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Comprehensive Guide to Planning for Carnival Trinidad

A street dancer at London Notting Hill Carnival © Dariusz Renke | Dreamstime.com

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.

This post contains affiliate links that may provide compensation to me if you make a booking using my links.  See full discloure 

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.

Carnival Tuesday

2.  Secure Lodging
What’s the #1 hotel in the Caribbean? Read reviews & find hotel deals on TripAdvisor!

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

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  • 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.

4.  Getting ThereDSC00119

  • 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:

Trinidad Carnival 2017 fetes and events
Downloadable Carnival Fete Schedule 2017 
http://www.tntisland.com

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

iCandy – https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Candy-Jouvert/312990942090675

Whyte Angels – https://www.facebook.com/WhyteAngelsJouvert

Yellow Devilz – http://yellowdevilz.com/

7.  Fantastic Friday Events  

DSC00020

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

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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.

10. Security

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

11.  Budget

For 5 nights my total cost was about $2400 US  including everything mentioned above as well as taxi transportation throughout the trip, meals, souvenirs, and rum to bring back home.DSC00009

 

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!

A Day in the Life of a Carnival Masquerader
5 Tips on How to Have Epic Carnival Adventure
8 Best Things I ate in Trinidad

Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”


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Trinidad Carnival

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Shakira
    April 1, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Great info!! Thanks for the detailed list. Very helpful!

  • Reply
    outdoorsydiva
    April 1, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Thanks Shakira! Glad I could help!

  • Reply
    Jamboree Mas *GLOW FETE* This Saturday at the Enclave Venue downtown Atlanta #Caribbean #Carnival « Highlanda Sound System High Quality Music
    April 16, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    […] Comprehensive Guide to Planning for Carnival Trinidad 2015 […]

  • Reply
    Jamboree Mas *GLOW FETE* This Saturday at the Enclave Venue downtown Atlanta #Caribbean #Carnival
    April 17, 2014 at 7:06 am

    […] Comprehensive Guide to Planning for Carnival Trinidad 2015 […]

  • Reply
    Merle
    August 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    I am a Trini. Your info is thorough, accurate, and right on! Thanks!

    • Reply
      OutdoorsyDiva
      August 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks so much Merle for reading! I’m glad you approve 🙂 That really made my day to get the Trini seal of approval! LOL

  • Reply
    alexandra
    August 10, 2014 at 5:41 am

    I’m late reading this but Toronto carnival just ended and I am definitely going to start organizing for Trinidad from now!!! THank you 🙂

    • Reply
      OutdoorsyDiva
      August 10, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Yay Alexandria! I’ve been to Toronto Caribana twice but didn’t play mas. I’m happy to hear you are going to give Trinidad a try! Any questions just ask!

  • Reply
    Jonty
    August 30, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the info.It’s been quite a while since I last prepared for this.Plus I also booked everything for my younger bro as well.(an early 35th birthday present)3 weeks in lovely T’n’T.Accommodation is sorted,but still waiting on my cousins in sunny trini to sort out Jouvert and Mas Band.

    • Reply
      OutdoorsyDiva
      August 30, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Jonty, I hope you have an amazing time! Thanks for reading. Having relatives there certainly makes the planning easier. I wasn’t so lucky. LOL

      • Reply
        crys19
        September 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        What currency are you quoting in? Is it US or TT dollars? Thanks.

        • Reply
          OutdoorsyDiva
          September 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm

          Sorry, I didn’t realize I didn’t specify. Those prices are in US dollars. The exchange rate is around 1 US dollar to 6.35 TT. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    Mimi
    November 28, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Great info!!! I’m all booked for carnival 2015. I am also playing mas with paparazzi, I made the decision to play with them because of your blog. One thing I’m worried about is transportation from the airport. Also the seven days I’m staying in POS. Do you recommend anyone? Or do you have the contact info of your taxi driver? Thank you!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      November 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      Mimi I am so happy to hear that my blog helped you plan your trip! As for your other questions, I could answer you better via email. If you don’t mind please send me an email and I’d be happy to answer those other questions. outdoorsydiva@gmail.com

  • Reply
    Mironda Ross
    December 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you for this detailed review!! This is my first year going and I’m overwhelmed with information. This was GREAT!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      December 3, 2014 at 12:15 am

      I’m so glad to hear I could help Mironda! I hope you have an awesome time. What band are you playing with?

  • Reply
    Gail
    December 2, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    As we trinbagonians say, guys yuh get it rite. I am now looking to book a flight and will need Kanye West accountant on speed dial. Is meh fault, had a great flight and price and changed my mind about going. Now, I will bite the bullet and pay a higher cost just to go.

    But yuh forget the best kind ah bodyguard, a cute Trini: 1 in front and 1 behind while yuh wine in d middle.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      December 3, 2014 at 12:18 am

      Thanks Gail! Glad to hear this American girl got your official approval. I’m heading to Tobago end of February! I may need some tips on what I need to see there.

  • Reply
    Odofoley
    January 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

    This list is FANTASTIC and a serious God send! I’m planning for 2016 and this list has given me life and motivation! Thanks again for the details 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 8, 2015 at 9:01 am

      I am do glad you found it helpful! Happy Planning!!!

  • Reply
    Francesca One Girl One World
    January 8, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    This is cool, I never considered going to Carnival in Trinidad! I always automatically think of the one in Brazil…. because it’s so famous. At less than 3,000 dollars it may be a cheaper option too! thanks for sharing

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 8, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Francesca there were lots of Brazilians who come to play mas at Trinidad Carnival! Trinidad definitely rules the Caribbean Carnival scene. I would love to experience Brazil as well.

  • Reply
    Lynda
    February 6, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you sooooo much for posting this review!!! I’m going to Carnival 2016 and I’m starting the planning process. I was trying to figure out whether to go through a travel agent or plan it myself and save some money. I have a question for you. Is the Hyatt close to the “action” or did you have to take the taxi everywhere?

  • Reply
    TKay
    May 22, 2015 at 2:13 am

    Thanks for this post.
    What do you think would be the ideal days to fly in and depart on for carnival 2016?
    Thanks in advance

    • Reply
      Lauren
      May 26, 2015 at 10:30 am

      TKay thanks for reading! Dates for 2016 are the 8th and 9th. The Thursday before is ideal or earliest flight Friday. There will already be events and parties going on that entire week before. Try to depart on Thursday after so that you don’t miss the Wednesday cool down at Maracas like we did. If you can you should add a couple of days after to go and visit Tobago.

  • Reply
    yaz
    July 2, 2015 at 11:46 am

    Thanks for your post I will be going to Trinidad carnival for the first time and very excited debating if i should play mas or watch carnival for the first time and take it all in. Reading your post was very informative and after researching i really like fantasy and Yuma costumes.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      July 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Glad I could help Yaz!! My advice….DO IT!!!!! Go big! You are traveling all the way there so you may as well live it up. Check out the other post about the day in the life of being a carnival masquerader to give you an idea of a day out “on da road”. Good luck!!

  • Reply
    Lee-Ann
    August 8, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    My friends and I are trying to plan for Trinidad carnival 2016 now. Do you recommend using an event planning company like eloquence or carnival info? Both are quoting around $3100-3300 for flights from NY, backline costumes with Fantasy or YUMA, 5 fetes, J’ouvert, and ground transportation in TNT. I really wanted to spend around $2500 for everything. I don’t mind only going to 3 fetes instead of 5. I just don’t want to get ripped off and want to enjoy my time in Trinidad. Any tips of places to call to see if it’s still available to stay for Trinidad carnival 2016? Thanks! – Lee-Ann

    • Reply
      Lauren
      August 10, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Hi Lee-Ann. I would say you probably could have planned this yourself and stayed in your budget if you had gotten started sooner. Your biggest issue is going to be finding accommodations at this late time. The benefit to using the company is that they may have rooms blocked or some type of deal worked out with the hotels. You could try to contact the hotels that I listed in the post directly to see if there are any rooms available but if not then the event planning company may be your best bet. Searching online is not going to show available rooms. You need to actually call them. They may have people that booked the rooms early in April and have since had to cancel. You may consider looking for a home rental through Air B n B but make sure you research the area well to be sure it’s safe. Also if you are staying far out you will incur costs for having transportation. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Val Ford
    October 27, 2015 at 10:38 am

    So difficult (almost impossible) to get tickets for the big fetes/boat rides if you live in North America and don’t have a ‘contact’ or know a committee member. Must say that Red Ants and Fatima were great for responding to my questions. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Lauren
      November 2, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      I’m glad you were able to get some help.

  • Reply
    dinjaka
    December 28, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    I wanted to know if you think this is a good deal its with “Trinidad Carnival Packages” $4100 US , it includes: (2 fetes) itinerary is:
    Fri- Scorch 1p-8p
    Sat- maracas beach and then group dinner
    Sunnny Side up breakfast fete 3:30 am-11:30 am
    jouvert cant remember the name of the band
    mon and tues – Yuma band backline costume
    Hilton hotel 5 nights
    the price breakdown is:
    $2045 5 nights w/roommate
    $1417.00 costume BL Yuma and jovert (don’t know the band)
    $700.00 for transport, maracas beach, group dinner, 2 fete tickets Scorch and Sunny Side up), pick up and delivery of costume, J’ouvert goodie bag delivered to the Hilton Trinidad according to the company.
    total 4100.00 airfare not included 40 days until carnival
    what do u think ?

    • Reply
      Lauren
      December 29, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Hi Dinjaka2016. Considering that it’s last minute for Carnival planning and there is really no way you would be able to book what they are offering by yourself a this point in time, I would say it’s worth it if you really want to go and experience Carnival fully. I had my room costs split with 4 people so that helped with my cost. If it has been just 2 people I would have been around $3000 total so you are getting alot for your money and the convenience of everything being taken care of. If you can afford it I say book it!

  • Reply
    FBanny
    January 7, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Lauren, great read! Question when did you book your hotel at the Hyatt? I am trying to get on the ball for 2017 Carnival.

    Thank you!

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 7, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      Hello FBanny. We booked in April of the year prior. As mentioned in the guide, you will have to contact the hotel directly to find out when the carnival room packages will become avaiable so that you can be ready to purchase when it’s time. Thanks for reading. I hope this helps with your trip plans.

  • Reply
    Sonia
    January 22, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Hey, do you have any advise on how to get a good driver for Carnival?

    • Reply
      Lauren
      January 22, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Hi Sonia. If you have friends or family or know anyone with a connection to the island I always recommend asking them for a referral first. If you don’t know anyone at all with ties to Trinidad, then unfortunately it will just be luck. There are taxi services available. We found our driver because he was a regular taxi service but he was so nice and accommodating that we made a bargain with him to pay him to be our driver throughout our trip. So it was really luck. If you hit it off with a driver then try to see if they will be willing to stick with you throughout Carnival.

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