Pictured Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli O'Donnell on last year's cruise . Rosie O'Donnell on the 2004 R Family cruise.
When people hear the term 'gay travel package,' they think of lots of skin, exotic localesand even more skin. While this may be fine for some singles, it leaves gay couples and their ( extended ) families out in the cold.
Fortunately, R Family Vacations is here to fill the void. Started by Gregg Kaminsky and Kelli O'Donnell ( wife of celebrity Rosie O'Donnell ) , this travel company not only appeals to both gays and lesbians, but families as welland that includes kids.
Kelli O'Donnell recently chatted with Windy City Times; the one-time Chicagoan discussed everything from going to the Bahamas to connecting with other gay families.
Windy City Times: How did the concept of R Family Vacations begin and how did it become a reality?
Kelli O'Donnell: My business partner, Gregg Kaminsky, used to work for Atlantis Vacations, a charter company that caters to gay men. About three or four years ago, the main talent for a cruise ended up cancelling. He called [ Rosie ] to ask if she knew anyone who could [ substitute ] and she said she would do it. So we went on the cruise and it was an amazing experience. Ro asked Gregg if anyone had done cruises for gay families; he said no but that he was interested. So after he left Atlantis, we sat down with a business plan and here we are.
WCT: So being family-friendly is what makes your company different from other businesses?
KOD: Actually, the main difference is that the passengers are about half men and half women. The next biggest difference is that there are lots of children on board; however, not every family brings kids. Sometimes it's just a gay man traveling with a lesbian best friend, for example. Other times, people just bring their parents. Yes, there's edgy entertainmentbut there [ is ] also family-friendly [ fare ] .
WCT: So the entertainment is a mix of things.
KOD: Yes. Last time [ in R Family Vacation's maiden voyage ] , we left from New York City ( which is where we're leaving from this year as well ) . Basically, we put any unemployed Broadway actor in a taxicab; the performers took over the ship and put on a great opening number. We had a great comedy extravaganza; Joy Behar performed. The entertainment appeals to gay families; couples; and straight friends and family.
I had my whole family on board last year and everyone had fun. I brought my partner and kids, obviouslybut I also brought my parents; siblings; and their spouses and kids. A family of eight might come with usand there's only one couple in [ that bunch ] . About 15 percent of the people who traveled last year were straight friends and family members.
WCT: So as long as you're open-minded ...
KOD: ... and you like good Broadway, this cruise is for you. [ Laughs. ] It's definitely a gay cruise but it felt like such a great thing to bring my family on board and have them see that it's not always what they think it is.
WCT: Describe this year's trip. It's a one-week excursion, right?
KOD: Correct. We'll probably add another trip in 2006. This year's trip happens on July 10. We're leaving from New York City and going up to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Then, we're going down the Cape; we're going to Provincetown, Boston, and Martha's Vineyardand then back to New York City.
WCT: What was last year's trip like?
KOD: You know what's interesting? We had all the pieces in place but we didn't really realize the magic that was going to take place. People who had never met another gay family met other families and it was powerfulnot just for them, but for their kids as well. By the way, we had 600 kids on board.
WCT: Speaking of kids, what's their program like?
KOD: There's an amazing kids' program on board. Passengers can use it as much or as little as they want. You can check them in the morning and check them out at night if you want.
Also, there are 10 restaurants on board with all types of cuisines. We've arranged a schedule where parents can go to a buffet with kids, feed their children, check their children into the program, have a nice night out, get the kids later on that night, and put them to bed. So you can have a night out without the kids if you want.
WCT: And what parent doesn't want that on occasion?
KOD: Exactly. Trust me; I have four kids.
WCT: Regarding reservations, can people make them online?
KOD: No, you can't make cruise reservations online. However, you can call our office directly [ at ( 866 ) 732-6822 ] . There are only three of us here so you'll get to know everyone here.
WCT: What are the best and most difficult parts of running this business?
KOD: The best part is connecting to other gay families. I feel like I'm part of one of the best-known gay families in this country; like us, I feel that there are thousands of other [ similar ] families looking to connect.
The most challenging part is making sure that everyone's happy. The interesting thing is that last year we had only two complaints on our cruiseand that's incredible. I'm not so sure people are going to be easy on us this year. Another hard thing is finding the next right trip for our families. We're looking at possibly having a ski trip or a trip out to a dude ranch.
WCT: Any concluding thoughts?
KOD: I highly recommended coming on the cruise. Everyone has a ball and it'll be the experience of a lifetime.
Kelli O'Donnell and Gregg Kaminsky will appear at a mixer at La Tache Restaurant, 1475 W. Balmoral, on Sunday, Jan. 16 from 5-7 p.m. There will be complimentary food and drinks; giveaways; and lots of helpful information regarding this year's cruise. For more information about the event, call ( 773 ) 334-7168.
For more information about the company, visit www.rfamilyvacations.com . To make a reservation, call ( 866 ) 732-6822.
At A Glance:
Favorite childhood memory: That would be coming up to New York City from Louisiana and seeing all the Broadway shows. Les Miserables sticks out in my mind.
Favorite Chicago neighborhood: Andersonville.
Favorite video game: Pac-Man, of course.
ChoiceBMW or Corvette?: BMW.
ChoiceDogs or cats?: Oh, dogs. I'm allergic to cats.
ChoiceCreativity or logic?: Definitely logic. I'm married to one of the most creative people I know. If one of us wasn't logical, I don't know we'd have a house! [ Laughs. ]