This was my fourth and final year on Holy Ship. That’s right, I have “graduated” or become an “OG Shipper” now, for whatever it’s worth. I have put my mind and body through a thrilling yet exhausting total of 9 days and 13 nights of music, partying, togetherness and, frankly, bliss. I’ve gotten to experience four different private island parties in the Bahamas. I have made countless new friends throughout those voyages, many of which I can say I am as close with on land as much as on sea. What I am trying to say is that I have had a lot of time to digest this festival, in different settings, with different people and musicians and still have to say that, despite my reluctance to admit how much I may have spent on this cumulative experience, Holy Ship has been one of the most amazing things I have done in my life.

This year was extremely unique in that, for the first time since my first voyage, I was on a completely new ship, leaving out of a new port. The playing field, in several ways, had been leveled for us more experienced shippers and the “virgins.” I was excited. Hell, I was ecstatic. New venues to explore, new rooms to post up in, even new food to consume. There was another day and night. Not that I ever felt I needed it – hell, sometimes I barely made it to the end – but this presented more opportunities to milk this trip until the last drop. This presented the perfect opportunity to close out my Holy Ship experience with a bang.

I decided to pull the trigger, after some reluctance, and as the date approached I started to feel the familiar tingle, perhaps backed with a little unexplainable nervous anticipation this time. Nervous perhaps because I would be saying goodbye to this Ship, because I didn’t know if I would last the extra day/night… Hell I was nervous I might lose my voice before the second day. But I was ready nonetheless.

After a relatively quiet night in Canaveral, which, honestly, was a refreshing change from the Miami pace of life I was used to prior to embarkation, my crew and I stocked up on essentials and headed to the port. Getting onto the boat is never a fun experience and this time was no exception. Cutting the line helped though and we got on board with plenty of time to explore and meet up with others. Initial impressions of the boat were mixed for me, as they remained through most of the trip, but it was exciting to feel like a kid in a new playground.16178946_1264215290283906_6528348496130893728_o

The Music

Since 2015 when HARD Presents first decided to do two ships instead of one, I have never seen such a hot debate over lineups between HS8 and HS9. Many of my friends declared HS9 the more “authentic” lineup – one that featured more of the familiar faces known well to OG Shippers – but I stuck with my decision to be on 8.0, knowing full well that ultimately the music is only one piece of the experience (and, anyways, both lineups were amazing).

Due to scheduling changes, we lost out on Boys Noize (a true shame) but instead got treated to Get Real and, therefore, rounded out the Dirtybird squad with Claude himself and got the added bonus of the forever legendary Green Velvet. I’d never seen Get Real and still have to say that they threw down one of the best sets of the whole ship for me. As did Green Velvet. As did Barclay Crenshaw.

I could go on and on about the music, and those who have been on the ship before know the odd nature of how you bop in between sets, seeing so much music it is hard to keep it all straight. Some of the real standouts for me, though, were:

  • Justin Martin on the beach (with the filthy unreleased Will Clarke Dead Prez remix FTW)
  • A-Trak for BlogHaus night in Headliners (with about every DJ on the ship that wasn’t playing somewhere on stage or in the audience in awe)
  • Point Point on the Pool Deck (who I had been wanting to see for a very long time)
  • Joyryde in the Manhattan (I’ve never sweat so much)
  • Anything I saw on SpiceH20, that amphitheater was amazing (but specifically Louis the Child, Jonas Rathsman and Jai Wolf)
  • NVOY closing out the ship in the Bliss

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The Norwegian Epic

Everyone seemed to have differing opinions on the new ship and I can’t claim my opinions represent a consensus. I think, just like the music, it’s important to remember that the ship is just another single component to the overall experience, and ultimately I think the people and the vibes make up the largest part of that experience. With that said, here’s my take on the Epic, compared with my 3 years on the Divina:

The good:

  • The food. It was much better IMO, except for the pizza. Also, there were better dining options in general.
  • The SpiceH20 stage. Probably the best stage out of any on either ship of any year I have attended
  • The staff and security. In general they were helpful and friendly, and happy to be there with us.
  • Getting to the island. In all my years, I have never just walked onto a tender and been on the island minutes later. Could have just been my timing, but it was a breeze.

The bad:

  • Pretty much every stage except the SpiceH20. Sorry, but the pool deck and theater were huge downgrades. Having to wait in lines to see sets is not the Holy Ship I know. Packing more people onto a cruise wit
  • Too expensive. The drink ticket booklets were at least 25% more than the Divina and in general, all our bar tabs were a lot more, even after accounting for the extra day and night. Also, my room spot in my triple cost almost $400 more than the same thing last year.
  • Small, poorly laid out roomsThe doubles (and the associated balconies) were simply not big enough and poorly laid out for having multiple in them comfortably. Luckily I had a triple which was a little bigger, but I still found the rooms on the Divina to be superior (plus the bathroom had a door).
Me (left) with my friend Darren celebrating graduation on our last night of 8.0

Me (left) with my friend Darren celebrating graduation on our last night of 8.0

An important note: this is the first year that I didn’t cover the festival for this blog. For my last year, I wanted to be able to enjoy it uninhibited, without feeling the need to experience it for others and rather just experience it for myself. That’s why this post is so late. Ultimately, I’m fortunate to have an outlet like this that gives me an opportunity to reflect on my time aboard the Ship over the past four years. Closing this chapter in my life is bittersweet… I know I will miss being aboard Holy Ship in 2018 and beyond but I’m excited to have the chance to explore other festivals and events and to make new memories elsewhere in the world.

Thank you Gary and HARD Presents for making these past four cruises some of the best times of my life. I will never forget the way Holy Ship made me feel.

To see our whole Holy Ship 9.0 photo album by Feras Fotography, head over to our Facebook page.