February 28 - March 3, 2002
Port Canaveral, Florida, to Nassau & Castaway Cay
Second Roger Ebert & Richard
Roeper Film Festival at Sea
by Scott Abrahams
Ebert and Roeper are the movie critic-hosts for
the syndicated television show. For the
second year, they chose the Disney Wonder as the venue for a three-day
It was really a wonderful and special
opportunity to see some new films, interact with our nationally known hosts and
enjoy a few days with Disney and the gang at sea. The films and film companions
were great; the weather unfortunately was not so hot. In fact, our cruise began
about 10 hours after a space shuttle launch was canceled because it was so cold
early that morning Ė between 30 and 35 degrees. By the time we left it was
around 55 to 60, but the winds whipping across the deck made our sailaway
cocktail reception chilly. The winds were a problem for the ship for the rest of
Disney Cruise Lines asked us to be at the
terminal by 11 for a special lunch to follow on board just for our group, which
numbered about 225. We boarded first as a group about 12:15 and walked directly
to lunch at Parrot Cay restaurant, where a buffet lunch awaited. Our rooms were
not yet ready, so everyone dragged their carry-on luggage to lunch. (Kind of
like what happens during the farewell breakfast on a cruise.) It was quite good;
the same buffet lunch is open to everyone arriving at that time. Or, you can eat
lunch up in the topside buffet. It was nice to get acquainted with some of my
film cruisers over lunch, but other than that I saw nothing special about having
arrived early, except it made a very short cruise a few hours longer!
Dinner that night was at 6 p.m. in the
Animators Palate, the black-and-white room that changes colors and features a
Disney cartoon musical on screens embedded in the walls. The best thing about
dinner was my salmon with maple-glaze coating. Absolutely superb. In fact, the
dining room food on this cruise was top-notch in my opinion, compared with the
Ebert and Roeper opened the film cruise
promptly at 8 p.m. that night with "One Hour Photo", a Robin Williams
film that is NOT a comedy. This film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in
January and itís quite good. Williams stars as a photo clerk who over the
years develops (ha!) a strange obsession with one of the families that brings in
film. Itís quite a good thriller; scary yet without any gore or violence.
Supposedly, this film will not be out until the fall in hopes of Oscar
consideration when the 2002 awards are presented in March 2003. No one who sees
this will ever look at one of those one-hour film places ever again! So, what
did we do after seeing and discussing the film? We went for a group photo in the
atrium lobby! In a nice touch, the 8 by 10 photos were delivered to our cabins
on the last night of the cruise, compliments of the film cruise. (Unlike last
year, though, we never got an Ebert and Roeper Film Festival at Sea T-shirt or
So, the first day, a long one, finally ended.
Even I was tired, and all I had to do was drive to the ship from Orlando. Some
people had flown in from California and Arizona for this cruise, and they were
Friday morning, the ship docked in Nassau, but
we had a screening of "Monsters, Inc." to see at 9:30 a.m. Some people
skipped this one, either because they had seen it, or were sleeping in, or
wanted to see Nassau. I had not seen Monsters Inc. and was glad I had the
opportunity to do so here. Itís quite inventive and original. To tempt people
to see the film, the only "Disney" film in the film cruise, Ebert and
Roeper enticed the director, Pete Doctor, to give a talk afterward. He explained
the origins of the story (every child fears a monster behind the closet door)
and used a video to show how the characters evolved in the way they looked and
talked, and how the voices were recorded and fitted into the film.
At 3 p.m., another film was ready for us:
"Stolen Summer", a new film whose creation was shown in the HBO series
Project Greenlight, which featured a screenplay contest. This film was the
winner of the contest. The film itself, apparently to the surprise of most,
turned out well. Roeper called it "sweet," and noted that the
conflicts shown on the HBO series dealt with the shooting of the film. The
post-production editing where the film really comes together is really the
second part of any filmís creation, he said. The film is set in Chicago of
1976, and features an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family. Aiden Quinn,
Bonnie Hunt and Kevin Pollak are quite good in this, as are the child actors for
the most part. Hey, theyíre only kids. This film is opening slowly in
March-April of 2002. Itís worth checking out. Itís better than at least 80
percent of the rest of the stuff that is out there, in my opinion.
Dinner proceeded at 6 p.m., this time in the
aforementioned Parrot Cay, where my selection was the Cuban-style rib steak,
which had some sort of ginger sauce concoction that was really, really, good. It
was good enough to make me want to seek out some Cuban restaurants in my area
and see whether they have the same dish. Disneyís waiters and bus people
danced to Hot, Hot, Hot, and a fine time of hand-clapping was had by all.
That evening, I met friends at the cinema for a
regular showing of a current film, a Disney family comedy called "Snow
Dogs" starring Cuba Gooding as a Miami dentist who inherits a team of race
dogs in Alaska. I was curious to see this, if only to try to discern why the
critics hated it and audiences have liked it. Needless to say, this was your
mainstream Hollywood production: formulaic and entertaining, nothing more. None
of it was believable but it was cute nevertheless. I enjoyed seeing Alaska in
the film. Hey, and Miami, too. But the contrast between "Snow Dogs"
and your typical film-festival film is like that between cotton candy and a real
meal like, oh, say, a Cuban-style rib steak. Everything has its place, but
"Snow Dogs" helps one understand how the art of true filmmaking serves
a greater purpose than sugary, fast-food entertainment.
Various events were available during the
evening as the ship stayed at the Nassau pier. A deck party was held from 10
p.m. to midnight, there was "Krazy Karaoke" in the WaveBands bar at
11:30 p.m., etc. etc. For me personally, I was in bed by 11 p.m. to get a nice
long sleep for our island visit the next day... which never happened.
I was lying in bed between 8:30 and 9 a.m.
Saturday, listening to the shipís thrusters going on and on. Finally, they
stopped. Disneyís audio pixie dust, a brief tinkling sound, came on the
in-room speaker, and the captain apologized that the Disney Gods were being
cruel today. Chairman Michael Eisner, he said, and all his billions of dollars
and stock options could not get the winds to die down enough for the ship to
approach the pier safely. (He didnít actually mention Eisner. I am making that
up.) The wind was blowing at 40 knots, which was outside the shipís envelope
of safety for maneuvering. (Disneyís Castaway Cay has a pier, unlike most
cruise linesí private islands where passengers must tender ashore while the
ship anchors at sea.) The captain apologized profusely, then signed off to the
sound of the audio pixie dust.
The shipís plan was to steam to Freeport,
Bahamas, where tugboats could help maneuver the ship to the pier, and we would
have an impromptu port call there. The ship stops there on its four-day cruises,
so this was not anything out of the ordinary. The ship offered a special showing
of a new Disney film, "Return to Neverland," as we made our way to
Freeport. After two or three hours, we were off to Freeport, but, again, neither
the Disney Gods nor the tugboats were of any help. The wind was too strong, the
captain said, and again he apologized profusely. He said the various snorkeling
and boating trips usually offered to passengers were not running because of the
This was not Disneyís day: I heard later from
a frustrated parent that the projector broke down three times during the
Neverland movie, and the kiddies never did see the complete movie. The cruise
director and staff were forced to print up a list of alternate activities for
our unexpected day at sea. I donít know how often the Disney ships miss their
port calls at Castaway Cay, but when they do it leaves a big hole in the cruise
experience because most people really, really enjoy their day at a Bahamian
beach. The island itself has been developed beautifully by Disney. I saw it a
year ago on the first film cruise, and was looking forward to going back, if
only for lunch.
As the ship chugged listlessly back toward
Florida, the film cruise cranked up again. When we gathered at 2:30 p.m., Roeper
joked that he overheard some passengers on the ship complaining. He said they
had "Ebert and Roeper envy" because we had our afternoon all planned
with something worthwhile to do. Roeper then introduced Ebert by calling him
"the best writer about the movies in America today." Said Ebert, who
had undergone surgery to remove a tumor on his thyroid, "I donít have the
strength to disagree with you." Those two bantered back and forth like that
throughout the trip. Itís difficult to put the humor in words. You had to be
So, we settled in to see the most obscure
selection of the event: A full-length documentary called "The Kid Stays in
the Picture," based on a mid-1990s book by the same name, an autobiography
of famed Paramount producer Robert Evans. Evans was originally an actor in the
late 1950s and 1960s, but became chief of production at Paramount in 1966. He
kept Paramount from going under with hits such as "Rosemaryís Baby,"
"Love Story," "The Godfather" and "Chinatown."
Then Evans was married to Ali McGraw, who later married Steven McQueen. He had
many ups and downs with drugs, women, financial backers and so on.
Ebert and Roeper showed us the film, I think,
for two reasons: because of the subject matter and the fact that Evans narrated
the documentary himself, and because of the advanced filmmaking techniques of
the documentary. Those included computer manipulation of old still photos, the
colorization of old black-and-white photos in an artsy way, and lots of
music-video-style quick cuts and flashes of this and that, evoking of the
flashiness and hipness of Hollywood. There were also archival clips of Evansí
appearances on TV and whatnot. Ebert noted that the documentary was done in the
genre of a fan magazine biography, only elevated. It was all quite interesting
but best intended for die-hard film buffs. I guess you could say, very roughly,
that content-wise it was sort of like those "Behind the Music"
episodes on VH1, except much, much better. Itís well worth seeing if youíre
so motivated, and if the darn thing is ever shown commercially. You might have
to see it on video, eventually.
Our third and last dinner rolled around at 6
p.m., tonight in the most formal of the three dining rooms on the Disney Wonder,
Tritonís, which has an under-the-sea theme. Dinner was beef tenderloin, which
was indeed tender and delicious.
At 9 p.m., a long line started forming for a
book signing with our two hosts. Roger Ebert has a new book out, called
"The Great Movies," which was available for sale. The place was
swamped with autograph seekers, which included everyone on the ship and not just
our film group. What a zoo, although everyone got through it OK.
Finally, at 10:30 p.m., our fifth film was
ready, with a sexy-sounding title: "Real Women Have Curves." This
film, also family drama as was "Stolen Summer," won the Audience Award
for dramatic film at Sundance. America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros, who play the
heroine and her mother, were given a special jury prize for acting. Richard
Roeper called it "a real crowd pleaser at Sundance." Before the film,
Ebert and Roeper held a final question and answer session that touched on
several topics. A few points: Ebert said a top film festival for the public to
attend is the Toronto Film Festival, held every September. Ebert said he prefers
traditional film projection to digital projection, although digital systems are
good for smaller venues. Ebert said he also thought his showís success was
based, in part, on its attitude of telling audiences a movie stinks if it really
does, and not just glossing over things. Even if itís a Disney film. After
Gene Siskelís death in 1999, Ebert and the producers still thought the show
was worth continuing. He also described the process by which Roeper was selected
as Siskelís replacement.
"Real Women Have Curves" is a female
empowerment, coming-of-age story about recent high-school graduate who wants to
go to college and not work in her motherís and sisterís dress-making
factory. The acting is quite good, the story is good, and itís all quite well
done. Once again, not a great film, but a very, very good film that would be
worth seeing in the theaters, on HBO or on video later.
Sunday morning, Disney had a new disembarkation
procedure that I really liked. If you had less than $600 in purchases, Customs
did not require you to fill out a Customs card. This made leaving even easier
and quicker than any other cruise I have ever been on. I walked off the ship at
8 a.m. and was home by 9 a.m.
All in all, it was a short, busy, delicious,
worthwhile cruise. Itís always a great opportunity when you can enjoy a cruise
with nationally known celebrity types. Ebertís surgery did not keep him down,
although he had a bandage on his neck. The producers, who also were along for
the cruise, were coy on whether they will do it a third time. "Thatís up
to you," one of them told me. "Tell us what you think on the
evaluation forms in your cabin." Needless to say, Iíll be ready to go
again in 2003.
Until then, the balcony cabin is closed.
"Life is a cruise, so let's hit the Lido Deck now!"
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