C’est la vie of Life at Sea

*I wrote this yesterday evening and am just getting a chance to post it.  We just pulled into port at Dubai and have a HUGE day ahead of us.  Right now I’m sitting in the beautiful Dubai Terminal enjoying FREE WiFi for the first time!*

Just sitting here in our theater on board, known as “The Parisian Lounge.”  The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, to put it mildly.  The last time I posted, I think we had just left Jordan and put up the Motown show. The Motown show was an excellent start to the voyage and immediately pulled the guests to really love us and want to know us.  After Aqaba, we sailed to Safaga, Egypt for an overnight.  I didn’t have the time to get off the ship on one day and the second day I was assigned IPM (In-Port Manning).  Didn’t miss very much in not visiting Safaga, as it was pretty much a shithole, according to everyone that got off the ship.  Even from the window of the ship, you could see slums and sketchy-looking situations. I was reluctant to visit Safaga with all the social turmoil that had been shrouding Egypt, and our timing in leaving the country couldn’t have been more perfect.  The riots broke out the evening that was sailed off from Safaga.

Once we were at sea, we prepared for the transit through more pirate-infested waters.  The Captain had, earlier in the week, given presentations to the guests and the crew regarding our procedures through this transit of the Gulf of Aden.  Of course, we are far less likely to be overtaken by pirates than your typical cargo ship (slower and lower), so there’s little to be worried about.  But at the point in the lecture when a slide of four guys in a motorboat came up and the Captain said, “These are pirates,” and pointed…. Well, I had a really hard time not laughing.  What this meant for our transit was basically that we were sailing at a higher speed and had to keep lights off on the top deck of the ship, as well as all windows blacked out.  So our little tiny porthole in our room has been closed for over a week! I’m still wondering when we will be able to open it again, because the lack of natural light is starting to make me a little crazy.

Jeff and I as pirates!

One upside of this whole pirate time was that I participated in the most epic pirate themed crew party.  Apparently, one of the previous charters had left about 100 pirate costumes on the ship, so it meant that a good amount of the crew was able to dress up in silly and costumes and make the most of it.  Around the time of all this initially beginning, we opened our opera show, “High C’s,” to a great response.  I felt really happy with it, and even though I was vocally exhausted, I wasn’t too angry about my performance of my solo aria.  As anyone who knows me already knows, I am EXTREMELY self-critical, so this was great for me!  Everyone looked gorgeous in couture gowns and tuxedos, so we made a fine-looking group on formal night that evening.  Have I talked about formal nights much?  I’m so glad I brought so many formal gowns!  I believe we had about four formal nights in this voyage, which means that if we’re in guest areas after 6pm, we have to be dressed to the occasion.

The cast and creative team after "High C's"

This made me think of that line from 30 Rock when Jack says, in response to his wearing a tuxedo, “It’s after six.  What am I, a farmer?”  I love getting all dressed up, and the manager at our onboard jewelry store has taken to loaning the ladies of the cast some very beautiful, and very expensive, pieces for our evening wear.  Regardless of the dress code, we are pretty much wearing dresses every night; it’s just a matter of whether it’s a more casual cocktail dress or a floor-length gown. I’ll try to start taking more pictures of us in our evening wear, because everyone looks stunning.

Right after the opera show, Peter and I did a show together in the upstairs lounge.  We were really proud to put it up in our first week onboard, and to be the first individuals of the whole group of singers onboard all the ships to do this show (we were the third of four ships to embark).  We played together with the musicians onboard, known as the “Silver Wind Quartet.”  It’s been great getting to know this fun group of musicians, all from the Philippines, all with great personalities and all of them know tons of music!  I sang “The Girl from Ipanema,” “New York, New York,” “You’re So Vain,” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”  Peter sang four songs as well, and we both related some of our personal stories and life in New York to the songs we presented.  Despite the fact that this was our last overnight in port in Safaga, the show was really well attended, and I think the guests really enjoyed to opportunity to get to know us more intimately.

So the very next morning we set off (as I mentioned above) to sail through pirate waters and experience an excruciating FIVE days at sea.  We said goodbye to Soozi and Damon from our creative team and our music director Brian stayed on board.  Life while at sea for an extended period of time, while also having to have windows blacked out, is a bit of a challenge.  I quickly became anxious for more light, for space to move, for… LAND.  One thing that has kept us sane has been watching sunsets and the stars at night.

Watching the sunset with The Green Flash Club

A few of us even decided to form a little group called “The Green Flash Club,” hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive “green flash” that supposedly occurs at the last moment of a sunset.  But we were all preoccupied with lots of work to do, preparing for our Billy Joel songbook show, our ABBA show and our deck show, “A Little Night Music.”  So leaving the ship, even if we were porting everyday would have been an unlikely option.  This was also the time that we started doing more ‘activities’ or ‘duties,’ though I really hate calling them the latter.  Our activities range from golf putting, to Sudoku challenge, to teatime, to… TRIVIA!  I was randomly placed on trivia several times this week, so the regular trivia participants got to really know me and I even turned it into a joke during one of our shows.  I think the most coveted activity is teatime, because you get to socialize with the guests and enjoy tea and scones.  I haven’t had that one yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  It’s funny, because I feel like my time working at the non-profit really helped me to be great at this current job.  Weirdly, the social aspect of what we do is extremely important, because the guests are more likely to come to our shows after they’ve had a chance to get to know us, and they obviously appreciate them more when they know about us as individuals.  I have had a wonderful time getting to know a lot of the guests on this voyage, and it’s a little sad to think they’ll all be leaving tomorrow morning and I’ll have to get to know an entirely new group.  C’est la vie of life at sea.  Oh, that’s great.  That will be the title of this post.

So the next show to open was our Billy Joel songbook show, which went superbly!  We opened with an a cappella piece that I picked out: “And So It Goes” then each of us sang solos with the band, followed by one more a cappella piece: “The Longest Time.”  It was my goal to do these two group numbers, and I was so pleased with how they sounded and how the audience received them.  Go team Wind!  The solo that I sang was (obviously) “New York State of Mind,” a song I didn’t really know that well before this gig, but now it’s truly one of my favorites. Our ABBA show opened just afterward, and was a huge hit.  We managed to pull together a special preview performance of the show for the crew – they LOVED it!  I felt the show was an amazing success, and I can’t wait to do it again.  Those costumes are simply ridiculous.

The Cast after "ABBAlicious" with our Stage Manager, Henry

And the last show we opened was last night on the pool deck for the BBQ, a show we called “A Little Night Music.”  The original concept of the show was to do more pop music in costumes, but we changed things up and I think the show was a lot of fun.  I sang “Fever” and also “Keep Me Hangin’ On” with Krystle.  After all the other solos, the group finished out by singing “Moondance” and then danced with the guests until the Staff Captain came up to tell us to turn off the music and the lights!  I was so pleased with the entire run of our very first voyage.  I feel like we really hit it out of the park and this is the start of a great run for us.

But I can’t forget mentioning how amazing our Thanksgiving was!  The entire day was special.  The first thing was a special cocktail party hosted by the Captain and Hotel Director where we and the other Americans gathered together in the Observation Lounge for champagne and canapés.  We went around the entire room and everyone said what they were thankful for.  It was really special to have that unique moment together.  That evening, we helped to host the Captain’s goodbye cocktail party for all the guests (our final formal night).  I was thrilled to dress up in one of the dresses I got from my Oma.  (Though I made a slight modification to it – hope that’s okay!)  I actually got a lot of compliments from the guests.  One lady was really sweet, she said, “Oh Ashley, you always look so cute in your vintage dresses.  But I’m always sporting my vintage face!”  The people here are genuine by the end of this voyage, I do feel a special bond with a lot of them.  After the cocktail party, we met at the main restaurant on board for a very special Thanksgiving dinner with the cast and Brian.  It was fantastic!  And I never thought I’d be so lucky to eat turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, brussels sprouts and pumpkin cheesecake while we were on our fifth day at sea, cruising through the Gulf of Aden.  And after dinner I was able to FINALLY connect with home and chat via Skype with the family.  That was a huge gift to me, something I was truly thankful for.  But what really made the holiday special was the party afterward in the crew bar.  The American flag cake that had been on display in the restaurant was being enjoyed by the crew, it was a free-for-all make your own drinks bar, and the kitchen staff was challenging the cast to some good ol’ karaoke competition.  Honestly, I thought the kitchen staff was better!  I heard a rendition of “Creep” that blew my mind, from Reeno, a Filipino cook.  Yes, it was a little difficult to understand his diction, but he sang the shit out of that song, hit all the high notes, and gave me chills.

So now we’re sailing away from Fujairah, UAE.  I managed to get off the ship yesterday morning when we finally ported in Muscat, Oman after our five sea days.  We said goodbye to Brian who was flying to Hong Kong to meet one of our other casts, then Peter and I headed out to explore the city and visit the Souq (market).

Muscat, Oman

Because Friday was a holy day, nothing was open until 4pm, so we walked around the perimeter of the city, along the coast, all the way to the Sultan’s Palace.  From there we took a cab back to the Souq, where hundreds of vendors called and beckoned for our business.  I did end up buying this funny little antique padlock shaped like a camel.  Very weird, very much my style, and very cheap.  Last night we headed from port en route to the UAE, and we ported this morning in Fujairah.  If you’re ever thinking of visiting Fujairah, just go to a Wal-mart instead.  Because all that’s there, seriously, is the Lulu Shopping Center… which is basically a Wal-mart.  I did get off, bought a toothbrush and a thumb drive. I know, riveting!  Tonight will hopefully be restful as tomorrow we port in Dubai and have an extremely long day of debarkation and embarkation for all the old and new guests.  We will be working all day long, and the very next day begins our run of all the shows all over again. This next voyage is only seven days long, so we are packing a lot of more into less time.  Our schedule of ports is the following:

Sunday, November 27th       Dubai, UAE
Monday, November 28th      Abu Dhabi, UAE
Tuesday, November 29th      Khasab, Oman
Wednesday, November 30th Muscat, Oman
Thursday, December 1st       Day at Sea
Friday, December 2nd            Doha, Qatar
Saturday, December 3rd       Dubai, UAE
Sunday, December 4th          Dubai, UAE

So even though we are working all day tomorrow, I’m hoping we can take advantage of our overnight in Dubai on the 3rd to really enjoy what the city has to offer!

Yes, this life is overwhelming, exhausting, unbelievable, sometimes very lonely and yet you’re never alone.  But it’s interesting, exciting, filled with adventure – and that’s what I’m thankful for at this point.  I never dreamed I would be sitting in the window watching a beautiful sunset at sea on the Gulf of Oman.  I miss my family and friends, but what an opportunity I have been blessed with!  So I’m signing off for now.  Miss you all very much.