"Good morning, Groove Cruisers! We've arrived in sunny Bahamas, so it's time to wake up, shake off that hangover, get sexy and head to the beach!" sings out a far-too-chipper voice over the ship's Tannoy system. British festivals have got us used to waking up in the sweltering heat of a tent or wading knee-deep in mud, but the 10th official Groove Cruise around the Caribbean is a much more civilised affair. Selling itself as The World's Largest Floating Festival, this party has all the comforts of a cruise ship, a destination complete with white sands and clear blue sea, and amazing world famous DJs — all without a single chemical toilet in sight.
Our home for the weekend is awesome in every sense. Waiting to board, 12 floors of cruise liner tower above us. On board this baby are two clubs, an open-air pool, hot tubs, a casino, a spa, 24-hour dining (with a constant supply of dangerously delicious, sweet, sticky BBQ ribs) and a basketball court… We scrap that preconception that cruises are for OAPs and promenades down the portside. It's mid-January, a humble 27°C and we're on a boat with headliners Roger Sanchez, Sander Van Doorn and Funkagenda… we've found heaven in a hunk of 77,104 tons of metal on the Atlantic Ocean.
But how the hell will this party roll? Clubbing is a fully established part of our genetic make-up in the UK, yet the widespread, overground love affair with dance music in the US is still in its infancy (despite house, techno and disco being born in North America). Setting sail from Miami, the vast majority of revellers aboard are from the States. DJ Mag is intrigued to see just how popular the burgeoning US dance scene is.
Still docked in Miami, the first afternoon poolside party has warm-up sets from DJs Kalendr and Thomas Gold. Both drop a shade of house nestled between downright dirty and sun-drenched, with Oliver $'s 'Doin' Ya Thing' and Roland Clark's 'I Get Deep' getting the crowd in a ripple. We officially feel overdressed by comparison to the beautiful American women who are all tits, ass and bright white teeth, confidently displaying their wares in the tiniest of swimwear. They party alongside the candy ravers and men of rippling muscles, all going wild at every single drop. When we ask one lad if this is his first time here, he responds, "It's my first Groove Cruise but it's not my first party!" before teaching us the moves to big fish, little fish, cardboard box.
Travelling in glass elevators between the party floors and our cabin, nighttime brings two destination choices. There's Dazzles, a pitch-black room reserved for LED glove fingers, glowsticks, fluorescent poi and the blistering big synths of hard trance. Or the Stardust Theatre, where UV reigns supreme and those in-the-know are clad head-to-toe in white. It's in this room on Sunday that Roger Sanchez plays his surprise second set, going in hard with house classics and debuting some of his forthcoming releases. Here, Darude plays his second set of the weekend, blowing the roof off with an absolutely screaming crowd; after, Sander Van Doorn takes no prisoners with his onslaught of thick-and-fast euphoric builds — a set which the entire boat agrees is the best of the weekend.
Although the night parties go off, the Groove Cruise is all about soaking up the sun and atmosphere of the daytime, strung-out by the pool or on the idyllic islands. On Saturday at Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, there's an effervescent energy. Thomas Gold is cutting up trance versions of Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Prodigy classics, the crowd brimming with love. In fact during Steve Smooth's set, the voice we heard chime out over the Tannoy system is on the mic again.
Everyone having a good time? I want you to meet my beautiful girlfriend," he gestures to a bikini babe on top of a speaker. "We met on the Groove Cruise six years ago and have been coming ever since. She means the world to me. Honey, I want to ask you something, will you marry me?" Of course, she says yes: cue a unified whoop from the crowd before we continue to stomp with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Being held captive on a boat with a bunch of party fiends affords the opportunity to meet people and inevitably bump into them time and time again, so friendships (or marriages) are formed pretty quick. Plus you can spot last night's buddies a mile off with their brilliant caption T-shirts of " I just AWESOMED everywhere" or "I pee in pools" and the apologetic-but-cheeky "Sorry for partying!!!" There's a real sense of family and unity from the returning Groove Cruisers. Although previous headliners have included the massive Deadmau5, Benny Benassi, Dirty South and Robbie Rivera, The Groove Cruise isn't just a place people go for the music, it's all about the experience.
2200 sexy people, 72 hours, 40 artists, nine party experiences, two islands, a massive cruise ship, and next year, just maybe, it'll include you.
Words: Ele Beattie
Pic: Katie Palmer