You may know Rosie O'Donnell as the daytime talk-show host and stand-up comedian, but Rosie and her wife Kelli are also the lesbian parents of four adopted kids. Together, the family took part in a moving journey that was turned into the 90-minute documentary called All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise.
Kelli and her business partner, Gregg Kaminsky, are the founders of R Family, a travel agency focused on setting up vacations for gay families. Feeling there was a lack of gay family-friendly vacation options, they decided to create their own--they chartered a cruise ship and started the first gay-oriented cruise vacation. HBO caught the outing on film and will begin airing All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise on Thursday, April 6, at 8 p.m. Watch a trailer for the show here.TV.com caught up with Kelli and asked her a few questions about the documentary.
TV.com: Tell me briefly what the show is about.
Kelli O'Donnell: We own a vacation charter company for gay families, and we chartered a cruise ship in 2004. It was our first year doing this, and HBO approached us and said, "Why don't we have a documentary crew come onboard and film the cruise?"
TV.com: So this was the first cruise you guys did?
Kelli O'Donnell: Yeah, we do other vacations as well but this was the first cruise. On the first cruise we had 1,600 people, last year we went to Canada and Nova Scotia with 2,200 people, this year our Alaska cruise is sold out at 2,600. Next year we're actually doing two cruises.
TV.com: That's a lot of growth in a short period of time. How did you come up with the idea for a gay-centric vacation company?
Kelli: As a prominent gay family, we're always searching for families to share the experience with. One year, we took a trip to Provincetown (the gay-friendly resort town in Massachusetts), and it was a really powerful experience for our kids and our family. We thought it would be nice to re-create the experience, and maybe we could make a floating utopia that would be great for families.
TV.com: Was it difficult to get people interested in the cruise?
Kelli: We were not sold out the first year; here we are, year three, and we're sold. That's pretty good for a new company.
TV.com: Is it open only to lesbian couples, or also to gay males and straight passengers?
Kelli: Our cruises are 50/50, men and women. The documentary only follows the original cruise, and focuses on the traditional idea of a family, with two gay parents and kids. On our other cruises it is more mixed--for example, we might have a family of eight, but there are only two gay people in the family and they just want to bring their parents.
TV.com: Do you see more gay vacation options now than you did in the past?
Kelli: Right now we're the only gay travel group to allow children to go on trips. In the future that might change, but currently we are the only company that caters to gay families.
TV.com: Was it all work, or was this also a fun vacation?
Kelli: [Laughs.] Well, this was my week to work, so I really couldn't relax too much. It was interesting to have the cameras on the first trip. Obviously when you start it's stressful--there are bound to be mistakes on any inaugural trip--and having the cameras there just added to the whole experience. When there were no cameras on this last trip, I thought, "Man, this is a piece of cake!"
TV.com: What do you hope will come out of this documentary?
Kelli: I hope that the people who might not want to watch this documentary are the people who end up watching it. It isn't preachy; it shows by example that gay families are nothing to be afraid of. It's a great story about love. There are no people swinging from the chandeliers, there is nothing weird happening. It's just about families and love.
TV.com: What do you think of the recent report that said US attitudes are softening toward gay marriage, when in the last presidential election it was such a big issue?
Kelli: I think the Republicans used it as a wedge issue. There has got to be way to approach the issue where it isn't so frightening to people. Look at the state of Massachusetts--it didn't fall down and collapse because of gay marriages. I got married and nothing bad happened to my parents' marriage, to my friends' marriages, to my neighbors' marriages. Hopefully, it will stop being so scary to people.
TV.com: Do you have any memorable moments you can share from the documentary, without spoiling any surprises?
Kelli: The most overwhelming moment was when Gregg and I walked onstage on the first night of the cruise and welcomed everyone. It was very emotional. We're a small company, only three people, so we had spoken to everyone who was on that cruise. It was big step for us--but also, it was big for them to come on that trip. Many of them had never been on a cruise, it was a lot of money, so it was a big occasion for us all.
TV.com: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.
Kelli: You're welcome, watch the show tomorrow night!
TV.com: I will!
All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise airs Thursday, April 6, at 8 p.m. on HBO.