Egyptian Theatre Marquee. (Sundance Institute/Jill Oreschel)
My parents called tonight. They're coming to Sundance. I choked a bit. I've lived in Park City since 1990 and this is a first. "Are you sure?" I queried. "Sundance is a zoo. There's no parking, all of the restaurants are booked, it's even more expensive around here than normal, the tickets are probably sold out…" Was there a Beginners Guide To Sundance out there anywhere?
"Your father and I want to see snow and Europe's too far," said Mom. "Plus, I've always wanted to stay at the St. Regis." My folks are in their 80s. Back in the day, our vacations revolved around skiing but they retired the sticks decades ago. Still, you can't help but miss the mountains in winter when you've spent almost your whole life playing in them.
I considered this new information. Parents who don't ski but love film, snow and mountains. Sundance might just be the perfect vacation. When they've visited Park City in the past they've been bored. This is a town for adventure junkies. Once you've done the outlet mall, gotten a massage and fed on the "fine dining" there's not much else for retired skiers around here.
I started my research. How then do I advise my parents, your average tourists, to make the most out of their time at Sundance? Looks like I was going to have to devise my own Beginners Guide To Sundance.
The Beginners Guide To Sundance Starts With Lodging
You won't have a place to stay if you don't have a place to stay. In other words, book your lodging early and don't be picky. Everything in Park City gets gobbled up the closer you get to those last 10 days in January. My parents aren't into crashing in a three-bedroom place with four other people so they got a room at the St Regis with timeshare points that could have bought them a month in Hawaii. You can get a place in Salt Lake City for much less but the highway commute in January can be a nightmare if it dumps. You don't want to be stuck in a whiteout on I-80 while your movie plays. BTW, the major benefit of having a condo over a hotel room is the ability to cook, so you don’t have to eat out for every meal, saving some money.
The Beginners Guide To Sundance Transportation
No, Mom, you do not need a car. Split a cab, call Uber, book a shuttle. You DO NOT want a rental car in Park City during Sundance. The city shuts down Main Street to traffic, there's zero parking available unless you want to pay $50 for lots that are normally free, and the congestion is ridiculous.
I hitched a ride from Park Avenue to the top of Main (two miles tops) last year and it took over an hour. The bright side was I got to spend that time chatting with a fascinating, charmingly abrasive, post production supervisor from New York who worked on several of my favorite films.
Park City brings in extra buses to handle the transportation. The free system runs like clockwork and rivals any you would find in a large metropolis. They run late into the night so you don't need to worry about being stranded and the cast of characters on those buses- from local ski bums to Netflix execs- are priceless.
The Beginners Guide To Sundance Ticketing
Get a Sundance ticket package if you can afford one. My parents will see as many movies as they can but if you don't plan ahead individual tickets (which go on sale Jan. 17 for non-locals) sell out fast and you wind up standing in a cold waitlist line hoping someone doesn't show.
There is a new ewaitlist system that eliminates standing in line TWICE to MAYBE get in but you'll still have to be at the theater at least 30 minutes prior to showtime. You'll also need to be somewhere with a strong signal. The waitlist opens one hour prior to the screening and if you get a number higher than 50 your chances of actually getting in are slim to none. You can often buy tickets off scalpers standing in front of the theater. Patrons wind up with extra tickets because friends or clients couldn't make it in time or they decided to go to a party instead. I've gotten many a free ticket this way.
The Festival packages are pricey for non-locals ($650) but in addition to 10 tickets ($250 value), they include Festival credentials for two peeps.
You can only plant your butt in a dark theater for so long. The pass gets you into the rocking ASCAP music café, the Cinema Café, the Filmmakers Lodge, and several other "credential-only" venues that host VIP events like cocktail receptions and filmmaker panel discussions. You also get a ticket to the opening night party, but it's only a bonus if you like blaring dance music and drunk 20-somethings.
The Beginners Guide To Sundance Dining
"We want to go to the restaurants and experience the scene," my mom added. So does everyone else, Mom. If you get to Park City without reservations you will be ordering Domino's and Davanza's. Start booking the minute you know you're coming. Three nights in town equals three reservations.
Private parties book out most of the restaurants. Still, the best spots to celeb spot if you can get in are the Riverhorse Café, Chimayo, Zoom, Yuki Yama and Prime Steakhouse. I recommended St Regis' J&G Grill to my folks for the first Saturday night of the Fest to avoid the mayhem of Main. You can also eat someplace off Main that doesn't take reservations – like Sammy's Bistro, El Chubasco, The Blind Dog and our newest yummy Ganesh Indian Cuisine. If you just want something to eat and you want out of town anyway, locals head to Kimball Junction where you have a ton of options from Five Guys to Ghidotti's.
That's it for this first leg of our journey. Stay tuned for my mom's next phone call.