Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is truly an experience worth splurging on at least once in your lifetime. We didn’t launch our blog until after my epic trip so I’m sharing some highlights from sweet, sweet T&T with you now 🙂 As well as five things you should know if you’re planning on going to Trinidad Carnival 2019.
- Playing Mas:
In my opinion, you absolutely MUST play mas if you go to Trinidad Carnival. I played with the infamous TRIBE Mas Band and had an amazing experience on the road!
Costume Selection: If you want to play mas I recommend that you start researching the various mas bands as early as late Spring/early Summer the year before Carnival season. Yes, I’m talking months in advance people.
Many of the top bands, like TRIBE have committee member’s who have to pre-approve you before you can even register to play mas. When I first heard about this I was like hold up – am I applying for a mortgage pre-approval or just trying to buy a dang costume?! But hey, this is the reality with some (not all bands) so trust me when I say you need to start this process early because it can take a hot minute.
Even if you can register without some mysterious grand committee bestowing blessings upon you, costumes sell out quick! This is what happened to me with Jamaica Carnival – I decided I wanted to go too late. By the time I started looking for costumes all the cute ones were gone. #Fail.
Costume Costs: Once the grand committee admits you into the Soca Kingdom, it’s time to select your costume. Be prepared to see prices ranging from $800-$3,000 USD for female all-inclusive costumes. Two of my friends spent closer to $1,300 USD for their backline costumes once they upgraded 1-2 items. Frontline costumes will definitely run you into the thousands.
All-inclusive packages vary by band, but generally include your costume + food, unlimited drinks, and various amenities. If an all-inclusive option doesn’t work for your budget, look for a mas band that doesn’t have all-inclusive packages or you can try your luck with a travel company package.
I saw other bands that were giving masqueraders massages and VIP treatment on the road. However, I’m 100% satisfied with my TRIBE experience. TRIBE is known to attract masqueraders who get on bad and have fun on the road! That’s far more important to me than spa treatments. But if this sort of thing really matters to you be sure to inquire about the full road experience before registering with a particular mas band.
Packing Tip: Just because you spent thousands on your costume doesn’t mean it will be perfect! Case in point, I packed my own boy shorts in the event that the ones that came with my costume didn’t fit. And let me tell you how happy I was that I did! When I tried on the boy shorts that came with my costume they couldn’t even fit up my thighs – and I bought a size up! Really think about what you pack in your luggage and be prepared for wardrobe malfunctions because you can’t just run out to Walmart if you need a last-minute item.
Costume Pick Up: This is one area where you need to exercise patience and pray to the Soca Gods to give you strength. Here’s how it works: Each section receives an allocated date and time to pick up your costume. Unfortunately, for myself and a few of my friends our costume pick up conflicted with the time of a boat ride fete (party) we were going too. Trying to arrange an alternative pick up time was a CHALLENGE. After several emails, filling out exemption forms we heard nothing back (not cool).
A few of our other friends’ costumes weren’t ready when they showed up on their allocated pick up day. Let me tell you – Port of Spain traffic ain’t no joke during carnival season eh? You can literally sit in a hot car for 2-3 hours just waiting to get to your mas camp so when you show up and they don’t have your costume ready you literally and figuratively have zero chill! Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, but be mentally prepared for potential issues.
2. Hotel and Accommodations:
Trinidad & Tobago isn’t a big tourist island like say Jamaica where you can find countless all-inclusive vacation packages. This means, you really need to start looking for a place to stay around the same time that you start searching for your costume. Carnival Chasers (people who travel to multiple Caribbean carnivals every year) often book their hotel stays a year in advance so spots at good hotels are limited. Airbnb is another option, but please consider the safety of the area.
I stayed at the Hyatt Trinidad and have nothing but positive things to say about it. It’s everything that you expect from the Hyatt family – attentive staff, clean facilities. Definitely, opt for the daily breakfast buffet option. There aren’t a ton of restaurants or food stands in the area to grab a bite to eat so it’s helpful to start the day off knowing you can pig out to your stomach’s desire.
They also had special Dinner buffets plus a decent bar and poolside menu with the usual items you’d expect (burgers, fries, salads). I really wish they had more Trinidadian cuisine on the menu though. I couldn’t get Doubles or Channa Roti on-site!
The Hyatt also offered free shuttle service to various locations throughout Port Of Spain. Trust me – this came in very handy at times. I highly recommend that you try and secure 1-2 reputable driver’s to get you around town. The Hyatt staff can arrange this for you.
Another perk staying at the Hyatt is that many of the top Soca Artist’s stay there as well. We ran into Rupee in the outside lobby! (Rupee singer, Tempted to Touch).
3. Fetes: 💃🏽
Now, you have three sets of people who go to Trinidad Carnival:
- Those who go to play mas + go to fetes
- Those who are too broke to play mas so they only go to fetes (no shame in that!)
- Those who go as spectators and take in the other carnival events
My friends and I fell into group #1.
Here’s the thing with Trinidad Carnival fetes – they ain’t cheap! If you’re looking to wine and fling it up at the top soca fetes like DJ Private Ryan Soca Brainwash, Candy Coated Boat Ride or Caesar’s Army AMBush be prepared to dish out $100-150+ USD. Plus you may have to go through another grand committee to gain entry into some of these fetes.
I opted to keep my wallet in tack and only attended a few fetes:
- Sail La Vie Boat Ride Fete
- Jamboree with Machel Montano & Kes
- Dirty Dozen J’ouvert
I honestly, had an amazing fete experience despite foregoing the most popular ones. Each of the fetes I attended were filled with happy, beautiful people full of vibes! That being said, I have nothing against the popular fetes. I just don’t think they’re a requirement in order to have a good time.
J’ouvert: If you do nothing else, I highly recommend that you do J’ouvert – a pre-dawn ritual on Carnival Monday morning that kicks off the official two days of Trinidad Carnival. I played with Dirty Dozen’s and they were on point!
There’s something about hitting the road at 3:00am with scores of people chipping and dancing through the streets covered in paint, mud, and powder that just energizes you! I don’t know if it’s the transition from dark to light, but there’s an electric energy that takes over both locals and visitors alike. Nobody is worried about their hair or makeup (do you see the Aunt Jemima look I’m rockin?!). Nobody cares about your politics or status. All that matters is that your having fun and full of positive vibes.
4. Carnival Monday:
After reveling through the streets all night during J’ouvert you need to head back to your hotel, eat breakfast, take a nap and get ready to hit the road for Carnival Monday Mas.
During Monday Mas, revelers hit the road with their mas band in their own Monday wear – meaning you can wear whatever you want. The majority of people opt to wear pieces from a previous Carnival costume, a bathing suit and/or a small item from the costume they’ll debut during Carnival Tuesday. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about what to pack for Trinidad Carnival.
Truthfully, I didn’t do Monday Mas because I wanted to take in some Trinidad sun. Plus it felt like a dress rehearsal to me LOL. I wanted to reserve all my energy the main event! One of my besties attended Monday Mas and had a great time. It’s all about your own preference here. There’s no right or wrong. But if your stamina is running low don’t overdo it on Monday Mas. Remember, Carnival Tuesday is the Superbowl. Game 7 in the NBA Finals. Wrestlemania! You get it. Nobody wants to be the person on Carnival Tuesday who ends up laying on the lawn in their $2,000 costume watching the other masqueraders chip on by. Don’t be that guy or girl – people (including me) will judge you! LOL
5. Carnival Tuesday:
This is what you paid for so live it up friends! Inside of your goody bag/kit your mas band will likely instruct you to meet at a specific location at some forsaken early morning hour. I detest waking up early so I didn’t do this. We were able to track TRIBE’s location with an app so that we knew exactly where to find them on the road. The key is to make sure you’re at the Socadrome before your section crosses the stage.
Crossing the stage is where you and everyone else in your section get your Fat Joe and Remy Ma on and turn all the way up! When your feet touchdown on the stage you better wine and fling it up with all your might!
Before you head over to the Socadrome make sure that you pack a few essentials to keep on the road with you:
- Waist pouch/fanny pack for any personal items you’ll need.
- Tumbler/Cup – almost every mas band will provide you with one of these in your goody bag. You’ll need this to get your all-inclusive drinks on the road from the drink truck.
- Advil, Tylenol, whatever pain pills you prefer – you never know if a headache may strike. Be prepared!
- Wear comfortable shoes with added insoles because you’ll be on your feet for hours! This is not the occasion to wear your beloved Nike, Jordans, or Jimmy Choo’s.
Also, you should pre-plan how you’ll get back to your hotel when you’re ready to go. The Carnival route is extremely long and even the biggest Carnivalist maybe ready to go home long before the parade ends. My friends and I walked back to our hotel once we got to the location along the parade route that took us to the main road. The Hyatt had a shuttle that was supposed to pick people up from various stops, but honestly I never saw one on Carnival Tuesday – the streets were too busy. Walking was simply the easiest option because the parade route is pretty much everywhere LOL.
Uber is a great option if you can get to a less congested area for pick up. Plus, you’ll need to find a driver who’s working and not getting his or her bacchanal and water on 🙂
I actually used Uber quite a bit during my entire trip. Every driver was prompt, friendly and offered great tips about navigating the city safely.
All in all, I loved every minute of my Trinidad Carnival experience. Now the question is, will I go to Trinidad Carnival 2019? What about Guyana Carnival? St. Vincent and the Grenadines SVG Carnival ? There are so many options! All I know for sure is that I’ll be jumping up on the road again soon!
Do you have any Carnival wanderlust plans? If so, let me know in the comments.