Saturday, March 29, 2008

More R Family Cruise Pictures: A Few of the Stars On Board

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kevin Chamberlain perform a song from Seussical (photo by Mike PG)

Danny Noriega from American Idol (Mike PG.)

Kynt and Vyxen from the Amazing Race sign Autographs (another Mike PG pic)

Cyndi Lauper (Gus totally recognizes her now)
Cyndi Lauper and Sharon Gless

Rosie and the R Family Crew

Shoshana Bean (played Elphaba in Wicked)

A listing of most of the shows, events, and performances (other than workshops) follows the jump.
  • Sailaway Party (by the pool)
  • Rosie's Broadway Belters (Broadway songs by Broadway stars)*
  • Hometown Howdy Barbecue
  • Cyndi Lauper concert*
  • Various piano bars
  • Baby Abuelita (kids cartoon premier)
  • Erin Lee & Marci kids sing-a-longs
  • Dottie's Magic Pockets kids show (preschoolers)
  • Susan Powter fitness classes
  • Kids art classes
  • Rosie's Broadway kids (performance classes)
  • The Daddy Machine (kids musical)*
  • Comedy Showcase and additional performances by ANT, Jessica Kirson, and Jule Goldman*
  • Night out at Club Paco Paco (gay disco in Puerto Vallarta)
  • Mexian Buffet/barbecue
  • Who's the Boss With Ross (like the newlywed game, but for parents and kids), with Ross the Intern
  • Sam Harris (star search champion and Broadway and tv star)*
  • Live LOGO Big Gay Sketch Show performance
  • Rmazing Race (one for families/kids, one for adults only)
  • Storytime with Stonewall (the dog from the Daddy Machine musical)
  • Kids Broadway Songs*
  • 70s Farewell show*
* indicates theater show

More R Family Cruise Pictures: Around the Ship

All Aboard (courtesy of Mike PG)
Lido Buffet (also Mike's pic)

R Family Sign (mike too)

Gus Gives a "Show" in the Coffee Bar
Dinner in the Main Dining Room

Dessert Menu

Hot Tub

Waiting for the Show on Hero Night


More R Family Cruise Pictures: Theme Days

The Winners of the Rmazing Race, on Hero Night

Super Gus and Gregg (co-founder of R Family Vacations) on Hero Day

Clay Sporting his Terps Gear for Hometown Howdy

The Gang in Our Shirts for Mix N Match day

Baby Clay on St. Patrick's Day

The Fam on St. Patrick's Day

Our R Family Cruise Review: Part II, R Family

Okay, so I've reviewed the ship, food, and crew here. Now on to the good stuff- R Family!

For those who don't know, R Family is a company specializing in creating vacations for LGBT families and their friends and allies. Started by Kelli O'Donnell (former Nickelodeon exec) and Gregg Kaminsky (former second-in-command at Atlantis Events, which produced other all-gay vacations), R Family took their first cruise in July of 2004. We saw the documentary about this cruise, All Aboard: Rosie's Family Cruise, and decided it was a "must do." Based solely on the fact that it coincided with spring break here, we chose to take the March cruise leaving out of San Diego and hitting three ports in Mexico. To sum it up, everyone had a blast. [Continued after the jump...]

First, it was great to be on a cruise where our family was accepted and celebrated. We live in a pretty open and accepting community, and have been pretty lucky that most of our family, our friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc are welcoming and inclusive. So I think I underestimated how wonderfully different it would be to be in a self-contained "gay-friendly universe." But it was amazing how minor but meaningful it was that we never got asked who was the mom or what our husbands did for a living, when Gus clearly identified us as Mama and Mommy, our fellow passengers didn't even blink, and even the spa esthetician giving me my facial told me "my wife" was waiting for me in the lobby. And the diversity of community- it wasn't just families with two moms or two dads (although there were plenty of those) but also gay men traveling with their sisters or aunts, lesbian couples traveling with sisters and brothers-in-law, and nieces and nephews, a whole bunch of grandparents (straight ones and gay ones), singles and couples without kids (of all orientations, but mostly LGBT), transgendered folks, and lots and lots of large groups of extended biological and chosen families. We met families with grandparents raising grandkids, many with adopted children, families of two moms and kids and donor dads, children conceived through surrogacy, straight allies, and families with foster children. For this freedom alone I highly recommend that every LGBT family (of whatever stripes) take at least 1 trip with R Family.


But almost equally amazing was the programming: "Something for everyone" is is easy to promise but hard to deliver, but R Family did. The programming was great for LGBT families families with kids, but also for LGBT folks without kids, and for kids without LGBT families. R Family was responsible for almost all the activities on the ship, including theater shows, special events (like their version of the Amazing Race), affinity group get-togethers, seminars on LGBT-related topics (in conjunction with Family Equality Counsel), theme days and meals, and kid's events.

Theater Shows

The in-theater shows were absolutely first class. Each night there was a late show and an early show- the former geared more towards adults. Sometimes both shows were essentially the same- such as the night Cyndi Lauper performed and the opening night performance of broadway tunes by Broadway stars, Shoshana Bean, Gavin Creel, Kevin Chamberlin and many others. Other days there were two different shows: one night the early show was a kid's musical (The Daddy Machine) and later a comedy showcase (comedians on board included ANT, Jessica Kirson, and Julie Goldman).

Seminars & Affinity Groups

The seminars and affinity group get-together were also well-done (my traveling companions presented "Effectively Parenting a College Student,"), the highlight for us being the "teen panel" at the end of the cruise where children aged 11 and up took audience questions about being raised by LGBT parents. Other seminars ranged from Being a Dad in a Mom's World to Making Schools Safe to Reproductive Assistance to "Visibility for Victory," which included panelists like Todd Herzog (gay Mormon winner of Survivor), Ross Mathews (Ross the Intern from the Tonight Show), and others.

There were also affinity group meetings for groups like families with twins, folks who use the R Family forums, families with children adopted from Guatemala, etc. The one feedback point we heard after the cruise was that there were not enough of these affinity groups (some folks requested a "foster-to-adopt" affinity group, etc), and aside from these very specific affinity groups, there were not any small group opportunities to really get to know other people on the ship. While R Family did put on some great barbecues and parties during the week (see below), those events were not always conducive to meeting other people. I agree with these comments and would have liked to see an expansion of the affinity groups to include more of the diverse groups on the cruise, perhaps even have "larger" meet and greets - for example it would have been great to have had a "playdate" with other toddler parents at the beginning of the cruise where we could have met other parents, discussed plans, shore excursions, and other options for these younger cruisers, and maybe arranged smaller playdates for later in the week.

Parties and Special Events

R Family also put on a few specialty parties and barbecues during the week, often coinciding with theme days, such as the Hometown Howdy/State Fair barbecue ("wear outfits representing your hometown") or the '70s family tea dance ("dress in 70s/disco wear). In fact, almost every night had a theme: Hometown howdy, Go green (St. Patrick's day), Wear your recent Mexico purchases (?), I need a hero (dress as your favorite hero), Mix and match day (dress like your group), and 70s - before we left, there was a bit of angst over exactly what to wear for theme days/nights, and I searched high and low for some pics of what folks had done on past cruises. In the end we ended up going with a variation on t-shirts for all the themes, and that was just fine. Some people went all out- full batman and robin costumes for hero night, a family dressed like the village people for 70s night- and some people didn't dress up at all.

These events were fun, but despite a gallant effort by R Family, they turned out to be perhaps the weakest aspect of the programming, although I think it was due more to the setup of the ship than any shortcomings by R Family. The Lide Pool deck, where these events were held, was a bit small for the number of people on board. We found out after coming fashionably late to the sailaway party because of Gus's nap that you need to get to the party at or before it starts to get any kind of seating where you can see and hear the party (let alone participate). This was not as big of a deal for non-meal parties where standing up (and dancing) was fine. But for parties with meals (the barbecues) it meant most people waited in line outside for their food but then ended up sitting inside away from the music and entertainment in order to be able to sit down. It made things generally hectic and busy. I'm not really sure if there is any alternative given the venues available, but this was a little disappointing. We still had fun people watching, dancing, and admiring all of the clever costumes and outfits.

Kids' Programming

For us, the kids' programming truly was a highlight. In addition to the kid-specific programs, almost all the programming on board was kid-friendly or kid-welcoming, with the late shows and some smaller late night shows being the only exceptions, and that was because of the racier content of the shows (Clay was in attendance and slept through several late night shows and it was not an issue). This was fantastic- it meant we not only could but were encouraged bring our toddler and infant to these first rate shows. For many shows, kids were welcome to come to the front of the theater and sit up close, invited up to the stage to sing the night the show was kids' songs from broadway (Gus's FAVORITE part of the trip), etc. I think I saw the perfect example of how wonderful this was for kids and families on the second-to-last night- we sat next to a family with a 13-month old son- he was very well behaved throughout the show, and at the end of each number he would jump up and clap his hands. The dad leaned over to me and said "He's never been to any kind of show before, but after this week, he knows exactly what to do!" It was great that anywhere we went, the kids were welcome.

In addition to being welcomed to all the activities, kids had their own activities too. Neither of our kids were old enough for the formal HAL program, but Gus still found plenty to do. In addition to the Daddy Machine musical, they had performances by Dottie and the puppets from Dottie's Magic Pockets, Baby Abuelita, and storytime with Stonewall from the musical. There was a broadway performance class (split up into 10 and older and 10 and younger) and the kids performed on stage the last night, kids sing alongs, and art classes. R Family also created a playroom with toys for the kids who were not old enough to be in the formal program, and even brought along child care workers who provided free group babysitting for under-twos and two-year olds in the evenings.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.

R Family Cruise: Pictures

And now what you really care about- photos! [JUMP TO FULL POST]

Our R Family Cruise Review: Part I HAL

On March 15 we headed out to San Diego for Clay's first cruise- an R Family cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. It was a blast! Not only was it amazing and awesome to be on a cruise specifically tailored to families like ours (with LGBT moms or dads), but it was equally wonderful to be on a vacation that had programming that was inclusive to even our youngest family members. It was also an R Family/PFLAG cruise, meaning we also got to meet a bunch of supportive parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. So, gay or straight, kids or no kids, there really was (cliche alert) "something for everyone."

The cruise was on Holland America's ms Oosterdam. I'll start the review there- [Continued after the jump...]... The ship itself was fine- in some areas it was clearly in need of a makeover (at least in our rooms- worn fabrics, broken fold-away beds, stained furniture, stateroom doors that required brute force to open, etc), but it was generally clean and well kept. Architecturally, they appear to be going for "intimate" with small spaces and lower ceilings, but it often felt claustrophobic, particularly with the lack of a larger multi-story atrium that has given a sense of place to the other ships we've cruised on. The outside spaces (Promenade deck, aft Lido deck, etc) were nice and clean, and it was great that the main pool deck had a retractable roof. Some of the "key" cruise ship amenities were somewhat poorly designed- the main theater (Vista Lounge) had more than it's fair share of pole obstructed-view seating (although the combination of lounge-chair seating up front and plush bench seating throughout was very nice, especially with young kids), and the spa was poorly set up so that you had to walk through public areas from your way from the dressing to the relaxation room, and the hallways were generally noisy enough to be heard from the treatment rooms. I think my reaction was that it was nice and clean, but not necessarily "luxurious" or "premium" which I think is what HAL is aiming for. All in all, I found the Disney Magic to out-pace the Oosterdam in luxury, service, and ambience.

The staff was really hit or miss, with our cabin steward being a hit, and the front desk staff being a huge miss. There were at least 3 occasions where we were given incorrect information from the front desk, necessitating multiple trips back and forth, inquiries to the R Family staff, and general frustration. They did, however, give the wrong information with a smile on their face, so that's something. The dining staff were also hit or miss, with the buffet staff attentive and always offering to carry a tray when hands were full (or a baby was strapped to you), while the dining room staff were usually unhelpful- rarely offering refills of the complimentary beverages, taking 20 minutes or more to get those beverages, etc. The biggest issue I had with them was that when Gus choked on a piece of fruit cocktail and threw up, we scurried to clean up the mess with our napkins and at least 3 or 4 staff members came by to deliver drinks etc, but not a single one attempted to help us, or offer us additional napkins, etc. They all pretended not to notice and rushed by until we finally got up to get the dining room manager who helped clean the mess and replaced the tablecloth. I will say he was fantastic, but I'm surprised we had to go looking for help. The cruise director, Parker, was also pleasant and cheerful, and the non-service staff (maintenance, etc) were always friendly when they passed by.

Staff aside, the food was where HAL shines. We did a mix of table service dining, room service, and the buffets, and the food was fresh and flavorful in all three. The buffet (Lido) was particularly good for that service style, with multiple options, an extensive salad bar, Asian station with fresh sushi, and hard and soft-serve ice cream. Although we experienced a few days with lunch rushes and longer lines, there was rarely a wait. The steak in the "premium" restaurant was tasty, and actually cooked to order (I find it hard to find a place that actually cooks steak to medium rare regardless of what I order- it's almost always at least medium or even more thoroguhly cooked), and even though we ate there while docked in Puerto Vallarta (thus overlooking a Wal*Mart), it was one place on the ship where the ambience worked and where the wait staff were wonderful.

The staterooms were standard cruise rooms (we had verandah cabins on the cleverly-named Verandah deck). The are only meant to sleep 3 people (and given HAL's normal demographic, typically only have 2), but we were able to squeeze clothing for all four of us into the closets. Luggage fit easily under the bed, and the bathtub and shower were relatively spacious. The DVD player and flat panel tvs were a nice touch.

My favorite feature HAL offered was the luggage checking and boarding pass printing service- yes, it was a hassle when they noted they couldn't print a "plus infant" boarding pass, and yes one of our pieces of luggage didn't make our flight (it was also the only piece inspected inside by TSA, so that could be part of it), but it was well worth it to us to pay the $15 pp to not have to worry about checking all of us in on the s-l-o-w ship internet and to not have to worry about our bags until we touched down in DC.

I should note that the R Family folks and many of the other guests seemed to be very impressed with HAL, much more so than we were, so perhaps we simply had bad luck. Or perhaps our cruise last year on the Magic (while recently out of dry dock) ruined our perspective. In any case, if R Family were to cruise on HAL again, we would certainly consider going, but I'm not sure if we would choose them if there were other options.

Friday, March 28, 2008

We Have So Much to Say!

Our computer was broken, and we also went on vacation, so our blog hasn't been updated in so long.... but we have a bunch of things to catch you up on, so expect lots of posts and pics the next few days!

Gus and Clay [JUMP TO FULL POST]

Books, books, books

I know that you are all dying for pictures from our recent vacation, so in the meantime, here are some of our favorite books (and by favorite we mean read over and over and over and over- sometimes several times in a row :)

Goodnight Lulu: Gus just picked this one out yesterday- a cute story about a little chicken procrastinating going to sleep.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!: or any of the Pigeon books- this one is probably the favorite, but we also have Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! In these books the pigeon tries to negotiate different things- driving a bus, staying up late with some very creative reasoning. Gus loves to say "no Pigeon you can't drive the bus..."

Other Mo Willems books we love are the Knuffle Bunny books
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity

The Gruffalo: A great book that Gus received as a gift with a very funny twist and a very brave mouse.

No, David!: any of the David Shannon books are favorites in our house- Gus can pretty much recite this book to us.

Mrs. Mustard's Baby Faces: Clay often joins in during storytime with Gus, but also has a book favorite of his own and for a while this was the only way to get him to have some time on his tummy- we received this book from The folks at Addition Problems it was a hit! [JUMP TO FULL POST]

Friday, March 07, 2008

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling on the Carpet

Here's to Baby Clay, the giant baby who rolled over twice in a row today! (notably in the same spot where he rolled over a few weeks ago, but as he couldn't duplicate the feat, we think that time was a fluke) He's also figured out how to su*ck on his toes, fingers, toys, and anything else that can reach his mouth. He's also a babbler, a giggler, and a squealer, a very, very cute one! [JUMP TO FULL POST]

Sunday, March 02, 2008

We're all in this together...

Gus went to his first musical today and had a blast.  Here he is singing his favorite tune with his pretty pink microphone pen :)


More Skiing Pics