Terminal Leave Adventures (2): Disney versus the U. S. Navy part deux…

One of the best parts of transition is taking terminal leave.  It is that unique time in your career when you get paid for leaving your job, which is a pretty nice perk.  Being paid your salary and receiving your benefits as you use up your remaining balance of leave (the vacation days that you have earned while serving on active duty) while having absolutely nothing required of you in return is pretty sweet.  The only expectation, I suppose, is to stay out of jail.  So far, so good…

Anyhow, I am still aboard the Disney cruise ship Wonder, and I am typing this at six in the morning as I watch the sun rise over Cabo San Lucas.  My hangover isn’t too bad this morning (although it should be) thanks to the most excellent Americano I got at the Cove Café coffee shop and lounge.  Again, I digress… so back to the differences between this sailing adventure and a deployment aboard a U. S. Navy amphibious ship (“amphib” in milspeak), which needless to say is pretty striking.  For those keeping score, here is where we left off:

Running score:                  Disney:                 4              U. S. Navy:          0

Disney has taken an early lead, and today we will see if they can keep it.  This post picks up by taking a look at the ships themselves and see which one scores best- starting with the living accomodations.  For comparison I will be using the class of amphib on which I have spent the most time: the Wasp class of amphibious assault ships.  Named for the first of her kind to sail, the Wasp and her ilk are also named in acronymical fashion the LHD class, or Landing Helicopter Dock: Landing because it lands Marines ashore in amphibious operations, Helicopter because it has an enormous flight deck that serves as a heliport, and Dock because the Navy needed a third letter to fill out the acronym.  There are currently eight big deck LHDs in the Navy, and I have either sailed or worked aboard half of them, including the Wasp, Essex, Boxer, and Bonhomme Richard.  I have also sailed aboard numerous small deck amphibs of the Landing Ship Dock (LSD) and Landing Platform Dock (LPD) classes, but since most of my time was aboard the Big Decks and because they are the most similar to the Disney Wonder in size I will use the LHDs as the benchmark for comparison.

Speaking of comparisons, here are some particulars for both ships:


Wasp Class LHD

Disney Wonder

Displacement 40,650 tons (combat loaded) 83,000
Length 844 feet 964 feet
Beam 106 feet 106 feet
Draft 28 feet (fully loaded) 25.3 feet
Speed 24+ knots 24 knots max
Crew 73 Officers, 1109 Sailors 945
Passengers 1,800 Marines 2400, including kids
Commissioned 1992 1999
Home Port Sasebo, Japan Los Angeles, California
Aircraft Embarked up to 36, including: UH-1N Huey, AH-1W Cobra, CH-53 Super Stallion, CH-46 Sea Knight, MH-60 Seahawk, AV-8B Harrier None
Combat EquipmentAboard (with Marines) A typical loadout can include up to  five M-1 tanks, 25 light armored vehicles, six M-198 howitzers, 68 HMMWVs, ten logistics vehicles, 12 5ton trucks, and a dozen or more amphibious assault vehicles None
Amphibious Craft Three LCACs (Landing Craft, Air Cushioned) or two LCUs (Landing Craft, Utility) None

As you can see, the ships are similar in physical size and capacity to carry people.  The other similarities are that they both float and the crews of both wear white dress uniforms.  Once you get past that, though, things get pretty different…

My last post ended with us stepping aboard.  The dissimilarity between the two types of ships – Navy amphibs and Disney cruisers – became more and more evident with each step that we took.  After being greeted by the enthusiastic Disney staff we were directed to our stateroom by a very nice and polite steward who looked at our boarding cards and kindly pointed us to the lifts (elevators) that would take us to the deck containing our stateroom.  As we strolled along the comfortably soft carpeted decks things were looking up- instead of being inconvenienced by such banal things as stairs we could travel between decks in style by hopping on a lift, just like a hotel ashore!  We quickly hopped aboard the closest lift and within seconds were on the deck (the “deck” being equivalent to the “floor” of a hotel) which contained our room.  By happenstance our lodgings for the week were about twenty feet away from the lift, so the convenience factor for the trip was at a family-pleasing high.

The Navy, however, is not so convenient.  Big deck amphibs have elevators, too, but they are reserved for moving aircraft between the hangar deck (where maintenance on the various aircraft is conducted) to the flight deck (where the the helicopters and attack jets take off and land).  For Marines and Sailors there are no such conveniences- instead you get to lug your gear up and down the maze of hard steel-decked passageways and ladderwells that stand between the brow of the ship and your stateroom or berthing area.  There are no kindly stewards to help you along the way, either.  My experience as a Marine aboard a Navy vessel is one of arrogant indifference- the sailors generally look upon Marines as a necessary evil that must be endured while they ply their trade of sailing the seven seas.  Despite the useleness of amphibious vessels without Marines aboard to storm hostile shores, our Navy brethren in the gator fleet continue to view us with disdain, much like an older brother looks at his annoying but inescapable younger sibling that never seems to be able to leave him alone.  Anyhow, the trip from the brow to your living space is a convoluted and confusing one to say the least.  Where cruise ships have ample space to move about in the passageways, Navy ships are unbelievably constricted, and Sailors revel in the opportunity to prove their inherent superiority by giving you the wrong directions to your destination that usually find you crawling through the bilges to the sailor’s explosive squeals of girlish glee.  Unlike the broad and open hallways of the Wonder the tight passages of the LHDs often make it difficult for two people to pass each other- especially when one of them is loaded up like a mule loaded for an expedition to the high sierras.  After grunting and groaning and struggling for what seems to be an eternity as you drag your stuff through tight hatches and narrow watertight doors you find your living space aboard the ship.  Needless to say, the point for finding your room goes to Disney.

Running score:                  Disney:                 5              U. S. Navy:          0

Back to the Wonder.  My cheerful family (really- still cheerful!) burst into our room and instantly felt at home.  It had all of the amenities of a nice hotel room, along with some you don’t get when you vacation in the Midwest.  We had a bed, a desk, and a couch- pretty standard.  The couch, however, magically transmogrified into a kidilicious bunk bed that enthralled our boys every night they got to sleep in it.  There was a closet with room for our clothes, the obligatory set of life jackets, a safe, a television, and an inroom shower and bathroom suite.  The total space was a third the size of a one car garage, but it was intelligently laid out and had more than enough space for us to spend our time at sea.  A big circular window (reminiscent of a gigantic porthole) looked out onto the beconing waters of the Pacific Ocean and the refrigerator begged to chill our bottles of wine.  So far so good!

On the LHD, however, things are a bit different.  The best part of finally reaching your living space is that it is all yours- the sailors live in a different part of the ship entirely and the Marine spaces are all dedicated to Marines.  The worst part, however, is that you get to spend the next six or so months with anywhere from three to fifteen of your closest friends…but that is the price of a free cruise, I suppose.  The Navy is one place where the differences between ranks are probably the most pronounced of all the services, and that affectation for privilege is personified by the amount of space afforded to the officers and men who serve aboard naval vessels.  During my last deployment aboard a big deck I lived in a stateroom built for four officers that was about half the size of our room on the Wonder – and there was no porthole to look out of and the head was down the hall.  Using the stateroom on the cruise ship as a comparison, there would be two senior officers, six to eight junior officers, and anywhere from twelve to sixteen junior enlisted Marines living in the same square footage.  When I sailed aboard the USS Austin (LPD-4, long since auctioned off to some South American Navy) I bunked with no less than twenty-six other Marines in a space only a third again larger than my room on the Wonder.  Needless to say, Navy ships are built for combat and not for comfort, and it shows…..the point for living spaces goes clearly to the Wonder.

Running score:                  Disney:                 6              U. S. Navy:          0

My Navy and Marine friends are by now pounding on their keyboards and cursing my very name for taking such a biased view of naval versus cruise sailing.  Before they start putting land mines under my welcome mat, however, I must give some credit where it is certainly due.  The Wonder is a cruise ship, and as such is designed for the comfort of its passengers.  Amphibs are designed to take thousands of fanatical Marines to distant shores where they will churn the surf with blood as they assault enemy held beaches.  In that regard, Marines are allowed to bring a lot of cool stuff onto the ship.  As you read earlier in this post, a typical Marine deployment brings with it things like howitzers (big cannons that shoot steel projectiles 30,000 meters into enemy territory), tanks (M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks- among the best in the world), helicopters (Cobra and Hueys with guns, missiles, and rockets as well as Sea Knights and Super Stallions to carry personnel and equipment), and Harrier attack jets.  The 1,800 Marines on board each get to bring their own issued weapons, so there are rifles, pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers, and mortars by the truckload secured in armories around the ship.  For the sheer testosterone-laden coolness factor the U. S. Navy gets bonus points for embarking the most macho cargo of any ship on the water.  They get two points- one for having the tanks, howitzers, and other studly tools of land warfare stowed below decks and another for bringing their own air force with them everywhere they go.  Go Navy/Marine Corps!

Running score:                  Disney:                 6              U. S. Navy:          2

The Navy is coming back, and although the score is a four point spread the U. S. Navy doesn’t go down quietly….  Next, we’ll take a look at life underway and see how things shake out…


2 responses to “Terminal Leave Adventures (2): Disney versus the U. S. Navy part deux…

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