Groove Cruise founder Jason Beukema dropped by ahead of the upcoming Cabo sail to preview the party at sea that also gives back.
If you speak with Jason Beukema for a few minutes about his “babies” (Groove Cruise, Sharpen traveland Whet Foundation), we challenge you not to get carried away by his enthusiasm. His passion is contagious and is probably a big part of what made the Groove Cruise brand what it is today. Not only is her longtime mark on the scene known for her incredible parties, themes, and destinations, but she also uses all that energy to do good. In the words of Jason Beukema, “We want to leave the communities we visit in a better place than where we found them”.
Besides the annual editions of Groove Cruise, Jason Beukema has also devoted himself to charity with the Whet Foundation, which has so many initiatives that we couldn’t touch on them all when we sat down to chat with him. It’s an incredible feat – to be an effective festival organizer who spends more time figuring out how to give back than how to put more money in your pocket. Again, shouldn’t this be part of the PLUR philosophy that festival-goers claim to live by? Groove Cruise makes it easier for partygoers to give back without understanding the “how” of those efforts.
Beyond the philanthropy, Groove Cruises are wild parties with endless activities from the moment you board the ship until you disembark at your home port. Jason Beukema books bold headliners to deliver beautiful beats on the high seas, like Claude VonStroke, Marcus Schulz, John Summit, Gareth Emeryand Blond: rather, to name a few. Plus, cruise passengers visit many beautiful port cities, can participate in off-ship activities and parties, and have 24/7 access to meals, drinks, and snacks.
Before Groove Cruise Cabo’s next embarkation, we caught up with the mastermind behind it all for a quality chat. Read on for the full interview with Jason Beukema, and once again, we dare you not to get carried away by his enthusiasm!
Hi Jason, thanks for sitting with us today. Many people know the Groove Cruise brand but not the Whet Travel and Whet Foundation brands. What are each of these and how are they all related?
Whet Travel is the parent company, and sharpen means “to excite or simulate”. “We excite people’s lives”, and that’s our slogan. I started Whet Travel and the Groove Cruise sub-brand at the same time, almost 19 years ago, and Whet Travel organizes festivals and corporate events on cruise ships. We charter cruise ships from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity, Princess and MSC and turn them into a unique experience for the community we target.
We did a lot of musical themes, including electronic music (Groove Cruise), rock, heavy metal and country. There is also an upcoming board game cruise and a dental hygienist continuing education cruise called Smiles At Sea. We bring like-minded people together on a cruise to share their passion and lifestyle.
You have several Groove cruises coming up. How are each of these elements similar and different?
Groove Cruise has been sailing continuously from Miami and the South Florida area since 2004. We have also been sailing from the West Coast since 2015, but not every year. The most important differences are ports and destinations.
For example, we have Groove Cruise Cabo in October, departing from Los Angeles. We also did Catalina Island and Sonata from there. From South Florida we sailed to the Bahamas, Cozumel, Mexico, Costa Maya, Mexico and Jamaica. Our next one arrives in January and sails to Labadee, a private peninsula in Haiti. It’s my favorite cruise destination and I’ve been on over 145 cruises! It’s absolutely beautiful.
And then, in terms of the onboard experience, it’s pretty similar for every Groove Cruise, and the types of people who go there are very similar.
You mentioned October’s Groove Cruise Cabo from Los Angeles. This cruise includes several initiatives of the Whet Foundation. Tell us a bit about those particular initiatives.
I started Whet Foundation 10 years ago, and it was truly a labor of love. It is a 501(c)3, which means it is a legitimate, tax-exempt organization that is not owned by anyone. I don’t own it. Yes, I launched it, but it belongs to the public, if you will. Finances are all transparent, which is important to me. We used to work with outside groups, but I wasn’t sure the money was actually getting to the kids and families who needed it, so I started the Whet Foundation to oversee that.
The Whet Foundation component of Groove Cruise is called Destination Donation, and in Cabo we work with a local orphanage. We ask them what they need, then ask everyone on the cruise to bring things like used cell phones, iPads, clothes, school supplies, and books. Between 50 and 100 volunteers will then participate in bringing these items to the children. We will also cook for them, play games and maybe do an art project with them.
A group needs a new refrigerator, so we buy them a commercial refrigerator. Another needs to build a house for a single mother, so we are trying to buy all the materials for them to build this house. We want to leave the communities we visit in a better place than we found them. And our favorite part is that when the post-cruise polls come back, those who made the destination giveaway rate it as their most memorable experience!
We understand that this cruise will visit the Solmar Foundation and Heart4Cabo to serve breakfast and interact with local children. How did you select these programs and what can participants expect from these visits?
The current facility is Casa Hogar, which is the orphanage we are visiting. Heart4Cabo is an important partner, and they are made up of DJs, so we really connect with them. Participants who volunteer receive free transportation and priority departure from the ship. We all go to the orphanage and participate in activities with the children. At the end of the day, they are bussed back to the Groove Cruise party and reunite with the rest of the attendees for the night. It’s quite an amazing day to experience!
There’s also a mental health initiative, isn’t there?
Yes. Every human being has faced mental health issues at some point, and for me that was at the start of COVID. I was watching my baby, these cruise events, die overnight. I was depressed and didn’t know what to do. These issues are close to home, with my sister-in-law speaking publicly about her issues and even having spent a few months in an institution. Last January, our production manager Groove Cruise committed suicide. So it was very personal.
After working on my own needs, I came up with a multi-track program. We’re going to have a bunch of artists talking about how they deal with mental health issues, how they deal with being on the road, how they deal with playing hundreds of shows a year, getting in and going out to nightclubs, partying, taking drugs, etc. It’s going to be an open conversation with several artists.
Then we teamed up with When The Music Stops for a suicide prevention track. The founder, Josh Donaldson, has been a total blessing to work with and is a suicide prevention counsellor. He had his very, very difficult personal issues that he dealt with.
If we save someone’s life or help someone have a mind-opening experience that puts them on a different life trajectory, we call it the millimeter rule. That one millimeter change isn’t a big change, but it is a massive change over time. I think we are doing the right thing.
You mention that the destination giveaway is often the most memorable for attendees, and they’re obviously there for the holidays as well. Aside from the incredible music of Green Velvet and Said The Sky, what other activities await you?
During a 5 day cruise there are ten themes, one day and one night. The first thing after boarding the ship is called Represent, so you can show off where you’re from, your heritage, and your favorite sports team – it’s a bit of an icebreaker. Then there are so many other themes like Burlesque & Bowties, Naughty Neon, Mythology & Moonlight, and Flotation Infatuation, to name a few. Whatever activities take place there, people get involved! It’s less awkward than doing it at home because you’re in a judgment-free zone from the time you get dressed to the time you go to bed. You can also change your outfit several times a day because your room is just a few minutes away.
For activities, it’s really cool because we are one of the few places where you can have interaction with the artists. So you can play bingo with Claude VonStroke, do a tequila tasting with Said The Sky, or do a hot pizza challenge with Trivecta.
You have already mentioned recurring ports for Groove Cruise. Do you plan to add more in the future?
There was a Groove Cruise New York in 2009 that went to St. John in New Brunswick, Canada. Part of the challenge with New York is that for a short cruise you can only go there or to Bermuda. And we also did one from Barcelona to Ibiza. We’re still looking at New York and other options like Texas, the Great Lakes or maybe Asia.
Anything else Groove Cruise fans should look forward to in 2023 and beyond?
I’m not skipping West Coast 2023; we’re still seeing if that’s an option. But January 2024 will be the 20th anniversary and the biggest ship we’ve ever built. The most ridiculous beach parties, the craziest lineup, we’ll do it all. We have this partnership with Martian Circus, a 5D experience – they play improvised music for 8-10 hours straight. They bring all that scenery, actors, performers and band members. I don’t know how it will turn out, but it looks cool!
And we are always listening to our captains. They steer the ship and send us ideas. Hey, I saw this at this festival. This is how I’ve been proud to build Groove Cruise over the years, by simply listening to our captains.
One last fun question. What is your favorite food or activity offered on Groove Cruise ships?
Oh, good question! My favorite food is definitely soft serve ice cream. As soon as I board a cruise ship, I don’t know what’s gotten into me because I don’t really eat ice cream, but I head straight for the free ice cream maker, and I get my vanilla chocolate twist. I eat several every day. And for my favorite activity, it is undoubtedly the experience of giving to the Whet Foundation. This one, for sure!
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