Going to a music festival can often be a mind-blowing experience, but not all of us are enchanted by the idea of camping out in the Black Rock Desert for a week of primal hedonism. Even in less rustic environments, finding decent accommodations and better-than-average food is often a hassle, not to mention the unpredictable weather. This year, instead of grappling with the elements at Burning Man or Coachella, consider attending a festival at sea. 

Music cruises have been around for over a decade. Coachella even jumped on the bandwagon back in 2012 with the Coachella Cruise. Hosting only 2,800 fans, it was the opposite of Coachella in the desert, which now hosts 125,000 people each weekend. Those who were on the Coachella Cruise were able to hang out by the pool with Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, attend a wine tasting hosted by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, and join a literary event hosted by Father John Misty. That type of access still exists on board the modern music cruise. At sea, the audiences are manageable, the performances are intimate, and the hallway conversations often include your favorite rock star.


Crafting an Onboard Experience for Music Lovers

Atlanta-based Sixthman has been holding music festivals at sea since 2001. They collaborate with artists, managers, and agents to redefine the music festival by combining it with a vacation and in the process, break down the fourth wall. Producing festivals with hospitality and the fan experience at the forefront ensures guests return to music cruises year after year. “Super serving is the best way to describe it, for fans and artists alike,” says Mike Simon, a talent buyer for Sixthman. “We cater to exactly the type of experience fans want while being at sea, in a tropical location, on vacation—elevated with multiple stages and fun activities like a live Q&A with the performers or hosting a game with the bands involved.”

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Artists benefit from the experience as well, says Simon. “Everyone is there for the duration of the festival, exploring and getting to know each other. By day two and three, the ship becomes home, and the energy in the artist’s lounge is magical.”

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Maggie Rose has performed on several music cruises. “So many of the people I met on those trips have become lifelong fans. The cruises facilitate a really special kind of relationship between artist and listener because there’s more access to one another. One of my favorite experiences was playing on the Cayamo cruise because it was a great fit musically and so many of the people I met were returning from previous years, excited to enjoy a week of perfectly curated music from familiar artists and make new discoveries, like me! I’ve since joined Sixthman for the blues cruise and beach boys cruise.” 


Opportunities for Musicians

The collaborative nature of the festivals also benefits the artists in a way that supports their work. Oftentimes, the headlining artist is programming the festival line up, as was the case for 2023’s Headbangers Cruise. Lamb of God was the host partner, so their management company and agency worked with Simon and his team to develop the show.

As Simon explained, Sixthman was helping the artist realize their creative vision for the festival. “The festival is booked with artists that the host talent wants to have on the ship and who they know their community will be excited to see.” Randy Blythe, the lead singer of Lamb of God, is also a surfer and is already scouting out surfing expedition spots for the next Headbangers cruise.

“It’s that elevated experience that fans can only get on one of our boats,” CEO Jeff Cuellar explains, “Some artists are now creating their own whiskeys, or they have their own beers and different types of things they’re creating. Our environment works so well because we can showcase all that to a dedicated audience. It’s a way to curate a lineup, not only of bands, but also experiences.”

But, what about the vacation part? Cruises offer something for everyone at every price point, and a Sixthman festival, like other themed cruises , is no different. The customer service team is engaged with guests early on to ensure that their trip is tailored to the type of vacation they want to have. If a guest knows that they want to dine in the steakhouse on most nights, for example, they can bookmark that with Sixthman customer service rep, and it will be integrated into their package.

The outdoor pool daytime pool party set can feel totally different from the sultry evening lounge vibe,” says Maggie Rose.”

It’s also a vacation for the artists. “The different venues give each show a different experience so it never feels stale, “ says Maggie Rose. “The outdoor daytime pool party set can feel totally different from the sultry evening lounge vibe. It also allows us to switch up our set lists, and it challenges us to show some repeat concertgoers everything we can. I also love the friendships that I have struck up with fellow artists on the ship and the spontaneous collaborations that come from us all being together. By day three I am greeting guests and artists at breakfast like they’re old friends. I always hit the spa, gym, and casino, and there is never a chance of going hungry.”

The Growth of Experience Cruises

Cruise travel is one of the fastest-growing sectors of tourism, according to the Clia State of the Cruise Industry Report. Post-pandemic, cruise travel has not only been reinvigorated, but cruise lines are attracting younger travelers seeking immersive, bucket-list experiences like seeing their favorite band up close in an intimate setting.

Wellness and health cruises have also become major priorities for cruise lines, as have themed cruises that go beyond a music festival. Expedition cruising, one of the fastest growing cruise experiences, takes passengers off the cruise ship for guided tours to remote locations via kayaks and submarines. Hospitality brands like Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection have also expanded into maritime offerings by transforming cruises into resort-like journeys where each state room has a private balcony and world-renowned wineries and chefs offer master classes and sommelier dinners.

Copy of Copy of CL 68 FULL RTB@SEA DAY2 ©MMP2023

The accelerated growth of the cruise industry offers tremendous opportunities, according to Sixthman’s Cuellar. “I only see room for growth at this moment. I don’t think there’s an oversaturation. I think there’s space for more, and I’m excited about what we’ve got in store for 2024, 2025, and beyond.”

Sixthman is already diversifying into different entertainment genres, exploring culinary experiences, Broadway performances, and cruises themed around popular TV shows, like the upcoming Hallmark Channel Christmas Cruise—a chance to vacation with your favorite Hallmark stars. They’re also building immersive cultural activities into cruise itineraries, allowing passengers to connect with the destinations they visit on a deeper level. 

For those unsure about taking a cruise or questioning its value, Cuellar and Simon agree—a music cruise delivers an unparalleled experience. Onboard entertainment, access to performers for behind-the-scenes moments are more than worth the plunge when combined with the luxury of a cruise and beach vacation. More than 50% of guests return yearly, reinforcing the value. Cuellar encourages skeptics to take the risk, promising an unforgettable return: “Just let go, take the chance, take the risk. I promise you will not regret it. You will come back.”