Where to Stay for Ultra Miami
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
'Tis the season of Ultra Miami trip planning! I know, I know. It's August of 2019 and Ultra is 7 months away...but it's actually the best time to start figuring out where you are going to stay at Ultra 2020. Since Ultra doesn't offer camping, it really comes down to two choices- Hotel or AirBnb? Where should you even look when it comes to booking one? How do you find one that isn't ridiculously expensive, but not an hour away? Keep reading to find out!
Where to Book
Search by map view. Whatever website you use to look for hotels- kayak, orbitz, travelocity, or just a google search, switch it to the map view. First, if you've never been to Miami, it's a good idea to have a general idea of where Bayfront Park is in relation to where you are looking. Pictured on the map is Bayfront Park, and you can also see the location of two AirBnb's I have stayed at in the past (in red), and the hotel I have booked for next year (in purple).
If you want to stay within walking distance of Ultra, this map shows pretty much exactly the area you will want to keep your search condensed to. For reference- the AirBnb towards the top of the map was a 1.4 mile walk that took about 30 minutes. The AirBnb on the left was a 0.9 mile walk taking 20 minutes. The Kimpton Hotel is a 10 minute, half mile walk.
Use the Metro Mover map to find a lodging option within walking distance of a light rail station.
If you don't necessarily need to stay close enough to be walking distance, I would not recommend planning on using Uber, Lyft, or a taxi. For obvious reasons, but they will be busy, very expensive, and you have to deal with traffic. The best transportation option is actually taking advantage of Miami's Metro Mover and Metro Rail train lines. When you are trying to book a hotel/airbnb, it's a great idea to have your map view search open and split the screen with this train map, so you can find an option that is close to the train line. Trust me, you do not want to have to worry about getting an Uber to and from the train station from your hotel. It's so much faster and easier to just book something within a few blocks of a Metro Mover stop.
The Metro Mover is fast and free, and has three loops that run within the downtown area. It also has extended hours specifically for Ultra, so you don't need to worry about the train being closed when Ultra is over. The map was a bit tricky for me to make sense of when I was planning my first trip, so I will explain this map. The orange loop (Downtown Loop) is the best. It runs in the smallest circle and is the fastest. The blue (Omni Loop) runs along the same loop as the orange, but it goes further North. The pink (Brickell Loop) also runs the same orange loop, but goes further South. The green shows the Metro Rail line, which is more of a long distance train than the light rail Metro Mover, and costs money. Obviously these all connect at various stops, but basically you can get the Metro Mover at any station and it will take you directly to Bayfront Park. If you are staying further away and need to take the Metro Rail (green), you will need to get off of it and transfer onto the Metro Mover at one of the adjoining stations- it will not take you directly to Bayfront.
To sum this up- it is best to stay close to a Metro Mover station since it's fast, free, and you don't have to transfer trains.
BTW- Although I gave the distance and walking times of my previous AirBnb's, I actually never walked. Both apartments were just a few blocks away from a Metro Mover station, which I used to get to Ultra.
This is the strategy I have used to book my last three AirBnb's and this year's hotel- using the map view on AirBnb and comparing it to the Metro Mover map. That area allows for the fastest and easiest transportation to and from Ultra, so it's what I recommend the most. Honestly, staying so far away that you have to deal with Uber/Taxi just sounds like a nightmare compared to the ease of using the Metro Mover. Which is why I don't recommend people to stay at South Beach. (I will explain this a bit more at the very end).
Hotel or AirBnb?
Close to Bayfront- You can find quite a few hotels just across the street or less than a ten minute walk from Bayfront Park. If you want to stay as close to the venue as you can, your best bet is a hotel. I have never seen AirBnb's as close to Bayfront as a lot of the hotels are.
Reliable- Since hotels are operated by a business, they are more reliable than AirBnb can be. You know that once you've booked your room, it's booked, and you don't need to worry about it being cancelled last minute (which has happened to a lot of people that book AirBnb for Ultra).
Book Now, Pay Later/Cancellations- Some hotels and booking websites offer book now, pay later options, and likely offer more flexible cancellations than AirBnb.
Expensive- If you want to stay as close as you can to Bayfront, those hotels have already gotten expensive. Prices will continue to rise as it gets closer to March. So, if you want to stay in a hotel, book as soon as you can.
Less Amenities- This will vary based on the hotel and room type you get, but in general, hotels don't offer as much freedom and amenities as AirBnb's do. By that, I mean a full kitchen, living room, multiple bedrooms/bathrooms, balcony, etc. On top of likely paying more for a hotel than you would for an AirBnb, you will need to factor in more food and eating out if you stay in a hotel, since you probably won't be able to store groceries or cook like you could with an AirBnb.
Less People- If you are coming with a group of friends, you will either need to book a suite or multiple rooms, both of which will be more expensive and a hassle than an AirBnb
Amenities and Space- Again, this will depend on what AirBnb you book. You can easily find a really great AirBnb with 2+ bedrooms/bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, balcony, etc. for as much or less than you would spend on a hotel. I have loved having a full kitchen the past three years since it allows me to go grocery shopping when I arrive and get food that I can cook or put in the oven all weekend, instead of needing to go out to eat. I also love staying at places with balconies, and the majority of AirBnb apartments have balconies, something that is harder to find with hotels.
More People- If you are coming with more than 4 people, a multiple bedroom AirBnb is definitely the way to go. Last year, I went with five other people and we split a 3 bed/2 bath apartment through AirBnb and it was so nice that everyone had their own room, we weren't all fighting for one bathroom, and there was space for us all to hang out in the living room and kitchen.
Unreliable- I have read horror stories on social media from people who had their AirBnb reservation cancelled super last minute, sometimes even the day before Ultra, and they were left trying to find an alternative option at the last minute. To avoid this, book with a Super Host, read the reviews, and make sure to disclose that you will be attending Ultra Music Festival. Some hosts have cancelled last minute if they learn that their guests were attending the festival, so it's always best to let them know before they accept the booking to avoid this.
Difficult to Book- It can be difficult to initially book an AirBnb, we attempted to book two or three every year before finally getting accepted by the host. They would decline it because they realized it was for Ultra, or they didn't respond in time, or they had outrageous security deposits and cleaning fees that were disclosed after we attempted to book and we declined it.
Security Deposits- Most AirBnb's require a security deposit that you have to pay for at the time of booking and will get back after your stay, provided you didn't trash the place. This can be a bit annoying if you don't want to fork over an additional several hundred dollars that you won't get back until after Ultra.
It's hard to say whether hotels or AirBnb's are better to book for Ultra, they both offer pros and cons over the other. Choosing one really comes down to you and your group's preferences. Although I said that AirBnb can be unreliable, I want to point out that I haven't had issues with the three AirBnb's I've stayed in, once we had one securely booked.
Why Shouldn't I Book on South Beach?
I know a LOT of people book hotels on South Beach because they tend to be cheaper than downtown, they are along the beach, and they are close to the majority of the pool parties/beach parties/clubs that are on South Beach. South Beach is awesome and I usually go down there for a beach party on Thursday before Ultra, but I would NEVER stay there, here's why-
Those 18, 20, and 22 minute estimates are estimates for if there is no traffic at all, which is extremely unlikely. As you can see on the map, South Beach is connected to Miami via bridges, with not many lanes, and traffic can really pile up. Especially at those rush hour times that you will likely be trying to go to Ultra during. If you stay on South Beach, you will most likely be looking at 45 minutes to over an hour just to get from the island to downtown. If that isn't an issue for you, then South Beach is a great place to stay, but do keep in mind that Ubers and taxis are going to be VERY expensive (think about trying to get an Uber with surge pricing to a hotel that far away after Ultra ends every night...)
If you REALLY want to stay on South Beach and be close to the beach and parties, I would recommend either booking a hotel there for non-Ultra days (if you are going the week of Ultra for Miami Music Week), then having a closer hotel or AirBnb for the weekend; or be okay with spending over $100 on transportation every day, and having a much longer travel time to/from Ultra.