I’ve had about 3 weeks now to recover from my first GCLA voyage and gather my thoughts on The Groove Cruise’s super popular west coast sailing.
As a GCMIA veteran, I thought I knew what I was in for…but just like in Miami, even if you’ve been, you never know what to expect once you step foot onto the ship.
I actually flew out of Miami to LAX in a way paralleling the journey the event itself had taken. Once in LA, the weather was perfect and the stage was set for a weekend I’ll never forget.
One of the great thing about massive music festivals is that they are generally held in a destination that worth visiting whether there’s a festival or not. If you’re not from the Los Angeles area, the Groove Cruise offers the opportunity to not only experience a festival at sea visiting exotic foreign destinations, but you also get to explore the port city – in this case, Los Angeles.
We spent the day before and a couple of days after checking out some of the highlights of Los Angeles: Hollywood, Griffith Park (for an amazing view), Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and more. If you’re coming from anywhere but the port city where Groove Cruise sets sail, take advantage of the opportunity to check out the city’s features in addition to your Groove Cruise adventure.
Day 1 – Sail Away Party
On Friday, we made our way down to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal where the Carnival Inspiration had been prepped and was awaiting well over 2000 members of the #GCFAM to come aboard and rage for the next 72 hours.
Amirah, Scooter & Level, and Helena opened the pool deck up as attendees made their way through security and boarded the ship. After the mandatory muster drill (where they give you a safety briefing), the stage was set for everyone to turn way, way up. The day theme was Represent and this was a great way to see just how diverse the crowd is.
Cazzette, then Vicetone, took us through sunset into the evening on the pool deck with two high energy sets that did not disappoint. I had just seen Vicetone on the mainstage at Ultra Japan, and now they were partying with us on a cruise ship somewhere in the Pacific…only on Groove Cruise.
I’ll cover this further on in the review, but I just want to say that the production both on this ship and off is absolutely top notch. Sound, visuals, atmosphere…everything.
The Prefunc-hosted VIP party took place in the Candlelight Lounge with Kristina Sky. After that, the venue hosted house-heavyweights Antonio Giacca, EDX, Croatia Squad, and Lavelle Dupree. The dark atmosphere, dense crowd, and low ceilings contributed to this venue’s intimate feeling. Of course, that’s not even including the fact that you could basically high-five the DJ from the dancefloor. The primary source of light was coming from the floor to ceiling LED screens behind the turntables. Displaying a simple graphic loop, the focus was solely on the music and it was easy to get lost in the beats.
The Casino, on this night, featured some DJs playing some bass-heavier sounds even venturing into trap and hip-hop. It was great venue to stumble upon (multiple times) as we made our way back and forth across the ship. The theme for the evening was 50 Shades of Disney, so as the night progressed, more and more of your favorite Disney characters began to appear in ways that I’m pretty sure Walt didn’t intend – but that’s Groove Cruise…”The Weirder you Groove, the More We Approve!”
Venerable trance artists Darude and Ferry Corsten were the main draws for the Theatre stage on Friday. This venue (like the pool deck) featured two tiers of viewing and because it technically is a theater, you can simply sit down when you’re tired, but don’t want to leave the trance sounds behind.
If you had paced yourself and made it into the later hours of the night (or early hours of the morning…same same), then you would have found yourself in the Abyss, the official name of the afterhours party “navigated” by Incorrect. Friday night featured Dantiez Saunderson, Kevin Saunderson, and Technasia. If you’ve never been on a Groove Cruise before, the afterhours parties are a must-attend for at least one of the nights. Here, you’ll find a crowd of some of the most dedicated members of the #GCFAM dancing under the stars all the way through sunrise. And if you don’t catch a sunrise at least one time during the event, you’re doing it wrong.
Day 2 – Catalina Island
I took a bit of a different approach to this port day. On previous Groove Cruise sailings, I’d be on the ship hopefully up early enough to eat breakfast (food is included, don’t forget…), and I’d make it to the private beach party just after it begins.
On GCLA 2015, we went ziplining. That’s right…ziplining.
That means I was up and off the ship at like 8:45am. Good morning, Catalina Island. One of the great things about the Groove Cruise destinations is that even though there are private parties arranged exclusively for attendees, they are still cruise destinations complete with all of the attractions and infrastructure that would draw a typical tourist.
After meeting with a few other attendees dedicated to making the most of their GCLA adventure, we proceeded to one of the highest points on the island, attached ourselves to zip lines hundreds of meters long, and “flew” above our island oasis at speeds up to 45mph. Right now, Brett Rubin and Lujan are playing the pool deck as overnighters are going to sleep and those who passed out early are waking up…and we’re ziplining…because Groove Cruise. Conveniently, the last portion of the zipline course ends right at the location of the private beach party arranged just for Groove Cruise LA 2015 attendees.
Catalina Island, once the weekend and vacation getaway used mainly by Hollywood stars, is now hosting over 2000 professional partiers on a stopover on the way to Mexico. The day theme was Naughty Nautical, and I had my captain’s hat, courtesy of Groove Cruise’s new loyalty program.
The private beach party featured soft white sands, beach chairs and cabanas, and a small stage with BIG sound. We could hear them testing the audio from multiple points of the zipline course – that’s how loud the audio system was.
Fyasko and Le Youth opened for one of the most high energy sets of the weekend, Vinai. By the time Vinai came on, those who had slept in a bit had made their way to the island and were ready to rage. Dean Mason closed out the beach party leaving the crowd wanting more even though we had to return to the ship.
Most people went to eat at this point and refuel for the evening. Sidney Samson and Goshfather & Jinco took to the Drai’s Yacht Club pool stage, kept the energy up, and turned up the bass for the remainder of the evening. Simultaneously, Croatia Squad and EDX played at the Sunset Sessions stage at the Waterworks venue. This venue is the highest one on the ship, basically a skydeck, which gives you a large dance floor level with the DJ and audio system plus a panoramic view of the ocean off the back and sides of the ship – truly a great venue for sunset sets.
Tonight, the Candlelight Lounge hosted the Classics Party with Chris Garcia, Anthony Attalla, Sydney Blu, and Lavelle Dupree bringing the crowd all of their favorite dance music classics. Corporate Slackrs killed it in the casino with the bass-heavy sounds carrying over from the previous night. Unlike many sets with specific tracks pre-determined, they came out told the crowd, “Let us know what you’re in the mood for! What do you want to us to play?!”. It made for a great experience dictated by the energy of the crowd. The theme for the evening was Neon Candyland, so glow toys were all over, and I came prepared with a 5-foot inflatable neon lollipop.
With Kristina Sky, Kyau & Albert, Paul Oakenfold, and Orla Feeney giving the trance family their fix in the Theatre, the Abyss was about take off with two massive sets from Groove Cruise favorites.
Back at the pool deck, the Abyss hosted Anthony Attalla for an epic 5-hour set from 2am-7am followed by Cocodrills for another massive 4-hour set from 7am-11am. Anyone who’s been on a Groove Cruise knows these two must-see acts and their long set times meant they had the time to really take the crowd on a musical journey under the stars all the way through brunch the following day.
Day 3 – Ensenada, Mexico
There’s something about the last day on Groove Cruise that makes it extra special. For whatever reason, the energy and vibes are always taken to whole other level on the last day. I believe it’s a combination of those who didn’t pace themselves trying to catch up, those making the most of their time making one final push, and everyone who’s been without phone service for 48 hours having one last good time with their new friends.
We’re in Ensenada heading to Papas & Beer, the official venue of the private Groove Cruise LA 2015 party in Mexico. I love walking the streets in foreign cities and Ensenada is no exception. Signs in a foreign language, the smell of fresh, authentic Mexican food, and a certain roughness that is Mexico surrounds you. If I wasn’t on the way to one of the most memorable sets of the weekend, I would be out exploring this city. The day theme was Down to Fiesta, and I came equipped with my sombrero. In hindsight, I didn’t have to buy this beforehand, and I could have purchased one in Mexico and supported the local economy.
Papas & Beer, on the outside, looks like a typical westernized tourist restaurant complete with sports on the TVs and a hawker outside
politely informing you of loudly announcing their daily specials.
I asked where the DJ was in English, but if you find yourself in my position, try “dónde está el dj”. I’m pretty sure that’s right.
Anyways, we were pointed towards a dark corner towards the back of the restaurant. I don’t usually walk into dark corners of random restaurants, but when I do, it’s in Mexico.
The dark corner turned into a dark staircase, and I started to hear those 4-on-the-floor beats I had been missing for about 30 minutes since we left the ship. Exiting the staircase, we were treated with something totally unexpected – a two-story live act venue with massive LED displays, CO2 cannons, spotlight/fogger machines, and spotlights and festival decor across the whole ceiling. We had just walked from the raw Mexican streets, through a touristy restaurant, into a proper club setup for an EDM act.
DVBBS, popular for their high energy mainstage sound, came in and delivered just that…combined with some trap tracks, some bass-heavy hip-hop tracks, and a touch of hardstyle sound (more please…). For 2 hours, DVBBS went hard in a way that could only be done in Mexico, and I attribute a large portion of the experience to the venue. The sounds, lights, and overall production was on point. This was easily one of the best sets of the weekend, in my opinion, based on overall crowd energy and experience (musical preference aside, not trying to start a genre war here).
Scotty Boy closed out Papas & Beer as we made our way back to the ship. Quintino was featured on the pool deck, and again, the intimate nature of Groove Cruise kicks in. We had just seen Quintino as he headlined Road to Ultra Thailand, and now he’s just kicking back and partying with us on a cruise ship parked off the coast of Mexico. We’re all used to seeing artists really separated from the crowd in huge festival environments or eluding crowds through back entrances of clubs, but on Groove Cruise, they’re partying with you by the pool :thumbsup:.
Being a special Halloween-themed Groove Cruise event, there was costume contest held in the Theatre prior to Sandro Silva, Dirty South, and Alvaro giving the venue a different sound than the past couple of nights. The theme for the night was Halloween on the High Seas, so the contest was appropriately timed and the theme itself allowed for the widest variety of costumes for the weekend.
The Old School Hip-Hop party, one unique event on Groove Cruise, took place in the Candlelight Lounge with Scooter and Sidney Samson bringing the crowd old school hip-hop favorites.
The Abyss afterhours was the place to be with Serge Devant and Guy Gerber taking us into the early hours of Monday morning for the final Abyss Sunrise set. That sunrise would be the last one of the weekend and a symbol of a weekend that will never be forgotten.
Production & Ship Features
This year’s GCLA sailing returned to the Carnival Inspiration. As with any Groove Cruise, food and some non-alcoholic beverages were included. Whether you’re grabbing food from the buffet-style cafe or fine dining in the main dining room, it’s all included in the cost of cabin. There’s a jogging track on the highest level of the ship, but I’m pretty sure I got my cardio in through dancing. The spa was open for use and the pool and hot tubs were all available for use. There was actually one hot tub about 12 feet from the main pool stage.
As I mentioned before, I was stunned by the level of production on this ship. I’ve seen pics of the stage production from similar events, and Groove Cruise has, by far, the best stage setups. Let’s be honest – unless an EDM event is going the fantasy route, it’s stage production (visually) is heavily dependent on LED displays amongst other elements. Groove Cruise LA 2015 brought so many LED displays to their primary stages, it looked like Ultra Miami stages were squeezed into a cruise ship. I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves, but as someone who been to many land-based festivals as well as sailed on many traditional cruises, it’s pretty amazing to see the best of both combined.
The sound was loud and the bass was deep. With no city rules or residences in the area (we’re the middle of the ocean, remember), the organizers have free reign to create the best audio experience possible. Groove Cruise and their sponsors placed their branding all over, and of course this is advertising for them, it actually does help with immersion. As soon as you step on the ship, you’re experiencing a festival like no other.
GCLA 2015 blew me away in terms of production, the Carnival ship had a great layout for the event (and free pizza and soft serve 24/7!), the lineup was stacked, and being able to visit LA, Catalina Island, and Ensenada, Mexico was worth the trip on it’s own.
If you’ve been eyeing Groove Cruise LA and don’t know whether to take the plunge or not, just do it. If you want to watch my experience aboard GCLA 2015, be sure to check out my aftermovie. Of course, it’s not official, but it will give you a good glimpse into just what happened aboard Groove Cruise LA 2015.
Groove Cruise LA 2016
Groove Cruise LA 2016 details have yet to be announced (Update: The 2016 West Coast event is GCCABO), but as soon as they are, I’ll have them posted here on my site. Be sure to bookmark my GCLA 2016 GCCABO 2016 event page and join my VIP list. Occasionally, I get the ability to get you early access to pre-sales or public cabin bookings. Also, when booking your GCLA 2016 GCCABO 2016 cabin (or any Groove Cruise cabin), use my discount code, GrooveCruiseChris (How do I use this code?) to get $50 off person (up to $200 off per cabin).
Hope to see you on the ship!