With so many new factors going into this year's Ultra Music Festival, including a new location on Virginia Key, it's fair to say that both organizers and festivalgoers were anxious about the first day. Those fears were proven valid last night, when shuttle service off the island faltered, forcing a reported tens of thousands of fans to walk miles back to the mainland after a long day of partying.
Things seemed to hit a snag when Ultra wrapped up day one at 2 a.m. Photos and videos flooded Twitter, showing droves of fans trudging across the Rickenbacker Causeway looking tired and angry. Nearly all of the posts were hashtagged #FyreFestival or #FyreFest2, alluding to the epic failure of a music festival that stranded fans in the Bahamas in 2017.
Some blamed the lack of shuttles on a traffic accident. Others said that there were too few buses and that staff was shorthanded.
On Twitter, Ultra apologized to attendees for the transportation problems. "Last night, many of you experienced challenging transportation conditions leaving the festival. This is unacceptable and inconsistent with the high standards you have come to expect from us. For this, we are sorry." The festival says it is working with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County to resolve the problem, promising "a significantly improved transportation experience" for the rest of the weekend.
Earlier in the afternoon, everything seemed to be running relatively smoothly. Before the 2 a.m. shuttle collapse, Ultra's biggest obstacle seemed to be getting 60,000 people to the Virginia Key site in an orderly but prompt fashion. The festival set up three pick-up spots: the Arsht Center Metromover station, the American Airlines Arena, and the Vizcaya Metrorail station. Vizcaya, perhaps due to its proximity to Virginia Key and festivalgoers assuming the ride would be quicker, seemed to be the most popular shuttle hub. Around 5 p.m., Ultra tweeted the wait time for a shuttle bus from Vizcaya was 60 minutes, while the wait time at the American Airlines Arena and the Arsht Center was five minutes.
Still, Ultranuats seemed to be in good spirits and exercised plenty of patience, with some even commending Ultra's logistical planning. "
Locals were at a clear advantage here, such as festivalgoer Yesenia Moreno, who told New Times this was her fourth time attending Ultra. Instead of paying for Ultra's garage parking, Moreno says she parked near the Publix on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 17th Street and walked to the nearby shuttle stop at the Arsht Center. However, she didn't have a favorable opinion of the new system. "The shuttle was shit. There were too many people trying to fit on one bus," Moreno said.
"@ultra you’re drivers DO NOT know where they are going. I just took a 45
Festival goers boarding bus at the Vizcaya hub to @ultra. Long line but buses are coming quick after another. 240 buses in total between every hub. 8 buses right now at this hub; 32 by 5 PM pic.twitter.com/PwoW82qA4b— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) March 29, 2019
Still, New Times was able to reach Virginia Key from the Arsht Center in about 30 minutes via shuttle. (New Times and other outlets covering Ultra were provided access to a media-only shuttle to the festival.)
The best way to get to the festival was via ferry, but that option was available only to VIP ticketholders and a limited number of general-admission guests who purchased a ferry pass for around $150.
wait the ultra shuttle is such a breeze, the line is so short, everyone is so nice....,— hallie. (@seriouslyhallie) March 29, 2019
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Once at the festival, the expanded footprint of Ultra was noticeable. However, sound bleed was definitely an issue in the Miami Marine Stadium area, which is home to the Mainstage, the Live Arena, Ultra Worldwide, and UMF Radio. At Bayfront Park, the rolling hills helped mitigate that problem even though the stages were closer together.
Then there's the distance between the Marine Stadium site and what Ultra is calling Resistance Island, which is, in fact, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. It was about a 20-minute walk via the walkway, which took festivalgoers in front of MAST Academy and down the road to Virginia Key Beach Park. Walking all the way to the Carl Cox Megastructure at the end of the park added an additional ten minutes. Here's hoping Ultranauts wore their Fitbits and got their steps in. Though many festivalgoers tend to pick a stage and hang out there for a while, the long distance definitely killed the feeling that you could walk from stage-to-stage exploring the sounds before deciding which one to choose.
The rocky end to the first day of Ultra isn't a good look for the festival. If Ultra wants to appease fans and silence critics who fought the move to Virginia Key, it needs to figure out its exit strategy before the end of today.
Additional reporting by Cristina Jerome, Zach Schlein, and Ciara LaVelle.