A sold-out music festival aboard a Norwegian cruise ship is set to sail later this year

rock boat
The Rock Boat cruise in 2020.

  • Sixthman’s Rock Boat music festival aboard a Norwegian cruise ship will sail in November.
  • Like Sixthman’s other upcoming “festivals at sea,” the five-day Rock Boat XXI is sold out.
  • The cruise will take passengers from Miami to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the US, cruise trips and music festivals have been nowhere to be seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, one company, Sixthman, is looking to bring both back by November in the form of a rock music festival aboard a Norwegian cruise ship.

Sixthman specializes in “festivals at sea.” This includes the Rock Boat, an annual themed “floating music festival.” In years past, artists like Brandi Carlile, the Plain White T’s, and the Zac Brown Band have graced the cruise’s stage. This year, the festival’s 21st trip – which will sail with a “classic video game” theme – will include artists like Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Switchfoot, and American Authors.

Read more: COVID-19 has created a once-in-a-lifetime crisis for Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but after surviving hijackings and shipwrecks, the industry looks unsinkable

The idea of attending a music festival aboard a crowded cruise ship may still seem difficult for some people to digest. However, not everyone’s been feeling this hesitancy: the Rock Boat XXI, set for early November, is already sold out.

Cruising logistics

The Rock Boat festival on a cruise in 2016
The Rock Boat in 2016.

Prices for the November 7 to 12 cruise range between $695 to $9,451 per person depending on the room’s size and the number of occupants.

Like any normal cruise, the Rock Boat will bring its passengers from Miami to locations in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. Sixthman also has the benefit of being a subsidiary of Norwegian. This means the festival gets to sail on the cruise line’s Norwegian Jewel ship, which is full of classic cruising amenities like a spa, swimming pools, a casino, and bars, all accessible to its festival-going passengers.

According to Diaz, Norwegian provides Sixthman with the support needed to turn a cruise ship into a music festival venue.

rock boat
A previous Rock Boat cruise.

“This ship will sail with maybe 2,200 or 2,300 rock boater, but there’s another 1,000 Norwegian crew members that are there to serve the guests, and they embrace these concepts with us,” Anthony Diaz, CEO of Sixthman, told Insider in an interview.

Operating under Norwegian also means the five-day music festival will have to follow the cruise line’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Right now, this means health screenings, improved air filtration and sanitation, and “responsible social distancing.” But by November, these protocols could look different.

“We won’t jeopardize the experience,” Diaz said. “We will adhere to the protocols in place when it’s time to sail, and … if those inhibit the experience we feel is best for not just Rock Boaters, but all Sixthman events, then we’ll make decisions based on that.”

Rock Boaters are eager to cruise again

rock boat
The Rock Boat cruise in 2020.

In the past few months, pent-up demand for travel has led cruise lines to see record-setting bookings days and sold-out cruises. This year’s Rock Boat falls right in line with this pattern of cruising popularity: the trip officially sold out on March 3 after pre-sales launched in February 2020, and public sales began late August.

In years past, the festival has sold out through pre-sales alone. But in 2020, the company had to face an obvious disruptor.

“We were probably on trend to sell out just as quickly this year, so had the pandemic not happened, it probably would’ve been another quick sellout,” Jen Wedick, creative manager of Sixthman told Insider in an interview.

Much of this popularity stems from its loyal customers, which typically range between 35 to 60 years old. About 80% of passengers on this upcoming cruise have previously attended a Rock Boat festival.

“This Rock Boat community has been together for 20 years, so they’re just as interested in going to see each other,” Wedick said. “When we’re on land from year-to-year, they’re together every weekend at shows and their little regional pockets. So the fact they haven’t had that for a year, they want to all see each other as much as the event itself.”

It’s not just guests: artists also look forward to the cruise

rock boat
This year’s Rock Boat lineup.

The festival normally sails in January but was inevitably pushed back to November due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, when conversations around rescheduling first began, there was “zero hesitation [from artists] about postponing because they’ve come to appreciate the value of these types of events,” Diaz said.

Like the cruise’s guests, Rock Boat’s artist retention rate is high. According to Wedick, this is because the festival allows artists and fans to connect with each other in a way that can’t be done with “concerts at home.”

“[Guests] really get immersed in the world of the artist,” Diaz said. “The artist forms tighter bonds with the guests, the guests form incredibly tight bonds with each other, and then even the other artists are in bonds with the other artists,”

Sixthman’s events have generally been selling “well”

A previous Rock Boat cruise
The Rock Boat cruise in 2020.

Sixthman’s niche of “festivals at sea” spans past the Rock Boat’s rocking theme. The company’s 2021 sailings currently cross a wide variety of industries, from “Chris Jericho’s Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea: Triple Whammy” wrestling cruise, to the “Kiss Kruise X” featuring Kiss, to a Broadway cruise.

The obvious common denominator between all of these events is the cruising aspect. As a result, its business was obviously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ultimately halted cruises around the world.

“In the midst of the worst part of the pandemic in May, June, and July of last year, we moved events forward, put them back on sale, let people get refunds should they choose, and then sold most of them out again,” Diaz said. “Then we realized, ‘okay, we have a business, it’s just going to take a year off.'”

So far, this initial realization has been correct. Like the Rock Boat, bookings for the company’s events are currently strong, with sailings either selling out or selling “well,” Diaz said.

“We’re really ready and craving to get back out there, whatever ‘out there’ means,” Diaz said. “Our guests want to get back out together at sea on vacation.”

Are you a cruise industry employee or have a cruise industry story to share? Contact this reporter at bchang@insider.com.

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