Ever wanted to play shuffleboard with Rivers Cuomo? Eat pancakes with Fucked Up? Limbo with Fatboy Slim? How about a casino night with Cannibal Corpse?

Those sound like wishful music fantasies, but such things are getting less and less rare as niche music cruises further colonize the open waters between Florida and the Caribbean with loud electric guitars, tattoos, and more young partiers than you can feed with an all-you-can eat shrimp buffet.

As of today you can consider rock and roll cruise season officially underway as the first annual Weezer Cruise sets sail from Miami to Cozumel, taking with it a boatful of alt-rock enthusiasts and a boatful of bands to satisfy what flip cup tournaments and 24 hour room service can’t. Along with bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, The Antlers and Wavves (how appropriate), Weezer takes over a carnival cruise ship until January 23, staging shows between land and sea and entertaining visitors in the spaces in between.

It seems like the kind of stunt Weezer have been pulling throughout their career, and especially since money and power have allowed them to live the unabashed celebrity lifestyle they ironically aspired to in the ‘90s. But Weezer can hardly lay claim to the concept. Between the beginning of January and the end of March, no less than 15 music cruises will embark – everything from Holy Ship! (electronic and dance) to the all-too-accurately named Jam Cruise (jam bands).

Once the exclusive domain of people of a certain age—not to mention people of a certain income—vacation cruises have proved a viable format for music fans, who tend to skew young.

Nowhere does this seem more true than on the Bruise Cruise, a debauchery-filled boat tour featuring a smattering of heavily-tattooed punk and garage rock bands—the types you would usually find goofing on copies of Vice Magazine, not belting Sinatra karaoke. This year’s sophomore edition, which runs from February 10 to 13, features a party-starting group that includes King Khan & The Shrines, The Dirtbombs, Thee Oh Sees (again, how appropriate) and Fucked Up, whose lead singer Damian Abraham is acting as the official “cruise director,” a role he’ll likely relish with his usual hammy, bare (or bear?)-chested aplomb.

“Music cruises have been going on for a long time, but never with this young an audience,” co-founder Michelle Cable tells AUX. “The biggest problem is that people aren’t going on vacation because they can’t afford it. So that was a big thing for us, making it as inexpensive as possible, and making sure that the people who paid for it got everything they paid for and more.”

The price is still steeper than most young music fans are used to spending—rates started at $599 plus substantial taxes for the Weezer Cruise, for instance—but they tend to make up for it in typical cruise-style amenities. Sure, it’s a bit to see a deck full of Ty Segall fans engrossed in a game of bingo, but it makes more sense when you consider they’re also being treated to an open bar.

Beyond the booze, food and activities, there’s also the up-close-and-personal experience of being holed up at sea with the rock stars you paid to see play. Considering most big music festivals tend to separate the unwashed tent-dwelling portapotty-shitting masses from the industry-schmoozing celebrity-chef-fed elite by coloured bracelets, it’s a treat to be put on the same level. In that way, it less follows the formula of your average cruise ship than it does the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, where music geeks can shoot hoops with Thurston Moore and lose to Steve Albini at poker.

Transposing that experience to water assumes a level of irony, especially when you consider the fun-loving, gimmick-inclined personalities of Rivers Cuomo and Damian Abraham, but something like the metal cruise, 70,000 Tons of Metal, couldn’t be more straight-faced. The environment might be unusual, but it’s still a sea of black-shirted headbangers. When’s the last time you heard of an ironic metal-head?

There may be a novelty factor at play, but many promoters are treating cruise ships as a bold new venue for niche festivals. And if Coachella’s new two-identical-weekend approach doesn’t work for it then who knows, maybe it’ll spread to the big ones.

PHOTO: 2011′s Bruise Cruise leaving port. By Rebecca Smeyne, courtesy of Bruise Cruise.

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