our contract. From here we finish our final Alaskan cruise in Vancouver (not Seattle). Then we start our repositioning cruise down the West Coast and through the Panama Canal and back up to Texas. The cruise itinerary says we are porting in Houston, but I think it’ll probably be Galveston, since Houston isn’t exactly on the water. From here we’re going to resume our Caribbean cruises, hitting all the usual stops like Cozumel, Cancun, and Belize (Unbelizeable!). After four cruises to the Caribbean, we’ll be done and it’ll be back to life as usual. Which sounds kind of funny since life as usual has changed to ship life. In any case, we are less than two months away from concluding our contracts. Some will take a short one week break and go to another ship (NCL has a policy that employees cannot work more than ten months out of the year. Since JARs tend to work six month contracts, they can’t go directly from ship to ship), while others (myself included) will take a longer break. Although this a great job, as well as an awesome opportunity to see the world, its difficult to achieve long term goals while at sea. Still, not a bad way to pay the rent!

I’ve become an expert of sorts of Alaska, or at least of the ports that we visit. Are you planning a trip to Alaska next season? Here are a few pointers…

Probably the most important is figure out what ship you want to be on. I love the Dream despite her inadequacies. However, she is slow because of all her engine problems. Generally the newer the ship, the bigger and faster it is. The Dream was built in 1992, which is getting up there for cruise ships. I don’t have a clue how fast she’s supposed to go, but right now it averages around 16 knots. Faster ship equals less sea days and more time at port. I know it sounds funny to say, but keep it in mind. Next, are you wondering how important it is to have an exterior cabin? Unless you live here (I love mine), I don’t think it means that much. If you figure your going to be out at port or enjoying the ship’s activities, that means that you’ll only be in your room to sleep. So you can save the thousand or so dollars and spend it on all the expensive tours and ten dollar drinks. If you are going to get an exterior cabin, make sure it doesn’t say “obstructed view.” Do ya know what that means? That means that you open your drapes and get a big orange life boat in your face. Plus, it makes the ambient light in the room orange…

Next, think about the itinerary. Prince Rupert sounds awesome, doesn’t it? When I heard the name, I figured there’d be French Canadian castles and stuff. Nope. The only reason we stop there is because of a nautical technicality. Since we are a foreign flagged vessel, we can‘t go to just American ports, otherwise NCL would have to obey American regulations and pay taxes. So, to avoid that, we have to stop in another country. And since NCL likes to save their coupons, we stop in Prince Rupert and not Vancouver. Some cruise lines will literally stop and go, not letting off any passengers. The only thing PR has to offer is Tim Hortons. Ever hear of it? If you have, then you're Canadian, and you probably follow the phrase “Tim Hortons” with a sigh.

I have never seen people so excited about going to a sandwich and coffee place in my life. It starts two nights before, when if you stand still in the middle of the ship, you can hear the thirty or so Canadian crew members vehemently whispering words like “Timbits” and “Turkey Sandwich.” (Timbits is Canadian for doughnut holes.) Then the day we hit PR, it’s like watching a parade in fast forward, or more like a marathon race to beat the line. In any case, besides that, there’s a mall about the size of a Super Wal-Mart, about a dozen souvenir stores (only one of which is Canadian themed, complete with a large Canadian Royal Mountie motion activated bobbing head thing), and a fishery (yes, the one next to the ship).

So, back to the point, the itinerary. Some ports are awesome, while others don’t offer much. In this case, Whittier and Haines. The others have enough to keep you occupied without going on a tour. If you are going to go on a tour, keep in mind that unless you are doing something really special like a helicopter tour, you can usually get the same tour on land for a lot less. Since the ship books all the tours with the folks in the cities your going to visit, doesn’t it make sense to do it yourself and save some money? Most of the time, right where you get off of the ship is a bunch of stands offering city tours, glacier tours, whale watching, and the other usual outdoorsy type Alaska stuff. The only reason to book onboard is for the peace of mind. You see, if you book onboard, and the tour you’re on is late, then the ship will know and not leave without you. If you book on the pier and your bus breaks down, then make sure you have your camera, because you’ll have a great photo opportunity as the ship sails away.

Also, and I think it’s funny that NCL does this, a lot of folks get on board and think that we’re going to Anchorage. What NCL does is say this on the itinerary:

September 5th: Anchorage (Whittier)

Guess which one you’re going to? You wanna go to Anchorage? Find a bus, pal. Basically, the point is not every port is going to be a Juneau or Kechican, so figure out what you want to do.

Then there’s little things. Look up the ship online and see what people think of the food and service. Did you know, for example, that one of the hidden charges is a ten dollar a day service fee? That goes towards your room steward and hotel staff. How about that automatic 15% gratuity on all purchases on board? Some people get upset and fight it, and while you can remove the ten bucks a day, the 15% stays.

Anyway, its certainly not rocket science, but those are a few key things to consider when booking with NCL or any other cruise line.

Hey, by the way, Seattle’s pretty cool too… We’ve been fortunate to call Seattle home base each time we return from Alaska. Have done all the usual stuff like going to Pike Street Market (yes, they do throw fish), and taking the Underground Tour, which is a tour of Seattle before it was rebuilt at the level it is now, so basically underground…

To make a long story short, at one point the streets of Seattle were built above the sidewalks, from as little as 10 feet to as many as 30 feet, due to non tax paying business owners and a history of a “fix it fast, not right” attitude. So in order to cross a street you had to climb up a ladder (later stairs), cross the street, and go back down. When things started falling off of the street and killing people, then Seattle decided to cover up those sidewalks. Now the businesses had two entrances, one above ground and one below. People actually preferred the underground areas because it kept them out of the elements, and so it thrived as a place of business, as speakeasies during prohibition, and as barracks during World War I. So, now you know…

Plus, it seems that Seattle is really ahead of the game when it comes to personal nutrition.

All right, well I gotta get into costume and do a little “Sea Legs At Sea,” our neat little song and dance show. As I conclude this letter, we are leaving Prince Rupert and on our way to Vancouver, and continuing south to the Panama Canal, and back up to Houston to warmer weather and sandy beaches. Hope all is well with all y’all back home, and let me know how your summer went!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola (sitting on a glacier)


P.s.

“Gas-o-Poop” is my new band…

ML

P.p.s

Look for another song from our shows following this E mail... in a couple of days.