Evolution of the Sixthman Awards

Company awards.

They’re always presented with the best intentions, yet they can make people feel left out and unappreciated at the same time. It’s fun to publicly recognize people when they’re awesome. But what does that mean for the people that don’t get recognized that are equally as awesome?

At Sixthman, we’ve gone through a few evolutions of “Values Awards” and have really struggled with ensuring our whole staff feels included, and making sure those who embody our core values are still called out and celebrated. We’re lucky – we have an incredibly driven team of about 45 employees. So how can you single people out when everyone is so great?

Another tough part of the equation is this:  In a company like ours, certain roles are more front & center while others are more behind-the-scenes. It’s tough to develop a peer-voting system where the “front & center” people aren’t the first ones that come to everyone’s mind, even though the work done by the behind-the-scenes crew is just as important – sometimes more.

We needed a balance between two extremes. We didn’t like the idea of settling on an “everybody wins” scenario – it defeated the purpose of meaningful awards altogether. But on the other hand, we didn’t want to host an annual popularity contest either.

That’s when we recognized we needed to make sure the things we awarded people for were qualities that were important to the whole company. It turned out that our old-school company values – the things all of our awards were based on - were pretty outdated, and a lot of newer people in the company didn’t even really understand them. (They're listed in the blue boxes below, if you were wondering.) Our company has grown and changed so much over the past few years – should our values change too? 



So we did it. We decided to change.

First, we realized that recognition didn’t need to be limited to once a year. We now have an entire section of our staff meeting each week, where anyone – not just leaders – can give kudos to their fellow teammates if there’s a reason to publicly celebrate them.

Second, we re-defined our company values. (You can read the full story on that here.) The old ones just didn’t fit us anymore (ironically, using them as our award categories is what tipped us off on that). Instead, we wanted to develop a values statement that accurately described us, but left room for growth and promoted a sense of accountability. 

Then we detached our annual awards from the values completely. In reality, if someone works at a small company like ours where culture fit is a huge part of the hiring process, they probably already embody most of the values to some extent; otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place. This is probably why it was always a bit awkward to pick one person that was the "best" at one particular value when everyone tended to fit into all of the categories in some way. 

Finally, we introduced new award categories. This time, they’re based on skills that are important in our day-to-day office life, on land and at sea:


MacGyver Award:

In a pinch? This person can help solve your problem! They’re known for being resourceful and succeeding in situations when they’re forced to improvise. They can create a solution even when it seems impossible.

Unsung Hero:

This person makes Sixthman look good! They may not be guest-facing 100% of the time, but without them the process would crumble and the ship would not sail. They’re the wind in Sixthman’s sails – you can’t see ‘em, but they’re always pushing us forward.


Eye of the Storm:

When everything goes wrong, you’d better hope to have this person at your side. They’ve got nerves of steel and stay calm even if we hit some rough seas (literally or figuratively). They seem to do their best work under pressure.



Most Left Brained:

Known for problem solving by thinking logically and sequentially, this person is extremely focused, analytical and concise. They lead and make decisions based on facts.



Most Right Brained:

Outside the box thinker. This innovative problem solver is a dreamer and likes to visualize the results they’re working towards. They lead and make decisions based on intuition.


Rookie of the Year:

This staff member has worked at Sixthman for less than one year, but they’re already an expert! You almost forgot they’re new…


Mentor Award:

This salty sailor has at least 50 days at sea, which means they’ve got lots of experience under their belt! They’ll go out of their way to make sure they share what they’ve learned and help others excel. They are happy to show people the ropes!



Which person stands out as the expert at making our guests or staff feel Invited, Informed, Excited, Welcomed, Looked After, Amazed and Appreciated? (Read more about Sixthman SPECIAL.)



This person truly knows what it means to LIVE LOUD. They make the most of every moment and live life to the fullest.


Jack (or Jill) of all Trades:
This category cannot be voted on, but that’s what makes it so cool. This person is so well-rounded, they showed up in the most categories throughout the rest of the award voting.



We vote on these each year just before our summer company retreat (which we happen to call an "Advance" - because we don't retreat, we advance). We use a private online survey, and in the survey we’re also reminded of the person who received the award the year before. This prevents the same people from being chosen for the same categories year after year (which was a rut we’d been in before with earlier incarnations of our awards). We also give each staff member the opportunity to give examples and reasons as to why they’re making each of their choices. Once all votes are tallied, the awards are presented at The Advance, and the current award-holder announces the new recipient and passes off the award. It's more of a peer-to-peer “passing of the torch” rather than one of our leaders dominating the award ceremony. And I use the term "ceremony" very loosely - we try to make the whole thing informal and fun instead of stuffy and boring. 

One more small switch – the awards used to be trophies. Like legit fake-gold-with-marble-base trophies. What on earth do people do with trophies? We downsized to something more practical – a simple pin or button. By doing this, the recipient can wear their award all year on their lanyard while we sail. So if you see a Sixthman crew member roaming around the ship with a pin on their lanyard with any of the above award names on it, now you’ll know why! 

Is this system perfect? Probably not. But it already feels SO much better than it did. We’ll continue to tweak from year to year as we learn and get feedback, just as we do with our events. 

Does your company give awards? Do you like them, or wish you could change things? What are some of the best employee recognition programs or awards that you’ve been a part of, or have heard about?


Love, Family, Rock-n-Roll & Whiskey

Moments that Make Life Rock… a statement or more so call to arms you’ll see a lot in this blog and in your interactions with Sixthman. When the team here strips back all the planning, the lights, stages, speakers, announcement emails, event programs and banners in the terminal and around the ship…what’s most important and what is core to why we exist are the moments we aim to set the stage for…for our guests, artists and partners on board and for our team day in and day out.

During late October about a few years ago on the sixth Simple Man Cruise, our music festival at sea hosted by Lynyrd Skynyrd, I experienced a moment that would change the way I interacted with my family by bringing "moments that make life rock" to me almost on a daily basis.

“If I leave here tomorrow”

It was the last night of the cruise, I popped in the Stardust Theater on our home away from home, Norwegian Pearl, to get a feel for the room knowing it was Skynyrd’s last set of the event. I happened to walk in just as the band was closing out the show and kicking right into Freebird. I stood in the aisle for a bit on the second level – looked all around the room and started heading up the steps towards the exit. As I did, an older guy put his arm around my shoulder and patted me on the back. He had a smoke stained yellow beard, wavy shoulder length hair and a black leather jacket with cool patches all over it. For a  second I thought I had gotten in his sightline of the show and that he was about to let me have it… but his request was much different. He pulled me in (a little closer than I expected) looked me right in the eyes and said, “young man, you need to stay and listen to the rest of this song… it represents love, family, rock-n-roll and whiskey all in one… it’ll change your life son!” Being born in 1971 I’d heard Freebird more times than I could count on rock radio and a few times live so mostly out of respect and partly out of a new found curiosity, I stayed put next to my new friend and focused all my attention on the stage.

“Things just couldn’t even be the same”

I won’t dive into all the details, but suffice it to say… the combination of mind-bending trio of guitar solos, images of the band’s departed frontman Ronnie Van Zant on the back screen, the entire crowd singing every word and yes, the golden eagle statue they wheel out on stage all came together for a ten minute mini-religious experience for me and the 1,000 other cruisers that were also all practically levitating as the last chords and cymbals brought the song to the end everyone hoped would never come.

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now”

Fast-forward to Christmas Eve two months later. My family and I had a great dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. We’d been celebrating the holiday with a few bottles of wine and instead of the usual tradition of letting the kids open one gift the night before the big day… for some reason we hit the basement to jam as a family. Various combinations of us had played down there from time to time and I had been messing with the chords to Freebird since stepping off the ship along with our youngest son on vocals…but in some crazy classic rock Christmas miracle we all settled into an instrument and after a short sound check of sorts (and to teach the bass line to my wife Bridget – who had never picked up a bass), we took the stage to a group of adoring fans (my in-laws, brother-in-law and our 15 year old cat).

“Lord knows I can’t change” 

As you can see by the footage, the song was pretty off key… pretty off beat… pretty much a train wreck and at the same time, pretty much a moment that will last forever for our family. Coming together that night inspired us to make not just listening to music and going to shows a priority, but to make actually playing together an ongoing source of fun and bonding for our family. Rarely does a day go by when any three of us, sometimes more, head to the basement to jam on some 70’s & 80’s favorites (and even some originals these days) all in the spirit of rockin’ out as hard as Skynyrd did that night in the Stardust. We even have our own band name ~Buenos Diaz~ and are working on our own concert t-shirts. ☺

“Won’t you fly high free bird”

So it turns out my friend that night at the show was right… the song really is a bundle of “love, family, rock-n-roll and whiskey (or wine) all in one… it really did in some small way change my life for the better. One of the most rewarding things about being a part of Sixthman is that we get to be with our guests the moment they experience what it is we do. We, along with the bands and fans, get to be a small part of the experience of setting the stage for these moments and more times than not, our guests deliver moments right back at us… and it means the world.

“For I must be travelin’ on now”

So, if there is a song that has special meaning to you, that has shaped your life in a memorable way… please share it and your story below, we’d love to hear it… it’s sure to inspire others as much as it has inspired you. Hope to see you out at sea soon.


–Anthony (anthonydiaz@sixthman.net)

Sixthman's School of Flip Cup

If I can, let’s take a minute to borrow the words of lyricist, Toby Keith, “Red solo cup, I fill you up, let’s have a party.”  Party. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see a red solo cup, followed swiftly by the emotions of determination and sometimes sadness. Let me explain.

Flip Cup at Sixthman = a party. Most of us spend months planning what event to play it on while anticipating the excitement we know will surround it. The competitive spirit of the game just really hooks us. However, it’s more than that. It’s a right of passage, part of our hiring process, like our own initiation ritual. There really is only one rule -YOU MUST FLIP TO WIN.

Our company as a whole abides by this cardinal rule. We play this game so much I don’t even have an accurate count of how many beers have been downed or how many cups have been flipped. Since it’s obvious we fancy ourselves experts, let us give you some tips:

1.     The order of your flip cup lineup is the key to your championship. You need a fast flipper to lead you off and a ringer who can pull out a win every time in the face of pressure.

2.     1/3 of your solo cup should be hanging off the table, just enough for you to put the tip of your finger(s) underneath.

3.     The correct number of fingers to use while flipping is up for debate; it’s a tie between 1 and 2, just don’t use your whole hand.

4.     Stay calm.  Stay focused.  Block out the crowd. Don’t even think about looking at the opposing team, just stay focused on the teammate next to you.  Remember to breathe.

5.     Build your teammates up; don’t get angry, you’ve got to be each other’s cheerleaders. Positive reinforcement is what wins!  Plus, no one likes a jerk.

I mentioned sadness in the beginning because as great as we are both individually and together at flip cup, our Sixthman staff team can’t seem to win a game on board against the artist teams. It’s truly a shame, because let’s get serious, it’s part of our job. Regardless, I can promise you if you follow these 5 simple rules, you’ll be a one-flip wonder in no time!  

“I love you red solo cup, I lift you up, proceed to party!”

The Secret Recipe

Have you ever made a New Year's Resolution, and then actually stuck with it for 6 years? Surprisingly, we have. Kind of. 

This blog post was originally published by Sixthman Founder & Chairman, Andy Levine, in May, 2011. The concept of 'Special' is something we identified and embraced when Sixthman first started growing and doing multiple events per year. We actually STILL stick to this list when planning each and every cruise, and hopefully you can think of examples of where you've seen this concept at work during your time at sea with us.

Enjoy reading (or re-reading) the 'secret recipe,' and may your next Sixthman vacation be slathered in Special Sauce. 


Special Sauce

A few years ago when we were presented with the opportunity to take on more cruises, I noticed some hesitation from a few members of the Sixthman team.

I sensed uncertainty, and as a leader I believe the best thing you can do is sniff it out and figure out a way to make it certain one way or the other.

When I asked one particular person what she was afraid of, she said, “I just want it to stay special.” As I dug in with other people, that seemed to be the biggest concern.

So we got a small group of us together to talk about what “Special” means.

The conversation was about vacations and parties we had attended in our lives, and cool elements we observed that made the event memorable. In less than an hour we identified seven checkpoints that must be present for us to be able to deliver Special on a larger scale.  As long as we could do well in these areas, we could grow as much as we wanted.

So here they are…


We want you to feel genuinely invited. Until we can get the artist to knock on your door and say “I’m throwing a party on a boat, would you like to go?” we intend to find creative, tangible ways to connect with you and invite you authentically. E-mail alone is not acceptable.


There are lots of questions to be answered when it comes to planning a vacation, especially one as unique as ours. Our goal is to provide you with all the information you need at your fingertips. What to wear? When to arrive? What documentation to bring? What’s included? Do I have to be able to swim? How to behave if you end up in an elevator with your favorite artist? Along the way we want the “Cruise to Start Now” by engaging you online and offline to introduce you to artists, other guests and our staff.


Life goes on after you book your vacation and sometimes there are months between the time you reserve your cabin and when we actually pull away from the dock. About 45 days prior to sailing, we want to remind you that life is about to get better and it’s time to focus on what lies ahead. Ideally an item arrives in your mailbox or inbox (or both), but it says it’s time to put your shades on because the future is about to get bright!


As soon as you walk on the ship, we make sure that Sixthman is there to greet you with a smile and a high five so you know we have been expecting you, and are so glad you could make it.

Look After

Our goal on board is to be everywhere you turn. If you need a guide, we’ll be there. If you’re lost, confused or frustrated, our team is committed to getting you back on track. Maybe you need help making a memorable proposal to your future wife or wonder why artists prefer to not have flash photography while they are performing or need us to make something right because we didn’t deliver what we promised. We’re always looking for ways to take care of you.


Everyone has his or her own perfect moment on board and we‘re here to set the stage so it can happen. It might be under the stars at night watching a show, or enjoying an afternoon concert by the pool while enjoying a cold beverage with your feet dangling in the water. Whatever it is, we want you to have that moment where you say to yourself “I am where I need to be, with who I need to be with, doing what I need to be doing”.


At the end of the cruise, we are flattered that you trusted us with your vacation and are grateful that you chose to spend your time and money with us. As you walk off the ship, we believe it’s important for you to know that! Maybe it’s a “Bye Five” or a voicemail from an artist that evening or something in the mail the next week that simply says “We appreciate you being with us.”

So here is what we are shooting for…hold us to it!


Moments That Make Life Rock

One of the phrases you'll commonly hear around Sixthman is “moments that make life rock,” and I’ve been lucky to witness a lot of these moments first-hand. I’m proud to admit it’s not just a cheesy slogan… these are real moments in real people’s lives, and it’s fun to set the stage to make them happen. There are thousands of moments like this, and depending on who you ask here at Sixthman, you’ll get different answers when it comes to the favorites. If you asked me on a different day, I’d probably even have different answers!

To date, I’ve spent 216 days aboard 48 events. Out of all of my time at sea, here are my personal favorite top 5 “Moments That Make Life Rock”:

5. The Surprise Wedding – Simple Man Cruise, 2012

It’s fairly safe to say that scoring an invitation to your favorite artist’s wedding is highly unlikely in the real world.

Guests didn’t know it, but Gary and Dale Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd were going to renew their wedding vows on the Simple Man Cruise. And not a simple vow renewal… there was a dress, flowers, a wedding party, a cake, a red carpet, a reception… pretty much a full-blown wedding. Dale even filmed an episode of “Say Yes To The Dress” while in search of the perfect gown for the occasion.  (Watch the full episode.)

She made her grand entrance right after Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Q&A on the Pool Deck, an activity attended by everyone on board, so we knew guests wouldn’t miss out. Needless to say, everyone was shocked and excited to be included in such a personal moment with the band they’d been following for nearly 50 years.


That's the official wedding video Lynyrd Skynyrd released that covers the day’s festivities. Unfortunately the music has been removed, but it still gives you a visual of what happened. Congrats, Simple Man Cruisers! You’re now officially part of your favorite rock star’s home movies. Quite the role reversal, huh?

4. Paraoke with Paramore – PARAHOY! 2014

A 14-year-old singing one of the biggest hits of the day with THE BAND THAT SINGS IT sitting on stage with her? And then knocking it out of the park? That sums up Paraoke, Paramore’s spin on traditional karaoke. Guests called a special phone number and sang their hearts out to audition. The chosen finalists performed a Paramore song live on board, competing for the Paraoke title.

Here’s the winner:

If that wasn’t enough here’s the runner up: 

I still can’t believe the incredible talent we found hidden within our PARAHOY community. This was a first-year event, and it was inspiring to watch the entire crowd support their fellow guests. Our staff had a hard time working this activity… we were in such awe of the contestants.

3. 311 goes incognito - 311 Carribbean Cruise, 2012

The theme night was simply called “Costume Party,” and 311 band members were the ultimate participants. They roamed the ship while wearing full-body black ninja outfits and carrying blinky swords (complete with sound effects). They even entered their own costume contest! No one could see their faces, and they interacted with guests all night without anyone knowing they were partying with their heroes. They revealed their secret afterwards. Kudos, 311 dudes.

2. An impromptu hootenanny with Rivers Cuomo – The Weezer Cruise, 2012

On the last night of The Weezer Cruise 2012, a group of fans wanted to jam together and sing Weezer songs, and they wanted a designated place so they could spread the word among other interested fans. As the Warrior of that cruise, I knew about it, but wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen, so I worked out a plan with our Production Manager to let them use a small lounge just in case. Turned out, we ended up needing the room I promised them for a last-minute Sixthman meeting but I had no way to tell the Hootenanny group since it was so late in the evening already. We went about our Sixthman-y stuff in the room, and all of a sudden a bunch of Weezer fans and Rivers Cuomo walked in carrying instruments, ready to sing.

I realized what was happening, sprinted to the other end of the ship in search of an available room and was REALLY hoping I could find something open. I stationed a Sixthman person at the door to the original room to send people my way, even though I had no idea where I was going yet. The ship’s Library was empty, so I opened the doors and started rearranging all of the furniture so the chairs, desks, and tables were arranged around the entire perimeter of the room. (Fun fact: Cruise ship furniture is EXTRA heavy, since it’s made to withstand swaying.) Right when I was done re-arranging, the parade of Weezer fans found me and entered the room, already singing. Rivers was still with them, and everyone sat in the Library singing Weezer songs for HOURS. We bought buckets of beer for everyone, and the empty buckets quickly turned into drums. There were actually people crying because they were so ridiculously happy. It was such a bizarre, organic and amazing moment. And the lead singer of everyone’s favorite band was in the room, absorbing every last bit of it.

Were we any good? No way. (To be fair, we started strong. But once it dwindled down to a few of us left at 4:00am, the drinks were all gone, we could barely keep our eyes open, and you could probably classify us as terrible.) We just didn't want it to end. I’ve never felt so connected with a group of people I’ve only known for 4 days. And an all-Weezer song Hootenanny in a Library? Can you BE more appropriate? (Read that in your best Chandler Bing voice.)

I never made it back to that Sixthman meeting by the way… #sorrynotsorry

1. Wideawake in the Atrium -  The Rock Boat, 2006

You really had to be there, because nothing I type will ever live up to it.  But here’s a picture, which is hanging up in the Sixthman office to this day.

Attempted Explanation: It started raining outside, so the afternoon shows needed to move indoors. Brand new TRB band, Wideawake, had to move their outdoor set to the Atrium on the fly. There wasn’t even a real stage there, and we had never used the atrium as a venue. But the show went on, and when they sang “Not So Far Away,” you could barely hear the band over the crowd singing every word. Wideawake was playing their first Rock Boat ever, in a venue that had seemingly been created out of thin air. It was pretty incredible, and the expressions on everyone’s faces (band and guests) were those of pure joy and complete amazement. I wish there was a way to capture the energy we all felt that day, because it was absolutely electric. This video can help you visualize the setting, but it still doesn’t do it justice. (It was filmed on the same Rock Boat, but covers a repeat performance of the same song during the finale on the last night, rather the original rainy day performance.)

So, what’s next? That’s up to you! Cheers to many more of these moments in Sixthman’s future – and in yours. I can’t wait to experience them right alongside you.



Hello World.

Hi. We’re Sixthman.

You may know us as the company behind all those cool festivals at sea. But in reality, we’re much more than that. We’re a group of about 40 people from completely different walks of life with the passion and drive to turn crazy ideas into reality. We’re a small company, so all of us tend to have a hand in almost every single event we produce, giving us the ability to collectively learn and share our experiences with you.

Our staff is what makes each event “uniquely Sixthman,” and we invite you to read about us. We’ll write from land and sea about our guests, our artists, ourselves, our ups, our downs, our dogs, our quirks and our ideas. Prepare to learn, laugh, and most importantly, LIVE LOUD. 

The Sixthman Team, Spring 2016. Photo provided by Will Byington.

The Sixthman Team, Spring 2016. Photo provided by Will Byington.