Back by popular demand, the 2009 R Family Vacations cruise is returning to the scenic surroundings of Alaska.
Norwegian Cruise Line ( NCL ) is continuing its successful partnership with R Family Vacations, the family-friendly vacation specialists catering to the LGBT community, aboard the 2,240-passenger Norwegian Star.
The cruise is set for July 11-18—round-trip from Seattle, Wash.—and marks the eighth cruise in six years for R Family Vacations.
"Alaska is a beautiful place to cruise [ to ] because, when you look out the window [ of the boat ] , the scenery is just stunning. Plus, the excursions are adventurous and fun. It's a very active vacation," said Kelli O'Donnell ( pictured ) , co-founder of R Family Vacations.
Cruises are priced from $849 per person, based on double occupancy.
Guests can select Norwegian Star's deluxe range of staterooms, many with ocean views and balconies. The ship features 12 restaurants, nine bars and lounges, a casino, spa and fitness center. Among the many on-board activities are two pools, a basketball court, golf driving net and a jogging/walking track.
"NCL is all about offering guests freedom and flexibility on our ships," said Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president of global sales and passenger services. "With R Family Vacations' charters, that freedom and flexibility [ are ] taken to the next level with their inclusive approach and top-quality entertainment."
The on-board entertainment truly is impressive, starting with stand-up comedian/actress Caroline Rhea. The cruise also features, among others:
—R Family's Belters Show, with Broadway cast members from Wicked, Les Miserables, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chicago and Xanadu;
—Emmy-award winner Judy Gold's "Mommy Queerest;"
—Ross Mathews ( The Tonight Show, Celebrity Fit Club and The Insider ) ;
—"Original Circuit DJ" ( and gay father ) David Knapp;
—Sharon Gless, offering a screening of the new lesbian feature film Hannah Free ( which was shot last November in Chicago ) two weeks after its world premiere in San Francisco; and
—Sirius Radio co-hosts Derek & Romaine.
"We have a really great list of entertainers," O'Donnell said.
In addition, the Family Equality Council, led by Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler, is organizing educational workshops and discussions, including seminars on gay adoption, surrogacy, same-sex marriage and a teen panel.
R Family offers fun-filled themed deck parties, fitness lectures and classes and Rosie's Broadway Kids, which gives guests the opportunity to learn a Broadway routine and perform it in the ship's theater.
"I believe our cruise is an incredible emotional experience for the people onboard, thus it's something that they look forward to each year. It's not just a fly-by-night vacation," O'Donnell said. "People can expect to have a life-changing experience on board. We not only have the best entertainers who ever have been together at sea, but I think we have seven days of the best entertainment you can find anywhere. We have comedians, Broadway performers, singers, etc. It's basically a floating utopia. And we not only have families, but a true assortment of people. It's half men, half women. Some have kids, some don't. About 15-20 percent are straight, friends and family onboard.
"Coming off the ship [ at the end of the week ] , there are a lot of tears. I think there are a lot of people who truly wish that [ the boat's environment ] was how the world truly was/is."
In 2006, R Family was profiled in HBO's documentary titled, "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and claimed two Emmy nominations and a GLAAD award.
There will be no such video cameras on board this summer, O'Donnell said.
"For me, the highlight is the boarding process; I greet everyone as they come onboard," O'Donnell said. "I think the highlight actually is that first day, at sail-away. We have someone singing a song relative to where we're leaving from or where we're going to. That's the first time when everyone really comes together as a unit. That sort of represents that we're going to create our own little world for a week; that's a magical time for everyone."
O'Donnell said R Family Vacations has a "huge" return rate of about 30 percent.
Yet the economic crush certainly has hit the cruise industry.
"Everyone's feeling [ the economic hardships ] ; there's no way around it. We have to do cutbacks based on the fact that less people are going on cruises. But we still have a good crowd coming and we're excited," she said.
O'Donnell said the amount of singles on-board is one of the biggest growth areas.
"We offer events for kids, grandparents, singles, everyone," she said. "I think the singles onboard are just looking for a less pressured experience than if they go on all-men or all-women cruise."
To reserve a stateroom, call 212-703-2486 or visit www.rfamilyvacations.com .