12 MUST DO’s to Prepare for Trinidad & Tobago Carnival
By Marissa Williams
Making a decision to go experience Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago is one that you will never regret as long as you live. This annual festivity, born in the twin island Republic, takes place in February or March of every year, and, is becoming increasingly popular. Many people become enamored with the carefree videos that display half naked people dancing to soca music in the streets of Port of Spain, with alcohol in one hand and somebody’s girl/boy child in the other. However for many of us foreign- based crew, this trip is difficult to pull off without some pre-planning and stamina building. Believe it or not, if you plan to experience Trinidad and Tobago Carnival on February 8th and 9th of 2016, now i.e. August 2015, is the time to start planning.
Below are some tips on the Top Twelve Things you can do to get yourself ready for the Greatest Show on Earth.
1. SAVE YOUR MONEY
A Carnival vacation can start from around $2000 US if you are very conservative and plan minimal activities for the trip. Needless to say, this amount can climb exponentially depending on your desired itinerary. Some basic expenses you should cater for include:
- Plane Ticket ($500-$1500 depending on when you buy and where you are coming from)
- Accommodation ($50-$400 a night)
- Transportation ($50+ per day)
- Carnival Costume & Accessories ($300+)
- J’ouvert Package ($100+)
- Parties (Fetes) ($50+)
(*All prices in US dollars)
2. BUY YOUR PLANE TICKET (EARLY..very very EARLY)
Many proactive folks buy their Carnival tickets the week after they return (yes you read that right-they buy their tickets a year in advance). Carnival Bands typically start launching their new costumes seven months prior to the parade (around July). This is when many people tend to secure a plane ticket. If you want a good deal, check out sites like Kayak, Expedia or Priceline from early summer and keep those flight alerts into Piarco International Airport coming to your inbox. Those few hundred dollars saved on a plane ticket can go towards an additional party ticket or two.
3. CONFIRM ACCOMMODATION-A Shack on the beach does not qualify
You might know a friend, who has a friend who knows a place for you to stay. But, please, do your own research. It’s true, the island may be small in comparison, but there are many factors that should be considered before deciding on accommodation including; Safety, Proximity to Activities, Accessibility etc. Many folks dismiss the proximity argument and think they can simply rent a car, but please believe when you are accustomed to driving in a large country, Trinbagonian roads can seem like they are smaller than the space between your eyebrows. This is no fun to navigate when you are slightly inebriated after a fete*. And then of course there is the traffic. Oh, and let us not forget the very friendly drivers who always follow every rule of the road (that was sarcasm in case you didn’t get it). Do yourself a favor and find a space to stay that is as close to your planned activities as possible. Click here for a list to get you started but Stay tuned for our accommodation recommendations based on our team’s personal experience.
4. Learn to ‘cuss’ or get a designated driver-CONFIRM TRANSPORTATION
If you cannot find accommodation in a central location, or you simply decide that you want to have alternatives to getting around, then, the next best option is to hire a designated taxi/maxi driver who can drop you and pick you up from the various activities you plan to attend. It saves money, supports the local economy, puts a tiny dent in traffic and opens doors to form lasting friendships if you happen to be in a maxi with a vibesy* crew. Of course, there are also car rentals available from established national brands, as well as, local dealers. Just always remember the golden rule of driving on the roads of Trinidad and Tobago- Arrive Alive! (And this is not something you can take for granted AT ALL during this busy traffic season) Stay tuned for our transportation recommendations.
5. PICK A CARNIVAL COSTUME & PREFERRED FETES (And then try to actually get it /them)
In the normal world, this process should be an easy exchange of money for a product or service. But, keep in mind, Trinidad and Tobago, at Carnival time, is not even remotely affiliated with the normal world. It still operates on that archaic system of; ‘you need to know somebody, who knows somebody, who can get you in.‘ Yes, it is indeed true that for the more popular bands and fetes, you are shelling out hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to play. But, that is inconsequential within the island culture. Be prepared to practically beg to spend your hard earned money to be part of the elite few in the all-inclusive bands & parties (This practice seems to frustrate most visitors and I do believe it is killing some of the festival’s appeal). Best solution? Ask a local to help you navigate the madness or hire a carnival concierge service to help you work it out. Or, third option, be very selective and choose a more intimate (less popular) band or party that can give you some value for your money without you having to beg . Check out sites like www.carnivalinfo.com for a consolidated list of costume information or our very own Carnival band reviews in the Carnival Corner.
6. If you do not have COSTUME ACCESSORIES, immediately fly back home
This seemingly minute add-on has become a huge secondary industry under the Carnival business umbrella. You can no longer simply pay money for your costume and think you are immediately parade ready. No my dear. The unwritten Carnival rules now require you to to pay for separate ‘Monday Wear’ attire, hire someone to do your make-up, find someone to fully accessorize your boots, alcohol cups, tote bags with your essentials…hell, some people accessorize whatever is on their person. I know quite a few people who take the accessorizing concept to a whole different planet. Or maybe you can just follow my lead and pick and choose what makes the most sense to your budget to enjoy the experience without going broke. Stay tuned for our accessory recommendations.
7. START EXERCISING (EARLY)..Stamina and body confidence will take you a very long way.
Many foreign based crews take this tip for granted, but, unless you are a regular gym buff, Carnival will kick your ass. It is that simple. (We have NFL players that can testify to this –Click here to see for yourself). Don’t think you can simply come to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival physically unprepared and that the island will just embrace you with open arms. No Sir. Besides the stamina tests of non stop partying and no sleep, there is also the body confidence test to consider as well. Wearing a costume is more than just parading in the streets with little to no clothes. It is dancing those costumes with a sense of confidence and joy that can only be displayed on the outside if you feel comfortable on the inside. Work out your self-consciousness in the gym for a few months before you get down to Trinidad. Get to a place where you are comfortable in your own skin (and you can walk 20+ miles without dying).
8.Memorize the term Wining* and GET FAMILIAR WITH SOCA MUSIC
In general, soca music is something that you can feel deep down to the very core of your being. Taking it up a notch, soca music experienced during Carnival time, is something that will stay with you forever. I guarantee that every time you hear a certain song, you will remember exactly what you were doing, on the road, at that very moment. With that in mind, it’s in your best interest to get familiar with the music before you get to the island. That way you will spend less time trying to figure out what the artistes are saying and more time wining * down to the ground. Click on this link to get a taste of a 2015 soca mix and Stay tuned for more of our soca mix recommendations.
9. Insomnia is your friend for Carnival-PRACTICE NOT SLEEPING (No seriously)
Just know to yourself that for the week or more that you will be enjoying Carnival, you also will not get any sleep .This is not an exaggeration-it is fact. Stick with me here. If you have a good host, your schedule will most likely look something like this; you go to a party at night from 8 PM-5 AM, then head to a breakfast fete that starts at 6 AM to about NOON, then you head to a day fete that starts at NOON and finishes at 7 PM. You head home to shower and change your clothes, and then the cycle begins again. This is not something that comes naturally too many, so do yourself a favor, practice before you get down there . Go to a U.S. Carnival or two to help you out or just know to yourself that you most definitely will be left behind in a hotel room while the rest of your crew is having a blast!.
10. Learn to embrace mud, oil and paint being slathered on your body-DECIDE ON A JOUVERT BAND
J’ouvert is not for the faint-hearted. It is for people who love up Caribbean culture in the truest sense of the word. Now mind you, these days there are quite a few ‘stush’ bands that exist to accommodate the ‘less earthy’ crew who do not want to get ‘too’ dirty. However, if you want to get the true experience, find a band that has mud, oil, paint, great people, lively music, a ‘jab jab‘ or two and simply immerse yourself in the fun….it will set your mind free in a way that no drug ever can, and, it will be an experience you will never ever forget. Stay tuned for our favorites.
11. VISIT TRADITIONAL CARNIVAL DISPLAYS, DIMANCHE GRAS, A STEELBAND YARD etc.
Carnival has a rich history that is worth exploring in the land of its birth. Its more than just parties and carnival costumes. It is also calypso tents, costume displays for the King & Queen of the bands, Ex-Tempo competitions, wire-bending and the list goes on. Expand your mind and cultural palette while on the island and learn about the history of the festival. Learn about its roots that date back to the days of slavery, and its development over the years. Learn about stick-fighting, canne-brulee, tamboo-bamboo (Yeah I know, chances are you have never heard of any of these terms before. The ole mas traditions seem to be overshadowed by the nakedness for some odd reason but that’s no excuse for you not to learn about it). Read more about traditional mas here.
12. PLAN A RELAXING POST CARNIVAL TRIP TO TOBAGO
Carnival Tuesday evening, after jumping on the road for 2 days, I can almost guarantee that your feet will be aching, your skin will be burnt to a crisp and you may be slightly high on life, music, alcohol or all three. You will be experiencing warring emotions not knowing if to cry because it’s over or jump for joy because you got to experience it. Carnival tabanca* is a real thing people. Get a handle on it early. Best advice, sort out your emotions in Tobago (Trinidad’s sister island). The blue waters and relaxing vibes will put you at perfect peace…..as you plan your next Carnival trip.
Stay Tuned as we provide more details on each of these tips leading up to the big day!
- *Wining–rotating your waist in a seductive care-free manner.
- *Vibesy-full of vibes. Fun, light-hearted, entertaining.
- *Tabanca-an emotion evoked when you miss someone or something dearly.
- All images acquired through Google Search, no copyright infringement intended