In literature, movies, and TV, there are two classic narratives that we’re all familiar with. The first is the group/company retreat where the characters leave their ordinary lives of drudgery behind for a wild escape that gets a bit crazy but also ends up being exactly what everybody needs to rest, reset, and tackle their next challenge. The second is the utopia; a fantasy world governed by its own rules and separated from normal society. Everybody there is in a state of bliss that’s simply unattainable in the real world. These narratives are important because Groove Cruise embodies both, while also being like the sleepaway camps of childhood. Groove Cruise is way more than a festival that you compare with Ultra, EDC, or even Tomorrowland. Groove Cruise is, for most attendees, a floating slice of heaven that appears for 4 days out of the year, as described by Groove Cruise President Jason Beukema (@traveljason). The only event that comes close is Burning Man, according to Groove Cruisers I spoke with.
As I embarked on my third Groove Cruise in 2024 aboard the Norwegian Encore, the full value it provides came into focus. Of course, it’s a fun festival with a solid lineup and excellent production, but it goes way beyond that. Everything is curated to be more than that, even if it’s not immediately apparent. As an EDM blogger and admitted music snob, I was not initially wow-ed by the lineups when I first learned of Groove Cruise years ago. Sure the lineup is good, but it’s not a direct competitor to Florida festivals like EDC Orlando or Ultra. Upon first arriving, you’ll note that the crowd is totally different in its makeup than any major festival you’ll go to, and is not what you’d expect from a party cruise either.
And yet, all of these things are part of what propels Groove Cruise into a whole different stratosphere than regular music festivals. The lineup is curated to feature the latest and greatest right along with a slew of talented up-and-comers topped off with a sprinkling of nostalgia and fan service. It features DJs who understand the Groove Cruise ethos and will enjoy the experience like an attendee and not like a celebrity. The crowd is not your Ultra Music Festival or EDC crowd, but a crowd spanning multiple generations of partiers. Groove Cruise revives PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) from the ashes and reminds you of what it actually means, where everybody, including the staff and artists, is friendly and fun af. The Groove Cruise team invites you and the artists into the family, and you feel part of it by the end of the trip.
The array of subgenres is way more varied than you’d expect because it caters to a wide variety of fans. It features more trance than most festivals in 2024, something very much appreciated by the #trancefamily. It includes DnB and dubstep even while it features some of the biggest stars and ones to watch. The lineup is curated for fans who just come for the party and those who have discerning tastes at once. John Summit played Groove Cruise a few years ago when he was relatively new to the scene, but he totally embodied the GC lifestyle, and that lifestyle is a huge part of his brand now. Now that role is being filled in 2024 by Max Styler (keep an eye on him), who played a b2b with John Summit on the closing night. GC features an extremely solid undercard of hidden gems and underrated artists that kill it year after year, like Gene Farris and Anthony Attalla. This year Lilly Palmer was an artist who’s rapidly on the rise and killed it at Groove Cruise. There’s so much programming when you have 4 days of nonstop parties, that you will 100% discover a new artist that you will love going forward.
It’s amazing to have an event where I don’t feel the pressure to see the biggest name all the time, and I can go back to my roots in trance, or see a Tiesto set for the first time in years. I will be honest, after being a techno snob for the last few years, seeing Tiesto play on the beach in the Bahamas for us was ridiculously fun and refreshing. He played a surprisingly good mix of new trendy styles, but he also peppered in some golden-era classics that had everybody going bonkers. This is not a festival to be pretentious about anything, so just go check out all of the music and have fun.
Some amazing sets this year were from Joel Corry (even playing a techno set at one point), Markus Schulz, Gene Farris, Lilly Palmer, Diplo, Max Styler, Tiesto, and of course John Summit. Next year for 2025, Jason tells us that he has booked the #1 most requested artist over the past 15 years. My guess is Armin van Buuren but we shall see soon enough.
Groove Cruise is so amazing because it is the place for people who partied hard af during an earlier/simpler time in their lives, but have had to grow up and become responsible adults. These are people who were raving in the 90s and experienced Sandstorm when it was being played out live for the very first time in nightclubs (I spoke to several veteran ravers who shared that experience). Now they have (well-paying) jobs, families, responsibilities, and not so much free time. These are the people your younger self thought would never grow up but managed to grow up all the same. Groove Cruise is the annual retreat for these people just as much as it is for the people who are still very much work hard, play hard people. So for your friends who know how to party but would rarely pull an all-nighter at Space anymore, they come here.
People you talk to will tell you it’s their 5th Groove Cruise or it’s their 11th, or they met their spouse on GC and got married on GC years later and continue to come back every year. You’ll frequently see the same groups of people coming together every year. There are die-hards on here but also mixed in with people who probably don’t go to many festivals in a year besides GC. Once you get it, you start trying to convince new people to come experience it, and then they turn around and do the same. So after 21 years, Groove Cruise is hosting 2025 on the 2nd largest class of ship in the world, and it’s selling fast with a year to go.
The amazing thing about this is that you make friends and connections that are unlike any other. Like a sleepaway camp, you make friends here that you may only ever see or hang out with during Groove Cruise, but they become some of your deepest connections. These are people who literally only know you at your wildest and happiest. There is no life in the way of making new friends or romantic partners during GC. When you see these people year after year, you get right back on the same note that you left off on a year or more ago, without missing a beat (pun intended). These are people who may only ever see you dressed up in crazy theme costumes. When debarkation finally comes, seeing everybody in their real-world attire is jarring because you no longer even recognize anyone.
Work hard, play hard is the mantra here. The entire ship is going feral most of the time, but this crowd is mature and knows how to handle themselves (for the most part). People are enjoying the open bar package and more. This even extends to the ship’s main dining room and the elevators. You might find women there in nothing but pasties, or an entire table in coordinated costumes for that night’s theme. There is a different costume theme for each day and each night. There will be at least one person blaring dance music no matter where you are, even in the line to get off the ship when you’re running on no sleep and want to die. Everybody is friends with everybody. You get into an elevator and the people will be chatting you up, asking how many Groove Cruises you’ve been on, who you’re going to see, or giving you random thoughtful trinkets.
The random little quirks and inside jokes become a way of life. One of the favorites is when, each morning (at some point), Jason will get on the ship’s PA system to wake everyone up with a “Gooooood Morning Groove Cruisers” and proceed to talk for about 15 minutes. You’ll hate it but end up loving it at the same time. It’s yet another way that Groove Cruise feels a bit like a sleepaway camp. On the very last day back in Miami, the PA system will play a track produced specifically to wake everyone up in time to get off the ship. Funny moments like this continue all throughout the experience and become shared jokes among the entire GCFAM (as it is called).
The artists enjoy the experience and understand the vibe as much as the attendees, by design. Jason picks artists who he knows will hang out amongst the people and want to have a good time. If an artist is a bad sport and shows up only for their set and then hides in private areas, they probably won’t be back. This is an event that feels like it has no VIP, and it barely has a backstage. Everybody is equal and the artists are hanging in the crowd with their management teams just like everyone else. You can hit the gym with Joel Corry and then watch a Joel Corry set with Max Styler right next to you on the same day. You can chat up the DJs like they’re anybody else, and if you don’t meet or talk to at least one DJ you’re doing it wrong. Even now that John Summit is selling out MSG in 2 hours, he enjoys mixing and mingling in the crowd like everyone else and has no problem chatting it up and taking pics with everyone. The important thing is to enjoy a good time and a good party with friends new and old.
I’ve talked about all these reasons why GC is so amazing, and haven’t even talked about the most obvious part. It’s a tropical cruise on one of the world’s largest and most gorgeous cruise ships. This year was the Norwegian Encore, which upped the ante. The pool deck area was massive with an equally massive LED wall, enough to create a festival crowd as big as you’d see at a major event. The ship has waterslides, go-kart racing, VR experiences, multiple dining venues, a state-of-the-art theater, a fantastic spa and thermal suite area, a great atrium area, and clean beautiful cabins. Even without GC, a cruise is always a fun vacation. There’s everything at your fingertips, always. A drink, a meal, the bathroom, and your bed are never more than 5 minutes away. Where else can you eat pizza in a hot tub while watching the DJs perform on the main stage? How much easier is it to party all night when you can go to eat or to your room for a disco nap at any time, hit up the Whet Oasis for a pillow party and back massage, or go to the thermal suite for hot tubs, heated loungers, a steam room, and a snow room? You can hit a DJ set, have dinner, hit the spa for an hour, nap for another hour, and then be ready to party until the sun comes up before hitting the breakfast buffet.
It’s not a cruise to nowhere either. It goes to the cruise line’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. This means that even when you get off the ship in paradise, it’s only GCFAM on the island and your food and drinks packages continue to work. Gene Farris vibed along with the crowd to an impromptu set played by Vintage 72 on the tender boat back to the ship when the party ended. You can go zip-lining, jet-skiing, or just rage on the beach watching Tiesto. Having the island party on the 3rd day is perfect because it really feels like the culmination of the experience. The GC Beach Party is really unlike anything you’ll ever experience. When people say “it was a movie”, that’s the type of experience they talk about. It’s something that will never be duplicated in the real world. You have a beautiful private island inhabited solely by EDM ravers with unlimited food and open bar packages wearing Naughy Nautical costumes and watching DJs play all afternoon. The Beach Party is when nirvana is reached. What more could you ask for?
The thing that makes Groove Cruise so special is the team around it. Like the artists, the Groove Cruise team is totally accessible to the attendees. This starts from the moment you book and you are let into the Facebook group for attendees. All of the attendees and the GC team are there answering questions, hyping people up, and asking opinions on things. The key to this is Jason Beukema, because Groove Cruise is his baby. He is so inextricably linked to the Groove Cruise ethos and experience, that everybody attending the festival is cheering him on. The 20th Anniversary was celebrated in 2024 and it was an especially emotional experience for Jason. Not only did he get to see his life’s dream realized with one of the biggest DJs in the world in tow, but the moment almost didn’t happen at all. El Nino made the area weather way cloudier, rainier, and colder than it would normally be at this time of year in Florida and the Bahamas. The previous several days were cloudy, windy and rainy. If the weather was too rough, the tenders would not be allowed to go to shore. Yet the clouds parted as we arrived onshore and the sun’s rays created the most perfect weather you could dream of.
After Tiesto wrapped his set, Jason’s teary-eyed speech describing his elation had the whole crowd sobbing along with him. The GCFAM is emotionally invested in Groove Cruise and Jason’s vision for it. Jason is the fearless leader in this utopia, but it’s all for the better. If you have an issue or a question you can speak to him directly and he will answer you, whether online or on GC. It’s the same vibe that Pasquale Rotella aims to cultivate, but taken to a much more personal level. While Groove Cruise has grown and become a bit less intimate than it once was, people love it more than ever as it continues to grow.
Groove Cruise has become such a phenomenon that it is upgrading again in 2025 to the Allure of the Seas, while EDSea and Friendship are staying put on the Norwegian Breakaway-Plus Class from this year. With a year to go, Groove Cruise 2025 is selling out already. There’s a reason that most of the people on GC come back year after year. It’s not about the headliners, lineup, the ship, or the destination. It’s about this temporary slice of heaven and the people inhabiting it can’t be replicated anywhere else. Do yourself a favor and gather up your 3 best friends or family members to book your own little slice of heaven in 2025. If you want a little taste of the vibes sooner, check out the Incorrect Showcase during Miami Music Week next month, featuring Anthony Attalla, Gene Farris, Max Styler and more.