I Left My Heart in Ocho Rios: Groove Cruise Review

“Goooooood morning Groove Cruisers,” has gone from a signature wake up call to a rallying cry to the cult lovingly referring to itself as the #GCFAM.  Led by Groove Cruise founder Jason Beukema and the Whet Travel team, this past week punctuated the 12th iteration of Groove Cruise Miami, and the third time EDMTunes had the distinct honor of bearing aural witness to the 96 consecutive hours of music.  Attending any event more than once has a natural tendency to elevate one’s expectations.  Anyone can be impressed the first time in a venue, but walking onto GC Miami’s flagship the Norwegian Pearl for a third time, boasting one of its most staggering lineups yet…expectations were sky high.

The result?  

Transcendent music, remarkable people, and unforgettable experiences.


First and foremost, in a world with countless festival options, music is ultimately the great differentiator.  Anyone can create a lineup with a multi-million dollar budget, but to cultivate and curate a lineup that seamlessly intertwines major headliners, supporting acts, and up-and comers is something diehard music fans will never grow weary of recounting.  To put it lightly, Ryan Fitz, GC’s Talent Scout, really outdid himself this year.  Not only was the lineup filled with exceptional A-listers like Dada Life and Dash Berlin, but also contained historical greats like Chus and Cheballos, Darude, and Kristina Sky; also additionally relatively unknown, but insanely talented artists like Speaker of the House and Le Youth in specially curated stages form fit for each of their specific talents.

Not only were the artist choices an audiophile’s dream, the quality of music put forth was of the best we (as a 4 member media collective) have ever heard in a live environment.  Not only was the music varied, but artists avoided replaying the same 10-15 songs that very frequently dominate the festival circuit, instead choosing to dig deeper into their respective “crates” to resurrect the classics that brought even the most tired fans to their feet.  Songs like DJ Sammy’s Heaven (which is also featured in the Teaser After Movie released yesterday), Dubvision’s Committed to Sparkle Motion, Fragma’s Toca’s Miracle, Fedde Le Grand’s So Much Love and even a Tech House rendition of Quad City DJ’s Ride the Train showed the incredible depth and breadth of every artist on the lineup.

Major Props to the Following Masters of the 1’s & 2s:

The Helvetic Nerds crew (EDX, Antonio Giacca, Nora en Pure, and Croatia Squad) brought their signature future/deep house to a beautiful sunset on night two at the newly-created stage at the back of the boat.

Speaker of the House, a major EDMTunes favorite, brought together his signature complextro house and chill sound into a perfectly-crafted set to the Great Outdoors stage to close down night one. Not only spinning a set completely indicative of his personal production style (which as we all know, is not something to be taken for granted in today’s live dance music environment), he also treated fans to a collaboration with SNBRN that “will never be released.” Just one of the gems unknowingly waiting among the bows of the Norwegian Pearl.

Dancetronauts took the definition of an “opening act” to a whole different level.  Kicking the night off in the Theatre leading up to Dada Life’s prime-time insanity, the Dancetronauts took no prisoners and spared no time in getting the crowd raging and bouncing their heads off. When they weren’t delivering what was by many accounts, the most unexpectedly (and shamelessly) impressive set on the cruise, they could be seen roaming the hallways, bringing the party with them wherever they went. One of their signature moves?  Camping out in the elevators, greeting people with impromptu sets and their “Dancetro-hotties” for the rides up and down the ship. Engagement like this on board is one of the aspects that makes the Groove Cruise experience so special and unique.

Beyond the DJs who you may or may not have heard of, we also tip our hats to the absolutely phenomenal list of supporting DJs who slaved over the decks during off hours to keep the music going.  DJs who have become a Groove Cruise mainstay like Dean Mason, Shannon Williams, Keith Christopher, Kristina Sky and Doc Brown fit perfectly into every lineup we heard.  It’s one thing to play one style over and over, but to watch these DJ’s seamlessly transition from progressive to tech house, to hip-hop, classic trance or even jungle shows the incredible depth of this special group of artists.

As far as the more commercially-successful artists on the trip, fans were also delighted to receive live sets indicative of their studio productions. A certain EDMT editor has claimed that “live progressive house is dead,” but the likes of Lost Kings, Dzeko & Torres and Project 46 shattered that falsity.

One of the standout sets from the Groove Cruise easily came from the Lost Kings. The duo played a plethora of different genres, switching gears frequently while reading the crowd masterfully while maintaining a constant increase in energy levels. Peppered with everything from today’s hip-hop, to classic progressive house tracks like Avicii and Nicky Romero’s ‘I Could Be The One,’ they covered a wide swath of ground in their set. With the two playing at the ever-raucous Pool Deck on the last day at sea (the day that the clouds broke and the sun finally decided to shine over the Pearl), the Lost Kings’ set proved to be the proper celebration to begin closing out this epic adventure.

Dzeko & Torres dropped 2 sets comprised of a major progressive house component. That may surprise many who have seen their live club shows lately, however while straying off into a few other semi-related sub genres, the duo geared both of their sets much in the vein of their studio sound (complete with drops of many originals and remixes), a trend that was echoed (and welcomed and praised by the EDMT crew) throughout the entire festival by a large contingent of Dj’s. Interestingly, often as progressively-tinged sets skewed off into tangent genres and back into progressive, the #GCFam audibly cheered the return to the scrumptious sounds of those skyward melodic progressive synths…and the artists responded in kind throughout the remainder of the sets. Amazing.

The progressive king of the ship, though, hands down is Project 46. From the gate, the progressive maestro dropped gem after gem after gem. Fan favorite originals, remixes, beautifully melded mash ups, and not one tease or let-down-at-the-drop. Oh, on the contrary. You know aforementioned ‘Committed to Sparkle Motion?’ Well, he mashed that up with another progressive house gem from the late 2000’s. Apologies, the staff can’t remember because we were too busy crying. That’s not all, the man didn’t just give us a taste, he gave the audience 4 drops into the quintessential track, alternating the vocals of the original and the mashed up track after each one. Bravo, sir.

Certain dance music fans’ criticisms of tech house is that there isn’t enough musical variance, progression or melody for their tastes. Well, EDMT learned this is just not the case. Sunrise set performer Uner put together what can only be described as a massively danceable, insanely varied and musically interesting melodic tech house set. Yes, melodic tech house. Complete with his melodic tech versions of the Quad City DJ’s, Prydz’ Opus,’ and a closing track that could blow any tech trance song out of the water in regards to dance-ability. This writer is anxiously stalking Uner’s Soundcloud for release of this set that may have broken the tech mold for many a Captain.

GC mainstay Darude always brings the heat, whether it be in the form of his native trance, or bringing the uplifting progressive to the main stage Pool Deck during the wildness that is the afternoon pool parties. ‘Sandstorm’ was heard, in a contorted and updated and remarkable format. Nestled amongst perfectly placed high-energy melodic-based dance music, and expertly-skewing his set towards the energy of the surrounding line-up for the day, the OG also elicits crowd feedback in the form of holding up an “OK?” sign throughout his set. Be honest Darude, have you ever received a thumbs down? I think not.

The final, yet possibly the biggest fan favorite aspect the GC brings year after year, is the significant presence of “Classics Only” sets. The Atrium was dedicated to a full day of classics sets, however the premiere set of the voyage, the final Sunrise set as the Pearl docked back at the Port of Miami to end this year’s family reunion, dance music legend Roger Sanchez took up the challenge of curating a classics set that kept even the most beaten-down of awake Captains pounding their battered shins and calves until the final seconds. Cece Penison’s ‘Finally’, the original ‘So Much Love’, Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’, and the quintessential ‘Music Sounds Better With You’. So.many.feels. The perfect way to ultimately sum up the conglomerate experience, and to wrap up the 2016 Family Reunion.


Per the official GC statistics, the floating music festival boasts an attendee list with 60% of its attendees previously attending at least one GC before, and over 100 with ten, YES TEN prior cruises under his/her belt.  Groove Cruise has also carved itself a special niche in the music festival marketplace with an average attendee age of 32 years old, evidencing the fact that age does not get the true raver down. On the contrary, immersed in an experience where sleep can only be caught for 2-4 hours at a time and sprinkled with the sporadic 30 minute nap, the people present on the Pearl for GC year in and year out are some of the most devoted partiers and hardest marathon dancers that this writer has ever witnessed.  Some of the most devoted spent the wee hours grooving to the special lineup brought together by Anthony Attalla and Incorrect.

Peter Byun’s Perspective: As a Groove Cruise virgin, and most likely the youngest person to be aboard the ship, only turning 21 a few months ago, I had no idea what to expect on this expedition. However, after boarding and attending my first cruise, there are two words that explicitly stick out firmly in my mind: family and escape.

While aboard the Norwegian Pearl, one of the first things “virgins” notice is how kind and open everyone is. For many people, it seemed as though they were attending a big family reunion, reconvening with friends from previous Groove Cruises. There was this sense of familiarity and comfort amongst everyone, even for all the first timers, and these “fast friends” united for several wild nights. That in itself spoke volumes and set the tone for the entire atmosphere the rest of the trip. Nonstop positivity emitting from everyone was the fuel that kept everyone out of bed and on the dance floors, and you could truly feel that emanating throughout the ship. It’s one thing to have an awesome lineup for something like this, but it’s as Jason himself had said, at the end of the day it is the people who truly make the event.

The reason why it seems as though the people bring this kind of positive atmosphere is because for many of the attendees, this trip seemed to have served as a form of escape. While meeting the various people aboard this trip, it was shocking to see how many people were leaving their professional lives at home. This wasn’t your normal festival crowd of drunk college kids (no disrespect as our crew does have a college Junior); no these were lawyers, CEOs, dentists, physician assistants, IFBB pros, entrepreneurs and more, all looking to escape their lives at homes for a few days into what can only be described as a real life dream, or “Adult DisneyLand” as a fellow writer had previously deemed it.

I feel as though for many of us on board, we sometimes just need to let out our inner-weirdness and feel safe and secure that we will not be judged for it, and I think the Groove Cruise serves as that vessel. Things like the outrageous themes let the attendees’ creative juices flow freely, something that may not occur as much at home.  It is a very liberating feeling to have, and something that is hard to describe for someone who hasn’t been to experience first hand. From a personal perspective, it’s really satisfying to know that if I ever want to dress up like a tiger or banana and go on a majestic house-thumping boat for a few days, there is a place to do just that.


For an event that seems to have truly nailed the essence of it’s genre, the year after year improvements continue to produce jaw dropping experiences, regardless of the aforementioned raised expectations that are bound to occur.  This year, the Whet team boasted a much improved pool stage and curated several specialty events to round out the musical options in order to give a completely rounded experience for all Captains.  Aspiring DJs were invited to a “How to DJ 101” with Scooter and Darude, and were then encouraged to try their new skills in open decks at a special stage later in the trip.  Not a single time slot for the much coveted stage was left open.

Groove Cruise’s charitable arm, The Whet Foundation (which we will expound upon in a future article) continued its annual mid-festival trip called Destination Donation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Bolstered by 60 attendees who left their partying shoes behind disembarked at 9am while the rest of the boat was recovering from the night prior, in order to deliver clothes and school supplies to local kids.  Jason shared that this excursion not only was incredibly fulfilling to give back to the locations they visit, but also that it was the highlight of several people’s trip.

Another new addition this year was a DJ soccer match, featuring Whet’s Marketing Director Rafi, Jeff from Dash Berlin, Michael Woods, EDX, Dzeko & Torres, and the Dada Life guys, and much like their time on stage, the competition was intense.  After a few sprained ankles and one lost tooth, the game ended in a 4-4 draw and the artists went back to their natural habitats.

Groove Cruise has also taken great strides to cater to more recreational cruisers with a few activities that let wary ravers rest.  Led by the individual lovingly called SocialMedia Melissa, the Electric Jellyfish lounge made another triumphant return, full of ambient music, a relaxing and dimly lit area, with its own signature Jellyfish parachute and candy handouts.  To add to this, the Whet team added new interactive art exhibits and two separate deep house yoga events, geared towards all levels, and was a welcome respite to help recover weary legs from the nights prior.

By far the greatest leap was Whet’s push for more artist interaction.  This year above many of the others, artists were clear and visible for the entire trip, without a standoffish entourage, without bodyguards.  Markus Schulz spent his days grooving on the pool deck, posing for pictures with all who stopped by.  Sander Van Doorn, Lost Kings and Michael Woods supported multiple DJs at their sets.  Darude and Stefan from Dada Life even kicked it up a notch and spent several sets in the pit of the pool and theatre stages.  Seeing some of the most well-known artists celebrating the music of their peers truly showed the sincerity with which they love what they do, and left an endearing footprint on the others around them.  All of this interaction was punctuated with a Day 3 Dada Life Takeover, where Dada spent the afternoon hours “arresting” attendees, jumping from room to room, and even stopping by a 30th b-day party with some champagne (and bananas) before pummeling crowds with 1000 pillows for their signature pillow fight at sea during their 2:00AM set.

Walking away from this event, our entire team could not speak more highly about the experience we were privy to at the hands of Whet Travel and the Groove Cruise.  Cherishing the opportunity to be involved and present at an event that was so incredibly perfect in every way, we’d feel compelled to say something to the effect of “don’t go changing Groove Cruise,” but, to put it frankly, wherever you will go, we will follow.  We will all forever be better people for having been a part of this event, and we cannot thank you enough for all that you do.


Much Love,

The EDMTunes Staff

Photo Credit: Veranmilky