Rosie O'Donnell Premieres HBO Documentary on Norwegian Dawn

March 28, 2006
"Freestyle cruising" means a little bit more to gay and lesbian travelers than it used to: This past Sunday onboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn in New York, Rosie O'Donnell hosted the New York premiere of "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise," her upcoming HBO film.

"All Aboard!" is a documentary chronicling Rosie and her partner Kelli's first-ever cruise for 500 gay and lesbian families; Rosie O'Donnell's R Family Vacations, the first gay travel company targeted squarely at gays and lesbians with children, chartered Norwegian Dawn in July of 2004 for a cruise from New York to the Bahamas.

But "All Aboard!" is more than just a day-by-day account of the voyage. The filmmaker also followed several couples throughout the week to dig a little deeper into the lives of the adults and kids onboard.

Cruise Critic was on hand for Sunday's event. Here are a few highlights and hot topics:

The special guests onboard (who, alas, had to disembark mid-afternoon so Norwegian Dawn could welcome paying passengers for that day's voyage) included families that were on the cruise and featured in the film, as well as employees and friends of HBO, NCL and R Family Vacations. Before the film was aired, at a reception in the Spinnaker Lounge complete with open bar and passed hors d'oeuvres, the positive energy was palpable: kids were dancing with balloons in a rainbow of colors and waving oversized cookies in the air with big smiles.

The mood in the theater was equally upbeat. When Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" started piping in over the speakers in the Stardust, guests jumped up and danced in the aisles or in front of their seats, from a young boy sporting a T-shirt that read "I love my mommies" to a woman wearing brightly striped gay pride sneakers. Rosie entered the theater at the last minute and walked down the aisle waving hello and being genuinely sweet and patient with excited kids clamoring for her attention.

NCL Hotel Director Klaus Lugmaier made a speech before the film started rolling, thanking Rosie, Kelli, HBO and R Family in Academy Awards style. "We stand for Freestyle Cruising," Lugmaier said, "which stands for freedom of choice in dining, entertainment, activities and lifestyle," to which the crowd jumped to their feet and erupted with applause and cheers. "This is why we're very proud to be part of this film."

Rosie and Kelli weren't the only celebrities on hand for the big event. We met former NFL player and gay parent Esera Tuaolo, who was one of the passengers onboard (and we heard that Sharon Stone is on the guest list for a future screening in New York).

The families that attended the event were extremely grateful to R Family -- and NCL -- for creating a cruise just for them. Charles Paragian, who has five adopted children with his partner Daniel Sarnekos, told us, "We didn't know any families like ours -- now we've made friends I hope we'll have for a lifetime." Paragian also said that the crew couldn't have been more welcoming -- and was impressed that one of the bartenders working the event in the Spinnaker Lounge remembered him and his family from the first Rosie cruise.

R Family Vacations has chartered Norwegian Star this summer for an Alaska cruise and Norwegian Jewel next winter in the Caribbean.

So what's Rosie's favorite part of the film? We could tell ... but we wouldn't want to spoil it for you. Check back with Cruise Critic after HBO airs the documentary for the first time on April 6, 2006 at 8 p.m. EST/PST for more details.