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FAMILIES, AHOY!

This summer, Rosie and Kelli O’Donnell launch the first cruise for gay families

by Bradley David Williams

In July, a brand-new concept in gay travel leaves the dock—a vacation designed especially for gay families. Spearheaded by Rosie O’Donnell and her partner Kelli, the July 11–18 cruise is the first venture of R Family Vacations, the travel company recently launched by the couple to help satisfy the vacation needs of families like theirs.

Over a thousand gay families, along with friends and extended family members, are expected to embark from New York on the Norwegian Dawn liner [pictured above], with ports of call that include Cape Canaveral and Key West, Florida, Nassau, Bahamas, and Great Stirrup Cay, the Norwegian Cruise Line’s private Bahamian island. R Family Vacations has recruited the Family Pride Coalition—the 25-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for GLBT families—to host seminars and workshops during the trip on adoption, surrogacy, and gay parenting. There will also be discussion groups for kids and a panel discussion where teens can share their experiences of growing up with gay and lesbian parents. Metropolitan Community Church, the predominantly GLBT Christian denomination, will have clergy on board to perform wedding ceremonies and conduct interfaith services.

If you’re thinking you might want to join the historic sailing, it’s probably not too late. As we went to press, there was still space available, starting at $899 per person. Gregg Kaminsky, a founding R Family Vacations partner, reported that a large number of Texans had already booked passage.

“Texas is a huge market for us,” Kaminsky says. “For some reason, when people do something in Texas, they want all their friends to go, so we have a really large number of people coming from Texas so far.”

Kaminsky, 37, grew up in the Houston area, attending high school in The Woodlands before heading to Austin, where he was a cheerleader at the University of Texas. He spent six years organizing gay cruises for Atlantis and then hooked up with the O’Donnells to start the new travel firm. Kaminsky met the lesbian power couple through his partner Dan MacDonald, whom he married several years ago on the Bravo network’s Gay Weddings reality series.

“Dan and Kelli had been friends before Rosie and Kelli started dating and before Dan and I started dating,” Kaminsky says. “Dan worked for Disney, and Kelli worked for Nickelodeon.”

When one of the entertainers backed out of a gay cruise Kaminsky was working on a few years ago, he called Rosie to ask for suggestions. She promptly volunteered herself. The experience greatly impressed the entertainer, Kaminsky reports, and she asked him if there were any cruises available for gay families.

“I said, ‘No,’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you and Kelli do it?’” Kaminsky remembers. “So the three of us started the company.”

Kelli O’Donnell, who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and earned a degree in advertising at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was a marketing executive with Nickelodeon when she met Rosie over six years ago. The 36-year-old, who has legally changed her last name from Carpenter to O’Donnell, gave birth through artificial insemination to the couple’s fourth child, Vivi, in 2002. The family, which also includes three adopted children—Parker, 8, Chelsea, 6, and Blake, 4—will all be on board the cruise.     

Kaminsky and MacDonald have yet to take the plunge into parenthood. “Dan isn’t ready yet,” says Kaminsky. MacDonald is not directly involved with R Family Vacations but was Rosie’s business partner in the production of Taboo, the Boy George musical. Despite a reported $10 million loss from the Broadway run (don’t worry about Rosie, who is reported to be worth $100 million), the two are working on other projects, including a possible international tour of Taboo. Kelli O’Donnell and Kaminsky handle the day-to-day operations of the new travel enterprise out of the guesthouse on the O’Donnell residence in Nyack, just north of New York City.  

Kaminsky encourages travelers to book a bargain Internet fare to New York (air travel is not included in the price of the cruise) and tack on a few days in the city before or after the sailing.  

“We leave on a Sunday, so I tell people to come spend the weekend in New York,” he says. Special rates for cruise-goers are available at the Marriott Marquis and W hotels in Times Square.   

Aside from the special onboard activities geared toward the specific needs of gay families, the cruise promises to be an unforgettable adventure on the high seas. The 2,200-passenger Norwegian Dawn, which entered service in December 2002, is considered one of the most spectacular ships in the world with 10 restaurants, a 1,100-seat theater, and a 24-hour fitness center and spa. The onboard art collection includes works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Monet. Adults can enjoy massages, cooking classes, lectures, casino gambling, art auctions, and first-run movies. Kids will have their own special day camp at the T-Rex Kid’s Center, and teens will be able to hang out in their own club. Perks like room-service dining and babysitting until 10 p.m. will be provided at no additional charge.  

As for entertainment, Rosie will host opening-night festivities, and an array of top stars will perform throughout the cruise. Comedian Joy Behar, co-host of ABC’s The View, will do stand-up, as will gay comics Bob Smith and Judy Gold. Openly gay former NFL football player and vocalist Esera Tualo (recent star of his own Chili’s television spot) and Broadway star Christine Ebersole will round out the impressive roster of celebrity guests.

Bradley David Williams also reports on gay Hawaii in this issue.

TRAVEL INFO

For details about R Family Vacations, visit www.rfamilyvacations.com or call 1-866-R-FAM-VAC.


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