Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Attack of the Iguanas...

We’re docked at Crown Port which is the secondary port of St. Thomas.


It’s a little bit out of the way, but I like it because the $5 cab ride gives us a chance to see more of the island.


The internet in St. Thomas, for some reason, has gotten worse and worse each week. We had about 60 minutes of decent wi-fi before it pretty much shut down.


Today I wore a t-shirt that I got for Christmas.

For those of you who don’t know, the Decatur Staleys were the original Chicago Bears. George Halas started the team in Decatur with the sponsorship of the Staley manufacturing plant before moving the team to Chicago.


I also got a miniature blender from Jeannie for Christmas so we stopped in the gourmet grocery store and bought fruit, juice and smoothie mix that we can blend up to make smoothies.


There’s a great bookstore next to the grocery store and I stopped in and bought a guidebook of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region. (If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re going to be taking another trip soon.)


When we returned back to Crown Port there were some visitors waiting for us.

These iguanas were everywhere!


One of them crawled up to us on the sidewalk.

When I turned around, Jeannie was gone.


I found her hiding in the nearby coffee shop.

She’s not a fan of lizards.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas on the ship...

Spending Christmas on a ship is a weird experience.
Including us, there are 1,200 crew members aboard our ship and they are are far, far away from home. They all miss their families and wish they were closer to them during the holiday.

I'm probably one of the luckiest people on the ship because I have Jeannie. Most people don't get to have their girlfriends (boyfriends, husbands or wives) with them. I'm very fortunate.

That's not to say that everyone is alone and lonely. There are quite a few people who have "ship boyfriends or girlfriends". So that's good for them. Also, each department in the ship has a very close camaraderie and fellowship together so they celebrate the holidays as a group.

Christmas on the ship isn't sad and lonely. It's just weird. Everyone misses their families, but quite a lot is done to make it festive for the crew members.

Christmas Eve Jeannie and I finished decorating my room.
We put up lights (which are illegal on the ship) and hung up all our cards. Jeannie had bought some ribbon in St. Thomas so we hung it on the ceiling. It looked like a Christmas quilt hanging over our heads.
Christmas morning Jeannie and I woke up and divided up our presents. Before we opened them, Jeannie hugged all of her presents.
We didn't get up that early, but apparently we were up earlier than everyone else in our corridor. They all told us that Jeannie woke them up when she screamed and cheered after she'd opened up each of her presents.
Because there's not a lot of space in my room, the only thing I asked for was DVD's.

I got a lot.

To be exact, I got:
Lost; Season 4
Saturday Night Live; Season 2
Lars and the Real Girl (Molly Wilbanks favorite movie)
An Exploration of the Northern European Countries (Not a random gift. Significance will be revealed later.)
2 Anthony Bourdain "No Reservations" episodes
A Clockwork Orange
Lawrence of Arabia
The Graduate
The Maltese Falcon (These last four movies are extremely helpful in my endeavor to watch all the movies on the AFI Top 100 Movies List)

I also got binoculars and some cool t-shirts and running shorts and Jeannie bought me a pair of new running shoes.

After we were finished, the room was a mess.
I helped clean it all up and then went to the gym to use my new shoes and shorts.

As I walked to the gym it dawned on me that the act of going to the gym on Christmas day was kind of odd.

As I walked by the pool, the significance of the strangeness was further illuminated. The sun deck was packed with girls in bikinis wearing Santa hats.

It was very cute, but very odd.

We had lunch with the rest of our Second City cast and exchanged our Secret Santa gifts.

Christmas night we had an improv show int the Spinnaker Lounge. It was a great show in front of a packed audience. I interviewed a 12 year old kid from St. Louis for "A Day in the Life" and he brought the house down. Sadly though, he was a Cardinal fan. Aside from that fatal flaw, he was very smart and sweet and funny.

After our show, the Crew Welfare Department of the ship sponsored a huge game of free bingo for all the members of the crew. They gave away money and prizes worth 6 thousand dollars. We didn't win anything, but several crew members went away very, very happy.

After bingo there was special Christmas party in our corridor. Normally that type of thing is strictly forbidden in crew cabins, but it is allowed once a year on Christmas.

Jeannie and I are not partiers at all. We don't smoke or drink alcohol and I'm not a fan of trying to shout over the noise of large groups of people. But, since the party was in our hallway we opened the doors for people to come in.

Our room quickly became known as the "family room". While the rest of the rooms had alcohol, loud music and dancing, we had cookies, chips, egg nog and Wii.
We had a lot of fun.

I'm pretty good at Wii Tennis, but Shannon beat me.
At 2am I closed my door and got ready to go to bed. Unfortunately, no one else was sleepy. The party in the hall lasted until 5am.

To my amazement, Christmas on the ship was actually pretty fun.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Solid Gold...

Last night Jeannie and I watched "Scrooged" with Bill Murray.

It is, by no means, a good movie, but I love it.

In it, there are several mentions of "The Solid Gold Dancers".

Jeannie had no idea what they were talking about. You see, Jeannie was born in the 80's so "Solid Gold" is way off her pop culture radar.

Since there are quite a few people out there who don't know what it is, I present to you "Solid Gold".


Also, because we were talking about it during lunch today, I present the "Turkey" episode of the UK Family Feud.

Christmas Eve...

It's hot, humid, sticky and overcast here in Tortola. The palm trees are dripping sweat.

Not the type of Christmas Eve I'm used to.

Although I do remember a Christmas in Bethany, Illinois where it was 60 degrees so I and my sisters Amy, Melissa and Pam went over to the elementary school to play basketball.

Because the ship is doing a special Christmas Show tonight, we did our Stardust show last night. It was odd doing it so early in the cruise. It was also strange because we did a 7:15 show and no 9:00 show.

It was however, a great show. It might actually be the best show we've had in the past seven months. It was insanely good. The audience was going crazy in every scene. It was nice.

For the past couple of months the average age of the passengers has been 68 years old. This week the average age is closer to 45. You can tell. It's a much hipper crowd.

Example...For party quirks, James gets a suggestion of two celebrities he can portray and he always gets Elvis, Cher, Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton, Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe or Britney Spears. Last night he got Lindsey Lohan and Jim Carrey.

This morning Jeannie, James and I helped serve and clean up food for the "Crew Christmas Lunch". We were joined by the officers on the ship as well as the JARS (Dancers) and the Youth Counselors.

I'll admit, I wasn't terribly excited about bussing tables. It reminded me of my junior year of high school doing dishes at "The Shack" in Clinton. Blech.

However, the crew members really appreciated it. Several of them stopped me as I was leaving the ship today and said, "You clean plates good."

So, that was nice.

This evening Jeannie and I are breaking open our bags of chips and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and we're going to go nuts.

The Christmas Card competition was a huge success, but because the mail on the ship is so crappy we've had to extend it for another week. Because of the extension, we're allowing each other to eat our special treats on Christmas and Christmas Eve, but only the winner will be allowed to eat a treat on New Years Eve.

As far as the competition goes, Jeannie is winning. I still hold out hope that I can stage a comeback as I have several people who have e-mailed me to tell me they sent me cards. But, as Jeannie said, "You forgot I'm Mexican. I've got a lot more aunts, uncles and cousins than you do."

I will say that I'm very proud of both of us. I have not had any candy or sweets in several months and Jeannie has done a good job staying away from the chips. In fact, I also have not had any chips or french fries in five weeks.

Tonight...

...I'm pigging out!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Our Gift Nook...

Mail on the ship is sooooooooooo inconsistent.

We've been expecting packages and letters and cards for weeks and it has been sporadically making it's way to our hands.

Normally, I'll get a phone call at 4:00 on Saturday telling me that our mail has arrived. I'll then go down and pick it up knowing full well that there are packages and letters that are still missing.

Yesterday, after the 4:00pm mail call, I received a second call telling me that I had a package waiting for me at the "Food and Beverage Department".

I have no idea how it got there.

I picked it up, but knew that there were still more packages and cards that were missing.

This morning the Mikey from the Cruise Directors staff let me know that he had found several packages and cards that had been on the ship for a couple weeks, but had originally been misplaced.

I was relieved, but frustrated.

The mail system for the Cruise Ships in Miami is awful. Back in New York it was fantastic. Too bad all of this happened around Christmas.

Nevertheless, we finally have all of our packages and I believe we've received all of our Christmas cards.

The gifts we've bought for each other and that we've received from our family have all gone in the nook next to the porthole here in my cabin.
One of my favorite things that has arrived has been the Christmas stocking that Jeannie's mom sent us from San Antonio.
Look at that, it's cowboy boots! How cool is that!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wrapping...

Next week there are going to be 600 - 900 children under the age of 14 on the ship.

As a part of their cruise package, each kid coming on the ship gets a Christmas gift from Santa Tim Paul.

The Youth Counselors are in charge of getting the presents and wrapping them. They begged for help from all the entertainers on the ship so Jeannie and I went up there this morning at 11:00 am and wrapped presents until 4:00 pm.
5 hours of Wrapping!

My back is killing me and I'm bleary eyed.
...but, it was a fun time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas Episode...

Here's the video of our trip to visit the orphan children in Samana, Dominican Republic....



You can watch it directly on YouTube here.


Also...

It snowed 3 inches in Las Vegas last night...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Samana...

I'm done Christmas shopping!

I did it all Friday and Saturday. I spent all day Friday afternoon buying gifts online. On Saturday we went to the mall in Miami and bought everything I couldn't find online.

It was such a relief to have it all done. I had to make sure I got it done early so I could mail everything out from St. Thomas on Wednesday.

Sunday I watched football and played my new computer game.

I've always loved Sid Mier's Civlilization video game. Because of that, Jason Chin has on numerous occasions recommended I buy Age of Empires.

Well, on Saturday after I had Christmas shopped for everyone else I spent $27.99 on me and bought that game.

It's great.

So great that I have to be careful. It's games like that that I can get addicted to. I'll start playing and before I know it, I'll look up and 2 months will have gone by.

On Monday the entire cast went to visit children from an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
Tim Paul dressed up as Santa Claus and we handed out gifts to the kids. It was all arranged by the crew welfare department on the ship. We tagged along and had a great time.

I made a video of the day, but the connection here in Tortola is very weak. So, it's not downloading. Hopefully, I'll get the video up soon. It was a crazy day.

For now, here are some of the pictures from the day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Nowhere...

We were supposed to stop at Great Stirrup Cay today, but the water was too choppy so we went nowhere.

We've literally been circling in the ocean off the coast of Miami.

It's annoying.

Normally when the water is like this we are rerouted to Nassau!

Nassau!

Nassau is where we all want to go. We want to go down that slide in the Atlantis Commercial.

We (me) also want to go play Craps and Pai Gow at the Atlantis Casino.

But, because they waited so long to make the decision, we are forced to circle around the Atlantic and today has turned into another sea day.

Blech.

Tonight is our pianist friend Stacy Ward McCadams' last night on the ship. We went up and listened to him play and then said goodbye. He did a Christmas sing along.

We will miss him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Orleans...

I am not in New Orleans, but I wish I were. I love, love, love New Orleans.

But that's not what this blog is about.

Look at this...
It's snowing in New Orleans.

It's snowing a lot.


Crazy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tortola...

This photo was on the front page of the Sun-Times website.
Blago next to the familiar rat poster is hilarious.

***

We are 65 days away from coming home.

***

Something odd happened a few days ago.

It was early in the morning and I had finished my morning run in the gym and was headed back to my room through the Garden Cafe (The main dining area). As I was walking through, the "Abandon Ship" alarm rang out loudly over the intercom.

I stopped in my tracks and looked around. All the crew members who were working in the restaurant responded in the same manner.

After a few brief seconds, all the crew members darted in all directions. They were all headed to their "Emergency Stations".

As an entertainer on the ship, I don't have any type of "Emergency Station Responsibilities", but I have a location where I am supposed to report. I also have a badge that I am supposed to wear.

I briskly walked toward the stairs to retrieve my badge and my girlfriend because I knew she was probably still in her room waiting for me.

As I hurried toward the stairs I noticed something peculiar. None of the passengers had moved in inch. They were all still in the buffet line gorging their faces. I walked by the swimming deck and it was packed with people. They were all lounging by the pool without a care in the world.

Meanwhile the crew members were all scurrying about.

I don't know about you, but if I heard an alarm and then saw crew members running around grabbing safety equipment I would probably be a little freaked. At the least I would drop my heaping plate of waffles and wrap a towel around myself.

Not these folks.

No one budged

As I got to the stairs I heard someone ask, "Did you hear that alarm go off?"

Another passenger replied, "Did I hear it! It damn near blew out my ear drums!"

Passenger #1 agreed, "I know! They need to turn the volume on those things down! How ridiculous."

By the time I got to my room the Captain had made an announcement that it was a false alarm and that it had been triggered inadvertently.

Inadvertently!

How does that happen?

It was a full 6 to 8 minutes after the alarm had been sounded that they made the announcement.

To be honest, I wasn't annoyed at all by the situation. It was a little scary, but it was good test to see how people would react in an intense situation.

It's also good to know that there would be plenty of life boats because the passengers would all go down with the ship, stuffing their faces with food and sleeping by the swim deck.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

St. Thomas...

Here's Jeannie in front of the Christmas tree in Miami.

Here she is in front of the Christmas tree in St. Thomas.
Today we were in the St. Thomas post office and CNN broke in on the TV to announce "Breaking News From Chicago". I, of course, thought it was something to do with Obama or the Cubs or the Bears.

Unfortunately, it was news that Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich was arrested this morning.

How embarrassing.

In my past life before I moved to Chicago I had many jobs. One of those jobs was as a morning show radio host on the NewsTalk 1340 WSOY in Decatur, Illinois. In that job, I interviewed many local and statewide politicians.

We interviewed Blagojevich a few times in the 3 years that I worked there. I met him in person a couple years ago at the Illinois State Fair. We shook hands as he ran through the State Fair Parade.

His hands were very sweaty. For that reason alone I'm not surpised he was arrested today. I figured he was hiding something from me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Leaning Tower of Pisa...

My friend Brett Lyons has a secondary blog where he posts his photos. It's here.

He took a lot of photos of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

However, Brett seems to forget that he's already seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Great Stirrup Cay...

Our weeks go by much quicker now that Saturday is our "turn around" day.

Our Saturdays in Miami are nice and relaxed and they seem to go by rather quickly.

Sundays are filled with football games(When they remember to broadcast them on the ship).

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we are in port and those always go by fast.

Thursday is a sea, but we're coming off having two shows on Wednesday night and have a show on Thursday evening so Tursdays goes by super fast.

Friday is a port day again and then before you know it we're back in Miami.

We don't always get off the ship on Fridays, but we did this week. Great Stirrup Cay is the private island in the Bahama's that Norwegian Cruise Lines owns.
It has a nice beach and is a good place to go snorkeling.
This is actually one of the smaller beaches on the island. Jeannie and I go here some times because it's quieter and separated from the large beach where most of the passengers go. (i.e. less loud mothers shouting at their kids, less fathers fighting with their wives, less drunken and rowdy behavior.)

I snorkeled for a couple hours on my own while Jeannie read her new book on the beach. I didn't see much new, but I swam next to two fish that were absolutely HUGE. By huge, I mean they were each about 4 1/2 feet long.

I swam out pretty far and at one point got a little lost. I could see land, but it wasn't any kind of land that looked familiar. At one point I thought I had swam to the neighboring island.
Turns out that I was still next to NCL's island, I had just swam around a cove that was blocking my view of the beach and the ship.

When we got back to the ship we watched movies on the crew channel. They're showing Christmas movies on two of the channels so we watched "Christmas With the Kranks" and "Home Alone".

Man, I forgot how funny "Home Alone" is. That McCauly Caulkin was a good little actor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tortola...

On my own in Tortola again.

As I walked out of the ship I spotted a few of the truck taxi's. The ones in Tortola are especially funny because they go to great lengths to paint and decorate them.

A lot of them have movie themes to them. We saw one the other day that was decorated like the Pirates of the Caribbean. Another was spray painted with a Batman theme and another was painted in a Finding Nemo theme.

My favorite was the one decorated in a Scarface theme. It was hilarious to see a taxi drive by with a spray painted mural of a young Al Pacino in a white suit holding a machine gun.

Unfortunately, the only decorated one I found was this one.
The painted ones always get much more business than the plain white ones.
People will walk by six or eight white taxis to get to a colorful spray painted one.

Speaking of not getting any business. This burro is tied up at the corner of one of the streets leading to the downtown area.
The owner puts a saddle of flowers on it and you can pay $5 to get your picture on top or next to the burro.
That's a sad looking donkey.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

St. Thomas...


We had boat drill today. Once a month we are required to participate in the crew abandon ship drill.

As luck would have it, we have now done it 3 times in the last 5 weeks.

It’s not a big deal, but it keeps us from getting off the ship until after 11:00am. If we didn’t have to do the drill, we could have gotten off 3 hours earlier.


Getting off the ship we were startled to discover that we weren’t at our normal docking place. We were in secluded port on the other side of the island.


That meant we had to catch a taxi to get to downtown St. Thomas. By the time we finally got there it was after 1pm. So, we didn’t have a lot of time on land today.


It was however, a nice trip to downtown. We have not really strayed too far from the Havenside area of the island so it was nice to be driven through the downtown and outlying areas.


The taxis here are like the taxis on several of the islands that we’ve visited. They are renovated trucks that have been modified to hold 4 to 6 rows of padded bleacher seats. They’re pretty comfortable and are a pretty good way to tour the islands.

They’re also relatively cheap. Normally, the taxis are always an established fare to go from place to place. Our trip today was $5 per person.


Jeannie really enjoyed our ride back to the ship from the downtown area.

Throughout the entire trip the driver played a CD of Calypso Christmas music.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Miami and Samana...

On Saturday we went to the Dadeland Mall in Miami.


It was all decorated for Christmas and we had our first Santa sighting.

When we got back to the ship there was aircraft carrier parked in front of us.

Yesterday was a busy day. Worked out. Had rehearsal. Did the Ship TV show. Taught a workshop. Watched the Bears embarrass themselves.


Today, we decided not to go to Cayo, the private island in the Dominican Republic. Instead, we went to city of Samana.


Samana is an interesting port city. It has more shore excursions than any other place in the Caribbean. You can go horseback riding through a waterfall. You can zipline through the jungle. You can parasail. It’s pretty amazing.


However, if you just want to go to land to walk around the city, there’s not much to see. In fact, what you do see, you probably wish you hadn’t.

Unlike the rest of the islands we visited, there aren’t chickens wandering around like stray cats, there are horses running around like stray cats.

We did however, find a nice restaurant to eat at. It was very clean and very nice. We got our bill and it was $935.00 DRD.


I asked the waitress what the conversion rate was and she looked at me for several seconds before shaking her head slightly and saying “Como?”


It was the first time we’ve run across someone who spoke absolutely no English whatsoever. To be honest, I would have thought we’d have met non-English speakers way before this.


Jeannie spoke a little Spanish to her and we discovered that $935.00 was equivalent to $30.00 US dollars. It was quite a deal.