You’re on the deck of one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships. It’s a clear, crisp night and the stars are shining down and illuminating a magical evening. Several hundred happy passengers are milling about, while only a few feet away, one of your favorite bands offers up a familiar tune. The boat is rocking—perhaps ever so slightly from the choppy sea, but mostly due to music that’s become a continuous soundtrack that lasts from early afternoon until long after midnight. That rocking may also have to do with that exotic beverage you’ve been holding in your hand, but clearly that’s the least of it. Sharing time with your musical idols is the ultimate high.
While music cruises vary by voyage and line-up, the preceding description could apply to any of the dozens of ocean-going offerings music lovers can choose from these days. It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s an excursion for every taste and genre. Heavy metal or classic rock, bluegrass or Americana, oldies or electronica—whatever sound or style a music lover may crave, it’s certain that he or she will find a cruise that accommodates it.
Yet, while a weekend or even a week of nonstop music would seem inducement enough, there’s another reason why fans are drawn to these unique outings. A decade or so ago, the possibility of actually meeting one’s musical idol was relatively rare. These days, however,, in an era where social media has become the norm and communication with one’s heroes is no more difficult than clicking the contact link on someone’s website, creating that connection has become almost commonplace. Tweeting at each other is easy technologically, but the divide between artist and audience still remains. Consequently, the opportunity to meet that musician while strolling around the deck or waiting for a bite in the buffet line brings the experience to an entirely new level. No amount of technology can surpass the chance to meet a particular performer in a setting that’s up close and personal.
No, these cruises aren’t cheap. And yes, the performance locations tend to make for a tight squeeze. But they’re nice changes from wallowing in the mud with tens of thousands of other people, especially when you can retreat to a private cabin and enjoy an endless buffet. Here are 12 of the best music cruises worth your time and money.
Dates: November 4-9, 2016
Locations: Miami to Cozumel and Grand Cayman
It’s KISS! There will be Kiss look-alike contests. Rock. Regalia. Excess. Head banging. Fist-pumping. Perhaps even some puking. Need we say more?
Dates: February 19-26, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Cozumel and Honduras
As it approaches its 10-year anniversary, Cayamo still ranks at the top of the list of best excursions all round, simply due to the artists it attracts. Helmed by Buddy Miller, Cayamo is Americana music at its finest, with a first rate bill that includes Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Patty Griffin, Jim Lauderdale, Kacey Musgraves and several dozen more. There’s no better line-up, which makes it a bit of a trick to try to catch them all on board. It also sells out quickly, so it’s best to make reservations early.
Dates: March 11-16, 2017
Locations: Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel and Key West
If you remember the ‘70s, you probably weren’t there…Wait, that’s what they said about the ‘60s. Chances are, you were blissed out that decade, recovering from the excess you may have indulged in during the previous years. At least that’s the impression offered by this radio-friendly roster, one that includes such reliable hit makers as Peter Frampton, America, Orleans, Stephen Bishop, Firefall, Ambrosia, Little River Band and Christopher Cross. If a supple, sublime soundtrack puts you in the mood for love, suffice it to say this one lives up to its name.
Dates: January 2-7, 2018
Locations: Miami to Grand Cayman and Cozumel
In truth, all it takes to lure the faithful is the fact that the Moody Blues are on hand. A more devoted fan base would be hard to find, and the sheer joy and devotion that they tend to heap on their heroes makes this as much an emotional experience as it is a musical one. This is the third cruise the band has hosted, and next year it expands from four days to five. Even those who consider “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” the psychedelic equivalent of “Freebird” ought to be satisfied with the added attractions by way of the Alan Parsons Project, the Zombies, Dave Mason, Richie Furay and various prog add-ons like Caravan and the Strawbs. Consider this one a wealth of retro.
Dates: February 15-19, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Costa Maya
Hosted by the band Train, Sail Across the Sun may seem PG by comparison to most music cruises. Still, the line-up offers something for everyone, from the party-centric sounds of Michael Franti and the funk of Arrested Development to the singer/songwriter sensibilities of Matt Nathanson, Glen Phillips and Pat McGee. It also has its share of funny men, including Jim Brewer. Train, of course, are worth the cost of admission, all populist appeal and pop-friendly anthems. This is one of those trips where you could even take your parents, you know, if you wanted to.
Dates: February 2-7, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Georgetown and Cozumel
There’s no room for wimps on this boat. Indeed, it’s packed with some of the hardest, heaviest, grittiest, grungiest groups on the planet—among them Vince Neil, Saigon Kick, Queensryche, Saxon, Stryper, and Slaughter. Expect plenty of spandex and teased hair, because posing and primping is a metal mantra. Sleep and shuffleboard be damned. The minions will rock!
Dates: March 4-11, 2017
Locations: Fort Lauderdale to Belize, Cozumel and Freeport
Those out to find the funk or bask in the boogie will have seven days to get their groove on. The stars include some of the biggest names in ‘70s soul—Chaka Khan, Kool & the Gang, Peabo Bryson, Chic and the Commodores. You won’t find anyone dissing disco here, and even fewer folks intent on simply listening to music and being content to sit still. Figure this is a fun bunch with party as the purpose.
Dates: February 7-11, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Cozumel
While Yes is the primary draw, Cruise to the Edge is also a prog lover’s dream, featuring a line-up that’s mostly obscure to all but the most devoted devotee. Kansas, Steve Hackett, Mike Portnoy and John Wetton are among the featured headliners, but most of the names are even less known than that. Naturally, this cruise attracts a higher than usual group of music nerds, most of whom prefer their music with an ample dose of mellotron and synths. Still, there are plenty of people who simply want to relive the good old days when experimentation was in vogue, lyrics basked in cosmic profundity, and incense and lava laps for a dorm room mantra. Yes fans find it difficult to say no to those memories
Dates: February 10-15, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Belize and Costa Maya
We’re tempted to call this grandaddy of them all, but given a collection of cool artists that includes Sister Hazel (the originator of the cruise and still its main attraction), Stephen Kellogg, Ben Rector, Gaelic Storm, Carbon Leaf, Better Than Ezra, Green River Ordinance etc., a generally younger demographic belies that impression. Then again, some of these acts aren’t exactly rookies themselves. Regardless, the emphasis is on a rowdier experience and given the fact that almost 20 years ago, this was one of the music cruise industry’s maiden voyages, it deserves due homage for launching the concept into motion.
Dates: February 26-March 2, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Cozumel
The rowdy offspring of the Cayamo Cruise, the Outlaw Cruise is only a year old, but already attracting much the same buzz. Here again, the list of participating artists is first rate, much of them known for their rowdier reputations—Lucinda Williams, Blackberry Smoke, Joe Ely, Wanda Jackson, The Mavericks, Steve Earle, Billy Joe Shaver, the Old 97’s chief among them. Even without noting that niche, this bunch is top notch in Americana realms, and any distinction as far as outlaw, southern rock or bad boy bluster becomes a moot point. The crowd may be rowdier and the music less restrained, but then again, isn’t the purpose of a cruise simply an excuse to party?
Dates: February 6-10, 2017
Locations: Tampa to Costa Maya
Its unwieldy handle aside, making Joe Bonamassa the headline attraction and placing Gregg Allman as his second in command makes for a wise marketing move. There are plenty of blues cruises (Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise chief among them), but this particular outing promises a younger, hipper vibe thanks to artists like Joanne Shaw Taylor, Nicki Bluhm, Beth Hart and Anders Osborne. Rumor has it that cabins have become increasingly hard to find, which means if you’re interested, now is the time to get on board.
Dates: February 27-March 4, 2017
Locations: Fort Lauderdale to Jamaica and Grand Cayman
There’s no better collection of ‘60s survivors than those found on the Flower Power Cruise. Sure, the name is a bit hokey, but the legends in the line-up—Mickey Dolenz, Eric Burden, Spencer Davis, The Yardbirds, The 5th Dimension, The Zombies, Vanilla Fudge The Lovin’ Spoonful, and more—take this up a notch in terms of pure nostalgia. Even though many of these bands boast only a handful of survivors from their original line-ups, only the purists really care. The music’s all that matters, and for those who like the concept of a floating oldies radio station at sea, the Flower Power cruise will fulfill that desire.