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30 Best Bucket List Trips For Your Lifetime: The Biggest Party In The World

If you have not been, you cannot imagine how big this party is
This is part of an ongoing series. In the original feature I explain why you should sit down and map out a multi-year travel plan to make sure you get to see and do all the things that are most important to you. Read this guide, “Why Right Now is the Best Time to Plan Your Travel Bucket List” here.
In this follow up series, I present 30 different curated Once in a Lifetime experiences and destinations for you to consider. Obviously everyone’s dream list will be different, and whatever it is that you feel you really want or need to do should be at the top of your list, but with the help of experts and my 25-years experience as an award-winning travel journalist I’ve put together some great highlights to consider. Each day I’ll present a different option (see them all here):
Oktoberfest, Munich Germany
In 16 days, Munich's Oktoberfest draws more people than live in Chicago and Houston combined
Why? Munich’s famous Oktoberfest is quite literally the biggest party in the world and has been a major celebration for well over 200-years. Among all the world’s biggest festivals, Carnival in Rio, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and so on, this is the one I feel makes the life Bucket List for anyone who loves a good party, and having been twice, I can attest that it is tons of fun, but also full of surprises and far more than just a lot beer drinking.
It all goes back to October 12, 1810 when Bavaria’s Prince Ludwig set a new standard for no-holds-barred wedding parties, marring Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen at some point during a non-stop five-day soiree, complete with city-wide celebrations - including a horse race. The locals loved this big party so much they decided to repeat it the following year, minus the nuptial vows. And the next, and the next, until Oktoberfest evolved into the current 16-day spectacle of parades, rides, entertainment, food, culture, attractions and lots of beer. After more than two centuries of rehearsing, Munich has totally perfected the world’s biggest party. Make no mistake about it, Oktoberfest in Munich is a Bucket List worthy, once-in-a-lifetime, activity of epic proportions, but many fans visit several times or even every year.
About 6 million visitors were expected for the 16-day festival this fall, a number typical in recent years, and it is worth noting that this is more people in two weeks than visit the Grand Canyon - another Bucket List type destination - in an entire year. It is a million people more than the populations of Chicago and Houston, our third and fourth biggest cities - combined. On average, patrons consume around half a million roast chickens, a quarter of a million sausages, 45,000 pig’s knuckles and more than one hundred whole oxen, spit roasted on giant rotisseries. Beer? Close to 2 million gallons, or 8 million of those giant liter steins, each of which is close to three typical U.S. beers.
Germany pulled the plug on this year’s festivities early on, taking an admirable stance against compromising its quality. Officially known as Wiesn, festival head boss Clemens Baumg√§rtner said, "the Wiesn is a total work of art that you either do completely or not at all - and this work of art cannot be moved backwards or made in a smaller form. Let's do everything to ensure that we can celebrate a healthy, joyful, happy and fulfilling Oktoberfest in 2021."
Oktoberfest is much more than beer drinking. It's like an enormous State Fair.
How? It is never too early to start planning for the annual event, and in any case you should begin at least a year out to do it right - especially since in recent years Oktoberfest has been growing and is more popular than ever. As such, it is very, very important to plan ahead and do it right, ideally in fine style in order to really enjoy it. Sadly, every year, hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more, show up without having planned in advance, and are unable to get their hands on even a single beer.
Two big myths abound in the U.S about Oktoberfest, both perpetuated by the many imitation celebrations held around this country: a) that it is in October and b) that the action takes place in tents. In fact, it always begins in September and is a celebration of the fall harvest, not a month, and while they call the structures tents, they are temporary buildings that take months to erect. These are cavernous wood-framed halls that include high capacity commercial kitchens, performance stages for the oompah bands, balconies, seating and standing room for thousands, and enough bathrooms to cope. The largest hold over 10,000 drinkers, bigger than some sports arenas.
Here is how Oktoberfest works: The event always begins on Saturday with a citywide parade and symbolic transport of kegs from downtown to the festival park, where the Mayor taps the first one and proclaims Oktoberfest open. Opening weekend is probably the best time to visit in terms of spectacle, and it is also considerably less crowded than the final weekend, though things are least hectic during the week.
Locals come to Oktoberfest without ever setting foot in the beer tents
Aimed at Munich citizens all tastes and ages, not just adult beer drinkers, the actual festival grounds are more of a State Fair on steroids than drunk-fest, occupying 100-acres. Most commercial offerings are outdoors, including rides, games, displays, and more wurst and food stands than you could count. Family-oriented attractions range from a traditional flea circus and carnival games to live performances and an ornate musical carousel. There is no admission fee, and many families enjoy the festival without ever entering one of the famous beer tents - these comprise just 17 of more than 600 vendors.  
By law only breweries physically in Munich are allowed to sell beer, and each tent carries just one brand, though they can have multiple options such as light, dark, wheat, etc.  Each tent also has a specialty food, ranging from roast duck to sausages to spit roasted oxen, and each caters to a different demographic with a different ambiance, from subdued to raucous. Oktoberfest even features a wine tent, and there are 21 highly specialized smaller tents, focused on everything from coffee to local cheeses to caipirinhas. Finding a table in any beer tent is the first priority for most visitors, finding one in the right tent is second.
Given the scope of the humanity and alcohol, Oktoberfest is surprisingly smooth and orderly, and the reason is Germany’s love of rules. The biggie is that you cannot be served beer in a tent, even if you manage to get inside, which can be a challenge, unless you are associated with a table. You do not actually have to have a seat, but you have to be “with” a table. Tables are typically reserved and more than two thirds are sold in advance, by the end of January, with priority given to repeat customers. Most are taken by Munich regulars and companies. They are rented out twice daily, during the day from 11-4, and again from five on. You can sit and order lunch or beers at unoccupied tables, and during the late morning and early afternoon, especially on weekdays, it is often easy to walk in and do this - many Munich patrons are actually at their jobs. But this becomes nearly impossible later in the afternoon and evening, the prime time. At night when it is not crazy busy, outgoing types may be able to join a likeminded group, usually of English-speaking ex-pats, and simply stand near their table, but this is a roll of the dice. The dichotomy of Oktoberfest is that it’s much easier to access during the day, but much more fun and lively at night.
But beer is definitely a big part of the event (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Reserving tables in advance is like trying to buy tickets to a high-profile concert. But the regular route is the best place to start, through the excellent festival website (and then via each tent with its own reservation policy). However, because of the cancellation this year, they may roll over existing reservations and come January, fall 2021 could already be sold out.
Another alternative is to book a room at a top luxury hotel and lean on the concierge, as they usually have some access. The city’s best options are the Bayerischer Hof, Mandarin Oriental, Kempinski and Charles (Rocco Forte). If price is no object, online table brokers will scalp seats just like at a concert or game.
I have a good friend who has been to Oktoberfest more than a dozen times, and he added a suggestion: “In the event you cannot reserve, don’t worry. Most Europeans do not tip, yet the tables are managed by temporary waitstaff trying to earn as much as possible in two weeks. On your first day, go early when the tents are empty, sit down, order beers and food and tip your waitress quite generously. Then tell them that you have no table for the night and need one. There are always no shows and if they can’t hook you up in their section later, a colleague in another part of the tent usually can. Again, that night, tip generously and arrange to return the next night. We’ve done it this way successfully for up to four straight nights.”
There are also turnkey tour operators who package hotel rooms with a table reservation and often extras like tours and airport transfers. These include companies like MyBucketListEvents.com but I have no experience with them or others and cannot give a recommendation pro or con.
That’s why the very best way to do this is to contact a professional travel expert who can do it all, flights, tables, hotel, and extensions, including anything else you’ve been dreaming of doing or seeing around Germany. It is also good to get advice on which tent(s) to book for your personality, as this is important in terms of fully enjoying the experience.
Travel Agents: Savvy experts can help you sort out when to go, how to get there, add-ons and all the important details. This is why when planning these kind of Bucket List trips I always recommend using a good travel agent or travel advisor. In addition to making sure you get it right, they can often save you money or get you upgrades and more bang for the buck. For more on why you want to use a travel agent and how to go about it, read my earlier article on this topic here.

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