Those seeking peaceful, quiet relaxation on the high seas: Shield your eyes. This is not for you to see.
Holy Ship, an electronic music theme cruise, is only for those vigorous in spirit and young at heart. Presented by music cruise marketers Cloud9, curated by Los Angeles-based edgy-EDM leader HARD, and floating atop 3,959-passenger MSC Divina, it's three days of nonstop bangers, babes and bizarre wardrobes. It's all about the hottest names in electronic music rocking the DJ booth in the cruise ship's theater, lounges and open-air top decks, as well as on a Bahamas beach paradise -- and feeling the love as you become family with fellow diehard fans.
From the moment fans cross customs at the port of Miami, they leave behind all sense of normalcy in exchange for unforgettable moments. It's 21 and older to party, and the booze flows like Niagara -- for a price. (Drinks aren't included in the cruise fares, and Shippers -- the name affectionately given to people on this sailing -- can buy drinks one at a time with their cruise key cards, which are synced with their credit cards, or shave a few bucks off the top by purchasing packages of drink tickets.)
Be sure to board in tip-top shape. Not only will you bare skin, you're more likely to see a dude play a flute of Champagne tied to a hockey stick than catch a good night's sleep. It's really one of those things you have to experience to believe, but here's our best shot at capturing the madness.
Saturday: Setting Sail
Deck 9: Our Cabin, 6 p.m.
After waiting hours in line to board the ship, we happily arrive at what will be our home base for the next three days: our Deck 9 cabin lavishly decked out with a quaint balcony and two twin-size beds. There's no smoking on these balconies, which works with our nonsmoking lifestyle, but we know that more than a few rowdy rule breakers will test this policy before the trip is over. Those lucky enough to snag (and pay a little extra for) the balcony rooms are quick to turn their spoils into all-night hangs. Some people host their own mini-parties with speakers blasting and conversation lasting all hours of the day and night. If you don't get one yourself, it's nice to know some folks who do.
Deck 14: Pool Deck, 7 p.m.
After settling into our cabins and surviving an impromptu pillow fight during the safety drill, we're decked in our seafaring best, feeling the ocean wind in our hair and falling in love to the sensual beats of Australia's Flume. Hold on tight! This is only the beginning.
Deck 14: Buffet, 9:17 p.m.
We're absolutely starving and realize we haven't eaten in hours. We head to the buffet with our best bud from Chicago and grab up all the pears we can carry. We make Rick Ross "Shout out to all the pear!" jokes at passersby and hand them fruit. No one gets the joke.
Deck 7: Black & White Lounge, 10:43 p.m.
We've wandered from the windy deck to the dark recesses of the Black & White lounge. English dance impresario Annie Mac hand-picked a perfectly delicious lineup of fellow Brit legends. Hannah Wants is a siren, pulling in helpless house heads to dance on the crowded, humid floor. We'll follow her anywhere.
Deck 14: Pool Deck, 12:37 a.m.
GRiZ is "Gettin' Live" and "Smashin' the Funk" with a wildness our bones can't resist. Attracted to the groove like a moth to a flame, we're lettin' loose and gettin' weird.
Roaming the Ship: 1:16 a.m.
We're somewhere deep and dark on the Atlantic. There's no signal. Our phones are useless. Lord knows where our friends are or what they've gotten into. We can hardly keep our grip on reality, and frankly, we don't want to.
All around us are strange beings in inflatable suits and pizza onesies. These goofy-glasses-wearing, one-liner-repeating, theme-dressing wackamoles call themselves #ShipFam. Once you're on the ship, you're #ShipFam too, and you just earned yourself access to an international network of friends who stay in touch on social media and do each other favors (seriously). They're the most fiercely loyal fan base in all of dance music.
Deck 14: Pool Deck, 2:05 a.m.
One of #ShipFam's favorite things about this boat is how accessible and friendly the EDM DJs become. We've just walked past Dirtybird's Justin Martin for the fourth time in as many hours. We're both wondering where Miami's DJ Craze has got off to, as he's scheduled to play right about now. We learn that hard-blowing gusts have left his outdoor stage out of order for the rest of the night. DJ Wind literally blows us away.
Deck 9: Our Cabin, 2:35 a.m.
We're kind of the odd ones out, but we want to head back to regroup and get some sleep before heading out to tomorrow's Private Island Party. The standard plan seems to be stay up 'til dawn and beat the lines, but we'll soak up the shut-eye while we still can.
Deck 9: Our Cabin, 3 a.m.
We lull ourselves to sleep while listening to the sounds of Holy Ship DJs past and present on the closed-circuit cruise TV programming. Music videos from Boys Noize, Destructo, Tommy Trash and others run on an infinite loop until we start dreaming about tomorrow's surfside rager.
Sunday: Private Party in Paradise
Deck 7: Gangway, 11 a.m.
We wake up fast in a bolt of sweat. It's 11! We're missing Busy P! We are all about the Ed Banger French electro, so we hurriedly slap on some sun screen, squeeze into our bikinis and rush past the line (thank you, press pass) for the tender boats. Fifty minutes later, we've sleazed our way into a seat on the boat to Half Moon Cay, which is great because the line looks like it snakes along three decks with waits of about an hour and a half.
Half Moon Cay: 12:20 p.m.
It seems everyone had as wild a night as the fans because Holy Ship is running about an hour behind. We find our friends, still sans slumber, staggering in the sand. Half Moon Cay is the original Holy Ship private island destination, and though subsequent voyages have visited other Bahamian destinations, this is the party's first time back. The DJs set up in a giant pirate ship -- the only stage on the island. This is the place we have always wanted to be, and we finally made it.
The Beach: 1:45 p.m.
We force ourselves to do some downward dogs on the white sandy beach as HS veteran DJ Gina Turner leads a crowd of overachievers in a sunny yoga sesh. We're limbering up for the intense twerking we're bound to do when Duke Dumont and Flume turn up the sexy.
Paradise (aka Half Moon Cay): 3:40 p.m.
Everyone waits with bated breath to see just who the Holy Ship's EDM special guest might be. There were rumors it might be Skrillex because he was just in Puerto Rico with Zedd. Some say it might even be the young Holy Ship superfan Zedd himself. We heard from an in-the-know buddy last night before bed that it was Guy from Disclosure, and big ups to that friend because the baby-faced Brit emerges next to Armand Van Helden to take us on a house-tastic journey that's so perfect we have to pinch ourselves.
Atlantic Ocean: 4:03 p.m.
We swim out to the edge of the buoy barrier and look back for a sweet, solemn moment of reflection. This beautiful expanse of beats and bodies won't last forever. We let it all soak in: We're in the Bahamas, dancing on a private beach with best friends old and new. The best EDM DJs in the business are here partying with us. Why does it ever have to end?
The Edge of Reality (OK, still Half Moon Cay): 5:00 p.m.
The music ends, and people start shouting about how it's time to get back on the tender boats. Workers walk through, cleaning up our mess, but #ShipFam refuses to be moved. We're loving this beach, and besides, the line is dreadful. Better to hang around and drive the employees crazy.
The Dock: 5:53 p.m.
Finally standing in line, we run into some boisterous and beautiful Australians who keep calling us "Amanda." "Everyone here is named Amanda or Alexis," they explain. "Oh, shut up, Alexis," we counter. "Don't be so rude, Amanda." This goes on for the entire 20-minute wait in line.
Deck 7: Eataly Restaurant, 6:40 p.m.
We're back on the boat and sick of buffet pizza, the food staple of #ShipFam, who mostly grab quick bites between sets. We gather with pals and hit Divina's Eataly sit-down restaurant to indulge in a "real dinner," complete with a gorgeous steak and a fine bottle of wine. This meal isn't included in our price package, so once again, we're handing over the key card -- but it's worth it. We pass a table where Craze, A-Trak and other notable DJs sit, also enjoying a normal moment. We sit by a window looking out on an open deck, and outside, wild and crazy Shippers run around in theme-ready prom attire and dazed expressions. We throw hand-hearts to them, but most of them don't see.
Deck 7: Eataly Restaurant, 7:00 p.m.
A voice announces that Gorgon City and Kidnap Kid are beginning their History of House Cocktail Hour in the Garden Pool Zen Area, but we're still playing fancy in the steakhouse, laughing loud and eating well.
Deck 7: Black & White Lounge 10:00 p.m.
Everyone we know is talking about how excited they are to see DJ Falcon at the Boys Noize Records & Friends party in the Black and White lounge. We pull ourselves into our vintage '80s prom dresses and head into the night.
Deck 16: Galaxy Disco, 10:22 p.m.
We head with our friends to the Galaxy Disco to look for more homies. We twisted our ankles at some point yesterday, and they're throbbing. We dance for like five minutes before heading back to our cabin and passing out for hours. Yes, we are the party poopers, but people are having so much fun they hardly notice.
Deck 6: Pantheon Theater, 2:30 a.m.
We had an alarm set, because the Fool's Gold Rap Party is not something we're going to miss. It's a Holy Ship tradition, and so, still wearing our '80s prom dresses, we head back out toward the Theater.
Deck 6: Casino, 2:40 a.m.
We cross the luxurious casino to the Theater entrance. Serious faces stare at the green felt tables, sweating and certain they can make their fortune. Inside the Theater, RL Grime is making booties bounce to his hood-rich trap sounds. All the white people are gettin' down. A-Trak wanders on and off the mic. A dude asks us to hold his phone while he counts his money. "I'll buy you a drink," he says. "Do you have any idea how much I just won?" We don't really care, and he wanders back to the tables.
Deck 6: Pantheon Theater, 3:30 a.m.
We're absolutely electrified as Craze and A-Trak, two of the greatest DJs in DMC history, take to the stage for the moment every real turntable fan has waited for. This is the DJ's DJ set. We're about to experience two hours of sweet, sweet hip-hop history, and the duo pulls out every classic rap track, old and new.
Deck 6: Casino, 3:45 a.m.
We head to the casino bar for a drink. It takes literally 30 minutes for our turn. People are just screaming at the poor bartenders, but because we're all paying with pre-purchased tickets, the bartenders are getting no tips. No wonder they move slowly.
Deck 6: Pantheon Theater, 4:20 a.m.
We finally find our friends back on the dance floor. Everyone is tired but wired and in the midst of a party haze. We boogie to Biggie, and all is well with the world.
Deck 16: Top Deck, 5:30 a.m.
The Rap Party wraps, and A-Trak goes on about how he's hitting the buffet. We head outside to the top deck to catch HARD-father Gary Richards, aka Destructo, play to the sunrise for the very-special Sermon Set. Unfortunately, due to that pesky wind again, the set is moved from the pool deck to the Galaxy disco. The room is so crowded, we hang for two EDM tracks before working our way back outside. Boys Noize walks by with a stupid grin, and someone yells "Hey A-Trak!"
Deck 16: Galaxy Disco, 6:40 a.m.
The Galaxy Disco is still going strong as the sun peeks above the horizon. We laugh happily at the shirtless guys in robes doing handstands against the glass walls. The rest of the world is waking up for its first day of work.
Monday: "I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever"
Deck 9: Our Cabin, 11:00 a.m.
We really wanted to see Teki Latex, but we're still sleeping. Zzz ....
Deck 14: Pool Deck, 3:15 p.m.
With a belly full of jelly toast and pepperoni pizza (because pizza isn't just an ironic clothing option -- it's the only thing Shippers eat), we squint our way into the sun and onto the deck for a deviously devilish rock 'n' roll set from Busy P. His take: You've had enough EDM, so here's some Smashing Pumpkins.
Deck 14: Garden Pool 4:05 p.m.
This hip-hop party at the Garden Pool bar is kickin'. We've never been in an environment that looked more like a '90s music video than this. Girls and guys in bathing suits bouncing beach balls and inflatables in every direction, yet, magically, nothing falls overboard. Branchez is playing a bunch of new-school turn-up jams in the vibe of Yung Thug. Are we in love with the Coco? Yes. Yes we are.
Deck 14: Pool Deck 6:37 p.m.
Destructo got the "Party Up" on the pool deck. He teaches us what G House is all about. We wish Tyga was here.
Deck 16: Galaxy Disco 1:05 a.m.
What is sexier than a back-to-back set from Oliver and Alex Metric? That's rhetorical because the answer is, clearly, nothing.
Deck 16: Galaxy Disco 4:15 a.m.
Honestly, the last few hours have been a blur. We're just hanging on tight to every last second we've got. There will be no sleep tonight, but the music will come to a sudden end -- and soon. Boys Noize is going back-to-back with Djedjotronic in the Galaxy Disco, and no one wants to go home. It's Tuesday out there, in the real world, at the port, and the Germans play it up with an I Love Makonnen sing-along. And yet, despite all our wishing otherwise, in a few short minutes, all will come to an end.
Deck 9: A Friend's Cabin, 4:47 a.m.
Not that anyone is sleeping. We make one final sweep of the floors, check out the wreckage we're leaving behind, and then head to our friends' balcony to blast music and watch as beautiful Miami comes closer on the horizon.
Tuesday: Reality Sets In
Deck 7: Gangway, 8:38 a.m.
Yes, we're awake and getting off the ship. Goodbye, friends. Most of you are hopping on planes, heading to your respective homes all around the world. It was fun -- almost too much fun -- and we can't wait to come back next year. Better start counting down the days until booking.
Note to future Shippers: Because of Holy Ship's popularity, and the fact that those who have shipped in the past get first booking rights, it can be quite difficult to cop a reservation. Because of that, we urge all would-be Shippers to watch Holy Ship's website closely and book as soon as reservations are open to you. If you do miss out on signup, there's always the waiting list, or you can beg your friends for a spot in their cabins. Just be ready to fork over more than $1,000 for a three-night EDM cruise. That's the zinger.
Note that the 2020 Holy Ship music festival took place on land, at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, instead of onboard a cruise ship. Early rumors are that the 2021 event will also be at a resort rather than at sea.