This being my third time on Holy Ship, I have come to expect a certain format, much of which has remained unchanged since the first time I embarked in 2013. That format reeks of familiarity, but much in the way that dinner at your parent’s around the holidays feels like the only right way to spend them. There’s always the familiar faces who you stay in touch with year-round but hardly see except for on the deck of the Divina. There’s the returning favorite artists like Justin Martin and Gorgon City who seem to always relish in the revelry of it all. It’s a format that pleases old-timers and “virgins” alike and keeps bringing back one of the most lively, passionate crew of people you will ever know.

Never was that more evidenced as on this year’s January sailing, which was probably victim to the worst weather of any Holy Ship to date. The first night saw downpours and heavy winds, forcing the organizers to shut down the main stage not long after leaving Miami. Of course, the main event for many (including myself) was the Nightbass stage, which featured some of the best music I have ever seen on any Holy Ship I have attended. Between Bones, Hannah Wants, Gorgon City, Motez, AC Slater and more laying down insane sets, the boat was rocking in more ways than one. Mr. Carmack played a set alongside several of his labelmates in the new “Golden Jazz” stage which many enjoyed and Kaskade pulled out an uncharacteristically energetic 2-hour “Redux” set to close out the evening.

At 8AM on Monday, shippers were polarized on the announcement of the beach day being cancelled, with the virgins seemingly more disappointed than those who had been through the schlep before. The beach sets were moved onto the Pool Stage with a surprise last set by 12th Planet that I think almost everyone would agree was the best in the series.

Probably the most momentous occasion of the ship came at what might’ve been the most unlikely time: 5-8AM on Tuesday morning. Having been one of only two of my friends (and one of a relative total few) that attended last year’s Sermon in January, I was flabberghasted to come onto the pool deck to a full crowd that filled in even more before 6PM and stayed packed until the last beat. Seeing how Gary has brought so many people together through music – through this ship – was really an inspiring sight to see.

Given the early morning, Tuesday was a slow start albeit for some fun games like AC Slater’s Bingo and Valentino Khan’s “Outrageous Games” but really came into its own as the sunset (unfortunately blocked mostly by clouds) received its serenade courtesy Griz, performing a set centered around his latest release Chasing The Golden Hour. Frankly, it was Griz at his finest and I can only hope there is more like this to come. I saw a lot of other good music that last day but my favorite part had to be the last set with Skream, Jackmaster, Curses and just about half the DJ’s on the ship taking turns on the decks, having laughs and reminiscing on the past couple days as we pulled into port.

Holy Ship is an experience that is truly one-of-a-kind, and one that could be never understood fully without attending. Every year I go, there are new experiences to be had, new places to explore, new music to indulge in, new people to meet and that is where the beauty of it really lies. I look forward to my “graduation” next year and to receiving the most expensive but valuable blue robe money can buy.