Friday, February 19, 2010

These Moms Rock! Documentary wows Naples Film Festival viewers

I have no idea what to expect as I take my seat at the Mercato’s Silverspot theater. It’s day two of the Naples International Film Festival - and I’m about to watch the documentary, Momz Hot Rocks, about mothers who form garage bands.

I make small talk with Susan, the woman sitting next to me. A mother of two, she left her kids with her husband for the night. Her choice of the film had more to do with its start time than the subject matter, but I get the sense that as long as she can enjoy her glass of wine and enjoy a little ‘me time’, the night will be a success.

The documentary opens with rock music and a montage of ‘stereotypical mom’ footage – old commercials and such from the 1940s and 1950s showing a well-dressed woman wearing an apron, about to serve dinner, or dancing around the latest stove model.

Cut to modern day footage of Joy Rose, founder of the mom band, Housewives on Prozac. Joy’s a throwback to Debbie Harry. The matriarch of the mom band movement, Joy looks about 50. Her blonde hair with hot pink streaks blows as she walks down the street, explaining her plans for MaMapalooza, a festival of mom bands from around the country. After doctors diagnosed her with lupus, Joy decided to return to her passion: music. She gathered women from her suburban New York neighborhood and the band was born. In 12 years, the Housewives have recorded several CDs and garnered attention from major newspapers and TV, including CNN and Good Morning America.

Housewives on Prozac founder Joy Rose works the phones in preparation of MaMaPolooza.

                                                                                     (All Photos courtesy: NIFF, Kate Perotti)

These band members are no desperate housewives. They’re re-defining and celebrating what it means to be a mother. While some band members do stay home with their kids, others are single moms working two jobs, or women trying to juggle the demands of family and career. As one member of the band, The Placentas, puts it, once women have children, they often feel put into a box and marginalized; often expected to do nothing more than be a caretaker, setting aside any outside interests for the their children’s (and husband’s) pursuits. By being in a band, they have a creative outlet to express themselves.

Punk band Placenta, fronted by Rachel Yellow, croon about deadbeat dads.

In 90 minutes, director Kate Perotti introduces viewers to a half-a-dozen bands from around the U.S. with colorful names: The Mydols, The Bettys, Motherload Trio; and even more colorful song titles: “Eat your Spaghetti or Leave the Room”; “Skating Mom Blues”; and “Wal-Mart Woman.” The genres range from punk to folk music. Some band members put aside their musical interests to raise their families. Others learned how to play an instrument when they joined the band.

“It was the life of a mom that I completely understand,” Perotti explains after the film. She financed and shot the entire movie by herself, often conducting interviews while band members were driving, because that was the only free time they had to talk. “It was a very liberating experience,” she says, adding that, “this was a documentary about women who actually exist.”

Ellen Goldberg, a member of the Naples International Film Festival committee tells me that Momz Hot Rock immediately caught reviewer’s attention. “The unique style, using the vintage footage along with the music video sequences, was creative and eye-catching,” Goldberg says. “As a mother of two, I loved the message that women-including moms - can express their creativity at any age.” It certainly helped that the documentary has taken home other film festival awards.

While some of the bands are happy to play at PTA festivals and Moms Morning Out events, others want more. After a radio interview in Salt Lake City, members of The Mydols lament that they’re always asked what their husbands and kids think about them being in a band. Members sometime notice the disapproving looks of others, as if they’re neglecting their kids in favor of playing. And they wonder whether they’d have a record deal if members were young and attractive, instead of slightly overweight, 30 and 40-something moms.

As I watch the group, Candy Band, play for school kids and sign autographs, I think how great it is for girls and boys to see these women having so much fun – instead of being overworked and exhausted.

As the movie comes to a close and the houselights turn on, I look to Susan May, the woman seated next to me. “So, are you going to start your own band?” I ask. “Yeah,” she replies. “I’m inspired. I think I might.”

                                           Black Flamingos guitarist Lisa Ludwig rocks an audience.

One Whale of a Ship: The world's largest cruise ship, The Oasis of the Seas, splashes the competition and wows passengers

‘Mammoth,’ ‘massive’ and ‘colossal’ are just three of the adjectives I’ve heard passengers use to describe the Oasis of the Seas. For me, the world is gi-normous. I know, that’s not a word, but words really don’t do this ship justice. You have to experience it. The Oasis of the Seas, the newest in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, and the world’s largest cruise ship, took its maiden voyage from Port Everglades in early December. But before the paying public got to board, travel agents, cruise industry insiders, executives and journalists like me got to take a brief 36-hour tour at sea.

If you haven’t already heard, the Oasis spans 1,187 feet, weighs more than 225 tons and can hold 6,296 guests. It boasts 17 decks, seven distinct neighborhoods including a Boardwalk (complete with Carousel) and Central Park – the first-ever park at sea. There are other firsts onboard as well: The first zip-line and moving bar at sea, and the first full Broadway show performed on any cruise ship.

Adventurous cruisers can enjoy the Oasis of the Seas' zip line.
(all photos courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

For all the hype this ship has received, The Oasis delivers. Adults can sunbathe in the tranquil Solarium for some rest, relaxation and a restaurant offering healthy choices. In addition to the three-floor Opus Dining Room, passengers can also enjoy specialty restaurants, for a small surcharge. The most exclusive dining venue on the ship, 150 Central Park, features dishes by 23-year-old chef Kerriann Von Raesfeld; a sushi bar, steak house and Italian restaurant, to name a few.

The Solarium offers rest and relaxation on board the Oasis of the Seas

The first park at sea, Central Park also houses specialty restaurants on the ship. 

For the adventurous, there’s the aforementioned zip line, a rock climbing wall and two Flo-riders for surfing and boogie boarding. Guests can also enjoy nearly two dozen pools and hot tubs. For entertainment, there’s a fantastic ice skating show and the Aqua Theater performances feature high divers and synchronized swimmers. In short, you really have to work hard to be bored on this ship. Passengers who sail on The Oasis’ seven-day itineraries to the Caribbean will have plenty of time to try to do and see it all.

Accommodations onboard The Oasis include ocean view staterooms, plus unique interior cabins with balconies overlooking Central Park or The Boardwalk. Luxury cabins are also available, including two-story lofts, and suites that can very comfortably sleep 10 and feature an enormous deck for private entertaining.

A Class of its Own

Ships the can carry up to 5,000 passengers are described as ‘mega ships.’ With the ability to carry more than 6,000 cruisers, plus nearly 2,000 crew, The Oasis of the Seas is really in a class of its own. At least three other cruise ships – Norwegian’s Epic and Disney’s Dream and Fantasy are preparing to launch later this year and in 2011. They’ll still dwarf in size compared to The Oasis. Norwegian is hoping to lure passengers with private access stateroom and villa complexes, an Aqua Park and bowling alley. Disney will boast the first water coaster at sea.

So is bigger really better? And why the need for such elaborate amenities? Naples travel agent owner Gala Reitz says it’s all about competition.

“Cruise ships have to compete with the land resorts, where you get food and drinks just like you do on ship, but also water sports and entertainment,” says Reitz. “Cruise ships relied on passengers going port to port for entertainment. The Oasis and the others following are having all these activities that one would expect to see at a land resort.”

Royal Caribbean president and CEO, Adam Goldstein agrees, adding that by offering passengers more choices and variety they can tap into the ever-increasing multi-generational travel market. “The major element that we’re able to have (with The Oasis) is a ship that is extremely pleasing to the grandparents, the parents and children of all ages,” Goldstein says. “That’s a huge benefit to us.”

“We’re not after a number of tons. We’re after a level of satisfaction that is extremely competitive with land vacations.”

Travel agent and blogger Amber Blecker believes The Oasis will attract passengers who normally wouldn’t travel on Royal Caribbean, or who wouldn’t consider a vacation cruise.

“They hit a homerun with this ship,” she says excitedly.

With its size, amenities and comfort level, Royal Caribbean did more than just hit a home run with The Oasis of the Seas –they hit it out of the ballpark.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Can You Feel the Love Tonight

The entertainment in the Opus Theater was Jonathan Kane, an Elton John impersonator who was spot on! Really, really good! Having seen Elton John in concert, Kane has the singer’s mannerisms down pat. The back up band was stellar as well. The main stage also offers two monitors, so while “Elton” was singing Candle in the Wind, a montage of Marilyn Monroe footage was playing. Then there was the “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” duet “Elton” did with KeKe Dee who appeared on video. Not sure how I feel about that. Kind of cheesy. But, at the end of the concert, the audience got to head on stage to dance. Gala was one of the first ones out of her seat! I’ll post pictures as soon as I can! So much to do that it’s hard to find time to blog.

Safety First

We had our obligatory safety drill just before departing. Each guests SailAway card has their lifeboat section written on it, so it’s easy to know where to go – nothing to remember. My is F4, so I headed to the Opus Dining Room on the 5th floor to watch a safety video (the audio ran out for part about a minute). Not that I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person, but I have no idea how 6K people would get off this ship in a timely manner. It was pretty tough with the 3,500 folks here are on board now. My friend Sarah, who’s a former cruise line worker, had this advice for me before I left: “Know where every exit is, because that ship is a disaster waiting to happen.” I hope that never happens. Here’s my glass-half-full reaction… didn’t it take the Titanic 3 hours to sink? Hopefully, that would be enough time to get passengers on lifeboats!

Dining at Sea

We had an early dinner seating at 6:30pm Sunday in the Opus Dinning Room. It’s a three story room with a massively beautiful crystal chandelier. The staff is pretty attentive. The chef’s menu included lamb shank with rosemary and mashed potatoes. I chose an appetizer of tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto with EVOO and Balsamic vinegar. Not bad, but tomatoes needed to be riper. Should have just had a mixed green salad. My Angus steak wasn’t too bad, and Gala’s cod looked very tasty, as did Shannon’s chicken marsalla. For dessert, its angel food cake, which was a bit of a disappointment. It’s better at Publix. But, there is a wide range of offerings, including healthier offering that are part of the ship’s Vitality plan.

Who Am I With?

So, who am I onboard with? There are about 3,500 people on this Cruise to Nowhere. A combination of media folks like me, travel agents, Royal Caribbean executives from around the world and preferred guests. There’s also a celebrity or two- if you can call the lady from The Little People a celebrity.

We’ve docked 12 miles out to sea so we can fully enjoy the amenities that the Oasis has to offer. And let me tell you, you’ll never be bored. From enjoying the outdoor beauty of Central Park to learning to boogie board and surf to riding a carousel in the Boardwalk. Even zip lining! Which I won’t be trying, due to my aversion to heights. Oh yeah, there’s a spa and a fitness center. Last night after dinner, my cabin mate, Shannon, and I found a running track. Two-point-four laps equals a mile, or if you’re really industrious, you can do a 5K. With only 36 hours on board, I’m having a hard time deciding what to do!

The other folks I’m traveling with are Gala and Doug Reitz, and Gala’s daughter, Shannon. Gala and Doug (a pilot with American Airlines) run A Travel Crew travel agency; and Shannon runs a travel agency as well (I think it’s called My Travel Paradise. Not sure, but Wynonna Judd is following her on Twitter!). Both agencies are affiliated with YTB. Gala graciously invited me on this great cruise, and I’m most appreciative!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ready to Set Sail!

All I can say about this ship is WOW! It’s Massive with a capital M. After arriving at Port 18 at Port Everglades, built just to accommodate the Oasis of the Seas, my three other traveling companions climbed the kinda steep ramp to enter the mammoth ship. There certainly is a great deal of anticipation for the Oasis. Everyone is friendly, from the Broward County Sheriff deputy waving us through security at the port entrance to the Royal Caribbean staff welcoming us aboard.

As we arrive on deck 5, we’re greeted by the smell of Sorrento’s Pizza (which is enticing, since it was 12:30 and I was hungry!). We’re in full view of a cupcake store, Irish pub, and sandwich shop. After my cabin mate, Shannon and I find our stateroom on the 9th deck, we check out the balcony, the bathroom (small), throw our bags down, head downstairs for a slice or two of pizza, then decide the Champagne Bar is too good to miss. A whole bar dedicated to my favorite beverage! One this inaugural cruise, there’s just one brand offered, but for paying customers, there will be a whole menu of choices. Two Kir Royales later, we stroll towards the Boardwalk to see the Carousel, rock climbing wall, and Aqua Theater – where it looks like workers are putting the finishing touches on the floor. I read The Oasis will have water shows featuring Olympic and college synchronized swimmers. I’m thinking a modern-day version of one of those Esther Williams’ shows.

The only snag so far is the stateroom Gala and Doug – my two other traveling companions-hadn’t been vacated yet. Guess the guests on the last Cruise to Nowhere didn’t want to leave! But Guest Services fixed the problem rather quickly, and escorted them to their new stateroom.

Shannon and I have been on a quest to find the ice skating rink. It’s on deck 4, but we have to wait until tomorrow to actually skate – and that’s not a definitely. We’ll see.

Well, I’ve been on the ship for more than 3 hours. Just about time for our emergency drill and then the sail away party! Lots of fun still to enjoy. Stay tuned!