The Survival Series is a resource highlighting my favorite festivals and parties around the world. Previously I’ve featured Burning Man, an epic week-long social experiment in the desert, Sunjam, an intimate annual rave on a deserted Central American island, and The Full Moon Party, Southeast Asia’s most infamous monthly blowout.
I’ve got festival fever, and Tomorrowland was an itch I just had to scratch. Read on for the complete Alex in Wanderland guide to Tomorrowland. This post refers exclusively to the original Belgian event, though there are now sister festivals in the US and Brazil.
Tomorrowland is an whimsically over-the-top EDM (that’s Electronic Dance Music, dad) festival. But Tomorrowland is about much more than music — it’s an event that prides itself on user experience and creating an extravagant and eccentric playground for ravers to go down the rabbit hole in.
The year I attended Tomorrowland, 2014, was its tenth year anniversary. As one music blog describes it,
Tomorrowland is bigger, louder, harder and most definitely crazier than any other festival I’ve ever been to. Fireworks synced with the drops of the tracks being played, floating stages in the middle of a lake, dancers dressed as fairytale characters next to the DJs, helicopters dropping flowers over the dancing crowd, soap bubbles in the air everywhere, ferris wheels and poker casinos – Tomorrowland has it all. Source.
Electronic Dance Music devotees, festival fanatics, and whimsy lovers from over 220 countries around the world. A total of 60,000 revelers per day over the three day weekend belies the oft-quoted number of 180,000 tickets sold per year. DreamVille, Tomorrowland’s fantasy land onsite camping and glamping village, holds up to 35,000 people.
The aptly named town of Boom, Belgium, a small town of about 16,000 about halfway between Antwerp and Brussels. The festival takes over the De Schorre recreation area, a lush park with lakes, beaches, forest, and a natural ampitheater all incorporated into the various stages.
Tomorrowland typically takes place towards the end of July. For the tenth anniversary in 2014, two weekends were held, July 18-20 and July 25-27. In 2015, Tomorrowland will be held over the weekend of July 24-26.
Those camping in DreamVille can arrive on Thursday and leave on Monday, and enjoy an exclusive pre-party on Thursday night known at The Gathering.
Tomorrowland is a full scale production with a ticket price (€237.50/$300) to match! Yet overall costs will vary wildly — from those traveling in from other parts of Europe and pitching a tent in general camping to someone flying in from across the world on a full service Global Journey package, the difference could be thousands of dollars.
I wrote a full post on my own personal cost breakdown from Tomorrowland, which totaled around $1,500.
Demand for Tomorrowland tickets is ridiculously high. Billboard reports that the 360,000 tickets available for 2014’s two weekends sold out in under an hour.
How I Got Tickets
Personally, I lucked into tickets in a very unexpected way. My Tomorrowland partner-in-crime Heather lives in the Cayman Islands, and on January 31st she received an email telling her that she was one of the first ten people to pre-register in her country, giving her entry into an extremely exclusive International Invites pre-sale designed to ensure the diversity of the festival’s audience. Obviously, not everyone has the benefit of having their festival buddy based out of a small Caribbean island nation. But if you live in a very sparsely populated country, it’s worth it to make sure you’re at your keyboard the moment pre-registration opens. You might just get lucky.
Still, even this was not without hiccups — when we received the link to buy tickets, all the DreamVille choices we were interested in didn’t even show as options. We didn’t know if they were sold out, or perhaps just unavailable for International Invitations. This seemed odd and so we hysterically tried to reach out to customer service for the next twenty four hours, panicking the entire time that we might lose what few options we had entirely. At one point, in response to a detailed, multi-paragraph email, we received the following — “We have received your email and we are working on it. We will contact you and give you further information.“ Gee thanks! About two days later, magically, the Dream Lodge appeared as an option, and we pressed purchase. That launched a whole other drama to do with Paylogic, the site that processes all ticket orders, rejecting Heather’s various credit cards multiple times. And I’m not even getting into the drama over the fact that Tomorrowland won’t deliver tickets to PO Boxes, which is the only way of receiving mail in the Cayman Islands.
Buying tickets to Tomorrowland? Not for the faint at heart.
How You Can Get Tickets
There is no way to guarantee getting tickets, though Tomorrowland proved their money making genius by arranging ticket sales so that ticket panic would motivate festival hopefuls to spring for the obscenely overpriced Global Journey packages, which include plane or train transfers plus accommodation in either DreamVille or a hotel, and go on sale two weeks prior to general sale.
This was the timeline for 2014’s ticket sales:
January 13: Pre-registration
Feb 1: Global Journey tickets go on sale
Feb 3: International Invites on sale
Feb 8: Belgian Pre-sale tickets go on sale (You must have a Belgian bank account and Belgian home address to be able to order tickets in the Belgian presale.)
Feb 15: General sale tickets go on sale
March 16: Final date to complete personalization (After this date, tickets cannot be transferred or resold except through The Exchange Desk, Tomorrowland’s official outlet for transfer.)
Despite extensive research, I was unable to determine how many tickets were allotted for each of the sales. One thing is for sure — in order to be eligible for Tomorrowland ticket sales you must complete pre-registration. This will give you a unique access code in order to enter the ticket shop when the sale opens. So the steps to getting tickets to Tomorrowland include:
STEP 1: Pre Register
STEP 2: Purchase Tickets — if you are lucky! Up to four tickets may be purchased at a time. Once payment goes through, you will receive a confirmation e-mail. This e-mail is not a ticket — when the personalization process starts, you will receive an e-mail with a special link to personalize your tickets.
STEP 3: Personalize tickets. There is a one month period for personalization — during this month is when the black market for ticket resales will go crazy. Once the final date for personalization has passed, it becomes significantly harder, if not impossible, to transfer tickets.
STEP 4: Receive tickets. Tomorrowland tickets come in the form of color-coded, light-up wristbands. These arrive in the last two weeks of June or beginning of July.
STEP 5: Use tickets! Make sure to bring photo ID matching the name on the tickets.
There are all kinds of crazy theories about how to game the online lottery system in order to ensure tickets. Forums and Facebook groups are bursting with theories about reloading the page, using various IP addresses, and speed testing your connecting before sales start — some super-smarty pants coding geniuses even figured out how to hack into the system during the Belgian pre-sale this year! (The organizers caught on before general sale.) Personally, I wasn’t planning on taking any extraordinary measures other than setting my alarm for an hour before the sale to remind myself to get in front of my laptop.
One thing you can do to prepare? Call your credit card the day before sales let them know you will be making a large international purchase and to decrease the chances they will block the sale.
What if You Don’t Get Tickets?
Exercise extreme caution in buying tickets second hand. Message boards, Facebook groups and ticket resale sites are flooded with Tomorrowland tickets at vastly inflated price, but there are no guarantees of their veracity and plenty of heartbreak scam stories. One site that seems to get consistently good reviews for second hand tickets is Viagogo, though I have no personal experience with them and Tomorrowland maintains they do not recommend using any ticket resale sites. Tomorrowland’s own Exchange Desk is the only officially sanctioned outlet to resell tickets.
You can reach Boom by car, by train, by Tomorrowland shuttle, or by Global Journey. International travelers will most likely fly into Brussels Airport (airport code BRU).
There are directions (don’t use your GPS!) and paid parking for those who arrive by car — parking vouchers are cheaper to buy ahead online than at the gate. If you’re thinking of driving an RV and bedding down in the parking lot at night, time for Plan B — camping in the lots is strictly forbidden. There are free shuttles from the certain parking lots to and from Tomorrowland.
There are also free shuttles from the Boom train station to and from Tomorrowland and DreamVille. For those staying in DreamVille, extra trains will run to Boom on Thursday, with the last free shuttle bus to DreamVille leaving at the railway station in Boom at 9 pm. On Monday, the free shuttles will be leaving from around 7am to 2pm. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be free shuttles to and from the train station and both DreamVille and Tomorrowland.
Generally we found information about train service to and from Boom to be confusing and often conflicting, even within the official Tomorrowland site. On Sunday, employees at the DreamVille information desk seemed baffled by our question of how to reach Brussels by public transportation the next day. After come coaxing they pulled up the train schedule for us online, which involved at minimum one transfer. You can check schedules and ticket fares here.
Airport shuttles go to DreamVille from both Brussels’ two airports on Thursday, and return on Monday. Prices are reasonable at €27 or $34 round trip. Be sure your shuttle driver knows where in DreamVille you are staying — we didn’t know to mention we were staying in the Dream Lodge village and were dropped off clear at the opposite end of the campsite, a full forty minute walk away with all our luggage. Whoops! There are also shuttles that run to and from the festival and several cities within Belgium, the Netherlands and France on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. These range between €20-€24 per day.
On Monday, we wanted to go to downtown Brussels rather than the airport as we were spending a night in the city decompressing before flying out the next day. When we went to the information desk to find out our options, we were happily surprised that we were quite easily able to sweet talk our way into two Global Journey bracelets, which allowed us to hop on a Brussels station-bound shuttle for those connecting to their Global Journey package trains (despite bold-lettered signs declaring shuttles were strictly for Global Journey guests only!) This made us cheer with joy — our hotel was a five minute taxi from the train station as opposed to the hour it would have taken us to reach it from the airport. While this was a bonus for us, I would love to see Tomorrowland add in DreamVille shuttles on Thursday and Monday to and from Brussels and Antwerp — make it easier to explore the rest of the country, rather than just b-line to the airport!
If you are on a Global Journey package, everything will be arranged for you from door to door. Shuttles will bring you from your flight or train directly to your hotel or to DreamVille. If you are on a hotel package and staying in Brussels, a free shuttle will bring you to and from the festival grounds each day. More on Global Journey below.
Tomorrowland’s guide to how to get to and from the festival is found here.
In comparison to other festivals and events I’ve covered in this series, like Sunjam, The Full Moon Party, and Burning Man, staying literally alive is less of an issue. The festival is highly organized, security and medical teams are at the ready, and the grounds have been heavily rookie-raver-proofed.
However, there are the usual risks of overindulgence and dehydration. All the sinks in the restroom areas have potable water — no signs indicate this, though if you ask at information or security they will concede it, and every single time I made a trip to the toilets there were several people filling up. You will not be able to bring even empty water bottles into the festival and I received mixed reports on whether or not Camelbaks were allowed. Additionally, any water bottles you buy inside the festival will be handed to you with the bottle cap off. So your best bet is to bring a few bottle caps in your pocket, buy a bottle of water, and use the caps you brought to allow you to refill and drink as necessary during the day, cutting down on both costs and plastic.
Drugs are taken fairly seriously at Tomorrowland. Pat downs are par for the course getting through the gate, and there were drug sniffing dogs accompanying the row of stern-faced Belgian police that waited on the other side more than once. “Amnesty bins” at every festival entrance allow for those with a last minute change of heart to dump contraband with no consequences.
DreamVille, on the other hand, is fairly anything goes.
Tomorrowland is known for its culinary highlights from around the globe — you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty at this festival. We enjoyed sampling many food stand specialties throughout the weekend, from Chat Hills Smokehouse pulled pork sandwiches to stir fried Asian noodles. There were also plenty of local treats, from cheap waffles and croquettes to a luxurious “chocolate experience” from Belgian chocolateier Callebaut. Vegetarian and gluten free options are available. Learn more here.
Food and drink are paid for with tokens purchased at special “ATM machines” using cash or credit cards. For more on costs, see my Tomorrowland budget breakdown.
There are three specialty restaurants and one specialty bar at Tomorrowland, each of one requires a reservation and a pre-purchased voucher. Wout Bru is the namesake pop up restaurant of a star Belgian chef with a mainstage view. BEAT features Beats by Dre headphones and a menu matched to the music and atmosphere of the current headliner. And Belgian Steakhouse features — you guessed it! — Belgian steaks. Bubbles with a View is a specialty bar serving full bottles of champagne, accompanied by a bowl of strawberries, with kick-ass mainstage views. Because we didn’t want to be tied down to a special reservation time, and because they sold out fairly quickly, we skipped the specialty restaurants. We did, however, splurge on Bubbles with a View, and it was fabulous!
You can bring unlimited amounts of your own food and drinks into DreamVille, though no glass is permitted — alcohol must be transferred into plastic bottles. Also be aware that ice is not sold on site.
On the DJ festival circuit, Tomorrowland is the enigmatic mecca of holy rave magic. Any raver worth his or her untz must make it there at least once, get muddy and praise the bpms. Source.
Alex in Wanderland’s Tomorrowland Tips
Tomorrowland is not easy to prepare for! In comparison to Burning Man, where I felt almost overwhelmed by the amount of helpful tips and planning information available, Tomorrowland was much more of a mystery. Here’s what I wish I had known —
1. Build in Time In Belgium
If you’re traveling internationally to attend Tomorrowland, don’t make the mistake of missing beautiful Belgium outside Boom! For me, Brussels made the perfect base to rest off any travel fatigue in an amazing hotel, stock up on supplies, and see a bit of the country. Civilized highlights like my Brussels chocolate walking tour and day trips to Ghent and Bruges perfectly complemented the hedonism of Tomorrowland.
Regardless of whether or not sightseeing is on the agenda, be sure to plan ahead. There are supermarkets in Boom, but it’s best not to rely on them, as liquor and bottled water will be sold out quickly. The city’s population is 16,000 – Tomorrowland’s population is 60,000 per day. Stock up ahead of time.
Whatever you do, don’t book an early morning flight or train on Monday. If you are staying in DreamVille, getting packed up, checked out and back to Brussels is quite the process. We were so grateful for our extra night in Brussels to get organized, repack, mail home our festival souvenirs, and buy one last round of Belgian chocolate. And don’t assume if you book Global Journey they will choose you an ideal flight time — our Dream Lodge neighbors had to leave at 5am to catch their flights back to Norway, a hassle they had paid a serious premium for!
2. Pack Properly
Think carefully about what to bring to Tomorrowland, as you’ll pay a premium for any essentials you forget. Sunscreen and chapstick, (the festival is open from noon to 1am — most of it takes place during daylight!), tokens and a backup credit card or cash, the key to my locker, my camera or iPhone, and bottle caps (all water sold in Tomorrowland is handed over sans cap) made it into the festival with me every day.
For DreamVille, don’t forget earplugs for sleeping or a towel for showering. I made a rookie festival mistake of thinking I’d be comfortable in flip flops during the day. In addition to my rainboots, I wish I’d brought a pair of lightweight day boots, Keds, or other close-toed shoes. Things got messy — and muddy!
Also bring physically printed copies of any and all vouchers (festival tickets, shuttle transfers, Bubbles with a View, exclusive dining experiences, etc.)
3. Download the Tomorrowland App
I don’t know what I would have done without the Tomorrowland App! Available two weeks before festival on Android and iPhone, this beautifully designed app allows you to scroll through timetables, maps, FAQs, and even place your tent on a map of DreamVille should you find yourself lost when stumbling home late at night. Be sure to download the app before you arrive — there’s no wifi at Tomorrowland, and it’s available in only one tucked away corner of DreamVille (which I didn’t visit the entire four days!)
4. Don’t Get Stuck on the Mainstage
I was absolutely shocked when I talked to other festival-goers on Saturday who had barely left the main stage. Tomorrowland is a playground, go explore it! Discover hidden stages, ride the ferris wheel (night and day!), taste test different treats, and go discover new artists you’ve never heard of. While we stuck to the mainstage for the last few hours of each night, some of my favorite moments and sets (namely, Kygo on the BlueFlame stage and Diplo on Mad Decent) happened elsewhere in the festival grounds.
5. Join Facebook Groups
I joined a few Tomorrowland Facebook groups once I started looking into attending, and they were immensely helpful in planning. While they were occasionally flooded with ridiculous memes and posts desperately searching for tickets, there was also plenty of useful information being exchanged and I received answers to some questions that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.
6. Protect your Wristband
Be careful with your wristband — the faces (the part with the Tomorrowland logo) fell off easily and unless the wristband would no longer scan, you could not get a replacement. Mine broke the first hour I was at the festival and I was extremely irritated that after all I’d spent to be there, I was expected to walk around all weekend with a broken wristband. Thankfully a sympathetic employee at the Dream Lodges broke protocol and gave me a replacement part from another discarded band. Be careful!
7. Pace Yourself
On of the things I loved most about staying in DreamVille was the ability to enter the festival as it opened, spend a few hours playing during the day, and then go back to the campsite to relax, regroup, and then get ready to rage again at night. Four nights and three days was the perfect amount of time for this festival — but I don’t think I would have made it had we attempted to stay inside the gates for the full thirteen hours they were open.
8. Get Swept Away
Sure, some of the sentiments are a bit cheesy. Some of the “peace, love, unity and respect” stuff rang a tad hollow and some of the sets seemed a tad manufactured. But the bottom line? Tomorrowland is a blast. Grab a friend, unplug from the world, and enter the technicolor wonderland that is Tomorrowland. Get swept away in the madness.