Have you ever danced, barefoot, for 12 hours on a private island in Belize while some of the world’s most famous DJs serenaded you beneath an oceanside sunrise? Or exited a quick trip to the bathroom to find the previously vacant hallway roaring with live music and a crowd of dance music fanatics? Or stumbled upon a group of cruise-goers using strap-ons as paint brushes to decorate blank canvases? If not, then you obviously haven’t experienced The FriendShip cruise.
What’s The FriendShip cruise?
The FriendShip festival is an EDM festival at sea that set sail for the first time in 2018, spearheaded by legendary EDM and festival promoter Gary Richards, who also produces music and performs under his house music alias, Destructo. Before The FriendShip, Richards also hosted the Holy Ship! cruise festival for five years — this is where the backbone of The FriendShip festival was built. In 2024, The FriendShip festival took place on its biggest ship yet: the Norwegian Joy.
The FriendShip cruise: A crowd coming together
With a musical lineup that consisted of electronic dance music DJs from all sub-genres under the EDM umbrella, you might expect the crowd to maintain a steady demographic of 20-something party animals, but that was far from the case. In fact, one 82-year-old attendee named Janet, who was celebrating her seventh FriendShip cruise, showed no signs of slowing down any time soon. “Everybody loves everybody on this ship,” Janet said. “I’ve been coming to FriendShip since 2016, and it really is just one big family.”
She’s got a point: The FriendShip experience was one of genuine community and neighborly joy. It felt like a close-knit crowd, all connected by a love for dance music culture unmatched at any festival I’ve ever been to. Considering I’ve attended over 20 music festivals since 2021, including events like Hulaween and EDC Orlando, that’s no small accomplishment.
This wasn’t just a feeling — it was a deliberate action. The captain announced daily musical line-ups by artists’ first name; “Gary and Jimmy will be playing a surprise set in the atrium at 4:30 PM today,” he said on the fifth day at sea, referring to Destructo (The FriendShip’s founder and driving force, who’s also a famous house DJ), and Bob Moses (who is Grammy-nominated and has sold out shows across the globe). “Did you see Sonny’s set on the beach last night? It was insane!” one exuberant fan beamed, referring to Skrillex’s (who was also nominated for a Grammy last year) magnificent 2:00 AM performance in Belize.
Several times throughout The FriendShip’s five-day voyage, I ran into headliners in the elevator, at restaurants, and in the hallways. In every instance, they seemed more like friends than performers. The hierarchical energy that often accompanies the fan-artist relationship is completely broken down when you see your favorite artist dancing with two left feet on the top deck just like everyone else. Rarely did I see an artist get hassled for a picture or autograph, but I did see several artists turning long-time fans into new friends.
If you’re looking to discover a deeper, more authentic connection to your favorite artists, and be a part of an unapologetically passionate group of music lovers, make The FriendShip your next festival.
The Norwegian Joy: a festival playground
Of course, the most obvious aspect of The FriendShip that sets this event apart from all other music festivals, is the fact that it takes place on a massive cruise ship: the Norwegian Joy.
Cruise connoisseurs know that Norwegian sets the standard for fun-loving cruise experiences. The Norwegian Joy is not the most luxurious cruise ship out there, nor is it the biggest. But is it the most fun? I’d say so.
Have you ever gone go-karting in the middle of the ocean? On the Norwegian Joy, you can. You can also take part in a game of laser tag which, in this case, was filled with full-grown and slightly tipsy adults.
The amenities don’t stop there: stageside hot tubs, art galleries, a massive casino with 310 slot machines, waterslides, etc. This ship has it all.
As is the case on most cruise ships, there were plenty of dining options, from a casual buffet to an expensive steakhouse. But, given the endless festivities and musical performances happening around the clock, there was much less emphasis put on the dining experience than during a traditional cruise.
That doesn’t mean the food wasn’t good — far from it. The Norwegian Joy’s complimentary restaurants, mainly Savor and Taste, were standard as far as cruise cuisine goes, and included fantastic dishes like Cajan shrimp and home fried chicken. And if you wanted something more up-scale, the Teppanyaki, a hibachi-style Japanese restaurant, and Ocean Blue, which primarily served seafood dishes, were great options. No matter where you ate, though, it was almost impossible to avoid party-loving passengers passing by, showing off silly outfits and dancing with their friends.
The rest of the ship was completely transformed to accommodate the ongoing musical performances. There were four official stages: Friendzone, Spice H2O, Theater, and Q.
This was the mainstage, located on the main pool deck and featuring the festival’s largest headliners, including Dog Blood (Skrillex and Boys Noize) — their first live appearance since 2019 — and Chris Lake. Featuring the grandest production of the weekend, the Friendzone stage sported massive LED displays and a fantastic sound system more than capable of handling the extreme lows of FriendShip’s bass-heavy lineup. Additionally, one of the pools was covered with turf to expand the dancefloor, and a hot tub was converted to house the live sound engineers and visual teams.
The only other outdoor stage, Spice H20 was located at the front of the ship, flanking a massive hot tub (which, presumably for safety reasons, was shut down after sunset) and multiple bars, converting this relatively subtle relaxation space into a booming outdoor nightclub.
This is traditionally where the cruise might hold theatrical performances and plays, but on The FriendShip, it was a space entirely dedicated to music (aside from Dita Von Teese’s immaculate Ship Teese performance.)
The Theater was a great place to spend the late nights, because the lineup was always fantastic, and there was ample room to sit down after a long day. Thankfully, there was also plenty of room to dance, if your legs could handle it. This stage felt like the most traditional concert experience.
When I found out that the Q venue usually functions as a Texas steakhouse, I was shocked. Nothing about this space on The FriendShip resembled a restaurant, aside from a handful of booths. By simply removing the dining tables and adding a formal stage, The FriendShip transformed Q into a dance haven for late-night club vibes.
24 hours in Belize
The main attraction of the FriendShip experience was a 24-hour island party in Belize, which exceeded all my expectations.
During the day, Norwegian Cruise Line hosted a massive pool party on Harvest Caye, their private island in Belize, which featured a long list of special guest performers catering the day’s soundtrack. But, if you wanted a break from the music, there were plenty of other activities to indulge in, including zip lining and jet skiing. Plus, the massive beach area was open all day, which allowed for lounging by the ocean and swimming under the sun. Traditional beach activities like volleyball and tug of war were also a fun way to spend the day if you wanted.
Around 4:00 PM, Chirs Lorenzo opened the Beach Stage, and the real party began. For the next 15 hours, a myriad of artists including Bob Moses, Chris Lake, Skrillex, and Destructo took center stage and lit up the dance floor with classic dance hits, house music, and an explosive laser and light show that illuminated palm trees across the whole island.
Skrillex is arguably the most influential dubstep DJ of this generation, and experiencing his two-hour performance on a private island with your feet in the warm sand, was a remarkable experience.
Skrillex is a tough act to follow, but Destructo managed to keep the energy up until the early morning, delivering one of his now-iconic Sunrise Sermons, which featured a three-plus-hour set that explored house music’s most admirable qualities and celebrated the communal nature of dance music.
Attendees were encouraged to wear all-white outfits, and for the most part, that’s exactly what they did. Destructo’s performance was proof that dance music can indeed be a spiritual experience, given the right environment, and the right people.
“Being on the island watching the sunrise with all my friends was magical,” Destructo said in a celebratory Instagram post. “This may have been my favorite event I have ever produced… words cannot describe this last FriendShip.”