Over the last eight years, Holy Ship! has established itself as one of the premiere parties on the seas. The cruise ship festival has drawn thousands time and time again for a raucous time on the high seas. But in 2020, the festival remained on shores for the first time in its young history. Rebranded Holy Ship! Wrecked, the latest iteration left the cruise format behind in favor of setting up shop at the Hard Rock Resort & Casino in Punta Cana, directly on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic.
The big question heading into the festivities was clear: How would new digs at the Hard Rock compare to the proven successes of the cruise? In short, Holy Ship! Wrecked maintained their brand ethos while improving nearly every amenity the ship had to offer.
First things first, the Hard Rock resort is nothing short of immaculate. The grounds stretch in from the pristine beach for acres and acres, with everything from a golf course to a spa available to guests. Staff at the resort maintained staunch standards of courtesy and service, even when ravers ordered food at 4 am smelling like booze and sweat. Waiters perused the dance floors taking drink orders, a dangerously sweet convenience that contributed to many hectic nights.
Picking long time ship-goers’ brains proffered two main areas of approval of Hard Rock versus its seafaring precursor. First, the cruise’s relatively small room size was traded in for spacious suites complete with patios and hot tubs. Many attendees said in past years they tolerated the cruise bedrooms, but now they thoroughly enjoyed their accommodations. Second, Hard Rock’s wide variety of excellent quality food was a big step up from previous years. The all-inclusive ticket meant untapped access to droves of delicious food, a hugely important feature when dancing the days and nights away.
There was also emphatic satisfaction with many artists delivering multiple sets over the four-day experience. One of the biggest problems at festivals is the fear of missing out (FOMO) that comes with making the tough call between two favorite acts playing at the same time. Fortunately, artists’ sets were amply nuanced from day to day, making the lineup feel even deeper than it was. If you loved Jai Wolf’s The Cure To Loneliness set on the main stage, but not enough to opt into an identical performance twice in one week, you could find him doing a drastically different DJ set by the pool later on.
Throughout the festival, the tone was definitively set on a party mentality. The house-heavy lineup kept the mood light and the feet shuffling throughout, while the headbangers got their fair share of bass and trap DJs as well. A few artists with deting styles were sprinkled in to give a reprieve from the four-on-the-floor rhythms, including the live instrumentation and singing of Big Wild and Madeon’s resplendent DJ set. Lane 8‘s Brightest Lights set at the main stage was another highlight on the week, a wildly successful performance ahead of his promising tour.
Holy Ship! Wrecked featured seven stages around the grounds, each with a distinct feel to them. During the day, the Pool and Beach Stages were popular options, especially for the pristinely singular sunset performances (i.e., Chris Lake’s sublime sunset showing). As night settled in, shows moved to the Main Stage in the center of the facilities. The Main Stage wasn’t the massive spectacle synonymous with some of the world’s elite destination festivals, but was a great place to get the night started with its solid lights, visuals, and A-level sound system.
After midnight, shows moved inside to the four venues—Club Oro, The Theater, The Hive, Moon Bar—which dramatically varied in quality. The clear frontrunner of this bunch was Club Oro, a true club setting ideal for late night, sweaty dance parties, which the likes of Diplo and Gorgon City swimmingly supplied.
On first entering The Theater, the seats and grandiose pictures of rock stars on the wall gave an impression of a stage constructed for a much older, calmer crowd. However, the top-notch lasers and just-big-enough dance floor made it one of best atmospheres at the festival.
To get to The Theater, attendees had to walk through the most makeshift stage at the event. The Hive was a carpeted room with low ceilings and an absurd amount of reverb. It looked out of place, and frankly detracted from many artist’s performances. Yung Bae (whose sunset set was one of the highlights of the trip) had his set severely hampered by The Hive. Nothing he played in the space sounded quite right, but there was little he could change given the setting. Against all odds, some artists were able to get The Hive rocking. Most notably, Whipped Cream’s trap set ignited the weary room, a rare feat and a huge credit to her DJing prowess.
The strangest thing about these three stages was that the only entry points to them were through an empty casino, which was open to the general public. People talk about the magic that festivals can provide, but a very quick way to kill that feeling is by walking through a well-lit casino while a handful of locals scattered about play slots.
The final stage, entitled the Moon Bar, was separate from the other stages entirely. It was a pleasant-enough space, but for some reason it was never conducive to a good dancing atmosphere. Maybe it was its isolation from the other stages, or maybe it was passersby watching you dance through a window. It was common to see an audience of only around a dozen people in the Moon Bar during peak hours of the night.
All in all, Holy Ship! Wrecked capitalizes on an ideal amount of sensationalism. You’d be hard-pressed to find another festival who goes balls-to-the-wall with such style. However, if you’re looking for a high-in-the-sky level of full-bodied curation and artistic poise in an event, it might not be worth the high ticket prices to you. However, if you’re looking to splurge on one of the best vacations and dance parties out there, Holy Ship! Wrecked delivers.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Jane O’Connor for Insomniac