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Maritime travel has been uncharacteristically sketchy in 2012.
First, the inaugural Holy Ship! electronic music cruise ran aground in the Bahamas January 7. It took five tugboats nearly 15 hours to drag the MSC Poesia off a sand bar, putting a serious damper on Steve Aoki's poker tournament.
Less than a week after the Holy Ship! ordeal, the Costa Concordia struck a huge rock off the western coast of Italy, opening a 160-foot gash in the ship's hull. Of the more than 4,000 passengers, 25 were killed and seven are still missing.
Yet despite the severity of both incidents, event planners insist on taking the party offshore, especially during Winter Music Conference. "[Yacht parties] are more intimate than being in a nightclub," says Eric Hurlburt, president of Chicago-based Funky Couture Entertainment. "You go on not knowing what to expect. But then you end up meeting everyone on the boat. It's beautiful."
On Wednesday, March 21, Hurlburt will host the Islands Sessions Sunset Yacht Cruise aboard the Kabana Beach. It's the second time he and his company have occupied the 120-foot, 375-passenger party boat, packing the triple-decker to full capacity. "It's great to be on the boat," he says. "The views, the sun setting — those things are very tropical, and we've been blessed. Every time we've gone out, it's been beautiful."
Miami Beach's Jazzy Eyewear is one of the DJs scheduled to perform at this year's Islands Sessions, a party he remembers playing two years ago. "I think a lot of people come with really renewed energy and ready to rock. People that come from the cold weather enjoy the sun, drinking, and partying with friends, and listening to a good lineup of DJs."
However, drinking on a boat can be dangerous. A few years ago, Jazzy was kicking it aboard a private vessel when a guest's excitement level went way overboard. "Oh my God, not the best experience," he says. "This guy decided to jump, and we couldn't find the anchor. So we had to call the rescue patrol to pick up our friend. It was a big lesson for everybody, especially when there's drinking and partying involved."
"Safety is our number one concern," says Capt. James Cho, skipper of the Biscayne Lady. "I leave the [wheelhouse] doors open," he says, "so I can hear what's going on outside — the music, people talking. You'd be surprised how much you find out."
In fact, though, situations like the one Jazzy describes are rare. Most WMC yacht partiers behave themselves. "It's a sunny type of subconscious vibe — cheerful, positive, and uplifting," the DJ admits. "It's happy."
Still, Tikki Beach Charter Corp. president Debbie Dawson takes extra steps to ensure guest safety aboard all of her vessels, including the Tikki and the Kabana. "We normally have an additional three security guards," she says. "Fortunately, we have not had any problems to date. The [WMC crowd] is really happy-go-lucky. They don't really get out of hand. And the European cruisers are more sophisticated."
She admits planning the WMC cruises can be difficult. After ten years, though, she's gotten the hang of it. "They're more work than setting up a wedding. But we've made some packages for the WMC promoters. The way it works now is they're all-inclusive."
For Funky Couture's Eric Hurlburt, that's every yacht partier's wet dream. "C'mon, $100 and five hours of drinking in Miami. You can't beat that, man."