REVIEW: Magdalene May Ball

I went to Magdalene expecting little. It turned out to be the best ball I’d ever been to.

Alcohol Cambridge drink food lights Magdalene magic May Ball party Student

Tab May Ball rating: 4.5/5 Stars

I bought a ticket to this biennial white-tie affair as an afterthought – I assumed it would be a more chilled out ball, but didn’t have high hopes for it to exceed the likes of John’s or Trinity. I was proven wrong.

First things first, Magdalene exudes a very different vibe compared to most other balls. If you are looking for a wild party with all your friends, this may not be the one for you – Magdalene was much more subdued, refined, and yet a very much needed break from the hectic pace of May Week that I had thus far experienced. This doesn’t mean that it was boring in any way – on the contrary, I was entertained constantly throughout the night, and appreciated the relaxed, slower approach that the ball encouraged.

Most of the guests at Magdalene were dining, and we were ushered into college for a champagne reception in the beautiful Pepys Court, with a live harpist playing and various entertainers including fire dancers and aerialists performing in an ornate cage structure in the centre.


The oyster stall arrived later than expected, but nevertheless did not fail to provide wonderfully plump seafood, which was shucked on the spot for guests upon arrival.

Cause of death = excessive oyster consumption

The dining marquee was decorated beautifully – reminiscent of a summer wedding, although service was painfully slow and the main course of duck somewhat mediocre and disappointing. However, as the non-dining guests trickled in and the sun began to set on the grounds, all this was quickly forgotten.

The dining menu (mackerel was surprisingly good)

What struck me most about Magdalene was its attention to detail, which gave the impression of an elevated ball. Champagne bottles were opened with a sabre, the trees were resplendent with flowers and glowing lanterns, and, most notably, the food was sensational and exciting in range. Mac and cheese, gourmet meatballs, gyoza dumplings, Jack’s Gelato and sushi were all on offer, and there were also some intriguing ‘mist orbs’ of flavoured smoke which guests could sample.

Zero calories too!

The dining marquee transformed into a cheese and dessert tent at around 1am, which meant that food was never in short supply.

Pregnant or just eating good?

Magdalene also boasted superior breakfast items compared to other balls, with breakfast muffins, croissants, hash browns, frittatas, Bucks Fizz and Bloody Marys free-flowing from 4am onwards.

Drinks-wise, Magdalene exuded a sense of the sophisticated, with the smoke and mirrors bar in the ‘Pet Cemetery’ (literally a cemetery for college pets) serving up spectacular dry ice cocktails. There was also a healthy selection of Chase cocktails that flowed throughout the night, as well as a gin bar and a fire whisky shot stand that kept guests happily inebriated. For non-drinkers, there was a delicious rose-flavoured champagne alternative on offer at reception, and soft drink options available throughout the night.

The ents were brilliantly thought out and catered to every taste – KT Tunstall and Kristian Nairn (aka Hodor) drew big, exuberant crowds, and the silent disco and ceilidh kept spirits high into the early hours of the morning. On the flip side, there was a crazy golf course, boat swings, caricature drawing and miniature railway for those who wanted a more laid-back ball, alongside the usual photobooth and shisha tents. The cocktail master class in Hall was also a fantastically innovative idea and not one I have experienced before at a ball, providing a fun interactive activity for guests to enjoy.

Shake (my hangover) off, shake it off

However, the standout feature was the punting which was available up until 5am – cruising along the river Cam up to the Bridge of Sighs in pitch black was eerie yet wonderfully serene, and the view of Magdalene’s fairytale-like grounds with lights dotting the bank was a truly marvellous sight with which to welcome us back.

A final point that I must emphasise is the lack of queues, which allowed Magdalene to stand out from the rest. Apart from the caricature stall, which was inundated with guests, I never had to wait more than about 15 minutes for anything. Moreover, the grounds are surprisingly large and the layout meant that it felt like a magical paradise to explore at your whim, with lit pathways twisting around corners to reveal a new nook or clearing. All this contributed to the indulgent, luxurious atmosphere of Magdalene, where you didn’t have to worry about ‘missing’ anything or hurrying to skip the queue.


I didn’t think anything would be able to top Trinity’s 150th anniversary ball last year, but I think Magdalene may have just edged it, or at least has come close. Even though the dining upgrade could have been better, I still appreciated the early entrance into the ball and the tone it set for the evening. It is the most ball-like ball I have been to – a classy, stunning yet tranquil occasion worth every penny.

Needless to say, I am already thinking of people who I can get tickets off for the ball’s next incarnation in 2019.