Maritime travel has been uncharacteristically sketchy in 2012. First, the inaugural Holy Ship electro-cruise ran aground in the Bahamas on January 7. It took five tugboats nearly 15 hours to dislodge the MSC Poesia from land, 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 and opened a 160-foot gash in the ship's hull. Of the over 4,000 people aboard the Italian cruise, 21 casualties were reported and 11 bodies are still missing.
Despite the severity of both incidents, event planners insist on taking the party offshore, especially during the Winter Music Conference.
This year's WMC yacht parties are spread across four vessels--the Biscayne Lady, Floridian Princess, Tikki Beach, and Kabana Beach (formerly Musette). Additionally, private yacht parties and boat bashes will inevitably go down March 16 through March 26.
"[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 Funky Couture Entertainment group have occupied the 120-foot, 375-passenger party boat, utilizing its triple-decker design 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."
Jazzy Eyewear is one of the DJs playing 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 for the cold weather enjoy the sun, drinking and partying with friends, and listening to a good lineup of DJs."
However, drinking and boat partying can be dangerous. A few years ago, Jazzy was aboard a private vessel when one guest's excitement level went a little overboard.
"Oh my god, not the best experience," he says. "One time we were on a private party and this guy decided to jump. We couldn't find the anchor so we had to call the rescue patrol to pick up our friend. It was dangerous--pretty scary, to be honest. It was a big lesson for everybody, especially when there's drinking and partying involved."
"Safety is our number once concern," says Captain 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, situations like the one Jazzy describes are rare, most people aboard WMC yacht parties behave themselves. "It's a sunny-type of subconscious vibe--cheerful, positive, and uplifting. It's happy."
Aboard Kabana Beach, President of Tikki Beach Charter Corp. Debbie Dawson takes extra steps to ensure guest safety as well.
"We normally have an additional three security guards on board," she says. "Fortunately to date, we have not had any problems. The [WMC crowd] is really happy-go-lucky, they don't really get out of hand. And the European cruisers are more sophisticated."
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She admits planning the WMC cruises can be difficult, but after 10-years 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 unbeatable. "$100 and five hours of drinking in Miami, you can't beat that, man."