Tomorrowland 2016 - The Festival: A First Timer’s Guide, From a First Timer.

Photo Credit: tomorrowland.com

Christopher turned his head, looked at me and said, “You look so happy!”

He was right. The past four days, the four days that I had been patiently waiting for, the four days that brought nothing but excitement and joy, the four days that created friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life, the four days that flipped my world on its head, the four days that showed me what worldwide love is, the four days that took my breath away…was coming to a close.

As we sat on that hill, high and above, facing the Mainstage, I wanted to take in the last few minutes of Tomorrowland, before joining the +200k of masses towards the exit gates.

Christopher, an incredible soul from the small, beautiful country of Luxembourg, whom I had met that night, was right. I was happy…I was extremely happy.

It would be selfish of me to not share my experience, as a first timer at Tomorrowland, with others who may one day want to gain the same exposure. This is about what I, an individual who had never been to a festival of any sorts in his life before, experienced. I look at this opportunity as a way of passing it forward, as there were many veterans who provided me with tips about the dos and don’ts, before I made the trip.

To keep it structured, I’ve broken down the post into three components, with closing remarks at the end:

  1. Pre-Festival — Preparing for the unknown
  2. DreamVille —The camping grounds
  3. Tomorrowland — The Festival

Before I dive into it, I recommend watching this video. It’s one of the main influencers of why I wanted to go to Tomorrowland.

Pre-Festival — Preparing For The Unknown

I had zero idea on what to expect from Tomorrowland. All I knew was that I had to go. My best friend and I began researching the festival and read as much as we could about what to expect. This article, from Alex in Wanderland, laid out a good understanding of what the festival would be like. Aside from the segment, we found helpful advice from Reddit posters and Facebook groups. Of course, the Tomorrowland website itself was full of helpful resources.

Tickets to Tomorrowland:

The biggest eye opener for us was the fact that we were very late for finding tickets. If you’re unfamiliar with the ticketing process for Tomorrowland, like me and my traveling partner were, it’s imperative to know that the tickets sell out quick. I don’t mean quick as in a week or so when they become available online. I’m talking quick, as in WITHIN THE HOUR! Well, 40 minutes to be exact. Since we decided on attending the festival less than two months before it took place, we obviously couldn’t get the tickets from the site itself — everything was sold out.

After doing further research, we came to an understanding that the site Viagogo is the go to location for third party ticket sales. Think of it as a site like that of Ticketmaster, where sellers and buyers meet.

It is also imperative to note that Tomorrowland does not acknowledge or recommend the purchases of tickets from third party sites, including Viagogo.

To put it into perspective, Viagogo was the most non-reliable reliable site for us to purchase our tickets. From what we gathered, there would be risks associated with purchasing on a third party site, as there are fake tickets/scammers all over, but this site was the most trusted by past purchasers. With that said, how did we decide on what kind of ticket to purchase?

Here is a simple breakdown of the different packages that you can purchase for the festival. You can learn more here to decide which one fits what you’re looking for.

  • Tomorrowland tickets (just the festival): All three days (Fri-Sun) or buy each day individually.
  • Tomorrowland & Dreamville (camping grounds): Depending on how much $ you want to shell out, you have the option to set up your own tent at the Magnificent Greens, all the way up to lodging in luxury by selecting the DreamLodge and Cabana packages.
  • Global Journey: The package for those looking to utilize the complete travel component, from start to finish. This includes transportation, the festival, and lodging packages all combined.

On a small budget, but wanting to get the full experience, we decided to buy the Magnificent Greens package. This allowed us to set up a tent on the camp sites at DreamVille. We also received access to the 3-day festival and the Gathering, an event put on the night before the festival starts, just for those staying at DreamVille.

Once we received confirmation for the tickets (within 24-hours), we were notified that we could either have our bracelets (the most important component of the festival, as it’s how you get in and out of Tomorrowland, along with making any kind of purchase at the festival or DreamVille — more on this later) delivered to us, or that we could pick them up at Will Call. We chose the latter, as we didn’t want our bracelets shipped to a hostel, while we were backpacking Europe.

Camping:

Once we had our confirmation, we had just one problem: we didn’t have anything that would bring us remotely close to being prepared for camping. No tent, no sleeping bags, not blowup mattress…nothing!

Fortunately, Tomorrowland provides you the option to purchase tents from its site. Since we were backpacking Europe before the festival and didn’t want to drag along all the equipment, we decided to purchase a 2-person tent package. This included the tent, a blowup mattress, and two sleeping bags. We also purchased two XXL lockers (€40 per locker for four days) to lock up our backpacks and important materials, such as our passports and cash on hand.

In regards to what to bring with us to the festival, we knew that we had to have two essential needs: Our country’s flag, as people from around the world represent where they’re from, and unique outfits (the outfits you see people wearing at Tomorrowland are fantastic!). Aside from that, I followed what I needed to pack from a list I found on The Savvy Backpacker’s website.

***On a side note, if you’re thinking about backpacking and are a first timer like we were, this site is gold. Highly recommend it!

DreamVille — The Camping Grounds

We had heard that around 39,000 people would be staying at DreamVille. I couldn’t grasp how large that number would be, until we reached the site that would house us for the next four nights.

Bracelets:

Before heading in, we picked up our bracelets from Will Call. You will need a form of valid identification (license or passport will work) for every person that’s getting a bracelet, even if all tickets were purchased under one name.

They gave us one important advice, as they handed the bracelets over to us:

“Take a picture of the # that is on the back of your bracelet.”

This way if it gets lost, they’d be able to track your information and issue you a new one. I will do you a bigger favor and up this advice: TAKE A SELFIE WITH THE BACK OF YOUR BRACELET, SO THAT YOUR FACE IS IN THE PICTURE. Why? Because, I’m that guy!

Yes, I lost my bracelet the very first night when taking a shower in the dark and had to get a new bracelet. Sure, I had a picture of the # on my bracelet, but since we had purchased the tickets through Viagogo, no name or information was coming up in Tomorrowland’s system other than the name Viagogo. Therefore, which I don’t blame them, they couldn’t tell from the picture that that was my actual hand/bracelet. It was a mess and it took a long time for me to get a new bracelet. Do yourself a favor and take a selfie with your bracelet, regardless of where you get your ticket from.

Tents:

If you purchase a tent, like we did, you can pick it up in the same area as Will Call, before heading into DreamVille. The tents are super easy to setup and quick. The blowup mattress that comes with it obviously needs to be blown up. We were fortunate to find a group that had a pump, and we were able to get air in our mattress with less effort. However, we still broke sweat. The sleeping bags are okay and they get the job done, but don’t expect more. The tents are big enough to fit two people on the mattress, with a little room on the sides to put a few belongings.

Our overall experience with the entire package was good, and I recommend making the purchase if you don’t have your own gear. We paid €150 for the two-person tent package.

The Market:

As you struggle to take drag everything along with you when you enter DreamVille, trying to slowly take everything in, it finally hits you. On your way to the camp sites, you reach what I called the Market. A scene full of shops, music, benches & chairs, and concession stands, which provided food from around the world. This is the place where DreamVille folks can make purchases of just about anything. Whether you’re looking to grab a bite to eat, buy Tomorrowland apparel, get your hair and makeup done, and more, the Market will meet most of your needs. You just need one simple thing to make the purchases happen: Pearls.

Pearl:

Pearl is the currency at Tomorrowland/DreamVille. Yep, the festival has it’s own currency, and it’s expensive! To give you a perspective, I traded €100 for 65 Pearls. For those of you coming from the States, the currency exchange is around $2 for every Pearl, based on today’s (July 2016) currency exchange.

There are areas where you can visit and top off your bracelets with Pearls, as well as check your balance. That’s why your bracelet is extremely important. Not only do you need it to enter/exit DreamVille/Tomorrowland, but it’s the only way for you to make purchases.

Camp Grounds:

As we made our way through the Market, we were faced with the challenge of finding a location to set up our tent. Thousands and thousands of tents were being set up in various color districts. Make sure you have a way of mentally/physically setting a mark on your tent, so that you know where to go when you’re heading back in the middle of the night.

We managed to set up our tent right along the main path, next to our recently met Australian friends, marked by white painted borders. We did this instead of setting up camp in the middle of the grounds. It has its pros and cons, but it worked out for us.

  • Pros: It was easy to find our tent, and it was next to our friends.
  • Con: It was close to the walkway. Since the camp ground is mostly, if not all grass, the boardwalks have been laid out previously and are not always bolted down fully to the ground = a lot of noise when people are walking on them.

Lawn Chairs:

Many bring/buy lawn chairs, so that they can post-up around their tents. Since we didn’t have any, we ended up buying two from the Camp Equipment shop in the Market. You can either purchase them from the shop with your Pearls (more expensive — we learned the hard way), or you can head inside to the Lidl (grocery) store and purchase them there with your credit card.

I’m glad that we bought ours, as they were clutch for us to not only sit on and chat with our Australian friends (three different groups), but I also ended up using them for air drying my clothes, overnight.

Photo Credit: Author

Accommodations:

In each color district there are the following: food and drink tents, bathroom port-a-potties/urinals, hand wash areas, a Pearl top-off tent where you can check your balance and/or add Pearls to your bracelet, and both indoor and outdoor showers.

When it comes to the showers, if you’re looking to have a private shower, at your own comfort, it’s best to go inside. However, it’s important to note that the inside showers cost 2.5 Pearls each. Since I didn’t want to pay for showers, I only took outside showers. Depending on the time of the day you want to shower, which I really hope you do, expect long lines.

If you decide to shower in the morning when you wake up, the lines will be long, as everyone is trying to wash away the previous day’s sweat. The best times, in my opinion, to shower are right before you go to bed or around 1:00pm-ish the following day, as people either don’t have the energy to shower that late or have already headed to the festival, since the acts begin at noon.

Tent-bors:

When you set up your tent, make the effort to introduce yourself and become friends with your tent neighbors. You’ll be seeing quite a bit of them in the 4 nights that you’re staying at DreamVille, so make the best out of it. We made friends with three different Australian groups around us, and we all set up our tents in a small circle. This way, we could place lawn chairs in the middle for when we hung out. I highly recommend it.

Also, if you get a Tomorrowland tent, they pop open as soon as you take one out of the bag, as they’ve made it extremely easy to set up, with out needing previous experience. Regardless of how quickly you set up, it doesn’t hurt to go help others set up, should they need/ask for your help. It’s another great way to make new friends. We ended up helping a group with their tent and they thanked us with ice cold beers — a win-win for everyone.

Lockers:

We had to ask a few times from various employees on where to find the lockers. Since there are various types of crew members, we got our answer from crew members that had the purple vests on. They seemed to be on the higher end of the crew-member spectrum. However, this is not to take away from the knowledge that all crew members have. They’re fantastic and energetic people.

One thing to note about the lockers, as we learned, is to not go off of the pictures Tomorrowland posts about which luggages and sizes fit in the lockers, rather the actual measurements. We had to force our backpacks into the XXL lockers, the biggest option, which we each got one of.

Photo Credit: tomorrowland.com

Grocery:

Aside from buying meals at DreamVille, some choose to also load up on smaller, non-refrigerated grocery. You have three options when it comes to buying groceries:

  1. Many choose to buy groceries before coming into “town.” Based on DreamVille’s guidelines — Article 7, you can bring in all the food you want, with limited amount of beer (12 cans per person). The only exception is that you can’t bring in glass or bottles, so if you have a handle of something you want to bring in, you’re best off pouring it into a water bottle.
  2. If you forget to do your grocery shopping before getting into DreamVille, don’t fret. There is a grocery store that is walking distance (I’d say less than 2 miles) from DreamVille that many people go to. It’s very easy to find, as all you have to do is follow the crowd out of DreamVille. We made a trip on the 2nd morning of our stay. The store is fairly priced, with many options, from produce and dry goods, to sodas and alcohol. If you have your own grocery bags, take them with you. We had one on hand from previous shopping and avoided the half-a-Euro charge for a bag.
  3. Lastly, if you just don’t want to make the walk outside of DreamVille, there is a small Lidl store (a German grocery-chain) in the Market area that has the basic essentials that you may need. From what I remember, it does NOT sell alcohol. One of the upsides of this store is that it does not operate on Pearls and takes credit card, which is huge!

Sim Cards, Wi-fi, and Charging Stations:

Needing to communicate with one another at the festival, my friend and I purchased a sim card in Brussels before heading to Boom. It was a mistake, as the data stopped working shortly after the purchase. Once we got to DreamVille, we decided to head to the Base tent in the Market, were we bought a sim card for €15. The package included 2.5GB of data, which was more than enough for us. There is also a wifi station at their main tent, which we could tap into.

In regards to charging phones and devices, there are NO outlets at DreamVille, at least from what we gathered. At the Base tents, you can purchase chargers for 16 Pearls, which you’ll get 10 back once you return the device.

Here’s how it works: You get one charger, charge your device(s), and once it runs out of battery, you return the device and get a new one for no extra fee. You can go through this process as many times as you’d like. There are a few Base tents in both DreamVille and Tomorrowland where you can go in and swap the batteries. We split one between the two of us, since each charging device could charge up both of our phones up to a 100%. I highly recommend getting one, as you’ll need it throughout the few days you’re at the event.

Chill Zones:

Sadly, we didn’t explore the Chill Zones until our last day. Here, you’ll find many sporting activities, with people playing sand volleyball, small goal soccer (football), tennis, and more. You’ll find some posted up in hammocks, relaxing in the shade. There are yoga classes that take place each morning both in this area and the Market. And of course, there is a drink/food area for people to hang out.

The Gathering:

As the energy grows, the tents go up, and new friendships begin, all wait the anticipated show for Thursday evening, The Gathering. Although Tomorrowland officially begins on a Friday, a special show is put on for just the individuals staying at DreamVille on Thursday night. As the sun sets, the lights come on, the party begins.

The folks at Tomorrowland had two surprises for us as the event was coming to a close, first being Afrojack, the second being Tiesto. If there was ever a way to kickoff the festival, this was it. No matter where you were coming from, how long you had travelled for, the amount of headaches you had gone through, none of it mattered at this point. This was it. Tomorrowland had officially begun…Well, sort of.

Photo Credit: tomorrowland.com

Tomorrowland — The Festival

If you’re staying at DreamVille, and depending on which package you choose for housing, expect to walk quite a bit before reaching the festival. There is a pathway laid out to the festival just for DreamVille occupants (daily participants not staying at DreamVille have their own entrance).

Before getting to the festival, I had heard that it’s not a bad idea to split your day into two segments:

  • Get up in the morning and head to the festival by the time the opening acts start, at noon.
  • Then head back to the tents around 3pm, rest up a little, then go back to the festival for the evening shows.

This sounded like a solid plan, and while I’m sure it works for others, it wasn’t our cup of tea. We learned that the hard way. We gave this idea a go on Friday and regretted the decision. It added unnecessary amount of walking. The following two days, we decided to leave late for the festival, and just stay the entire time, which worked out really well. Do what works for you.

Security:

With the unfortunate turn of events taking place all around Europe, Tomorrowland had upped is security measurements. Although the lines to get into the festival were longer than normal vs. previous years, from what we had heard, it paid off for everyone’s safety.

In regards to the lines themselves, they did end up splitting them between men and women. This was a bit of an eye opener, as the men’s line tended to be much longer than the women’s. This should give you a little bit of an idea when it comes to the festival attendee gender ratio…not that it should matter.

The lines move fairly quickly, as you empty your pockets, get a simple body check, and move along. If you bring a bag with you, they’ll check it. With that said, you can NOT bring any food or drinks into the festival. I had my Camelbak on me, but had to make sure all of the water was out of it. There would be stations inside for me to fill up again.

The Welcomed Shock:

As we entered the festival for the first time, all I was trying to do was to take it all in. There is so much going on, all at the same time, that it’s a bit overwhelming to wrap your head around the atmosphere. If you happen to not download the Tomorrowland app (highly recommended), you can stop by the big information tent, right as you enter, to get a map/schedule for the 3-day shit show.

The best way I could explain what I was seeing as we entered the festival is by comparing it to Disney World’s Epcot, but an adult version of it. All around you there are food and drink tents, coming from around the globe. There are shops, selling everything from jewelry to apparel. And of course, the stages. As music fills the air from all angles, you start gravitating towards one, getting ready to fully immerse yourself in the music.

Photo Credit: Tomorrowland

The Stages (16):

For majority of EDM (Electric Dance Music) fans, they’re already well acclimated with the DJs performing at the festival. For us, not so much. We were familiar with the mainstream DJs, but they made up about 10% of the entire lineup. As most attendees knew which stages to hit (16 total!!!) and at what times, we decided to use our lack of knowledge to our benefit. We ended up hopping from stage to stage, enjoying each one for a solid amount of time, before moving on to the next one. This method also introduced us to various shops that we wouldn’t have seen had we stayed in just one location.

The Mainstage:

If you’re anything like us, bunch of noobs, then this is the place to play it safe, when ending each day. Why? Because we knew most of the headline performers that went on in the evenings. Also, the Mainstage is where they put on the biggest (in my opinion) light/firework show to end each night. As it starts getting dark, the masses start flocking to the Mainstage, getting ready for the closers. During our three days, we split our standing locations into two:

  1. Night one: Get as close as we possibly could to the stage.
  2. Nights two and three: Take it all in from the top of the hill, all the way in the back.

Each had its pros and cons. Being extremely close to the stage is a crazy feeling: the DJs are in clear view, the atmosphere is absolutely intense, and you’ll definitely have a hell of a time. However, it’s important to also note the cons. We decided to get close early in the afternoon to have a solid spot for the evening. One thing that we learned quickly is the amount of people who want to just barge their way to the front, late in the evening, when there’s clearly no room for them. Most being drunk, their methods included using force to push through, pretend they had friends that they’re meeting up with, or acted lost. As more people aim for the front, your odds of having space to dance/jump/put an arm up become less and less.

After getting the experience up front, we decided to stay in the back for the last two days. Why? Well, for many reasons. It was a lot easier to leave your spot to go to the bathroom and/or grab food/drinks. We had plenty of space to dance (a huge deal for me), much easier to find each other if we got separated, and easier to make new friends. Most importantly, the view is second to none.

Photo Credit: tomorrowland.com

Ear Plugs:

This may sound odd, but it doesn’t hurt to have a pair of ear plugs with you when you attend the festival. Without them, my ear drums would have definitely exploded. It gets loud, I mean REALLY LOUD, so protecting your ears is a solid investment. Even with them on, you’ll have a great time. Throughout the festival, you’ll see crew members handing them out, so don’t spend a lot of money buying a pair.

Food and Drinks:

As I mentioned earlier, there are food and drink tents everywhere. Absolutely no shortage when it comes to that component. If you do decide not to bring a Camelbak with you into the festival (we only did so the first day), you’ll need to buy water inside to stay hydrated. If you plan on buying water, it’s imperative that you know that when they sell you a bottle, they take the top off and keep it. You’ll get a cap-less water bottle.

Why do they do that? So that you go back and purchase another one, instead of refilling the bottle. Some TL goers keep their caps from previous bottles that they bought outside of the festival and bring the caps with them. That way they can reuse the bottles.

The food in general is good. We had zero complaints about the quality of the food that was provided at Tomorrowland. In clutch times, the Belgium Fries pulled through for us and were fire. They’re definitely worth having.

Exploring:

One of the best pieces of advice we got before going to Tomorrowland was to not stay in one location/stage. We took that advice to heart and increased our FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) to the max. Thanks to that advice, we had the chance to see festival actors put on shows, roam the streets of TL, and introduce us to different activities.

For example, they had a station open where you could send Tomorrowland postcards to anyone around the globe. Also, we didn’t have to worry about postage, as it was covered by Tomorrowland.

The amount of walking that you do and the long days in the heat can be exhausting. If you get tired, you can find comfortable areas to relax. We saw a few people taking a quick nap in the hammocks, while others went with just laying in the grass.

Regardless of what you’re looking for, go explore. Aside from the music, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Service:

I would be doing the folks over at Tomorrowland a huge disservice by not showing appreciation towards their engagement with the attendees. From the second you enter the world of Tomorrowland, to the last minute that you leave, they show absolute class, always there to help you, with a smile on their face.

They are also incredibly efficient when it comes to keeping the festival grounds clean. Every night that we left the festival, it was difficult to distinguish where the trash ended and where the grass/concrete began. However, the next day, the place would look flawless, clean and ready to go.

It’s baffling to think about the amount of work that goes into preparing for the weekend-long festival. Every single component of the festival has been thoroughly thought through, prepared, and executed with excellence. Down to the small details, it’s not hard to see that the entire Tomorrowland family gave their all to make this experience a memorable one for the attendees.

Friendships:

With the amount of people attending Tomorrowland, you have to try extremely hard not to meet and make new friends. From all around the globe, all come together for a weekend that is solidified on music and love, and it would be a waste not to take an advantage of it. I encourage you to meet and make as many friends as possible. The memories you’ll create with them are unwavering.

Dance Moves:

Lastly, and I can’t even believe I have to even talk about this, as it should be a given, but make sure you dance. Yes, dance! Everyone has their way of dancing, and Tomorrowland isn’t a place for people to judge your dancing, as they’re focused on their own moves. You have spent a large some of money to be here, so don’t just stand their when watching a show. You’re not a scarecrow, standing still in the middle of the field. Get lost in the music. I get it, it’s hard to let loose when you’re body is so acclimated to being tense all the time, but try. Let it all out, and you’ll be surprised by your own moves.

Closing Remarks

There have been a few times in my life where I have attended events, where the essence of utopia was present. They have been events where it did not matter where you came from, who you were, what you did for a living, or what troubles filled your suitcase. Tomorrowland is and will always be one of those events for me.

From what I heard, over 220 countries were present at this year’s Tomorrowland. I will be forever thankful for Tomorrowland, as the friendships I was able to make will always stay with me. You meet an extraordinary amount of beautiful souls, all from around the globe, that you become close to within a matter of few days. The love at Tomorrowland has no boundaries, no room for hatred.

Speaking to other attendees, first timers and veterans, it’s hard not to see how the festival affects their lives. It’s also easy to see that every person copes differently after the event is over. For me, it was writing this segment. If it helps one person with their planning, or better yet, influence them to make the decision to attend Tomorrowland, then it has been worthwhile the effort.

If you’re that person, I hope to see you at Tomorrowland 2017, my friend.

Additional suggestions to remember — Input from other TL attendees:

  • 2016: The information that has been provided in this post are based on the sole experience of Tomorrowland 2016. Based on feedback from attendees who have attended the event in the past, certain aspects of the festival do change year over year. Therefore, a few components of this post about the festival may differ in the future.
  • Theft: Although not common, it won’t hurt to lock up your tent before heading to the festival, each day. Not wanting to risk losing anything valuable, even though we had a lock, we did not leave anything important in our tent. That way, were someone to get in, they’d be disappointed with what they found. Also, when at the festival, if you do end up close to the stage, with the crowd mashed together, be wary of your pockets/packs. Again, not that it’s common, but theft does happen.
  • Credit Cards: If you’re coming from the U.S. (I can’t speak on whether or not this is the case for other countries), it’s important to talk to your provider about:
  1. Buying your TL tickets— I had to call my card provider before being able to buy the tickets online. My card got blocked the first time, since it was outside the ordinary purchases I was making on a regular basis.
  2. Credit Line/Transaction Fee/Usage Abroad — Make sure you call your card provider to let them know you’ll be traveling abroad, so that your card doesn’t get blocked. It’s also crucial to ask them about any transaction fees that may apply. Also, make sure you know how much your line of credit is, so that you don’t end up in a difficult situation when making a purchase.
  • Transportation: Belgium can be difficult to navigate through, compared to other Western European countries. You can purchase shuttle tickets to/from Tomorrowland and the Boom train station through Tomorrowland’s website. Definitely make the purchase! Most people fly/rail into Brussels, before heading to Boom. Make sure you know how you’re getting to Boom. The two options that seemed to be common for travelers:
  1. Take the train from Brussels to Antwerp, switch trains to Boom, and then get on the bus shuttle to the festival. I recommend this option.
  2. Or, take the train from Brussels to Mechelen, then take the bus shuttle to Tomorrowland. This is the option that we ended up doing, although we weren’t planning on doing so. The shuttle dropped us off at a weird location, and everyone had to trek to the entrance. It took people around 45 minutes to get make the walk to the right location, with all of their gear on. I don’t recommend this option.

*** Disclaimer: All opinions/recommendations/advice provided in this segment are of my own or have been provided to share by others and are not associated or affiliated in any matter with Tomorrowland, or any of its affiliations.