Guide to Miami's Ultra Music Festival

The last week of March is host to club nights, pool parties, and boat cruises for Miami Music Week, which also coincides with the annual Winter Music Conference. Then the month ends in the most climactic way possible with over 300,000 attendees flocking to Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami to attend Ultra Music Festival. 

For kids, Disneyland is the happiest place on earth and for grown ups, it’s probably adult-only resorts with frozen drinks and infinity pools. However, for the 20 and 30-year-old party crowd it's Miami. From South Beach nightclubs that host the world’s biggest DJs to the legendary pool parties that sometimes demand their own dress code dubbed “pool-side chic,” Miami is the city to see and be seen.

Image via Ultra Music Festival Facebook

Ultra is the world’s premier electronic music festival. Starting as a small event right on the sands of South Beach, it has now developed into an international brand with festivals happening in countries across the world. For its 15-year anniversary in 2013, the festival saw over 330,000 attendees come through the gates, which in that year spanned across two weekends. 

The event is home to what may be the biggest main stage in the history of EDM festivals, graced by such DJs as Tiesto, Deadmau5, Afrojack, Avicii, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, and The Chemical Brothers.

To play Ultra Main Stage is the equivalent to winning an Oscar in the electronic music world. 

In the past 16 years, festival organizers have watched DJs transition from performing one of the smaller stages in front of an empty crowd to headlining the legendary main stage only a few years later. 

Trance, House and Brodem Poles at Ultra Music Festival

Ultra Music Festival hosts over 200 artists each year, spanning across numerous spaces inside Bayfront Park, including the Bayfront, Live, UMF Radio and Eco Village stages with the main stage always being the highlight. In 2011, I saw The Chemical Brothers for the first time as they closed the main stage to over 120,000 people alongside fireworks, pyro technics and even this fake cobweb stuff they sprayed into the crowd, which blew even the most sober of minds.


No one has time for 17 minutes so watch from 10:14 onwards.

The Carl Cox and Friends tent also deserves a much-needed nod of approval (oh yes, oh yes) this tent is the equivalent to a main stage for those looking for the deeper, techier and groovier sounds of the underground. For one night of the festival, Carl Cox moves over to allow the stage to be converted into the playground for Armin Van Buuren’s A State of Trance that is always broadcasted live across the world via ASOT.

This tent also hosts a massive roster of DJs not associated with either Carl or Armin and is the stage for rising stars to make their mark. The Live Stage is host to bands and live electronic music acts such as MIA, MGMT, Netsky, Sub Focus and the ever-strange Empire of the Sun. It is while you make your way from one stage to another where the real depth of the party lies.

Some of the things I have seen at Ultra can never be unseen but it’s all in the spirit of letting loose and the freedom the music provides.

With EDM on the rise it appears that in the last few years the age of majority at Ultra has decreased significantly. I’m all for individuals of all ages enjoying the music just as I do however, but recently the crowd at Ultra looks eerily similar to a high school dance with a neon dress code.

Image via Ultra Music Festival Facebook

Girls with pasties on their nipples and bros stacked on top of each others shoulder's (known in the raving community as the dreaded brodem pole) are seen throughout the crowd. There is no age limit for Ultra, although 21 and over licensed areas are throughout the festival grounds. The lack of age limit makes for quite the experience and honestly, it gets difficult to groove out to the sounds of Tiesto and Carl Cox with a 16-year-old screaming to her friends behind you.

The size of the event can also get to you near the end. While the novelty of 300,000 people together in one space is amazing at first, there will be the inevitable moment when you look around and realize that its 300,000 people together in one space and you’ll eventually want room to dance in peace. Nonetheless, Ultra Music Festival is THE festival experience to attend at least once in your life.

Transportation To & From Ultra Music Festival Done Right

Image via Water Taxi Miami

Whether you’re staying at a nearby hotel and condo or travelling from South Beach, transport to and from Ultra is incredibly easy. Getting to the city itself is relatively affordable as well. Miami International is a huge airport with numerous flights in and out each day. If you’re looking for a cheaper option then you can fly to Fort Lauderdale and rent a car or taxi to Miami. However, by the time you add up that cost it’s really not much of a difference in price. 

The city’s public transportation is taken over all weekend by ravers crowding onto buses and is the most affordable means of getting around Miami. If you’re traveling from South Beach I DO NOT recommend taking a taxi.

The prices are ridiculously inflated for the weekend and they will stop and pick up more people along the way and charge them the same obnoxious fee.

Traffic is decent making your way across the bay so in terms of timing, driving is a nice option. One year, I was lucky enough to be travelling back and forth to downtown with a DJ and their driver and the trip was easily made in about twenty minutes from South Beach. If you’re a baller or want to travel like many of the other DJs then there are also water taxi options available, but fees for this can be quite high and priority is given to getting the artists to and from the venue. 

Sifting Through Countless Miami Accommodations 

Depending on what type of experience you’re after, there are numerous options when it comes to accommodations. In the past, I have stayed at hostels because the intense party schedule leaves you simply needing a place to leave your bags and somewhere to shower. It’s strongly recommended to stay on South Beach. It may be a little further from the festival grounds but if you’re looking to attend any of the after-parties or want to hangout on the beach for a few hours before hitting up Ultra, this is the place to do it.

Image via Fountainebleau Miami Beach Facebook

There is literally hundreds of South Beach hotels, hostels, room shares, and condos available to book. Whether you want a cheap option like a ten-bed hostel for $20 a night or a suite at Fontainebleau, it can all be done. If you want to hang with the DJs poolside on their downtime then hit up Fontainebleau, W South Beach or the Mondrian. Last year, Avicii had his own hotel called The Avicii Hotel but unless you want the song levels to haunt your dreams then I’d avoid that place at all costs.

If South Beach isn’t your scene you also have a choice of brand name hotels that are dotted across the downtown core all within close proximity to the festival. What many veteran attendees do each year is find condo rentals through Craigslist or Airbnb. This is an awesome option if you’re travelling with a larger group of people and want to avoid the limits burdened by hotels and also want the freedom of cooking your own meals, throwing a party or whatever else your heart desires.

If you begin looking early enough, people who live in the condos directly beside the festival offer up their spaces to rent for the weekend.

A lot of them would rather escape the city than have their million-dollar views tarnished with lightshows and listen to the sounds of big room bangers.  

Getting Your Ultra Music Festival Tickets 

General Admission tickets are $399 plus applicable service fees and grants access to the festival for all three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Whereas, a VIP ticket includes more added perks such as comfortable seating areas, access to air-conditioned bathrooms, fenced off areas away from the crowd, decreased line-up at the bars, and much more. For more information on ticket prices and to check availability make sure to check the official website for Ultra. 

For anyone looking for a spring break getaway combined with an EDM experience in the sunshine state then this is your obvious choice. There’s zero reason not to be in Miami for Ultra when two other festivals proceed, transportation is easy enough, accommodations are plentiful, and the lineup is always guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

So get ready to pack your neons and brotein and secure a ticket to one of the longest running electronic festivals in the world. Make sure to share this post with EDM partygoers and get pumped up for this year’s Ultra Music Festival. 

Olivia Weir

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