Written by Jennifer Fall Alexander
Ultra is Mecca. You have to experience it to believe it, but I will attempt to describe the lavish experience that awaits you as an Ultra attendee. When I use the word lavish, I honestly mean that. Miami is an incredible city; a melting pot of cultures, music, and food awaits you, while your sun-drenched body takes on a complete feast for your senses!
Miami hosts an amazing 2 weeks of amazing electronic music, with the World Music Conference, Miami Music Week, and then culminating with Ultra as the pinnacle of electronic dance music experiences. It is an festival that was at the top of my bucket list, especially as a former South Florida resident. It is the one festival I have consistently wanted to attend, and I finally made it this year. I was fortunate to have the most incredible musical journey.
How to Get There
If you are a Miami resident, going to Ultra is a no brainer… however if you are from out of town I suggest flying or driving depending on distance. Plane tickets ran about 400 per person round trip from Indianapolis, and there are tons of deals if you look through Southwest, or Allegiant airlines. We actually flew American because the flights were more convenient, and were lucky enough to find a non-stop flight that was affordable within our budget.
Once you arrive in Miami you can taxi/ uber/ lyft to your hotel or lodging accommodations. We rented a shuttle before hand due to the possibility of Uber surging. I highly recommend that. It was cost effective enough at $20 per person to get us to where we stayed.
Utilizing Uber, and Lyft was extremely helpful throughout the week, as well as the bike rentals that are on every corner. As long as you watch for the surging times and plan accordingly you should have no major issues getting around downtown Miami or Miami Beach. Each round trip to the festival was kept under $40.00. We found that to be quite reasonable.
Where To Stay?
We decided to attend Ultra quite late in the game, 2 months prior to the festival. This was my first time as an attendee of Ultra, and many hotels were already sold out and super expensive for the week. Many were going for upwards of 500 to 700 per night for one hotel room. My suggestion for next year attendees is to book early and reserve your spot. You can always find hotel rooms with like-minded festival attendees on Facebook where there are many groups reserved for this purpose. My favorite group was Ultra Solo Journey. I met a few people there that offered lodging for affordable prices.
There are some beautiful hotels in Miami, and my two favorites are the Delano, and the National. There are tons of beautiful hotels to peruse when making your decision on where to stay. Be aware, that staying in Miami Beach is about a 40-minute drive to Bayfront Park in festival traffic. Many festival attendees stay in Downtown Miami, making less of a trek to the actual festival grounds, and had it not been for the WMC Pool parties we had tickets for, we would have most likely chosen a closer location to the festival. We were lucky to find something in between Miami Beach, and Bayfront Park.
I decided to do an Airbnb instead, due to the fact that family members would be visiting Miami with me, and not visiting the festival.
We stayed in the Flamingo center tower, in an amazing Airbnb that was pristine, well maintained, modern, and had a balcony that could put a hotel room to shame. It was well worth the extra investment to have an entire condo with 2 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and living room. It was worth the splurge, although next year I would chose something a little cheaper and plan more in advance. Airbnbs were going from anywhere of 200 a night for renting a room, to thousands. My suggestion is to find a budget and stick to it in regards to room prices.
Ultra is MASSIVE. I have no other way to describe it. In almost every video from the first day I can be over heard saying how amazing, or massive, or huge the entire festival grounds are. It is unbelievable. With 170,000 attendees it was easy to get lost in the crowd. I can honestly say I have never been in a larger crowd, and was unprepared mentally for the sheer volume of people.
The amount of stages was un-paralleled to any other festival I have attended. With over 7 stages, the first afternoon was spent merely getting our bearings so that we could plan out all the sets for each day. Many stages are close together, but I can honestly say that made for difficulties leaving certain sets, especially Deadmou5 at the State of Trance Stage.
If there is a specific DJ you want to see, make sure to get there early for prime placement. I can tell you if you wait too long it will be extremely difficult to get out or get back in. We were lucky enough to plan our time extremely well and didn’t miss any necessary sets! Getting there really early on day 1 to get the lay of the land and explore was instrumental to avoiding issues on finding stages, or any other festival needs.
I have never seen a sea of dancing people like this in my life. I’ve attended underground warehouse parties and club events for the last 13 years. I’m proud to call myself an electronic music enthusiast (Old school raver) before the EDM bubble exploded and festivals popped up everywhere. I remember when DJ’s played vinyl, and have watched technology and producing change for the better or worse over the last decade.
Most festivals I’ve attended people are attempting to jump to the front and get the “best seat possible.” My M-O has been to find a chill place where I can actually see the DJ, but have elbow-room to actually dance. Miami is not the place for this. The only place I encountered this space was at the Live Stage. Thankfully it was actually the stage where a majority of the acts we wanted to see were playing.
No matter who you are, or where you are from… You will find friends in Miami. We met some amazing people from all over the world, but most notably a group from Texas who became “festival family.” I also met a wonderful young festival enthusiast from Canada, who was brought to tears because Deadmau5’s set that replaced Prodigy’s was “just so beautiful.” (It really was the most incredible set I’ve ever seen Deadmau5 play). I luckily as fate would have it, ran into him the last night and enjoyed dancing with him to Pendulum and Knife party.
The fashion of the attendees is incredible. I always dress with flowers in my hair to make it easy to find me, and because I find dressing in costumes cumbersome when I’m trying to dance and have a great time. We did see several fabulous costumes… but the majority of people were dressed either in shorts, bathing suits, or what I would lovingly call panty raver clothes. The amount of booty I saw girls rocking was incredible, and the bodies were banging. It is definitely just very Miami! Just be yourself and everyone will love it! I had so many people stop me and comment on my flower crown or outfits. Go wild, or go minimal. The choice is yours.
We ate at the festival once through the entire 3 days. How we accomplished that was a miracle. We usually ate a large healthy lunch before heading out, and grabbed dinner afterwards. Ultra had plenty of food options to satisfy any diet. There were several options all around $10.00 from American, Mexican, Chinese, Wraps, and etc. I found food prices to be very reasonable for the offerings, as well as tasty. They even had a few food trucks near the festival, and inside the festival grounds.
We happened to purchase merchandise also, and I found the prices to be less than average, $25 per shirt. I have been to many concerts where merchandize was $45. I was very pleased to see them catering to those who wanted to wear the Ultra brand out as a souvenir. The Merch tent even had a DJ booth with great booming house music giving you a great soundtrack while you perused what they offered.
What VIP Has to Offer
I did not attend Ultra as VIP, but I can absolutely understand the interest in doing so. If you have the cash flow available, you have access to a closer viewing area, private restrooms, private bars, and a VIP entrance line that pretty much shaves off any long term waiting in line to enter. VIP tickets went for $1249.00, and general admission tickets went up to 350 towards the last stages of release. The bathrooms alone would be worth this extra price for me. I will be forever haunted by the Ultra porta-potties. There are not enough of them, and they are not placed by every stage, so you have to trek through a crowd to get to one. If you are a GA festival attendee, you can easily avoid the entrance lines by arriving early, around 2 pm when the first wave dies down. I highly recommend not waiting until after 4 P.M, because that tended to be when the entrance line became completely overwhelming and long, although everyone makes the best of it!
Things To Do
Miami is a city of absolutely endless possibilities, especially during WMC. We attended the Pete Tong pool party at the Surfcomber hotel on Thursday, and absolutely loved it. Met some amazing people, and danced on cloud nine to a living legend!
The beach is so beautiful, although the weather wasn’t warm enough to swim on our free days, which made attending a dance festival fantastic. Most of the time the weather cooperates well enough to put a beach day in your itinerary.
The clubs and nightlife in Miami are like no other place you will ever visit. We had the privilege of a VIP table with some Indianapolis friends at Club Space, and although we left at 3 am to prep for day 3 of the festival, our friends stayed and danced on the terrace to a sunrise set, after the inside of the club closed. I did that back in 2003, so I know it is an incredible experience.
The last night of Ultra we headed to a club called “The Wall” to see my absolute favorite DJ Benny Bennassi. Not only did he play the most incredible house set I have ever heard in my life, but I was lucky enough to get behind the decks to meet him and get his autograph. Fan-girl moment x1000.
Whatever type of music you like, you won’t be disappointed. Miami has so many options from regular clubs, more upscale restaurants, and salsa clubs to put any nightlife aficionado in heaven for more than just a few nights.
During the actual Ultra experience, you can grab a drink and sit bayside in front of the beautiful Resistance Stage while you watch the yachts, boats, and people walk by. There is also a really neat area where you can make your own spray paint art. We spent the majority of our time navigating from stage to stage as our itinerary was quite full musically.
What Makes the Festival Different?
Ultra is the one festival that has brought US festival culture into the mainstream, and it does not disappoint. You can’t beat dancing in a huge stage, and then walking out towards the waterfront to watch people dancing on yachts passing by.
The main stage of Ultra is an amazing monstrously large beast of Technicolor that is so massive; it must cost millions of dollars on its own. Each stage had its own feel, flavor, and style, with visuals that were very impressive. The first day I looked at my festival buddy after seeing the setups and meant it when I said “WORTH EVERY PENNY.” They definitely give a show that is worth the cost of a ticket.
The crowd that Ultra draws is so diverse and everyone is so friendly, helpful and more responsible than I would have expected for a festival of this size. Coming together for an amazing journey is something I will never forget!
The talent that they book for the actual festival is reason alone to attend. My decision to make 2016 my first Ultra year was made when the live reunion of Rabbit in the Moon was announced. Their set will be indwelled in my mind forever. Nothing beats old school stage theatrics. Other notable sets included Kygo on day one, with a groovy and beachy set that set the tone for the entire weekend. Digweed at the Resistance stage, as well as Sasha. It would have been incredible to see their reunion they just announced live at Ultra with a back-to-back set.
We watched the Arcadia Landing show complete with Drum N Bass and Cirque de Soleil style performers who twirled in alien costumes while fire erupted from the top of the spider platform. We also were lucky to encounter the Resistance performers in Tesla full body costumes shooting large lightning bolts at each other after the sun had said its goodbye for day 1.
Nero was a standout. They rocked the live stage with such fervor and tenacity with live vocals from Alana Watson. Duke Dumont was everything I had hoped for and more. His set was unbelievably moving and shaking. I did not see one person not dancing.
House is my major love, and I couldn’t have heard a better set from Deadmou5 to replace Prodigy the first night on the live stage. He remixed “Smack my Bitch Up” and I was very impressed with his professionalism. Marcus Schulz had a very moving trance set on day three, and was followed by Marshmello, who made me realize I enjoy Dubstep in doses. Pendulum and Knife Party closed out the festival with a barrage of beautiful fireworks that lit up the night sky like diamonds. We ended our Ultra experience watching Purity Ring who were worth all the hype!
Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, your own toilet paper, hand sanitizer, mints, gum, earplugs (you WILL need these) and a clear bag with a lock on it to hold everything you need for the festival. The clear bag rule was added this year, and we found clear backpacks on amazon for 2 for $25.00. We used locks so that we wouldn’t be concerned walking around the festival and losing valuables. You won’t be a target if you don’t allow yourself to be a target for theft. It is rare, but it does happen. Make sure to put a few large ziplock bags in your clear bag or fanny pack, just in case it rains and you don’t have a lifeproof case for your phone. Although there were charging stations in several areas, my portable phone charger saved our battery life several times. It was definitely a worthwhile investment. We also had a Camelback that was very useful with the free water refill stations, but you can always buy a $5 bottle of water and refill that, although it is cumbersome to carry around and dance with.
Ultra 2016: 10 out of 10! WORTH EVERY PENNY. It is now on my yearly list of must attend festivals. The talent, music, people, scenery, and excitement will stick with me forever! Until next year Miami! I left my heart in Miami, and I absolutely can’t wait to go back next year!
I would love to hear all your experiences from Ultra 2016, or answer any questions you might have! Send me an email at [email protected], or follow me on Facebook for travel updates.