Ever wonder what it takes to pull off the world's longest-running floating dance music festival year after year? I recently caught up with Rafi Leibo of Groove Cruise before he headed out for a night in Ibiza to chat about the travel aspect of the cruise ship festival as well as its new destinations and upcoming plans for international expansion. Get to know GC's head of marketing in our interview below.
What do you think is so special about Groove Cruise that sets it apart from the many other festival cruises offered today?
Rafi Leibo: It's definitely about the attendees that continue sailing with us. Groove Cruise began organically in 2004 when [GC Founder] Jason took a hundred and twenty-five friends on the first cruise, and each year it continued to grow with a couple hundred more. Groove Cruise attendees have created a devoted family over the years, so add that with an intimate environment for a few days and it's bound to be an incredible cruise. The 2011 Miami cruise was actually the first full ship takeover.
Wow, it's amazing to see how far things have come since 2011. When was the first L.A. cruise?
Rafi Leibo: Our first Groove Cruise out of L.A. was in 2005. The first time we chartered the full ship was in September 2013, which still worked out very well even though it took place the same weekend as the first TomorrowWorld. I was hesitant on taking GC to L.A. since Miami is a cruise hub and L.A. isn’t, but growing the West Coast cruise has been really cool and I consider it to be one of my career highlights.
Sounds like that must have been a relief!
Rafi Leibo: (Laughs) Yeah, definitely!
What can Groove Cruisers expect on the Cabo cruise next month?
Rafi Leibo: It will be the longest-floating dance cruise ever - 120 hours of straight music for five days. It will also be the first time Groove Cruise reaches Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for an overnight trip, which gives people time to fully take advantage of being in Cabo for a day instead of just a few hours.
I recently heard that Groove Cruise's parent company, Whet Travel, was named Carnival Cruise Line's Charter Partner of the Year for 2016, and were Norwegian Cruise Line's partner of the year in 2015. That's impressive! What goes into chartering an entire cruise ship and why do you think you've been so successful?
Rafi: A lot goes into chartering a cruise, last year Whet Travel did seven different themed cruises. I also think it's due to us having a diverse portfolio of events outside of Groove Cruise that draw young professional and millennials, opening the door for cruise lines to access a demographic and age they’ve had hard a time reaching.
Very interesting. If someone is going to travel outside their comfort zone for a festival, why Groove Cruise?
Rafi Leibo: On Groove Cruise, you can let go and just let the cruise take care of everything. You don't have to worry about any of the logistics of getting to and from a festival like where you're going to stay, etc. Also, besides the obvious offerings on GC such as key destinations, great lineups, and multiple food buffets, there's also a lot of money put into GC that people don’t see. For example, we're doing a 50K upgrade just for the upcoming Miami cruise.
There are many attributing ingredients to the GC experience, but I think the variety of destinations offered plays a vital role as well. The West Coast cruise next month will be going to Cabo and the Miami cruise in January will go to the Turks and Caicos islands. In previous years we've gone to Jamaica and the Bahamas. On the Cabo cruise, we'll also have an all-day-and-night beachside party in Cabo and two nightclubs on the ship. Having competition is good for us, it makes us set the bar higher and do our best.
How many people travel long distances to attend Groove Cruise?
Rafi Leibo: On the last Miami cruise only 30% were from Florida, with 70% from countries around the world. We had groups from Alaska, Germany, Norway and Australia. The Miami cruise is always a very international crowd. On the West Coast cruise, 70% came from California with a fair amount of foreign travelers. It really had that Cali/West Coast vibe, which I loved.
What are the destinations in mind for the future?
Rafi Leibo: Good question. Our biggest goal is international expansion; we want to go to Australia, Europe, and Asia. Some events have started in these countries, but not a huge turn yet. We're looking at cruises in all these countries within two to three years. Hopefully sooner.
How exciting! Which cruise are you most excited for right now?
Rafi Leibo: I'm actually really excited for the Miami cruise sailing to Turks and Caicos in January. It's my favorite lineup, I love Turks and Caicos, and it will be on the Carnival Victory, the biggest ship we've ever used!
Don't miss your chance to set sail on the high seas in the next installment of Groove Cruise:
Groove Cruise Cabo sails Oct. 28th-Nov. 2nd, 2016
Groove Cruise Miami-Grand Turk sails Jan 23rd-27th, 2016