Getting off Virginia Key proves to be 'nightmarish' challenge for Ultra fans

Massive crowds give up on Ultra's buses, march across Rickenbacker Causeway

VIRGINIA KEY, Fla. – Not everyone arrived to the Ultra Music Festival at the same time when the gates opened Friday afternoon, but almost everyone was there when the last DJ played his set early Saturday morning on Virginia Key. There were fireworks, but when it was time for everyone to leave --- it was a logistical disaster. 

David Gonzalez walked out to a long line of electronic music fans who were waiting for buses. He had taken an Ultra bus to the festival and it took him over an hour to get there, but after the festival he gave up on the bus. He walked about four miles, got a Lyft and arrived at his hotel in South Beach about an hour and 30 minutes later. He was lucky. 



There were other festival attendees who had to walk more than him and wait for more than two hours before they too decided to cross the causeway. Gonzalez, who is a reporter out of Houston and is here on vacation, used Twitter to vent out his frustrations. He said the "new venue is crazy." The massive crowd was having "major issues getting off" Virginia Key."

While people were leaving the festival, the fireworks might have caused a fire. The EDMSauce blog shared a video of the flames engulfing a palm tree in the area of the Miami Marine Stadium. Miami Fire Rescue set up an operation center at the Mast Academy nearby. 



Gonzalez, who works for KHOU, decided to avoid the long line of "stranded" Ultra fans, and joined the first wave of thousands who decided to walk across the Rickenbacker Causeway. Since the buses were blocking the eastbound lanes, he worried it could take hours for those who were deciding to wait. 

"We haven't seen a single car get off in our direction," Gonzalez wrote. "Police have no control of the crowds."

While Gonzalez made it to the main land and was stuck with others who were having trouble using their Uber and Lyft apps, Tatiana Santos, 22, said she was still waiting in a line. She couldn't leave because the crowd was pushing her forward. She was tired after spending about 10 hours out dancing and she really wanted to get to her hotel.

"Look, the day was incredible, amazing. Now I am scared. This is nightmarish. I really wasn't expecting this to be like this and people are not happy," Santos said. "I really hope they figure this out tomorrow."



Wayno Sanchez made it to the front of the line where a man with a green and orange vest randomly decided who was going on the bus. Sanchez wrote on Twitter that the process was just disorganized, and he pleaded with Ultra organizers to "please fix this shuttle situation ASAP." 

Unless fans paid the $1,500 VIP ticket, which entitled them to a free boat ride to the Intercontinental Hotel, or they paid about $150 for a ride on the ferry to Bayside, fans like Branden Williams were stuck waiting. He felt like there was "only one way off this island." 

Several witnesses said there was a traffic incident that disrupted the traffic flow, and by 3 a.m., there was what a festival attendee described as a "mass exodus." He shared a video showing people taking over all of the lanes on the Rickenbacker Causeway. 

"People were walking all over the place. Police were driving by trying to shuffle festival attendees to the side allowing for vehicles to get through but it wasn't working well," he wrote on Twitter



Juan Escalante, a former Huffington Post columnist and an immigration activist, had a sense that it was not going to be easy to leave the festival, which was held at both the Miami Marine Stadium and the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. He felt fortunate to have decided to leave early.

It was 4:15 a.m., and festival attendees were still waiting to board the Ultra buses. As for Gonzalez and his friends, they were debating about whether or not to return to the festival on Saturday afternoon. The DJs sets are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and end at 2 a.m.



About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.