The ShipRocked Cruise celebrated its 10-year-anniversary this year. The cruise set sail from Galveston, Texas and made stops in Cozumel, Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula aboard the Carnival Valor.
The lineup for this cruise included rock and metal bands such as Papa Roach, Bullet For My Valentine, Sevendust, hardcore band Suicidal Tendencies and many more. During the five-day music extravaganza at sea, we caught up with the mastermind behind ShipRocked, Alan Koenig.
On the first night of the cruise, while you were onstage, you said that if anyone told you that you would be doing this 10 years later you would have been surprised. Why is that?
I don’t think I would have envisioned it becoming what it has become, that’s what I meant. I’m surprised that it has become this incredible thing and that has more to do with the guests that come than what we do.
It’s true – I rent a boat and I throw a booze cruise with a bunch of bands on it. The guests have really turned it into this incredible family of people. They’ve helped to create this atmosphere and this vibe, we nurture that. I work really hard to respect that it’s their vacation at the end of the day.
We do everything we can to make it as enjoyable and stress free as can be and as fun as can be whether that’s branding or mixing up ports and ships and lineups. We’re always trying to come up with fun, new different things so it’s not the same every year. The lineup will change, that’s fine but we don’t ever want it to ever get stale.
What made you decide to sail from New Orleans next year?
It really had to do with the ship more than anything. There’s only a certain number of ships that can handle an event like this whether it’s the logistics of all the concerts and the bands and the staging, the size, in terms of the number of guests that we have. These limited number of ships move around and this particular class and size of ship on Carnival, there’s four or five, and they move departure cities.
So when we were looking at [ShipRocked] 2020 – I have to book early now because the cruise line industry is doing very well – this ship [the Carnival Valor] just happened to be in New Orleans. We’re pretty sure our guests would love to leave out of New Orleans.
Who would you want to see play ShipRocked that hasn’t played before?
A lot. [Laughs] There are several bands that I know the guests want to see that we haven’t been able to get on board yet for a variety of reasons. Some of the guests don’t understand the budget sometimes and how it changes from year to year or have a concept of what bands may cost for an event like this versus a regular show versus a festival.
As far as some personal favorites, I like a lot of music. I really like the new Bring Me the Horizon stuff, I think their songs are amazing. Some newer stuff, I’m a huge Nothing but Thieves fan, I like Royal Blood, there’s a lot of cool music coming out of Europe and the U.K. especially.
I listen to a lot of stuff. I’ll go for months where I just listen to old school hip-hop or classic metal. I’m stoked every year when we have the lineups, I always try to put one [band] in for me. This year ’68 was probably for me, Hyro the Hero – I knew fans would love Royal Thunder. I say these bands are for me but it’s really artists I enjoy that the guests may not know about but this gives a lot of those bands an intimate but very loyal and active music audience.
What are some reoccurring bands ShipRocked fans have asked you to have on board or that you have seen on surveys?
There are a few bands at the top of the surveys that are too expensive for the budget. Some realistic ones that are at the top of fans lists – Volbeat is a big one, I would love to see them on here too. They take every January off in their cycle, so for the most part that’s been the reason we haven’t had them.
All the big festival headliners are in the survey, many we’ve had and some we haven’t – sometimes it’s a schedule thing, sometimes they’re just not ready to do a cruise yet. It’s a different experience. It took us three years to get Papa Roach, we made them offers for a number of years before we got them onboard.
Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson is no stranger to ShipRocked. He and the band will launch the first MegaCruise — do you have any advice for him and the rest of Megadeth?
We’ve known Dave for a long time. They have a band and a brand that their fans can rally around. My advice would be for them to do everything they can to respect their audience which I know they do. We love Dave and we know how much Megadeth loves their fans. I wish them the best of luck and hope it goes well for them. My other piece of advice would be to have fun with it.
Is there any advice you wish you had when you started ShipRocked 10 years ago?
I wish someone would have told me “You can’t please everybody,” that’s a big one. With an event of this nature, you’ve got people with different needs and opinions. We do our best to create an experience for everyone and caters to everyone beyond the music whether it’s a VIP program or a loyalty program, everything from food operations and merchandise and making sure we have the right sizes.
When I first started out it was just me and a bunch of friends that helped volunteer and I worked really hard to try to please everyone all the time and I was really hard on myself about mistakes and learning as we made the mistakes. I had to understand that I can’t control everything and I can’t please everybody all the time but it doesn’t mean we won’t try.
What does 2019 have for you? Do you have any more cruises or events up your sleeve?
We have the Crimson Tide sports cruise out of Mobile, Alabama and it’s basically a big pep rally at sea. We have a bunch of fun activities and events planned with all the players. There’s music and comedy and inspirational speeches happening and charity stuff on that cruise too.
Beyond that we’ll start planning the next ShipRocked. The 2020 cruise is of course out of New Orleans from Feb. 1-6, and we have already started planning. We plan these out over a year in advance. We don’t have a lineup yet obviously but that will be a big part about what happens over the next several months.
Once we pull the lineup together we’ll start working on activities, events and theme nights. We’re doing it during the Super Bowl on the next ship so that’ll be fun. We’re very lucky we’ve had 50 to 65 percent return rate over the years. We approach every cruise as if it’s the first year, we know it’s not and we know we have a loyal group of people who return. We just try to make it bigger and better every year.