Wait, WHATCHU MEAN last minute? It’s only October and carnival isn’t until February!
While that may seem logical for many trips, Trinidad carnival is one of the few that folks start planning up to a year in advance (Yes, it’s that serious.) Luckily, it’s not too late. I planned my first trip to carnival in October of 2010, and it was hands down the most fun week of my adult life. So here are a few tips to help you catch up and be on your way!
1. CHOOSE YOUR CREW
I’ve written before about the importance of your travel crew, and carnival is no exception. This is not the trip for your high maintenance girlfriends who need 5-star accommodations and bottle service. This is for your ride-or-die, down for anything homies who are ready for a good time, and can survive on a strict diet of Johnny Walker, sunshine and soca music. I’ve done carnival with 2 friends and I’ve done it with 10. Either way, with the right folks you’ll have a blast.
2. FIND A PLACE TO STAY
You actually need to handle this before you even book your flight because lodging is really hard to come by during carnival season. People book the Hyatt (the most popular/nicest hotel) nearly a year in advance, and many hotels are already full, so you’ll need to move quickly. Start with the hotels closest to the action, and if they’re full, try private homes on Airbnb, Homeaway, or TripAdvisor. If no luck there, start looking on carnival sites like Trinidad Carnival Diary or asking around in travel communities like the Nomadness Travel Tribe.
Note: Try to stay in Port of Spain if you can, because the last thing you want is to spend half your week cursing in traffic.
3. BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
This makes it official!!! Since it’s late you may have missed out on most of the direct flights (bummer), but book now before you end up with layovers in Scotland in Zimbabwe on your way to Trinidad. If you’re a frequent traveler, now is the time to use those miles or credit card points to save some pennies!
3. JOIN A BAND
So you know all those folks covered in feathers in glitter that you see when you google Trinidad Carnival? The maqueraders you see are a part of different bands that are in the big parades on Monday and Tuesday. Joining a band gets you a costume for both days, meals, snacks and open bar. While the costs vary significantly between bands, expect to pay around $600-$900 depending on your costume. There are tons of bands to choose from, here are 3 of the most popular ones:
- Tribe – This is the most exclusive band at carnival. The only way to get a costume is through a prior masquerader or inside connection or a secret code or government clearance or something. I gave it all the side eye cause that’s not how I get down, but they did live up to their name when I played with them this year. At our lunch stop we had everything from makeup touchups and costume adjustments, to a full-service hair salon! There was a great vibe on the road, (a little pretentious at times but your crew can fix that), the costume quality is excellent, and everybody was freaking gorgeous. It was like an international hoeasis for both men and women.
- Island People – TURN DOWN FOR WHAT! I played with them my first year and can confirm this band is consistently all the way live on the road, with the energy is on 10 pretty much all day long. However, be prepared for average service at best. Costume pickup was painfully long, and we literally were fighting/shoving for food at lunch like it was the Amistad or something. The costume quality is ok, but honestly your first year you won’t be able to tell the difference and will feel amazing when you put it on for the first time!
- Yuma – For lack of a better description, this is the middle ground between Tribe and IP. The costumes are really nice, there’s a pretty good vibe on the road, and decent service which I heard has improved over time. Yuma is a solid choice for your first year.
While the pickings are pretty slim at this stage in the game, first check their websites, and then try costume-swap sites like Fineabahn.com or Carnival Junction. At the end of the day, if you have a fun crew you’ll have a blast in any band, so get in where you fit in and get ready for a day of epic euphoria!
5. GET YOUR PARTY TICKETS
Luckily you have a little time here. Parties don’t start selling out until closer to carnival, but definitely start looking around for tickets. The cheapest way to get tickets is from someone who lives in Trinidad, but if you don’t feel like driving into the mountains to pick up tickets from your homeboy’s play cousin with the hookup, try a site like Lazy Mas to keep it simple. From cooler fetes to all-inclusives, there are too many parties to list, but here are 3 types of fetes you should try to experience:
- Breakfast Parties
Sunnyside Up and Diamond Vale are the 2 biggest all-inclusive breakfast fetes. Both great choices, but I’ve only done Sunnyside which is always a blast! If you don’t go anywhere else, go to Sunnyside!
- J’ouvert Parties
Caesar’s Army A.M. Bush is definitely in the running for best fete 2014 (right behind Sunnyside). Super bright paint colors, awesome vibe, great music, water hoses and an adult bouncy house. You’re welcome.
- Ultra-Premium Parties
If the top-shelf life is your thing, then you should definitely check out one of these “classier” parties. Beach House and Bryan Lara are both high-end, top shelf fetes with gourmet food and premium liquor (as in Johnny Walker Blue and Hennessy White). However, the ticket prices are steep so be prepared to drop $200+ on these.
Watching Machel Montano perform live at sunrise in Trinidad my first year was the moment I fell in love with carnival. As a non-West Indian, the energy was something I had never experienced before. Tribe Ignite and Girl Power are 2 large concerts that are also all-inclusive fetes, and major artists usually perform. Soca Monarch is also a good way to catch some great performances since it’s a competition.
6. PUT DOWN THE CHICKEN LEG
No really. Put it down, pick up your gym bag, and start a consistent regimen of cardio and clean eating. Here’s a quick guide to get you started. While you don’t really need to look like Beyonce, you definitely need get your endurance up for the nonstop dancing and 12 hour parade routes on 1.5 hours of sleep. And on a vain note, Facebook/The Interwebs will find you even if you don’t post a single photo, so hit the gym so you can smile and pose for the 5,987 cameras on the road!
If this all sounds like a lot, to be honest, it is. But it’s worth it! And the good news is, if you plan a little earlier, you can sign on with a trip organizer like LP:TS, The Ultimate Trinidad Carnival, or countless other companies that will plan everything from lodging to fetes. Typical fees range from $200-$400, but if you can swing it, it’s totally worth it! And if you’re still not sure, check out these photos by Dwayne Watkins from this year’s carnival that will make you a believer.
Are you currently planning a trip to Carnival 2015? Are you a veteran with more tips to share with readers? Leave a comment below and…no wait, don’t. Actually, I might cry since I’m not going next year lol. Just kidding, feel free to share more tips or ask questions, and enjoy your epic adventure in February!