Nothing But Beats And Smiles On Deck – An Interview w/ Whet Travel Marketing Director Rafi Leibowitz

*written by A’Damaged Pro for Electronica Life

Luxury accommodations and music around-the-clock sound like a great foundation for a cruise experience. Enter The Groove Cruise. They are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, and the team responsible for this momentous event are planning on making it their best year, to date. It’s time to take to the high seas.
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The Groove Cruise, brought to you by the inspirational crew at Whet Travel, is celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and they’re celebrating it in style. The ever-increasing success of The GC Miami expeditions, of year’s past, were safely translated into this new venture and location. Last year’s inaugural voyage out of Los Angeles was a resounding success and this year is destined to be bigger and better, in all aspects. This will be the maiden Groove Cruise voyage for the newly-appointed Golden Princess, which will depart L.A., with scheduled stops in Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. This ship is stacked with more cabins and more amenities than any ship used before. This is not to say that the ships used on the record-setting voyages that have earned the Groove Cruise the title of the “Worlds Largest Floating Dance Music Festival” were anything to scoff at, but the Golden Princess, by all accounts, is a definite upgrade. When the motivating force is elevating the class and luxury of the overall experience, offering the guests more: pools, jacuzzis, party decks, and music venues seems like a no-brainer. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do know that the scramble, on March 5th, to lock in a cabin during the pre-sale offer, not only consumed all cabins available during the pre-sale but even shut the GC site down because of the public’s overwhelming desire to be a part of history. I guess the secret’s out. This year’s Groove Cruise LA is going to be one for the books. Use promo code “electronicalife” when you register to get $50 off for each person in your party!!!!

(update: Groove Cruise current destinations are: Cabo & Grand Turks)


I was curious about the evolution of the The Groove Cruise concept and if Whet Travel had any other projects they were working on, so I went right to the source. I spoke with their marketing director, Rafi Leibowitz, about how their cruise concept has grown, from rather modest beginnings, to its current iconic status, as well as their successful business model, that has become the unofficial standard by which other “sea-faring” EDM festivals are graded, possibly unfairly, against.

A’Damaged Pro – How did the Groove Cruise idea start?

Rafi Leibowitz – The first year (2004) there were about one hundred and twenty-five buddies that went on a cruise. The year after there were two hundred, and five hundred the next year, and a thousand the next. It grew organically. I don’t believe that Jason, the CEO, had the original vision to grow it into the EDM cruise brand, but it just kind of unfolded that way.

A’Damaged Pro – This has been a big year for the, I don’t want to outright identify your team as the trendsetters, floating festival cruise line concept. Mad Decent is launching their first boat party. The already established “Holy Ship” is expanding to two voyages. What are you guys doing to distinguish yourselves among this, presently-emerging, trend of boat parties.? Obviously, being the largest is a huge honor and a status GC aims on maintaining.

Rafi Leibowitz – Without sounding trite or arrogant, imitation, I guess, is the sincerest form of flattery. In a sense that, it’s a brilliant idea. Even before I became involved in this industry, my company had six years of successful music cruises under their belt. I’m extremely lucky that I came along when I did. We’re on a bubble, of sorts, that is paving the way for a breakthrough. I think it’s a good thing that these other cruises have come along because we’re not looking at them as direct competition, per se. Considering that we focus on a different demographic and the unique experience that we like to create, we’re an entity unto ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, both Holy Ship and the MDBP are capable of being amazing weekends, with big parties, and great djs, but the Groove Cruise is something entirely different. We cater to a more distinguished and mature crowd. Our cost is comparable to these other charter options, if not even more affordable with our new pricing models, and we still manage to find even more ways to set ourselves apart. One of the biggest differences, at least in terms of the music, is that we offer an immersive experience, with round-the-clock music and entertainment programs as opposed to having scheduled breaks and designated times to party, like the format at a concert or event. On GC, the music is non-stop from the moment you step on the ship until you get off.

A’Damaged Pro – Given the remarkable success you guys are having with this current model, what elements can you look to improve to enrich the overall experience?

Rafi Leibowitz – We are looking at everything, all the time, and seeing how we can make it better, whether it be from a production standpoint or a musical standpoint. One dynamic change I would like to see implemented is diversifying the music that we play on the cruises. EDM is EDM and there are a variety of sub-genres that come along with that, but I’m really looking to add a live musical element. There is a lot of contemporary talent that are embracing the hybrid approach of incorporating the electronic element as well as live instrumentation. I’m also looking to bring in some additional aspects, that unfortunately have to remain top-secret, that will add to overall experience for those onboard.

A’Damaged Pro – If you had to pick a festival that would have a parallel line-up scheme to what you would like the next step to be for GC, what would it be?

Rafi Leibowitz – That is a great question. I would say it would be a mix of Movement, out of Detroit, because I’ve always loved that style of music and the rawness because that festival is truly about the music, and I really like that Ultra, this year, is offering a live stage. Imagine putting Disclosure, Snoop Dogg (Lion), Pretty Lights, Rudimental, and Bookashade all playing together. I’d even like to take it one step further and get some killer vocalists on board to accompany these acts. Can you imagine someone like Alicia Keys collaborating live with one of those acts?

A’Damaged Pro – There is a divergent spectrum being created between those that produce and those that perform. I remember when beat matching was done all by ear. If you were spinning on vinyl, you were vulnerable and responsible for the transitions.

Rafi Leibowitz – Even though it is a more intense process, from a production standpoint, to get a vinylist prepped to perform, we still have several of them on each of our cruises. The focus, like I said before, is the music. People appreciate the genuine and the realness.

A’Damaged Pro – I’ve heard quite a bit about some of the infamous theme parties on the GC.

Rafi Leibowitz – We have had six, seven, and now eight side venues and we are able to program individual experiences into each one. On the last one, we had a hip-hop party, a classic party, a live jazz band party. It’s pretty cool that you can roam freely and hear such an interesting mix of music that is all up-beat and cohesive to having a good time. We try to have our music selection help dictate the theme of the overall experience.

A’Damaged Pro – Have you ever guys ever thought about included live art exhibits, whether it  be digital, spraypaint, etc.?

Rafi Leibowitz – No, but that is a brilliant idea. I’m definitely going to be thinking about it now.

A’Damaged Pro – What other cruises do you guys offer as well?

Rafi Leibowitz – Aventura Dance Cruise is the World’s Largest Salsa & Bachata Latin Dance Cruise, Nov 7-10, 2014. Shiprocked is the Ultimate Rock Music Cruise Vacation, dates TBD. The Zen Cruise is a transformational journey at sea, dates TBD. There are many branches to Whet Travel. Cruise Event GPS specializes in corporate events on cruise ships.

A’Damaged Pro – Have you guys ever entertained the idea of coordinating a Groove Cruise with a land-based event/festival on the mainland?

Rafi Leibowitz – So from a business standpoint, if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it. I don’t want to come across smug and arrogant. We are definitely looking into ways to expand and explore new territories, but it would have to be a foolproof model that would emphasize what we bring to the table and would, without a doubt, require an extremely established promoter to ensure the success of linking the events. If connecting a cruise to a land-based event was to happen in the future, I could see it being more of a possibility in an international location, versus stateside. When so much time, love, and persistence have been put into cultivating and growing a brand, such as ours, it would be beyond detrimental to have to outcome to be anything less than spectacular. It would have to be a “fool-proof” model to ensure we maintain our steady and incremental progression.

A’Damaged Pro – On the scale that your organization has risen to, it would be a slippery slope to execute something that would be categorized as “mediocre.” I completely understand that appropriate, strategic plans must be analyzed if this particular expansion is to become a reality.

Rafi Leibowitz – Whet Travel’s “Groove Cruise” has received numerous accolades and garnered the number one spot in a very competitive market. Don’t be fooled into thinking that being the largest is an honor that they take lightly or that they are not constantly working on ways to enrich the experience for their guests. That’s what it is. It’s more than a cruise with music. It’s an experience. Get out your iPad and your iPhone (or whatever parallel technology that you embrace) and sync your heartbeat up with the pulse of the ship, because once you step foot on it the journey has just begun.

Contact: The Groove Cruise | Whet Travel

Update: The Groove Cruise is now sailing to Cabo & Grand Turks for it’s current destinations! Click here for more info!