Destination Ultra: One incredible week on the Croatian coast
Ultra Music Festival has been a pillar of the dance music community since it had its humble beginning nearly 20 years ago during Winter Music Conference. A Miami staple and the undisputed kick off to the electronic music calendar, Ultra’s brand has grown to far exceed the annual sun-kissed weekend in Florida. The company has remained fiercely independent during the age of acquisitions and big money interests and the brand itself has grown into an international phenomena with Road to Ultra events touching down on almost every continent. Its expansion has been feverish, crossing the Atlantic for its Croatian home only three years ago before spreading across the globe. Since then Ultra South Africa, Japan, Macau, Singapore, Puerto Rico and many other satellite events have begun to pepper the many untapped markets thirsty for an Ultra experience.
Three years ago Ultra Europe was little more than proof of concept, a viability test for the growing Croatian tourism industry and Ultra’s worldwide ambitions. Since then it has expanded from a humble 2-day festival, 1-day beach party, to a full blown week of events that all but guarantee you’ll see the sunrise more than once during your stay. The trip itself is affordable, especially when compared to the price you’ll pay for a similar experience in its hometown of Miami. A favorable exchange rate to the Croatian Kuna means drinks that run you about $5 USD compared to the $20 cocktails you’d find at any South Beach nightclub. Booking the trip is a breeze too, Ultra literally hand holds you every step of the way, sorting out your lodging and transportation so all you have to do is show up on time.
On our first night in town, we found ourselves at Sven Vath until 8am for Ultra Europe’s opening party, only to wake the next day faced with a cloudless sky and 90 degree weather — a morning that would replay the entire length of the trip.
The festival’s gates open at 4pm but most fans don’t show up until the sun begins to set, filling Poljud Stadium to the brim for three consecutive nights. The experience is that of a scaled down Ultra Miami with fewer stages but the same over the top production. Arena-sized EDM and techno are well-represented with crowds that rival one another at Resistance, Ultra Worldwide, and the Main Stage but it’s not the festival that truly sets Ultra Europe apart — it’s what happens before and after that make the trip truly memorable.
Travelers from all over the world populate the hotels and beaches surrounding the stadium. Split is bustling day-and-night and an Ultra wristband is an open invitation to meet and speak with fellow travelers throughout the day. The waters edge is populated by pubs and cafes and a few pre-festival drinks paired with some cheap but delicious pizza are only a few kuna away. Yacht Week travelers are docked here as well, a partnership between Ultra and the cruise brand that brings a fresh wave of parties and patrons to every bar and club in the city.
Croatia is a jaw-droppingly beautiful country and its network of islands — a short ferry ride away from Split — house two of the week’s most incredible events. After the debauchery in Split winds down and the stadium empties, those in for the entire Destination Ultra experience board a ferry ride to the party island of Hvar. It’s an hour long cruise on the Adriatic to one of the most gorgeous locales in the area. Superyachts line the port, the gigantic Amfora Resort sits tucked away on the coast line built into the edge of the rocky cliffside.
The breathtaking venue is only enhanced by the orange sunset bouncing off the cool blue Adriatic sea. Home to Ultra Beach, the resort’s multi-tiered pool turns into all out mayhem for Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano, Oliver Heldens, and Fedde Le Grand on our fifth consecutive night of partying.
By the end of the evening the pool is nearly drained from the splashing, the aftermath of a wild and reckless party that trumps anything you’ll ever experience in Las Vegas.
The final night of Destination Ultra provides a fitting conclusion to an incredible seven day journey. Joris Voorn and Nic Fanciulli perform back-to-back during the Ultra Closing Party, a highly intimate event on the island of Vis. The trip’s final dancefloor is in Fort George, an ancient military base set a top a rocky cliffside.
The view trumps that of Hvar, revealing an ocean pock-marked with islands in the distance. The cool blue Adriatic and crystal clear skies begin to blend together as the sun sets on our final evening. By day six the crowd has dwindled to just under 500, the trip to Vis proving too difficult for some of the less party-seasoned attendees. It’s an ideal head count for the culmination of a week on the Croatian coast with the perfect soundtrack to boot. Voorn and Fanciulli seize the opportunity, casually going B2B for a crowd that has spent the last week hopping across Croatia together. By the end of our trip the entire crowd feels like a gathering of friends instead of strangers, and as the sun rises and the week of partying winds down there is only one thing on our minds — booking our accommodations for next year.
Photos by RUDGR