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  • Tyler Reed Shields

It's Not Normally Like This

"It's not normally like this." Something my friend and musical companion on trumpet has been telling me since the day I boarded Ozzy(*1), and for good reason too. Though my experience thus far has been entirely unique to me, it's not everyone's experience that their introduction to ship life is an early flight into Barcelona into an over night docked ship chartered by a group who...have their own unique experiences. They also happened to have brought their own entertainment, but we'll get there in a moment. First, welcome to the world. It isn't so scary.

Arrival in Barcelona

My plane arrived about one hour early, 06:40. Yaaawwwwn. Wielding a suitcase, a duffle, my backpack, and cymbal case, I pack-muled my ass across the airport to my shuttle to the airport. I looked like a total noob, which I am, so I just fully embraced it. Exiting the terminal and navigating my way through a sea of parked scooters, I made it to my shuttle and met my first friend. My shuttle buddy, singer, dancer, actor and soon to be Barcelona hiking companion, Jared Michael Brown. Of course, because "It's not normally like this", our hotel rooms weren't available until about 14:00. We pulled in at 07:30...


At least the eggs were scrambled to plushy perfection. And Spanish hams. Oh my god Spanish hams. Caviar on toast? Yes please. This is a 3 star hotel and the food is leaps and bounds more impressive than most American 5 stars I've experienced. The Fanta tastes like a mimosa!

Satisfied with breakfast, we boarded a shuttle taking us downtown. First stop, Parc Guell. Obviously, I had to do the most touristy thing possible in Barcelona! We caught a subway to the nearest station and hiked up, took a turn, and then up, up, up, another turn or two, and up, up, up we went. Finally reaching the park, I thought we were at the top of the city. The only way from there through the park was to go up. So many stairs! Welcome to the southern European coast! We decided to take a breather and enjoy some classical Spanish street music. Kora, a plucked string instrument with frame drum creating a drone. It was very aurally pleasing experience, but there's only so much pentatonic monotony my ears can take before I get bored, so we shortly moved on.

On the way back to the shuttle, we stopped for some Catalan barbecue in a dingy little hole in the wall off the main road. We knew we were getting the authentic experience because the wait staff spoke absolutely no English, so we used our minimal Español we learned in high school to order the best sausage I've ever tasted. A trio of smoky, spicy, and chorizo.

I'm going back. Last stop, La Sagrada Familia. Antoni Gaudí's most ambitious project, and it's STILL under construction. Just look it up. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter this wonder of the world because you had to have a ticket and they were sold out for the day. In fact, if you want to do anything fun in Barcelona, you have to pay for a ticket; to enter any cathedrals, anything special in Parc Guell, any other sights, you need a ticket, usually around 8€. Anyway, after gazing upon this monstrosity of a building for a few minutes, I had to catch my shuttle back to the hotel. This is when I caught my first look at Ozzy! He was docked, looking majestic, as I saw him through the arches in front of me. I was now ready to see what the bad boy had in store for me. Oh boy if I knew what was about to happen.

The morning I boarded Ozzy, we had to make it to our shuttle at 07:00, and I’m still jet lagged. Almost no sleep the night before. Fortunately I made it with my three giant bags and my trusty backpack.

We arrive at the terminal to check into the ship and in walks an intriguing bunch dressed in everything you might find at Hot Topic and carrying about 20 road cases of hardware.

Everyone boarding the ship with me immediately lights up. I start asking around, “Who is this group?” This is when I find out that the first week of my first ship contract is going to be chartered. Why is this special/abnormal? Well, the group that walked in is the hired entertainment for the week, meaning my first week aboard was a paid vacation. I didn’t play a single performance. I spent about four to eight hours a day in the port cities hiking and exploring. Taking in the food, the sights, the people, and the history. It felt like a dream. (I still feel as though what I’m doing isn’t actually real even though it’s kind of back to normal now.) I told Ian, my horn tooting cruise guru, that I think I could get used to this, knowing full well it would change of course. He says, “It’s not normally like this. You walked on one hell of a first week.” And he was right, but the second cruise? Yeah, it wasn’t normal either.

On board this ship, there is a consistent rotation of entertainment. Each new cruise, the ship hires a new guest performer from New York associated with 54 Below. You know, the famous Broadway bar where famous Broadway people have performed. I’m technically playing for 54 Below At Sea. For instance, the first guest performer I played with is Jennifer DiNoia aka Elphaba, and after her was Anita Gillette, broadway, film, and TV star since the 1950's. Anyway, those headliner acts perform two shows per cruise (the length of a cruise being between five and ten days).

Then there is the cruise director’s show, the assistant cruise director’s show, the band master’s show, a ballroom dance night, a jazz night, a jazz brunch, a white night (where we basically play music you hear at every wedding reception ever), and an Azamazing Evening (*2) welcome back set. Lastly, Ozzy has a cast on board who perform production shows (singing and dancing to a theme).

This is where the pendulum swung, hard, the other direction from my introduction to the vessel. When I boarded, the previous cast was in their final week. When a new cast boards the ship, there is what’s called an installation period. This is when the cast takes their show and fits it to the space. Usually installation isn’t that bad, but don’t forget the theme, “It’s not normally like this”. Three things were abnormal here. First of all, the shows being installed are brand new shows since the previous productions shows on board Ozzy had been on board for about 10 years. Secondly, the production team was given last minute notice before boarding to be able to write these shows and learn them in New York. Then they only had a week and a half to install the show on board Ozzy, where normally and installation period lasts one to two months. This meant for them, eight hours a day in the Cabaret Lounge working on blocking, lights, and setting. For us, we had four hour daily rehearsals to work out the sound, setting the band, lighting, working out kinks on the click tracks and sampled audio, and running, running, running the shows with the cast to make sure it was all smooth. Not only was four hours of every day spent in rehearsal for those shows, I also had a one hour rehearsal before each show I was playing that evening. All that paired with training, eating, writing, practicing and sleep, I went from touring every beautiful port in interesting parts of the world to never leaving this tiny ship. Not to mention we had the roughest sea day (day where we are sailing all day. We usually sail over night) that anyone had ever experienced on board this ship (Waves splashing up over deck 4); I couldn’t walk down any hallway without holding on the rails and if you’ve been on a ship in rough seas, you know when the waves smack the side of the ship it sounds like a bomb. I thought we would capsize, no joke. Anyway, Ian told me, “It’s not normally like this.” Thanks Ian. You’re right though, now that everything has calmed down, the shows are installed, the regular patrons are on board, and I’m done with training, I can say, “I think it’s normally like how it is now”.

(*1) The name of the company is Azamara so I'm nicknaming the ship "Ozzy" from here on.

(*2) Azamazing Evening is an event for the guests sponsored by the company where a convoy of buses take the guests to a local venue in whatever port we are in for a private concert featuring local talent. It’s usually pretty cool as they hire professional musicians and dancers from the coolest parts of the world!


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