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Dec. 2nd, 2010

journey

St. John

After two unremarkable sea days (things are starting to settle into a routine), we arrived this morning at St. John, US Virgin Islands. We dropped anchor offshore, and used tender boats to transfer people to the harbor at Cruz Bay.

One thing I was particularly excited about was that, it being a US Territory, I actually had AT&T wireless service. I even called AT&T and made sure it was as-normal, and wouldn't cost any extra. All day long, I was free to make calls, post stuff to Facebook, and use google maps. However, mysteriously, around 3:45 (right after I got back to the ship) it stopped working - AT&T just disappeared, and hadn't come back after over an hour, when I stopped trying and started to get ready for my evening show.

Soon after we started ferrying passengers over to the island, I got ready and jumped on board a tender boat. Over on the island, I browsed the stores, and then took a short hike on the Lind Point trail, through the woods at the Virgin Islands National Park. The part encompasses most of the island, actually. As I hiked I saw a little bit of the local fauna - a mongoose scurried across the path at one point, and I saw a lot of tiny lizards - but they were all too jumpy to get a picture of any of them. I hiked the trail over to Solomon Beach, a small, pretty beach around the bend from the harbor. From there, I could see the Journey out in the bay. It was very peaceful and serene - only a few people were there.

After walking around at the beach a bit, I hiked back to town and had a delicious pizza at the Sun Dog Cafe, as well as a Virgin Islands Root Beer. After that, I walked around town some more, had some ice cream, and headed back to the ship.

Tonight's show out back of the Windows Cafe started off with several tables of people already out there, and as usual, they didn't respond very much - they were too busy talking and eating, which is to be expected. However, as the evening went on, I got more and more reaction from the people - by the end, I had several tables of people actively listening and applauding and making requests. Easily the best crowd I've had yet since I signed on board. A really good capper to a really lovely day.

Tomorrow: St. Martin

Nov. 29th, 2010

journey

Miami and A New Cruise Begins

This morning at about 5am, we docked in Miami. It was still dark out when I went up to the boat deck to call Chelle, and we got to talk for over an hour, because I finally had cell phone signal. Yay! AT&T Wireless Internet on my iPhone! I can't describe how awesome it was to spend a day connected again to the outside world.

At 7am, I went up to the Looking Glass lounge to get through immigration - they gave me a photocopy of my passport, which I'd need to exit and enter the port. Then it was down to breakfast, where I said goodbye to many of the passengers who I'd been chatting with for the last several days. It's hard to make so many friends only to have to see them go, but I'll have to get used to that. After the goodbyes, it was time for waiting.

The waiting was partly so the passengers could leave the ship, but also because we were going through Coast Guard inspection, which is very thorough. The last part was a crew drill where we ended up out on the boat deck in our life vests, and although we didn't all get in the lifeboats, all three boats from the starboard side were launched. We ended up passing with flying colors. At last, around 1pm, we were able to leave the ship. However, we needed to be back by around 3pm, so there wasn't much time to spend in Miami. We just walked across the bridge from the port to the city, and visited a CVS (among other things, I got chocolate covered cherries!), and then Cody (one of the sax players) and I went to Chili's for lunch. After a big yummy hamburger, our time was pretty much up. So it was back to the ship for us.

I played my usual 6pm show at Windows Cafe for the new crowd (and went over pretty well), and dashed downstairs during a break to rehearse my number with the band for the Welcome Show. Then I finished my show, ate my dinner, and then it was time for the show. I did "Stand By Me" once again, backed by the Orchestra, which went very well, then I went around to the back of the theater to watch the rest of the show. There, I ran into Victor, my predecessor on the ship, who is going along on this cruise with a friend as a guest. We ended up talking guitars and went down to my cabin (which used to be his) to show each other stuff on guitar.

After Victor took off, I went back upstairs to catch Dan's last couple of piano numbers in the Mosaic cafe. Afterwards, I chatted with a few guests for a bit, and by then it was nearly midnight. Exhausted after a very long day (embarkation days are always a flurry of activity), I stumbled back to my cabin.

Tomorrow: Sea Day

Nov. 28th, 2010

journey

Nassau, The Bahamas

After breakfast this morning, I was in my cabin getting myself ready for the day, and around 10am, I put the TV on so I could see out the bow cam, and there was the island stretched out in front of us. Land ho!

As soon as we got docked and we were allowed off the ship, off we went. We took off in a group, Jorge (bass), Carlos (trumpet), Alex (trombone) and me. First, we walked a bit, out to where the closest beach was, as that was what Alex was most interested in. The rest of us, however, were more interested in free WiFi. So we left Alex there, and headed for the Dunkin Donuts, where we got online and enjoyed our first taste of free, fast internet in weeks. After that, the three of us wandered around town together, and then I set off separately, to explore and take pictures.

One place I found and would have liked to have checked out was the Pirate Museum. However, it (like many businesses on the island, as I quickly discovered) was closed on Sunday. A lot of places were shuttered. However, there were still a few souvenir shops open (including the one at the Pirate Museum, but it closed at 1pm), so I picked up a few small trinkets for Nina.

Mostly, I walked all around the area, and got some good views of the Journey from across the harbor. I also found free internet right in the cruise terminal (wish I'd realized that right at the start), and managed to get most of the 29(!) iPhone applications updated that needed it. I also had my first and only Pepsi since I joined the Journey - I found a place in the terminal selling them.

I got back to the ship, and took some pictures from the stern deck at Windows Cafe as we sailed away, including a few of the massive Royal Caribbean Majesty Of The Sea, which was docked alongside us. If we're like a mobile apartment building, they're like a mobile city block. Apart from teeming throngs of people all over the place, I could see a climbing wall up top, and some people playing a game of basketball, and somewhere up there a live band was playing.

Later in the evening, as I played my last show of the cruise, I could see the lights of Nassau recede into the distance. Well, most of them. One cluster of lights seemed to last a little too long, and we eventually deduced it was the Majesty Of The Sea, sailing behind us. By the time my show was over at 9:30, she was close enough for us to make out her red and green lights. The bit in Princess Bride where the kidnappers' boat is being overtaken by the ship of the Dread Pirate Roberts sprang to my mind. "Inconceivable!", I sputtered.

I checked out the jazz show that featured Dan Daly and the Journey Orchestra (at one point the smoke machine got a little out of hand, and pretty much obliterated Dan and half the stage - he called out, mid-song "I'm still here, I swear!") and eventually made my way down to my cabin to write this and get to bed. Up early tomorrow for Miami, we have to be at the Looking Glass on Deck 10 at 7am to go through immigration checks.

Tomorrow: Miami

Nov. 27th, 2010

journey

Rock The Boat

Yesterday I played on the pool deck at lunchtime, which went very well. It was a beautiful day out. When I was finished, one of the guests came up and gave me a sketch she'd done of me while I was performing, which was very sweet.

Last night's dinner in the cafe was very sparsely attended, there were very few people there, and fewer still actually listening, so it was a little depressing. I went down and dropped off my stuff in my cabin, and made my way back up for dinner, and ran into a few different people to talk to, which cheered me up considerably. Later, I went to the Crew Talent Show, where various crew members (not members of the entertainment staff) performed for the guests - including a wonderful classical piano performance by Jonas, our Safety Officer, and my friend James Connolly played piano and sang "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles, among other highlights.

Today, I was meant to play on the pool deck at lunchtime again, but when I went up to check out the situation, I found that everything was wet - it was drizzling out. So I had a hamburger at the Pool Grill, and set up to play inside the Windows Cafe. Naturally, as soon as I started playing, it cleared up and was beautiful outside.

This evening, they had a big outdoor event planned at the Pool, and were setting up for it already when I started my dinnertime set. They were serving food outside on the Pool Deck, and had set up tables out there, so almost nobody was coming in to the cafe. However, a few people had settled outside on the aft deck, so I moved my gear out there and finished up my set.

Afterwards, we assembled on the Pool Deck for "waves", which is an event on every cruise where the Captain introduces the crew to the guests, giving the guests an opportunity to show their appreciation. Afterwards, it was the "Rock The Boat" show, which was an hour and a half of the Journey Orchestra playing various pop and rock songs for a very enthusiastic crowd. I even ended up out there dancing, but no, I didn't join the conga line. Afterwards, a few of us retired to the Looking Glass lounge to hang out and chat, and ended up being out until almost 2am.

All in all, a very fun last sea day, and we're all going to be thrilled to make landfall tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Nassau, Bahamas

Nov. 25th, 2010

journey

What'll I Do

Another couple of sea days gone by, and it's been windy with choppy seas, as we edge ever closer to the "New World" on this Thanksgiving week. However, we're heading for The Bahamas, not to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Today I was supposed to play a lunchtime set on the Pool Deck (which I had done the day before yesterday - it was great fun, even got some people up dancing), but it was so windy they had me play inside at Windows Cafe. It was a pretty small and sedate audience for lunch.

In my set, I played a song entitled "What'll I Do", written by Irving Berlin in either the late 20's or early 30's, and covered by many artists over the years - but as far as I can recall, the only place I've ever heard it was from my Dad. We used to play it together, him singing and playing the chords, me picking out the melody line. After I played the song (and had mentioned that I'd learned it from my dad), an elderly gentleman said he hadn't heard the song since his mother sang it to him, maybe 60 years ago, and he seemed grateful for the memory. That made my day.

As the day wore on, the seas got choppier (it even rained a bit while I played my lunchtime set), and by the time of my dinner set, I was feeling a little ill. Not tossing-my-cookies ill, but definitely not normal. There's been a lot of painting going on around the ship, and the paint fumes made me feel even worse. It was a difficult set to get through. I wasn't at my best for sure, but it was just 6-8pm, and afterwards I took some Dramamine and called home to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

Then I wandered back up to the restaurant and had my turkey dinner, and sat and had a wonderful chat with the Scottish couple who had befriended me earlier in the cruise. Then, feeling woozy from the Dramamine, I headed back down to my cabin, and bed. I had taken two pills just in case, but they made me so woozy, I've vowed not to take two at once ever again unless I'm really expecting to get violently seasick.

Next: Two More Sea Days

Nov. 22nd, 2010

journey

Sea Day 2 - Atlantic Crossing

Today I had some more safety training (this time it was regarding fire fighting on board ship), and at noon, all the entertainment staff met up on the pool deck to sing a surprise "Happy Birthday" to the Captain.

As the day wore on, the sea got a bit rougher, and we were bouncing up and down quite a bit when it came time to go up to do my 6pm show. Looking out the port side windows in the aptly-named Windows Cafe, I could see a container ship far off against the horizon, at least a couple miles away (although I have no idea how to accurately judge distances out here), silhouetted against the sky. He was headed east, and we passed each other in several minutes. The horizon was clear in some places, and obscured by rainstorms in others. The scale of things out here is breathtaking - we're so far away from anything, it was pretty exciting to see another ship.

Dinner (and therefore, my show) was sparsely attended - perhaps people were hunkering down in their cabins due to the rough seas. At one point I remarked that playing under these conditions was like playing guitar while riding a horse, and perhaps I should learn some cowboy songs. I did have some appreciative guests by the end of the evening, and afterwards I put my stuff away and retreated to my cabin, where I took refuge in sleep, hoping for smoother seas in the morning.

Tomorrow: Another Sea Day

Nov. 21st, 2010

journey

Sea Day 1 - Atlantic Crossing

Today was our first full sea day of the crossing. This afternoon, I had safety training (the first of three days), including climbing up and getting into one of the lifeboats, which was actually pretty fun. More training tomorrow, regarding fire fighting. Fire is actually one of the biggest hazards on board a ship, so fire safety is of the utmost importance.

Before my show this evening, I did what has become something of a daily ritual for me: I go out the back doors of the Windows Cafe, lean on the railing and look out at whatever the current fantastic vista might be (today it was the sea stretching out in all directions, and some pretty impressive clouds), and say to myself, "You know what? This ain't such a bad gig." Makes up for whatever annoyances ship life may include (and believe me, there are many).

My show tonight was strange. There was a small and seemingly uninterested crowd (little or no applause between songs) but a few people came up to me between sets and afterwards, gushing about how great I was. So at least some people are enjoying the music, and they're enjoying it a lot, so that makes me happy.

After my set, I chatted with Dan Daly (the lounge pianist, taking a break because there was a big show going on in the Cabaret theater) and one of the ships' singers, Rachael, and then she and I sat and listened to Dan play for a bit, until I was too tired to hang out any more, and retreated to my cabin to write this, call Nina, and do a little email.

Tomorrow: Sea Day (again)

Nov. 20th, 2010

journey

Sea Day and Tenerife

Yesterday was a sea day, and there's not a great deal to report, we just sailed all day, and I played my usual show in the evening. This morning, we arrived at Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get off the ship today, but I took some pictures of the truly amazing scenery from the sun deck, way up on top of the ship. Most of my day was spent adding songs to my PDF songbook - some of the new songs are from passenger suggestions, including "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

This afternoon, they were setting up a dinner buffet on the pool deck as we set sail, and I was supposed to play from 6-8pm on the stage out there. Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up, blowing things over, and we had to move the whole shebang inside. I played to a pretty small audience tonight, but I had a few tables of really appreciative guests, and it was wonderful to get to entertain them.

Just before I started to play, I took a couple of pictures as dusk was settling on the Canary Islands. The last I'll see of land for a week. Tonight we began our week-long trek across the Atlantic ocean, the longest I will have ever spent out of sight of land. It's a strange idea, being so far from civilization, out in the ocean on our own, it's even just a little scary. I'm sure we'll be fine, but it's definitely a huge adventure. I'm looking forward to the first sight of the Bahamas on the other end.

Tomorrow: Sea Day

Nov. 18th, 2010

journey

Gibraltar

I got up this morning and went for breakfast, and as I was sitting down in the staff mess, I watched the Rock of Gibraltar passing by on the starboard side. Soon, we were docked, and I was down the gangplank by 9:30, and followed the pedestrian signs into the city center. One thing I noticed: Although this is technically the UK, the cars were driving on the right side.

I walked a bit through the city streets, which were largely deserted, since most of the shops had not yet opened. I got some money from the exchange office (pounds, since we're in the UK), and headed back toward the ship.

I stopped at a large supermarket (Morrison's) very near the port, and picked up some shampoo, some batteries (the ones in the tuner on my guitar already died, and I had replaced them with the spares I'd brought for my alarm clock), and some Crunchie bars - my favourite English candy bars. :)

I dropped those off back at the ship, and headed out for my adventure proper. Now the streets were full of shoppers, both tourists and locals, and I made my way to the cable car station. On the way, I encountered one of Gibraltar's famous Barbary Apes, which scampered away. I bought by ticket, and rode the cable car up to the top of the Rock.

As soon as I got out of the cable car, I encountered more apes, and one was kind enough to pose for a picture with the Journey far, far, away in the background. At the very top of the Rock, on the outlook facing Africa, I chatted with an English couple who turned out to be guests on the Journey. After a trip to the gift shop (I got Nina a souvenir stuffed monkey), I headed back down the cable car. I walked back to the first main square inside the city gates, and sat down for some lunch. Around me were a Subway restaurant, a Burger King and a Pizza Hut. But no, I didn't partake of those, I had some good old fashioned fish and chips.

Afterwards, I headed back to the ship, and spent the afternoon polishing up a couple more new songs. I played my usual evening show at Windows Cafe, and wound down afterwards listening to Dan play, with a great couple from Scotland that I had met previously, and who bought me a drink (mango-strawberry mojito, yum!)

Tomorrow: Sea Day on the way to the Canary Islands

Nov. 17th, 2010

journey

Cartagena, Spain

Ok, I have a confession to make. I ate lunch at Burger King in Spain. Let me 'splain. Wait, there's too much - let me sum up: It was drizzling, I was hungry, and the Burger King was Right There.

The day began with getting up to fairly calm seas, and having breakfast as we came into the port of Cartagena, Spain. After docking, and many of the guests had left the ship, we had a boat drill, which included all of us in life jackets, and lifeboats being lowered into the water on one side of the ship (no, we didn't get to get in them and ride them down - this time). Afterwards, I made a quick phone call, and off I went to the shuttle bus that would take us into town from the wharf. I didn't realize until I got out there that it was sprinkling. Oh well, no time to go all the way back inside to get the umbrella. So off we went. By the time we got dropped off, it was drizzling. It was already lunchtime, and I wasn't crazy about wandering all around a strange city, cold, wet and hungry - and the Burger King was right there across from where we were. So I went there. The counter person spoke just a little english (just like home!) and I hablo un poquito de espanol, so I was able to order, pay and chow down on "American Food".

Afterwards, I set out and looked at some of the shops, and also went into the Roman Theater Museum, which was an antiquities museum that led into a tunnel that went under a church, showing you its underpinnings, having been built on top of Roman ruins, and finally opening up onto a big, partially restored Roman ampitheatre. It was big, impressive, and outdoors, so I was getting rained on some more.

After that, I was tired of being rained on, and headed back to the Journey. I worked up two new songs to play, one suggested by a guest last night at dinner ("Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" by Gerry and the Pacemakers) and one I saw Dan Daly do last night after my show ("You Don't Know Me" by Eddy Arnold).

I played my show, which started off with a small and disinterested crowd, but eventually I ended up with a few tables of people who were actively listening and making suggestions, and I played my two new songs, and the evening ended up going very well. While I was playing, I could feel the sea growing gradually rougher, and as I'm sitting here in my cabin typing this, we're bounding up and down a lot (it's getting close to what it was like yesterday morning, I think it's dramamine time again). Just called my little girl to say hi, and now I'm off to bed.

Tomorrow: Gibraltar

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