Whilst experienced in UK festivals, I’d not really thought about going abroad for a music festival before. That was until I received a spontaneous Facebook message asking me to come along to Ultra Music Festival Miami. With a line up which included the likes of Martin Garrix, Skrillex, Axwell Ingrosso and David Guetta, I knew that I had to go! But first… a little research was needed.
What is Ultra Miami?
Ultra is an annual outdoor Electric Dance Music (EDM) festival and is held in Downtown Miami in Bayfront Park at the end of March.
Ultra Miami doesn’t involve camping like most UK festivals. You need to book a hotel for the duration, and make your way to and from the event every day. Ultra Music festival and Miami Music week overlap, which means you get to kill two birds with one stone. Miami Music Week involves famous EDM DJ’s taking over pool parties and night clubs, so there was plenty to keep us occupied for the week duration we were there.
As it was quite a late decision to go, Ultra tickets were at its final tier price of $450 each. Flights we’re easy enough to arrange through STA travel, and airport transfers booked through resorthoppa, but booking the hotel was a nightmare. Book EARLY! Everywhere gets full up, pre-booked and prices rocket up. Where to stay? We wanted to stay on south beach as most of the pool parties and clubs were nearby, and we figured we would be able to catch a taxi to and from Down town Miami for Ultra during the 3 day festival relatively easy. After hours of online searching, we managed to find a decent little hotel in the Art Deco District on South Beach, which luckily worked out to be the perfect location.
Firstly, managing your money.
If you are travelling to Ultra Music Miami, you will most likely be staying for a week, so its best to know what to expect from the whole Miami experience rather than preparing solely for the festival.
There are loads of great places to eat and most of them are reasonably priced. If you haven’t travelled to America before, please remember that you need to budget for tax and tip on top of the price given in the menu. Usually between 10 – 25%. Most restaurants and cafés have fun and exotic cocktails on their menu. The prices aren’t available unless you ask. After drinking my $40 cocktail and receiving my bill, I wish I wouldn’t have assumed the prices would be similar to home. Tastes great, but a stinger if you’re not expecting it.
During Miami Music Week, the price for everything goes up. I was warned that the drinks would be expensive in Miami, but $140 for 4 drinks is beyond a joke. Before leaving I was also told by friends that, just for being a girl, I’d get in free and queue jump near everywhere. Well, not during Miami Music Week! We got queue jump, yes, but never free entry into clubs. One night we paid $120 each to see Armin Van Buuren at Mansion. Like all decisions made on a belly full of alcohol, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Expect to pay $60 + for club entry and if you can, pre-booking tickets online is cheaper than paying on the door. There we’re touts about selling tickets. These guys are very helpful and at first we appreciated their assistance, however we quickly found most wanted to meet up later, swap numbers, or come along with us to the events. Very rarely it seemed you hand over money for a ticket, and they would part ways with you. Maybe men have a different experience with the touts, but as a group of girls, we found it best to avoid them.
Where to go.
We arrived on a Tuesday which meant we had 3 days of partying before the festival began. We discovered the Clevelander on south beach. This hotel had a pool, DJ and dancefloor as well as reasonably priced drinks. The party started during the day and went on until the early hours of the morning. I would most definitely recommend giving this place a visit. Entry was free if you had their app on your phone.
Day 2 included a pool party with Laidback Luke at the Delano Hotel. Prices for drinks were extortionate, and I ended up drinking Coors light to ensure my money lasted the duration. A vodka and coke was priced at around $25. Price for Pool Party entry was $90, but if booked in advance, would have been much cheaper. There are so many pool parties to choose from beforehand, it’s hard to know which ones to pay to go too, but the Delano pool party is definitely worth going too.
Friday comes round. Day 1 of Ultra Miami, and we’ve drunk ourselves into an alcohol induced coma. We all agreed to go but take the friday steady so we’re not burnt out for the next 2 days. Getting to down town Miami was easy. Mini buses are everywhere collecting people and taking them to the festival. In the entry queue, the rain starts to fall, but comes as a refreshing change from the Miami heat, and a wave of energy and excitement hits the queue and the partying begins…
Immediately as we enter we are greeted by the subsonic sound of 12th Planet. Take it steady? That was never going to happen. We’re instantly involved in this intriguing, inner city festival and loving every single moment. This festival is like none I’ve ever been too. Whilst being taken in by the interesting stages and people, just a slight raise of the head brings into view Miami’s high rise buildings. This festival site is like no other. Each stage is spread out enough for you to dance freely, yet, the site is relatively small. Day 1 goes by fast, and I am extremely glad for the overcast sky. The main stage is brought to life with regular fireworks and fire blasts. We spent most of the day wondering around the other stages but as the main acts in the evening began, the main stage was the place to be. As the sun goes down the rain begins to fall. As Avicci’s set starts the Miami ground couldn’t sponge up any more water, so it created a pool of warm rain water which engulfed our feet, helping to create the wettest dancefloor I’ve ever experienced. I only had pumps on, so it’s safe to say they were completely ruined. The ground wasn’t particularly muddy, so wellies weren’t essential. Just anticipate rain. It is March after all, but the heat makes it much easier to embrace.
Day 2 was much hotter. We didn’t go to the festival until after 4pm. The heat and drinking would have been an inevitable disaster in our fragile condition. The Miami heat had nearly dried out all traces of the previous night’s rain. They opened up the live stage today, which included British bands Gorgon City and Clean Bandit. Being a fan of live music, this came as a small breath of fresh air from the DJ’s playing all over the arena. I have an eclectic taste in music, and find most music festivals have stages played various types of music, but this festival only plays varieties of EDM, so if you heart doesn’t beat to the sound of Dance, this may not be for you.
Ultra’s biggest flaw:
Toilets. Yes there are toilets, but they don’t have enough for the amount of people they’re meant to cater for. After waiting 15 min in the queue I was ready to burst, and my only option was to find a hidden corner somewhere to go. We managed to find a solitary bush to empty our bladders. Bliss. This was our toilet bush for the whole 3 days, which we shared with a few other ladies who, oddly enough, all seemed to be British too. Clearly, we Brits have no shame. Or just extremely week bladders.
Whilst on the topic of Brits, everyone seemed to become very patriotic whilst away from our homeland. The Yanks are extremely friendly and welcoming people, but in the array of the Ultra American craziness, seeing other individuals draped in a union jack flag became a warm beacon of hope that there are like-minded people around you. People who you wouldn’t acknowledge back home but instantly become your across-the-pond best friend.
It was immediately clear that there was a trend at this festival – Kandi beads or rave beads. Mostly made into bracelets, each one would be handmade before the festival. It seemed customary that once you’ve made a new raving buddy, you would swap your bracelets to remember each other by. Some ravers must have spent days putting together extremely interesting accessories, purely made of these beads, and most intriguing of all, are what I came to call the “gurn” mask.
Many ladies looked outstanding in their hand crafted and unique outfits, matching perfectly from head to toe in their eye catching costumes I couldn’t help but stare in awe. At night, others stood out with their neon and UV gear.
As you can imagine, it gets hot, very hot, many ladies tend to wear bikinis, and men go shirtless. Whilst some go more casual, some glam their bikini’s up. I seen some extremely confident women with just tape covering their nipples and thongs to hide their dignity. Whilst at home this would be jaw dropping and the word “slut” muttered at them 10 times a minute, this attire seamed to blend in with all the surrounding craziness and no one seemed to judge.
Many come from around the world, and you will be able to decipher who is from where by their attire. Many will have a flag, and the universal love at this festival was very apparent. A worldwide love for Electric Dance Music.
As you can imagine, drugs at this type of festival will be rife. Be extremely careful with what you take if you are adamant you want too. A lady I met was given date rape, another, acid. It’s easy to put your guard down whilst abroad, but just remember to keep your wits about you, and keep an eye on your drink at all times.