Friday, July 16, 2010

Kon'nichiwa Asuka II Part Three - Around (Half) the World in Eighty... Fifty-Three Days

In the past twenty-four hours I've watched in shock as some dude in the crew gym shucked his pants down to his ankles to admire his thighs in a mirror, caught a cook sparking up a cigarette in the galley, used cheap eye liner to paint dog noses onto a dozen housekeepers, hand painted an Indian warrior fern on the chest of some guy in cruise staff, and witnessed the captain get executed samurai style. Normally I would say that this is all just another day on board the illustrious Asuka II, but actually all those events helped me put a cap on a world cruise and begin my time in Japan.

At the moment I am sitting in the Galaxy Lounge, house left, admiring the view of Yokohama just outside the window... and admire is all I'll get to do today, as we won't be getting any shore leave due to crew immigration and the disembarking of passengers. Usually I would take this time to piss and moan about not getting to go ashore, but sailing west from Africa to Asia has taken all the fight out of me. At first glance, a world cruise sounds pretty exciting... sail the globe, stop in exotic places, and buy magnets with the exotic place's name on it. However, the following statistic keeps me from bragging about my unfortunate accomplishment: in a fifty-three day voyage I stepped foot on land a total of thirteen times. Yes, that includes the overnights (two days) in New York City and San Francisco. No, that does not include Panama, where I saw land an arm's reach away, but was unable to firmly grab hold. Thirteen days on land friends... the part that might be the most frustrating is that I had already been to most of the places we hit. Still, who among us can honestly say they dislike being beaten over the head with other people's vacation pictures and stories? Nobody? Good. Here are some highlights:

Here is my first glance, from my porthole, of our early morning sail-in into NYC. It's a bridge all right...

Made it on deck sometime around 6:15 that morning. The thick fog made for a very scenic entrance into America. At this point I had been on board ten days, with only one stop in Bermuda. So, as soon as the gangway hit terra firma, I beat feet to get off the ship. My day was spent catching up with my Buddy Steve, whom I worked with on a couple of Dream contracts, taking in La Cage Aux Folles, and generally doing anything but rehearsing or watching the ocean go by at eight to eighteen knots.

Hanging out with some old friends in The Big Apple. That's Michael (Dream 2005), Steve (Dream 2007, 2008) and Chris (a buddy from San Diego).

Now I'm in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I've overheard rumblings that this place will one day become our “Hawaii to the East,” so I did some preemptive celebrating by eating an American hotdog I bought using American cash, the island's official currency.

My day in St. John's. Yep, that's a beach all right.

Next stop was Curacao, where we only had two hours on land, and it rained the whole time... no pictures necessary.

Taking in the Panama Canal. Nothing special here if you've seen it already... enter a lock, it fills up, exit the lock. Do that a few times in a few different locations. But hey, we discovered a cure for malaria here, so that's good too.

Up next, Acapulco. Weather was hot, cerveza cold, and the cliff divers... Mexican.

You only screw up cliff diving once. Next stop was San Francisco, and what a stop it was. Met up with my buddy Matt, who used to live in San Diego, but now resides in San Jose. We met up for coffee, and he suggested that we drive inland to Sarratoga to watch Steve Martin play some bluegrass. Since I had already seen the bridge and ridden a trolley, I was down for a little something different. So, off we went to an outdoor amphitheater up in the mountains, built around an old monastery that has now become a white man's theme park (winery).

The view from the top.

Our seats were in the middle of the third row, and the show was amazing, especially if you like banjos and bluegrass. Steve is a very accomplished picker, and is well respected in the bluegrass community. Of course, he was hysterical in between songs; his comedy reminiscent of his early stand-up days. Oh, did I mention he was born in Waco? He played two sets with the Steep Mountain Boys, then encored with the following:


Next stop, Vancouver. Nothing special, just had lunch and walked around the city. On the way back to the ship, though, I snapped this picture. Little did I know the events that would follow.

In the foreground is a Holland America ship, the Statendam. Her engines weren't churning as I walked past her to board the Asuka II (shown in the picture sitting in pole position). We left around five o'clock in the afternoon, with three sea says separating us from Juneau, Alaska. During those sea days we spent a lot of time cruising the inside passage of Canada and Alaska, with the mainland and heavily wooded islands slowly passing by. Now, for those of you in the know, you realize that when going to Juneau from Vancouver or Seattle, you typically stop in Ketchican, another well-traveled Alaskan port. Well, we aren't typical on the Asuka II, and port days really get in the way of our sea days.

Here is Ketchican as we sail right by... wait a second... what the hell? Is that the Statendam? Oh, right. You see, I had been on the Asuka II for so long, that I had gotten used to our “we'll get there when we get there” attitude of sailing. Ketchican and Juneau are fairly close to each other, and if you had your own cruise ship, and you were on the bridge with your foot giving the gas pedal a suitable, but not crazy, amount of pressure, you could make it from Vancouver to Juneau, let alone Ketchican, in two days. The Statendam did... not us. So, we passed up Ketchican on day two of our three allotted sea days to get to Juneau, and after another sea day, and more inside passage, we arrive:

See that ship leaving the bay? Wanna take a wild guess who that is? Yep! The stupid damn Statendam. It had passed us the night after we passed it in Ketchican. Son of a bitch, that ship is really starting to piss me off, thinking it's so much better than us. Probably has one of those radar detectors on the bridge so it can speed right up to the point where a local-yokel is hiding behind a whale setting up a speed trap... stupid Statendam. Incidentally, that previous picture was taken on the gondola that takes you up Mt. Roberts. Anyway, Juneau was pretty good. I hadn't been to Alaska in five years, and while the rain kept me from doing any hiking, I was able to revisit one of my old haunts: The Viking.

Nothing says Alaska more than drinking a pint of Alaskan Amber and showing the boys from Romania how pool is played. Pictured above is Dorin (dancer), the afore mentioned boy from Romania, as he steers his partner Jessica (singer) to a perfect bank shot, as Tammy (guest entertainer type singer) looks on. And yes, I ran that table all day long.

Seward, Alaska followed after only two sea days. Thankfully, the stupid Statendam was somewhere else. Hell, it had probably already came and went. I had spent plenty of time here as well, but this time my plans of hiking were stopped by the annual running up and down the mountain race they hold there. The streets were filled with people, who were also celebrating the fourth of July. Didn't do much but Skype family, had some caribou stew, and soaked in my last day in America for the unforeseeable future. Oh, I did take one interesting picture. You may need to blow it up to get the full effect.

Unloading of sins is welcome... but unloading of bowels is not. Also, notice how the “t” in “bathroom” is made to look like a crucifix. Would Jesus really want you spelling bathroom with a crucifix? Just sayin', Seward Methodist Church... just sayin'. My independence day festivities kicked off with our premiere of Magical Dreams, and concluded with me making my own fireworks by sitting in my cabin and rubbing my fists against my eyes.

Then came more sea days, six of them... wait, five of them. You see, we had been going back so many hours as we traveled west that the Captain said “to hell with it, let's just skip a day.” So, we did. Went to sleep on a Tuesday, woke up on a Thursday. Now that's a first. After six... five sea days, we arrive in a port I can barely pronounce, let alone spell: Belize... wouldn't that be unbelizeable? No, we hit Petropavlovsk-Kamchatky, to which my spell check suggests Dnepropetrovsk-Kamchatky, which makes so much more sense. Anyway, we hit Russia. The night before we, the crew, were told not to expect shore leave because of some laws the city has set (made) up. I never quite understood why, but it had something to do with our seaman's books, of which ours are Japanese, and how that didn't count in their game of “enter the country.” The passengers, who do not have a seaman's book, are more than welcome to look around, which made the whole thing even more confusing. So, let me get this straight... one group of people only have passports, and they can enter your country. Another group of people have passports AND seaman's books, but they cannot... what the hell, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatky?

Anyway, like most things on ships, everything gets sorted out last minute, and before long I was breathing the sweet, post communist air of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatky (got that sucker on copy and paste). So, what does one do when in the former USSR?

Go to a carnival and eat ice cream.

Three more sea days and here we are, sitting outside Yokohama. Now that I finish this blog, I expect some of the passengers who had made the hundred plus day voyage have gotten off the ship (the rest are getting off tomorrow in Kobe), making room for double the amount of passengers who are about to embark on a quick cruise from Kobe back to Yokohama. As for me, tonight we open our third show, Amor. Oh! The shows! Yeah, after tonight we're three down and two-ish to go (one is a half show that from what I gather doesn't get performed a lot). So far we've opened the magic show, Magical Dreams, and the musical revue, Musicals Forever. Each show had a modest attendance, but nothing like the End-of-The-World-Cruise-Crew-Show-Extravaganza that was put on last night.

Here are many, if not all, of the house keeping girls, reenacting a couple of scenes from 101 Dalmatians. Earlier that evening I sat in the girl's dressing room, and with eyeliner pencil firmly in hand, made dog noses and spots on about a dozen of them. Funny thing, and I don't remember this in the movie, but at the end of their version, Cruella Deville and the other, evil monocle guy, drink poison and die, to which the dogs say “Hooray! They're dead!” Must have missed that part.

The crew talent show ended with the captain doing a six act (no kidding) samurai style (no kidding) play about how he became a captain, and how he must pass the torch to a new captain. The play ended with the captain getting stabbed through the chest with a samurai sword (no kidding), while another guy sprays red paint all over the wall behind him (no kidding). The pax in attendance, who like always, and on every ship I've been on, outnumbered the attendance of any production show done up to that point, loved the mock-death of our Captain, which is surprising since I've already witnessed them sleeping in the front row during our shows (which is something else that doesn't change from ship to ship. Show time equals nap time).

And that's going to do it for now. As a reward for another successful opening, tomorrow we get an overnight in Kobe. Hopefully that'll be when the culture shock starts.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola

(With Dorin, Costa, and Joe, the men of Asuka II's Production Cast, after a successful opening of Magical Dreams)


About a month ago I found some time to do a little singing outside of rehearsals. Kris, our lounge pianist, did a set of classical music one night, and I was a special guest (always wanted to be a special guest), singing “You Raise Me Up,” and “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life.” The latter is right below.


  1. Very cool post--thanks for keeping us up to date with your adventures! Especially liked King Tut bluegrass style as I just returned from Egypt where I learned WAY too much about the famous boy-king...

  2. i feel like i'm traveling part of the cruise with you. your words are soo witty. you ought to write a blog uuuuuughhhh i mean book :)
    wendy/san diego

  3. Dola! Glad you are doing well on your journey around the planet! too bad you didn't stop in seattle - i'm back here again. much luv- KAD

  4. DOLA!!!!! Glad your journey around the planet isn't boring if a little underwhelming being stuck on a ship! Too bad you guys swam passed seattle - i'm back up here again! love ya - KAD