Carnival in the Caribbean: What you need to know
Carnival is one of those experiences that you have to try at least once in your life time. It is one of those enviable bucket list experiences that you can brag about for years.
Chose Your Destination
As a Carnival Chaser, I've been to Trinidad Carnival, Crop Over (Barbados), Jamaica Carnival, Miami Carnival (GenX) and LA Carnival. Trinidad Carnival is the Mecca of all carnivals and isn't for the weak. It literally is 4 weeks of non stop partying ending with 2 glorious days on the road. Outside of St. Lucia Carnival, all the other carnivals have one road march day.
Jamaica Carnival & Miami Carnival
Trinidad Carnival - February
Jamaica Carnival - April
St. Lucia - July
Crop Over - August
Miami Carnival- October
Plan, Plan, Plan Now
Firstly, if you don't book early, you won't be able to experience anything. Party tickets and costumes will be sold out. This isn't one of those times where you can make your mind up last minute. Carnival is an intentional premeditated commitment. Book your flights and hotel rooms early. The savings will be in the US$1000's.
If its your first time, I would recommend a Carnival concierge service. This takes out the logistical hassle.
Join the Gym
lol. The fact that I could hear you asking "Why?". Firstly, Carnival is non stop partying, drinking and repeat. Most days begin with a breakfast party that starts at 4:00am, followed by a Mid Day boat party somewhere 12:00pm , followed by a evening fete 4:00pm. These are just the lead up events to Playing Mas (Road March). Mas starts from 8:00am and entails dancing and marching along the road until 8:00pm. Think about it, 1-2 Weeks of none stop partying followed by 1-2 days and straight dancing and marching in the streets of a Caribbean destination.
This is where the concierge companies I recommended make a huge difference. Try to book a hotel or airbnb close to the parade route. Trust me, it makes all the difference! Carnival means road closures and huge traffic jams. If the Carnival passes your hotel, then its equivalent to winning the lotto. In Jamaica, I'd recommend booking The Jamaica Pegasus, The Courtleigh Hotel, AC Marriot, or AC Hotel. In Trinidad, It would be the Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre, or any Airbnb that is in walking distance of the Savannah. Even if you've rented a car, and are outside the parade zone, you won't be able to find free (or safe) parking.
Early Bird Party Tickets
Firstly, it should be understood, that Carnival attracts thousands of party goers. If you're not a local, this is where the concierge companies can really help. Venues have limited capacity and when tickets are sold out, that's it. This goes back to planning and watching for early ticket releases. This also saves money or you will be spending US$100's more by ticket scalpers.
Carry Your Own Sunblock
Carnival is about Sun, Rum, and little to no clothes. Bring your sunblock.
PACE - What does it mean?
🎵Time to show meh yuh waves! Time to get outta line! Yuh born and ready for PACE! Come and wine in the roadway! All in front ah the gate way! All in front ah the people Business Place! This is the Kingdom! - Machel Montano- Soca Kingdom
Pace yourself. Carnival means non stop partying, drinking, and little to no sleep. Don't try to do everything, If you're there for a week, choose a rest day, go to the beach and relax, especially before you Play Mas (Road March). Drink lots of water, travel in groups and be aware of your surroundings.
Manage your alcohol and note that at some point of the other, you may need to find the bush because bathrooms are few and scarce (and gross 🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮). When you have 1000's of people in one space... you know its gonna be gross.
Security A Nuh Joke Ting
There is strength in numbers. Don't go wondering down a lonely street as a short cut. Grandma always said
Short Cut draw blood!
This is Caribbean. Most Carnivals often have a part of the route that is sketchy, that traverses through a depressed community. Yes the bands have security, but be careful. Avoid wearing your real bling, use the costume jewellery that comes with your kits. Don't travel with a lot of money, all the bands are all inclusive and come with lunch.
Don't wear new sneakers or heels. Wear sneakers that you've already broken in, or be prepared to walk away with bruised ankles, blisters and the loss of toe nails. Just think as if you are going on a long hiking expedition. You wouldn't wear your new shoes, you'd wear you most comfortable kicks. Well...Same logic.
Photos & Social Media
Carnival is about the photos! Its all about what you will post after!
If you're a girl, this is where you become a fairy princess for a day. Think tiara, wings, boots, fishnet stockings, makeup and your best fit. This is where you're definitely going to want to book an all in one service spot. Its not worth it to book hair and makeup on the other side of town.
Book your Carnival GLAM Hub spot! Get your makeup and hair done by pro stylists. The same people who do the girls for the carnival ads. Your package comes with Food, Refreshments, Photoshoot, Changing room, dressing assistants, Large Mirrors, Seamstress, Shuttles that take you to your band from the hotel, bag check- leave your bag and pick it up the next day, ac lounge with a soca dj.
Glam Hub also come with barbers for the guys and a man cave.