I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recent posts about Trinidad as much as I’ve enjoyed reliving those moments as I’ve written about them. If at any point you’ve read my post or looked at my pictures and thought, “Yes! I want to do this,” then this is the post for you. You can totally do this! I’ve compiled the lessons my travel buddy and I learned into this comprehensive guide to planning for Carnival. Please note that all dollar amounts are in US dollars unless otherwise stated.
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Planning For Carnival Trinidad
1. Start Now!
If you are considering attending Trinidad for Carnival in 2018, then you are in for a shock if you haven’t already started to budget for this trip. Your planning starts today! Time to create your new Pinterest board and get to work . Visit the Trinidad Carnival board on Outdoorsy Diva Pinterest if you’re in need of a little Pinspiration.
The area hotels in Port of Spain, Trinidad will sell out. During my trip we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad and it was booked in April of the year before. It was awesome with sauce on top. They greet you with a drink when you arrive, they catered to our every need, and the concierge service was in touch with us even before our arrival to ensure we would have everything we needed for a great trip. We also received a nice welcome bag of goodies and a commemorative shirt. The breakfast buffet is scrumptious and the lobby at night was always a nice vibe to see and be seen. On J’ouvert morning they provide you with a shower area, a robe and slippers and a bag for your filthy, messy clothes so that you can get cleaned up before entering the hotel’s lobby. It’s this attention to detail, and an extremely comfortable and well equipped room, that make this hotel my favorite choice. Yes, it’s a bit pricey but it was well worth it. If you can manage a group of three or four then the price doesn’t seem quite so bad.
- TIP: Contact the hotel reservations desk directly via email or phone to get information on the Carnival packages available. Using the conventional online booking method may yield no results at this time. Trinidad is a developing nation and the opportunity for rental vacation properties in the heart of the city are available but limited. You don’t want to end up staying too far from the hub of the action.
- Some hotels may require you to pay in full at the time of booking. Some may only require a deposit. Pay attention to the specific requirements of the hotel you choose and the grace period for full refunds. Unforunately 2 members of our party were not able to make the trip after the cancellation deadline.
- Recommended hotels: Hyatt Regency Trinidad, Kapok, Carlton of Savannah, Hilton Trinidad, Courtyard Port of Spain
- $$$ Hotel stay in 2014 for 5 nights was $2233 ($558 per person based on 4 people occupancy)
3. Playing Mas in a Carnival Band
- You will need to join a Carnival Band in order to ‘play mas’. We played mas with Paparazzi and had a great experience. Learn more about what to expect from your Carnival band here.
- Other popular Carnival bands are Fantasy, Tribe, Legacy, Bliss, and Dream Team. These are large bands that I came across during the parade festivities and it is not a finite list. Most bands that will have great packages and accommodate those traveling from abroad should be found easily online.
- Some bands will offer costume delivery to your hotel. Some will require you to come and pick it up from their mas camp. Pay attention to those dates as the trip gets closer. We found that the bands are willing to work around your travel plans if you communicate with them ahead of time
- TIP: Start to research the different bands now and sign up for their mailing lists. Most of the large bands have social media accounts and they disseminate much of their information through Facebook, Twitter, etc. You will want to join their online communities so that when the bands launch for the next Carnival year you are not left behind!
- $$$ Total cost for my costume was $543. They required a $200 deposit at the time of booking and the balance upon pick up. Depending on how elaborate the design and what requests are made for your style of costume your cost can vary from $500 to $900. The men costume rate was around $300. Remember that included in this cost are meals, non-alcoholic drinks, alcoholic drinks, security, bathroom accommodations during the parades, goodie bags, and beautifully crafted costumes.
- Purchase your plane tickets 5 to 6 months in advance of the trip. There will be a limited number of flights available to the island.
- Wednesday is known for having a cool down party at Maracas Beach. We flew out Wednesday so we missed this event but we heard great things about it from everyone. If you your plans allow for it don’t mis this.
- TIP: We arrived on Carnival Friday. If you can afford it, come earlier in the week before Carnival. There are lots of fetes and other events leading up to the big show that we missed out on. It will also give you more time to run errands and be less stressed out trying to pick up tickets, costumes, etc.
- If possible plan for an early arrival flight. If you’re the last flight out and there are any issues then you may find yourself stranded with no way to get there. Also pack your patience for Customs. This was by far our most unpleasant part of the trip. It took us 3 hours from the time we landed to getting to the hotel because Customs was extremely slow and unprepared for the massive amount of arrivals. Consequently the currency exchange counter line was also very long.
- Arrange for transportation from the airport in advance. There will be no shortage of taxis upon your arrival but in all honesty it can be a bit overwhelming. It was nice to have a driver there waiting with your name on a sign ready to take you there. (sorry I’m having a bourgeoisie moment)
- TIP: If you can, plan a couple of unwind days after Carnival in Tobago. Unfortunately our schedule didn’t allow for it.
- $$$ Plane ticket cost for 2014 flying Caribbean Airlines out of Miami, FL: $528
5. Purchase fete tickets
- There are so many fetes (parties) happening in the week leading up to Carnival. The possibilities are endless. Plan to purchase these 2 to 3 months in advance if possible. Many of the all inclusives sell out. But if you aren’t able to do this, you may be able to buy them from scalpers or with the help of the hotel concierge who will undoubtedly know-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy-who-knows-a-guy. Be prepared to pay a premium price for last minute tickets.
- $$$ For Fetes we spent $148 for Ultimate One, $80 Insomnia VIP (from scalper). Both included food and drink and concerts from countless artists including soca heavy hitters Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin.
- $$$ Tickets for Panoroma were about $70 (via hotel concierge)
If you are researching fetes and events, I’ve come across some pretty good lists to help with your research:
6. Playing J’ouvert mas
- Participating in J’ouvert is so much fun. (Learn more about what to expect from J’ouvert here.) As a carnival newbie you can’t skip this event. This is a great way to immerse yourself in a cultural tradition.
- Many include a pre-party, all you can drink, swag bag, shirt to get dirty and to customize, and security. They also provide everything you need to get dirty, from powder to paint to mud to chocolate! There’s a band that caters to whatever you like. Personally I’m not into the food themed j’ouvert groups. Remember you will dance and sweat for hours. Let’s just say when we passed some of those folks in the morning it wasn’t a pleasant smell.
- TIP: Take the same approach to joining a J’ouvert band as you would the carnival bands. Research them and join their social media groups. Solidify your plans as soon as the band announces it’s launch for Carnival 2018. This was the last purchase we made just weeks before arriving and we were lucky to get tickets before they sold out. 2 of our first choices sold out weeks before.
- $$$ iJouvert band cost $98
I’ve rounded up some of the websites for you. This is not a complete list and there are certinaly other bands. Do your research. Make sure you understand what is included with the price and what is not. The bands are way more integrated into social media this year than they were last year so join their groups and like their pages on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. You will get the most current information by taking advantage of social media. Also look at pics and videos from J’ouvert mornings past to really get a feel for what the band is like. You should be looking to have this booked 1 to 2 months prior to Carnival. The choices will start to get slimmer and slimmer the longer you wait!
Dirty Dozen – http://www.dirtydozenjouvert.com/register
Chocolate City – http://chocolatecitycarnival.com/registration.html
Fantasies – http://www.fantasiesjouvert.com/
iJouvert – http://ilovejouvert.com/register.php
Red Ants – http://www.blisscarnival.com/
Simply Jouvert – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Simply-Jouvert/303063626397329
Silver Mudders – https://www.facebook.com/silvermudders
Whyte Angels – https://www.facebook.com/WhyteAngelsJouvert
Yellow Devilz – http://yellowdevilz.com/
7. Fantastic Friday Events
Due to our late arrival on what is known as Fantastic Friday, we missed out on some of the other Carnival events. National Carnival Commission is a great resource for the official listing of all Carnival events. Be sure to add these fantastic events to your itinerary:
- Re-enactment of Canboulay Riots
- Soca Monarch
- Big Friday- Kings and Queens Finals
- Traditional Carnival Characters Festival
- Kiddie Carnival (junior bands parade)
8. Get In Shape
If you’re out of shape, start that Kanye workout plan now. You will need your stamina for walking the parade routes of J’ouvert and Carnival Monday and Tuesday. Learn more about what to expect being a Carnival Masquerader.
9. Carnival Checklist:
Purchase the items you need for Carnival preparations directly from the new Outdoorsy Diva store! New items will be added on a regular basis to help you with your preparations. Shop in the Outdoorsy Diva Carnival Preparation Store!
- Dramatic make-up and body glitter and jewels with adhesive to decorate your face and body to match your costume
- Shoes to coordinate with both your Carnival Monday and Tuesday costumes. Yes….I know you want to be cute but comfort should rule your decision. If you underestimate the physical demands of participating in all the events then you are sure to have a miserable time.
- Shoe inserts/shoe pads
- Dancer flesh-colored tights, at least 2 pair. If you are a little shy about having your goodies exposed this will help you feel a little bit less exposed. Also for my thick thigh ladies, we all know that heat and friction causes major chaffing and extreme discomfort. If your thighs touch when you walk then I strongly recommend getting the dancer tights. They will have runs and holes in them by the end of the parade and that’s ok! It means you were working hard on the road.
- Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, small umbrella
- Sewing kit
- Chafing powder
- Clear adjustable bra straps – this is just in case your costume bra isn’t fitting quite right or if you don’t have time to get it altered after your arrival.
- Shorts, shirt, and shoes for j’ouvert that you don’t mind throwing away after
- YouTube how to cut up t-shirts in a cute pattern so that you don’t look like a square at j’ouvert
- Good camera
- Listen to the latest Soca playlist in advance. This will help you know the songs so that you can sing along with the masses and not feel left out.
Yes, it’s a developing nation and with that comes the normal expected crimes, such as robbery. One of the most common pieces of advice I got from those who made the trip before were all around safety. The city of Port of Spain had a large amount of police presence at all the events, especially at night. However there are times where you may find yourself off the beaten path for whatever reason.
- Never walk alone, especially at night, even if you’re a guy. A friend of ours had his phone stolen right out of his hands on the first night of his arrival. Put your phone away while walking and be aware of your surroundings.
- Utilize the hotel shuttle service if possible. It’s safe and free.
- If you have to take a taxi do not go alone, especially women. If you manage to befriend one of your drivers most are willing to stick with you for the duration of your trip. We had the same driver on speed dial for most of the trip.
- It’s not a bad idea to have a pepper spray with you when you go out.
- Don’t wear your flashy or expensive jewelry
- Minimize the amount of cash you carry on your person
There’s a little less than a year before the next Carnival season! You have lots of planning to do so get to it. I’m looking forward to hearing about your adventures! Have a question that I didn’t answer in the post? Great! Then share it in the comments and I will be sure to try to point you in the right direction.
Be sure to check out my other posts all about my amazing Carnival adventure and check out the Carnival Preparation Store!
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”