I am thrilled to share more about my Trinidad Carnival experience with you. I went down this past February for the annual Carnival festivities after not going for five years and I almost didn’t go again. For more background, I am half Trinidadian and half Guyanese. I only lived in Trinidad for one year when I was four years old but I have my first memory of Carnival from that time. I remember standing on the street with my parents, watching the masqueraders go by and one came up to me and handed me a pinwheel. This could be something I dreamt but I swear I have always remembered that. I remember enjoying watching the people dancing in the street to soca music and having so much fun. I couldn’t wait to be one of these people playing “Mas”.
This was one of my shorter trips to Trinidad for Carnival. I usually go for a full week but since I was going alone, I didn’t want to leave my family for too long. I’ve been down for Carnival many times and been to a number of different fetes and played Mas with different bands. I love it so much, soca music makes me happy and I know it will do the same for you. For this post, I will share my experiences for this specific trip down.
Flights: Flight can get pretty expensive to fly to Trinidad for Carnival. Prices are more than triple for any other time of the year. I flew with Caribbean Airlines to go to Trinidad. Pretty reliable and accommodating. No televisions on the seats but I did get to take a few naps. The good thing though is that they feed your a proper, full meal. To return to New York, I flew Jet Blue. I was fortunate that a friend let me use their points otherwise it would have cost me both arms and both legs! Point is, book early. I didn’t book until October before and that is still not early enough. I mean as soon as the airlines post the dates…book your flight. You’ll thank me later.
Accomodations: I split an AirBnb with a girlfriend of mine. She made all the arrangements and it was perfect for us. It was a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Most of the festivities take place close to this location so we were not far away. We each had plenty of space to ourselves and it had a full kitchen. The owner met my girlfriend there when she got in and was very easy to reach regarding any issues or concerns. There are a number of big hotels as well but they get booked up very quickly. I tried to book the Hyatt last year and it was already full for the Carnival dates a year in advance.
Fetes: I arrived Saturday evening and got to where we were staying around 10pm. I caught up with my friend, since she lives in Jamaica, so we don’t see each other often, and then went to bed around midnight. I didn’t get much sleep because the first fete, (parties in Trinidad are referred to as ‘Fetes’) started at 4am. This was a Vale Vibe, a breakfast party. This all-inclusive party was in Santa Cruz and you arrive early and begin partying as the sun rises. It is really a joy being around such a whole entire crowd of people who are also there for the love of the country and the music. There is plenty of amazing food, I made sure to get the corn soup, roti, and doubles. I can eat these day. Drinks are also included and yes, I am drinking Johnny Walker at 6am! Vale was a nice vibe and it was pretty chill this year for me which was perfect. I am older and honestly, working off of three hours of sleep just isn’t the same as it used to be.
Fetes continued: The next day, we went to Soca Brunch. This was an all-inclusive day brunch party held at the Country Club. This was the first year this party was held. It is a new event held by Wow Events and Live In Love Events. This was a well thought out party. As you walked in a beautiful corridor lined with greenery, you received a fan to keep cool through the day. There was a Prosecco bar to the left and a full bar to the right. As you moved in further, the lawn area was full of gorgeous women dressed in their cutest day party dresses. To the right, there was a pavilion filled with brunch items, pancakes, eggs, bacon, crepes, as well as West Indian food choices. You know I got the corn soup again. There was also an assortment of sweets including cupcakes and donuts. I indulged in the maple bacon one, who could resit. The music was on point with DJ Brainiac playing all the right tunes. I thoroughly enjoyed this fete and highly recommend.
I only made it to two parties this trip but there are so many to choose from! Really, they all are amazing. You have different kinds to choose from, those with only a dj or those with live performances, food and drinks included or cooler fetes where you bring your own, or you can even choose to do a boat ride party. Any party where you are with your friends will always be a good time.
Monday Wear: Monday and Tuesday are the main Carnival parade days. It is about a ten mile parade though the town of Port of Spain. You are part of a band and you dance through the streets with thousands of people alongside huge trucks filled with speakers pelting out the hottest soca hits for the year. For those that partake in the Mas and join a band, you get a costume that you usually wait until Tuesday to wear. On Mondays, there is a whole new ‘Monday Wear’ alternative that is basically a cute bathing suit or outfit to “jump up” in. I ordered a custom suit from SJW Designs. I wore a white one piece with yellow mirrors adorning the entire front of the suit. It was so different and I felt great in it. this designer really knows how to make women feel confident in her pieces. There were so many to choose from as well and all are made to order. They confirm your measurements and then begin the process. This was my first time buying separate Monday wear and I was not disappointed.
Accessories: This is as important as your Monday wear outfit. You will be “chipping” down the road for ten miles so its important to wear the proper footwear. I wore wedge sneakers on Monday and over the knee wedge boots on Tuesday. Carnival Kicks has boots to match every costume and they are comfortable. For someone whose feet hurt quickly, I was very surprised how comfortable I was while wearing these boots all day. I will always get my boots from Carnival Kicks! Two more items that got me through are tights and a bag. Carnivalista has tights in various shade to perfectly match your skin color. I always had a hard time finding tights and I was thrilled by how well these looked and lasted. Lastly, I used a white belt bag from JustFab that went around my waist to carry small items I needed to keep my hands free. I changed out the belt to match each outfit.
Carnival Band: I played with Bliss this year. This is a smaller band that is part of the larger Tribe carnival band. I played with Tribe a few times many years ago and I remember how big they became and how crowded I felt it was. I was happy with my first experience with Bliss on the road. It was the perfect size and all my close friends were in this band. I was easily able to find people and it did not feel overcrowded. They had a nice vibe and everyone was there to have a good time. They stopped for lunch at the park and provided ample space for everyone to take a comfortable break. The food options were abundant and delicious. The costumes, which I will get more into below, were beautiful and well made. The issues I did find is one, it took three hours to collect our costumes. There should definitely be a better process in place by now to not have such a slow retrieval time. The other issue is how selective these bands have become. Carnival was once a place to join a band and enjoy with people from Trinidad and from other visiting countries. Now, you have to know someone to get into the band and even then, it’s not guaranteed. It causes stress trying to get registered for one of their sections. Fortunately, my friend was able to register me but I know so many others who had a much harder time. I’m not new to going to Trinidad Carnival but if you don’t know the right people, it doesn’t matter how many times you have been there before. My experience as a whole was still amazing and I enjoyed playing Mas with Bliss. I just want everyone to know that if you would like to go for your first time, it will take a lot of planning on your part to get into a band, don’t wait till last minute!
Costumes: The biggest and most exciting aspect about playing Mas, outside of the music of course, is the costume! Each band has around ten or more sections and each section has its own costume. There are designers for each section and there are limited amounts of costumes for each section. Getting into the band means getting into a section and that is the part where you need to know someone to register you for a section. I played in the Jasmine section of Bliss and my costume was beautiful. It was very intricate and I love how well all the pieces were adorned. All the costumes I saw on the road for Bliss were beautiful. They were so much more intricate than the last time I played. They were creative, colorful, and looked beautiful on all the women! For the women, you can either order a front-line or backline costume. The frontline costumes are usually more intricate and have additional or larger headpieces or feathered backpacks and cost more than backline. I chose to order a frontline costume for the first time because I wanted to have that “frontline” feeling as you cross stage in front and get to show off the costume before the rest of the section. To my surprise, the large backpack was sold out and I inquired about it but was told they would reach out if there was going to be more made. There weren’t more and I paid for frontline to only be pushed behind the ones who did get the large backpacks before we crossed the stage. I didn’t feel as though I was “frontline” at all and actually disappointed in that aspect. It is definitely different from how it was the last time I played, frontline was frontline, not frontline without a backpack and frontline with a backpack. I still loved how my costume turned out and how I looked in it. I had a blast regardless. I didn’t let that small moment ruin my time and jumped up and lived it up to the fullest anyways.
I hope everyone has a chance to experience the Greatest Show on Earth, Trinidad Carnival. It is definitely worth a visit but I can guarantee, you will not go only once. I hope this recap helps and please feel free to reach out to me with any questions. More than the parties or the parade, you have to go for the people and the music. Watching how soca music unites so many people is incredible and you can’t help but be happy!
Thank you for reading,