Thirteen years ago, Jason Beukema wanted to find a way to make money while traveling with his friends. He gathered 125 of them for a cruise he called Groove Cruise. They sailed alongside young families and retired grandparents. Beukema and his friends clearly stood out.
One night, a bunch of his friends showed up to the formal dinner 30 minutes late. "I'm like, 'What the heck is going on? Where are these people?' " Beaukema says. "They walk in ... through this huge dining room, cross-dressed. The guys were wearing dresses, and the girls were wearing suits with ties. It was hilarious."
Groove Cruise was born. Since then, it has evolved into a bigger expedition. Now an electronic-music festival, it will leave Monday, Jan. 23, from the Port of Miami for the Turks and Caicos on the Carnival Victory.
Beukema anticipates Groove Cruise will sell out, with about 2,700 people on board. The 893-foot vessel has plenty of entertainment, including two indoor show lounges that will be used for performances, a casino, an arcade room and an outdoor spa area where Beukema says a wedding will take place. Both pool decks will have stages. The main pool deck has two pools, a 270-square-foot LED screen and a swirly blue water slide. The other pool is on the stern, and has two elevated hot tubs that will be covered and transformed into a stage for the DJ booth for late nights and sunrise sets. All five days and four nights will feature performances by house, techno and trance DJs and have themed dress-up parties such as "Hippies vs. Hipsters," "Greek Mythology" and "Carnival vs. Mardi Gras."
Many "GC Fam," as the cruise's passengers call themselves, return to Groove Cruise year after year.
"When I see [Groove Cruise] people at all the other festivals, I bounce around ... it's an instant bond. [There's a] very special swirl of energy on the ship," says music blogger Ari Kane, who will join the cruise for the second time.
Artists are often repeat seafarers, too. Lee Foss, Roger Sanchez and Bad Boy Bill will appear this year, as will new performers Sam Feldt, Huxley and Oliver Dollar. The DJs will not only play on the Victory, but also at an island party on Grand Turk, an island in the Turks and Caicos.
After the first year, Beukema devised a plan to grow the festival to a size large enough to charter an entire ship. He continued to reserve blocks of rooms on ships as the event grew every year. The first full charter was booked seven years after Groove Cruise's inception. Now, the festival is bicoastal, having sailed from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for the first time in October 2016. Between that excursion and this upcoming one, Beukema anticipates 5,000 cruisers for this Groove Cruise season.
Beukema's company Whet Travel has organized cruises similar to Groove Cruise, such as Shiprocked and Salsa Cruise. While the focus is on music and parties, there's also a charitable component.
"Four years ago, I started up [Whet Foundation] to benefit the destinations that we go through, through our program called Destination Donation," Beukema says. "When we go to these destinations, we'll partner with an orphanage or a local charity. We'll ask them what they need, which is generally school supplies, clothing, sometimes toiletries."
From there, Groove Cruise sends an email to passengers, asking them to bring supplies. Volunteers on the ship fill backpacks and deliver them to the island. This year, Whet Foundation will do something a little different, partnering with a Miami-based shelter for at-risk youth called Chapman Partnership for the Homeless.
"It's a really, really humbling and beautiful experience," Beukema says. "A lot of people that go on Groove Cruise ... say it's the highlight of the whole trip, and it's amazing."
Groove Cruise will sail Monday, Jan. 23, out of from the Port of Miami, 1015 North America Way. Call 1-877-438-9438 or go to TheGrooveCruise.com.