Last month I went to Miami for Ultra music festival for the first time.... and I won't sit here and try to convince you that it's something that's been on my bucket list forever and ever, but when friends said they were buying tickets last year and the incredible line up was announced I figured, why not - you only live once right?
Fast forward a few months and with the festival dates looming closer and closer, I started to get the fear. I listened as seasoned party goer's told me they'd stopped going when the crowd started getting super young and tried to keep smiling when people's eyebrows shot up in surprise when I told them I had tickets, all the time trying to remind myself of the amazing line up and convincing myself I'd have a great time.
Here's the thing - I did have a great time. Life begins outside of your comfort zone and all that, and after 5 minutes of being at the festival all of my fears had faded away and I was jumping higher and singing louder than any of my "old timer" friends. I wasn't the oldest person there, I wasn't getting crushed in a crowd and I didn't hate the music. And even if you don't think it's "your scene", being at a festival is an experience in every sense of the word - people from all over the globe in one place, enjoying some of the world's most famous artists performing on stages that are a spectacle in themselves. I had a blast.
But being a little stressed out before we went, I had read the festival FAQs 100 times over to make sure we had the right ID, the regulation bags and accessories and enough sanitary products to keep a hospital going for a week. Over prepared? Me? Never! So what would I recommend you keep in mind if you're heading to Ultra? Well here are my top ten tips:
1. Forget fashion.
It's only too tempting to go for festival chic and instagram gold with cute, boho outfits, but in reality you need comfy shoes you can walk / dance in all day and stick in a washing machine after things have turned muddy, and clothes made of fabrics that won't melt you into a puddle in the Florida sunshine. If you want to accessorise, do it with a flag :)
2. Hell no, H2O
There are free water fountains at the festival while bottled water is $5 a pop (and carrying a water bottle around is just annoying) so take a hydration pack you can wear on your back - it'll set you back a whole $10 on amazon and the cheapest will totally do the job. It's the best way to make sure you keep drinking throughout the days and stay hydrated.
3. Don't worry about the party pooper
The only toilets at the festival are porta-loos (potty's for the Americans), unless you're in VIP, but they weren't nearly as bad as they could have been. Take wipes or tissues with you (individually wrapped wet ones are perfect) and my advice is to go with a guy and let him go in first. If things meet his approval you can go after him while he guards the door!
Drinks inside the festival are expensive - and once you've found a spot watching an act, you kinda don't want to have to leave to go to the bar. Plus holding a drink is ridiculously impractical when people are jumping and crashing around beside you! In summary, don't expect to get drunk once you're inside the gates so have a few drinks before you get there. The hotels opposite the festivals are a great place to stop at before you reach the entrance - it's your last chance to use a proper toilet, sink a couple of shots and grab a cheap vodka redbull for the last stretch before you get to the gates. Then you'll be ready!
5. Don't be scared of security
The website will have you thinking that the festival is some kinda Fort Knox and you have no chance of getting in without the secret handshake. Now I'm not saying that you should relax and expect to waltz in without as much as the flash of an ID, but that is pretty much all you need. The security guys might want to glance in your bag but they seemed to be completely unfused by us, who we were, how old we were or what we had in our pockets (nothing - I was panicking remember!) I had to assume that they didn't pester people who looked over the age of 25 and concentrated on the teeny boppers, but either way, things seemed pretty loosey goosey.
6. Dare to deviate from your plan
Yep - this post is full of surprises - I'm telling you to DITCH your plan and stay flexible! I had my absolute heart set on seeing Tiesto having loved his sets in Ibiza and Vegas, and I did see him at Ultra.....but he was rubbish. Or at least he didn't play the kind of music I like. At all. So we ditched the main stage in favour of the Worldwide Stage which was awesome! We discovered a few DJs there over the course of the weekend that we loved. So while you obviously want to look at the schedule in advance and have a think about who you want to see, don't be stubborn and miss all the other amazing stuff going on throughout the site. The live stage became our particular fave.
7. Prepare your survival pack
Fill your pockets with some basics - you won't regret it. Plasters, hand sanitiser, chewing gum, wipes - things that mitigate how gross you feel after 8 hours in a field!
8. Pace yourself
Unless you're some kind of raving athlete, I'd hasten to guess that you cannot party from midday until midnight for 3 days straight. I know I sound like your grandma but chances are you've travelled a long way to be here and looked forward to the weekend for a while - so pace yourself! Drink water, take a time out every so often to go for a wander, eat some food, buy some souvenirs from the merchandise tent, people watch and chill out once in a while so you can actually enjoy the whole weekend.
Dancing and walking around burns calories and the food isn't actually bad at all - there's a huge number of options from your standard junk food to fresh juices and healthy (kinda) options. The pizza we ate every night was made fresh right in front of us and a giant slice for $7 was just what the doctor ordered after a few hours bouncing in front of the main stage.
10. Use public transport
If you can, stay near a metro mover station. Uber and any form of road transport is a disaster as all of the roads around the festival site are closed so traffic is a nightmare. The free mono rail runs all the way through Downtown and around midtown Miami so you can take there and back quickly and easily - it runs all night and quite honestly, it's genius.
So that's it - my top 10 tips!
Have you been to Ultra? What are your festival secrets?