The Groove Cruise LA
Friday 27th - Monday 30th September 2013
The Carnival Inspiration Cruise Ship
Los Angeles - Catalina Island - Ensenada, Mexico - Los Angeles
"There's no sleep on The Groove Cruise
!" Those words echoed through my head every time Jason's voice came over my stateroom loudspeaker on the L.A. leg of the 2013 Groove Cruise
. Jason Beukema
is the founder of The Groove Cruise
, a three day - that's 72 hours, remember that for reference later - electronic dance music party on a cruise ship that sets sail off both U.S. coasts twice a year. Yes, you read that correctly. A party, on a cruise ship, for three days.
This would be my first ever Groove Cruise
and in fact, with fifteen years of clubbing experience under my belt, my very first time in open waters for a dance music event. Sure, I've been on boat parties before, but this was in a different league to my usual 150 capacity, off shore, party boat in Ibiza
of yesteryear. In fact, this wasn't on the same planet! My home for the three days would be a Carnival Inspiration
cruise liner which would leave from the Long Beach
port of L.A.
and spend three days at sea, with two stops in between, one in Catalina Island
and the other in Ensenada
. From there, we would have the option to depart from the ship and head to a party thrown by The Groove Cruise
team on a chosen location at each port. Of course, in between each stop there was a non-stop party on board the ship with a carefully selected group of DJs who would be our soundtrack to the weekend. By now I'm guessing you're seeing the picture I'm painting, and also why those words from Jason had the same effect on me as long nails being dragged across a chalkboard. Still, always the trooper and never one to shy away from a challenge, I packed my bags and got myself to Long Beach
to start what would be one of the most memorable weekends of my life.
From what I was told by a few Groove Cruise
veterans, the key to getting a good start to the weekend is to arrive extra early to check in, as it can be an excruciatingly long process if you arrive on, or after, the designated time of noon to check in. Furthermore, you also have to go through a very thorough search for "banned items." By that, they mean drugs. Sure, there are other banned items on the list, but let's face it, this isn't a two bit security operation by some company hired for the night to look after a club event. This is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
making sure that you are not trafficking banned substances. As you can imagine, the searches were a little more detailed than we, as clubbers, are used to. Luckily, most people were smart enough to know that getting caught with something by a government official as a border checkpoint, is a little more serious than getting caught by a 40 year old father of two who's getting paid $14 an hour at a rave. This meant the lines went faster than expected, and without any notable incidents.
When it came to accommodation on board the ship, you had various options on how you wanted to do the weekend. You could have your own room and pay accordingly for it, share with a friend/loved one/partner/weekend clubbing cohort or, like most people did, cram as many people as The Groove Cruise
team would allow you to into the one room and use it as a base. The truth is that most people had absolutely no intention of sleeping for the whole weekend; It's here that I refer you back to Jason's loudspeaker announcements. Being the happily married, clubbing veteran who is the wrong side of 35 and enjoys a good night's sleep, I had my own room. It's at this point that I'd like to thank my wife, who not only allowed me to go on such a trip, she also made one of the "rules" of me going being that I "strictly" had my own room. This turned out to be the best decision I've ever made, or should I say, she's ever made for me. After unpacking and freshening up, I said goodbye to my bed, because let's face it, I was on a 72 hour floating party and I knew I wasn't going to get too attached to it.
After making a few calls to friends who were on board, we all met up on the main pool deck where one of my favorite DJs, LA Riots
, was welcoming everyone on board with a perfect daytime poolside set. Daniel Linton
, AKA, LA Riots
, was one of the headliners booked to play this year's cruise - along with Markus Schultz
, Fedde Le Grand
, Morgan Page
, Chuckie, Chris Lake
and Jochen Miller
- as well as a whole host of support DJs and this would be one of two sets he was booked to play over the next three days. Our sailing time was 5pm and by then the ship was full and the atmosphere was, in a word, electric. The 2300 people on board all came with one thing in mind and that was to have a great time. With a mixture of candy rave costumes, swimsuits, casual wear and numerous sailor and captain costumes, the scene was set for the coming days. My group made the decision to take advantage of the all-inclusive food service early on as we really needed to fill our stomachs before we began the party, this was after the mandatory safety exercises we all had to go through before we left the port. After ship staff finally got the 2300 excited clubbers to remain quiet, which is easier said than done, and the safety procedure was finished, it was off to sea and time to get ready for the night ahead.
We found that making a plan of who you wanted to see was going to be a great idea in theory, but to be honest, with so much going on and everything happening in such close proximity, the best thing to do would be wander around the ship and take in everything around you while stopping to enjoy each DJ playing in the many locations set up with decks and sound system on the boat. The main pool deck was the first place to close each night, this way the crowds there would filter down below deck where the party would continue through the night into the wee hours of the morning. Of course, you had to make sure that everyone was pumped up to bring the energy down with them, and who better to do that than the EC Twins
. If there are any DJs out there who know how to entertain as much as them, I've yet to see them. They know what to play, when to drop it and how perform, and the crowd love them for it. "This is by far our favorite gig," Allistair, one half of the EC Twins
, tells me, "We look forward to it all year as it feels like our we're playing in front of our family. We recognize the faces in the crowd and it's like we're on vacation together." And he makes a very good point. This is not like your usual club setting where the DJs come and go for their set, or hang about in the VIP area. The ship acts as a very intimate setting where the promoters, DJs and the clubbers all walk the same hallways and eat in the same dining halls. There is no VIP area -- unless you call the suites that the headliners were staying in -- and everyone merges together like one big happy family.
The main event for the Friday was the party in the ship's main room, the Paris Theater
, where Jochen Miller
, Kristina Sky
and Markus Schulz
would play hosts for the opening night. With production at a level you'd normally see in a professional nightclub setting, The Groove Cruise
team hit all the marks with the set up. In fact, this is something that impressed me on more than a few occasions over the three days. The level of detail the team went into with lights, LED screen, visuals and lasers was excellent and came as a big surprise to me. It made me feel like I was at a dance music event rather than on a boat, and that's where the difference lies. This could have very well been a three day party with some great DJs but The Groove Cruise
team took it to the next level and made this a dance music event which is not only up there up there as one of the country's best parties, it puts The Groove Cruise
team as one of it's leading promoters. Make no mistake, with the current booming environment here in the U.S. dance music scene, The Groove Cruise
can go on to be one of the biggest parties in the world. They have all the tools and the creativity to grow to something that size.
As one of the more sensible partiers on the boat, I made the decision to have an early night and made my way to my room midway through Markus Schulz
's set. As much as it pained me to pull myself away, my past "long clubbing weekend" intuition told me, that if I wanted to make the most of the weekend and experience, rest was the best option. The fact that at 9am the next morning we would be docked at Catalina Island
and have the Dirty Dutch
party with Chuckie
at one of the beach clubs on land -- followed by a night of partying on the boat -- made this one of my wiser decisions. However, no sooner had I gone to my bed and eventually fallen into a deep sleep, that voice on the loudspeaker from Jason was back, "There's no sleep on The Groove Cruise
I'm not sure the locals and tourists in Catalina
knew what was in store for them when the vast majority of The Groove Cruise
clubbers swarmed the narrow streets of the island. The same could have been said for the people looking for a quiet time at the only beach on Catalina
, which for one day had been transformed into a huge party with Chuckie
at the helm. As seas of people flocked toward the beach club, I'm guessing there was a sense of intrigue followed by fear then, no doubt, some shock at the sheer volume of people, and sound, coming from the party. Chuckie
and his Dirty Dutch
team killed it as usual and after a day on land it was back to the boat where Chris Lake
was playing the sunset slot. His timing when he dropped his track, "Sundown
," just as the setting sun kissed the ocean was quite possibly the moment of the weekend for me. Such is the mastery of Chris Lake
as a DJ, his well thought out set was enough to set him aside from some of the other DJs on board, some of whom just banged it out with Beatport Top 50
tracks. This is the difference between a headliner and a support DJ. My one and only complaint about the weekend is that there was huge difference between the artists on the roster. A warm up DJ should not be dropping huge tracks with multiple drops and 150BPM music early on in the evening, especially with only a handful of people on the dancefloor. There's a time and a place for it and by Sunday night, when you've heard Fatboy Slim
's "Eat, Sleep Rave, Repeat
," for the 20th time on the weekend, and it's only 6pm, you're crying out for some good warm up music. It should be noted that this is not an issue with The Groove Cruise
, this is an issue with DJing in general and the lack of good warm up DJs that do the job they're supposed to do: warm people up. Too many DJs today forget that and get all caught up in the moment of where they are, and rather than playing a solid set to build up the next DJ, they just go anthem bashing.
As the night went on, Saturday took the same direction as the previous night on the ship and the atmosphere was, once again, unbelievable, as every single person on board dressed up and helped make it an experience that not one person on that ship would forget. With another huge line up with DJs such as Stellar
all on the bill, the night was always going to a huge stage for talent and music.
Sunday saw us spending the day in Ensenada
and as I woke up, we were approaching the small Mexican
tourist town. I got up an headed over to the back of the boat where the sunrise party was still in full swing. I'd just like to go on record by saying that one of the funniest things I've ever seen is sight of all the tourists on the Golden Princess Cruise Ship
, which was docked as pulled into Ensenada
, as The Groove Cruise
pulled into the port. They were all out on their stateroom balconies, looking in shock at the 8am, still going strong, party on the open deck. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in each room to hear what was said about the scantily clad clubbers they just got a good look at.
Once we docked it was time to get back on to dry land as The Groove Cruise
team had a special surprise in the shape of Morgan Page
at the local Papas & Beer
venue in the town. Now, when I hear Papas & Beer
, I immediately think of a bar and I was a little confused at how 2300 people were going to fit it one small space. What I didn't count on was the venue being a huge industrial club. Seriously. For the second time on the weekend I was blown away. The atmosphere inside was absolutely incredible and, being in Mexico
, the tequila shots and margaritas were flowing. It also has to be said that one of the funniest, yet blatantly non PC sights you'll ever see is a whole load of drunk Non Mexicans
, walking about Mexico
, dressed as stereotypical Mexicans
with the "Mexican bandit moustache" and ponchos and sombreros. It really is a sight to see.
By now we were almost 60 hours in to the cruise and my old clubbing legs were calling out for a rest and, after an insane afternoon on Mexican soil and an amazing set from Morgan Page
, it was back on to the ship and a quick disco nap before a we headed up to the pool and a special sunset appearance from Markus Schulz
. Of course, my disco nap was cut short by Jason, yet again telling me there was "No sleep on The Groove Cruise
." Of course he followed it up with announcing that Marcus was playing so I forgave him, kind of! As I walked up to the pool deck, almost every single person on board, as well as some of the cruise ship staff, were out on the deck for Markus Schultz
's set. A special mention should be made for Anthony Attalla
who warmed up for Markus. As I previously mentioned, the cruise was lacking DJs -- outside the headliners -- who really knew how to warm up for the next artist coming on. Well, Anthony was one of the only DJs who REALLY knew how to play to his surroundings and most importantly, his slot on the bill. His set was absolutely perfect for the time, place and surroundings and was up there as being one of the best sets of the cruise.
This would be the last night of The Groove Cruise
and every one of the shipmates, or "Captains
" as we were affectionately known, would be making the most of it. With a line up consisting of the crème de la crème of the roster, including Fedde Le Grand
playing his first and only set of the weekend, the intention for most was to see Markus, then go back to the rooms where they would pack for departure the following morning. They'd grab some dinner and head out for the night and stay up right through the night until they had to leave at 8:30am. My intentions were a little different that as, yet again, the educated clubber in me knew that the early morning rush hour traffic, not to mention the mandatory U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
check would be much easier with a good night's sleep. By good night, I mean more than four hours.
As the ship's Captain steered us north, up the Mexican
coast and into U.S. waters and along the coastline of California
towards home, all 2000 of us danced the night away. We partied to some of the world's best DJs, as well as some of the best emerging talent in the U.S., and made friends from as far away as Europe
who had made the trip for this wonderful and unique clubbing experience.
Did everyone last until dawn? No, of course not, and who could blame them. The vast majority of those on board had given their all and put every bit of energy they had in them into the weekend. Most of them checked out at about 4am and made the wise decision to get a few hours of sleep, before they had to make their way on to land and back to reality. Of course, you did have the hardcore clubbers to made it to the sunrise party, but for the most part the rest finally got their sleep, and for the last time, Jason would come on the load speaker and instead of telling us not to sleep, he was thanking us all for making this the best Groove Cruise
yet. Like everyone else on board, I'm now counting down the days for the 10th Anniversary Miami Groove Cruise
in January. I'll meet you all below deck!
Photo's courtesy of The Groove Cruise
(www.kirillwashere.com), Jill G Photography
, Miguel Migs
and Daniel Tavit.