Let's talk logistics: Neither festival is particularly easy to get to, with The Gathering taking place in southern Illinois and S.S. Coachella setting sail from Ft. Lauderdale.
Before you consider going to either festival, make sure you have at least $1,000 set aside.
Your mind may already be made up, but before you buy a plane ticket, consider what each has to offer.
The S.S. Coachella lineup is pretty standard for an indie music festival, but, hey, Pulp is playing. LCD Soundsystem broke up, but James Murphy will have a DJ set, and that's the next best thing (though not quite as good as Daft Punk playing at your house).
The Gathering lineup is surprisingly robust, boasting Kool Keith, Master P, DMX, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Bizmarkie, and many more.
Point: The Gathering.
S.S. Coachella tickets are only available online. The Gathering tickets are available online and at your local Hot Topic.
Point: The Gathering
Tickets for The Gathering are $175 for five days ($35/day). Tickets for the 3-4 day S.S. Coachella cruise start at $500 ($125-$166.67/day).
Point: The Gathering
We used Travelocity to calculate the lowest cost of flights the day before and after each festival.
The Gathering takes place in Cave-In-Rock, a very small town in southern Illinois that doesn't have an airport, so you're going to have to fly to a larger city a few hours away and rent a car (or hitch a ride with some friendly Juggalos). The site recommends flying into Nashville ($255.20), St. Louis ($306.20), Louisville ($318.20), or Evansville ($421.20). The cheapest car rental out of the Nashville airport is a Kia Rio for $263.16, and Nashville is about three hours away from Cave-In-Rock, so expect to spend at least $600 to get to The Gathering from Phoenix (also, consider showing up to the Gathering in a freaking Kia). Car camping starts at $100, making The Gathering's accommodations cost at least $700, unless you carpool and/or have friends to stay with in the area.
Getting to Ft. Lauderdale is a bit easier, with round-trip flights starting at $479.20 for the Bahamas weekend, and $451.10 the Jamaica weekend. You may not need to rent a car, but the cheapest two-guest room remaining is $750, making travel to S.S. Coachella at least $800 a person.
Grand totals (travel + admission): The Gathering: ~$800. S.S. Coachella: ~$1,300.
Point: for the sake of convenience, S.S. Coachella
The Gathering: none. S.S. Coachella: 21+. Point: If you're under 21, The Gathering, though a teen-free Coachella would be nice. Drugs
Let's face it, drugs are a big part of any festival. Good luck sneaking your pills onto a cruise ship (someone's gotta make it work). There are also heavy restrictions on smoking, and you can't bring any food or drink on board (not even water). You can probably barter Faygo for some drugs at The Gathering.
Point: (if you're into drugs) The Gathering