10 Tips for the Ultimate Carnival Experience in the Caribbean.
⏳5 Min read.
PS: Pics of the Carnival experience at the end of this post:)
It’s been 2 weeks since the Real Mas (Carnival) ended on the Nature Isle (Dominica), and I’m still not over the fact that I have had such a blast. Rejoicing in Carnival celebrations with my friends this year was really important for me, not only because I had been away for too long (traveling the world, devouring fondue in Switzerland, paving my academic path and tasting Belgian fries in Brussels – you get the point), but also because the island was just 5-months fresh out of Hurricane Maria (hit on September 18th, 2017). Caribbean carnival seasons are unique in helping you to discover different aspects of the caribbean culture. And, for someone who has spent several years in Dominica and took part in Carnival almost every year, I can say with confidence that 2018 truly gave me the ultimate Carnival experience.
SO, if unending joy, non-stop “fete”, continuous laughter and everlasting memories are things you look for when you come to the Caribbean islands for Carnival, then follow these 10 tips and I can promise you this: your cup might just overflow.
#1: Plan early
Let’s get this straight: Carnival is only 2 days, but in general, the Caribbean Carnival season lasts for about 6 weeks. According to “A Virtual Dominica”, Carnival takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. In the months leading up to Carnival, there are Calypso shows, village feasts and pageants. Traditionally Monday and Tuesday are the two final days of celebration before the quiet and reflective Lenten period.
What does this mean for you? If you’re planning on traveling to any Caribbean island for the Carnival, check out the official Carnival calendar to know exactly when to plan your holidays. Whether you want to stay for a week or two is completely up to you, but early planning is essential.
Thinking ahead, here are some Caribbean Carnival dates for 2019:
- The Real Mas (Dominica): March 4-5
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival (Trinidad and Tobago): March 4-5
- Cropover (Barbados Carnival): find out more here.
#2: Make a budget
The Carnival season is normally a high-expense season, and expectedly so. There are a lot of activities going on, and people naturally tend to splurge especially since right after the season, we fall straight into Lent (for islands that plan carnival according to the Gregorian calendar). That being said, it is important to make a budget, be true to yourself and know exactly how much you’re willing to spend for the entire season (or for the amount of time you’re planning on spending there).
My cheat trick: put aside a specific “Carnival budget”. My budget included fees for costume bands (which I talk about later), T shirt band, calypso (music competition) events, clothes, hairdos, shoes, etc. Basically, anything that you might need for the season. As you spend, keep track. And if anything goes beyond your budget, pass. It will sting a little, but trust me: your bank account will thank you later!
#3: Do your homework on activities
If you’re traveling from overseas to take part in Carnival, you only have limited time. Because there are so many activities that are going on, you won’t have time to take part in everything. This is where doing your research ahead of time comes in: love music and pageantry? You might want to focus on the Calypso tents and pageant shows. Are you a “fetard” and want to jam all day all night? Look into boat cruises happening on the island, and other related events. Doing your homework also helps you to use you time wisely and stay within your budget.
#4: Join a T-shirt band and/or costume band
T-shirt bands and costume bands tend to be the highlight of Carnival season especially on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. In the Caribbean, Carnival costume bands registration can open as early as 6 months before the Carnival, and different bands release their costumes concepts and designs. This year, I was pleased to join the Hysteria costume band, under the theme “Turning Tragedy into Epic Fantasy”. Generally, the band theme for the carnival season is highlighted into the different costume sections. On carnival Tuesday, the different costume bands parade on the road and the best band (based on specific criteria) wins a price.
For Carnival Monday, I joined the Signal band which presented the theme “Lumi-nation”. The theme was well conceptualized and matched the service that was provided on the D-day (glow and light sticks). More, the band really stood out by featuring Farmer Nappy, renowned soca artist from Trinidad and Tobago and this just made the entire experience 1000 times worth it. (To really picture it, just imagine your favourite artist singing for you during Carnival, live, for about 3-4 hours!)
Tip: before joining a band, ensure that you clearly understand what is included in your package! For the Hysteria band, my package included a costume and relevant accessories, unlimited drinks for carnival Tuesday, breakfast and lunch, drink cup and bottle, and a surprise $25 Top up! On Carnival Monday, Signal Band offered a T-shirt and relevant accessories (body paint, glow-in-the-dark sticks, etc.), a drink cup and bottle, 12 drink tickets, as well as unlimited access to soft drinks.
#5: Be smart about flights
Airlines and travel agencies are very aware of the social calendars of the islands you’re planning to visit, and there’s no question that around Carnival, Caribbean destinations become 3-4 times more expensive and flight ticket prices can easily triple. So once you’ve planned your dates (#1) around the activities that you want to prioritize (#3), track flight prices and make sure you book at the right time to benefit from the best deals. And while you’re on it, pay particular attention to Flight Booking Traps that Nobody is Telling You About!
#6: Know where to stay
Just like booking flights, securing your accommodation on time is crucial to make sure you get the cheapest rates. Websites such as booking.com, hotels.com and AirBnB have proven to be super effective, especially for staying in Dominica. And if you have friends living on the nature isle, it’s even better!
#7: Be weather-conscious
This is particularly important for packing if you’re traveling for Carnival. In Dominica for instance, the Carnival season was particularly rainy. Result? Everyone was rocking their rain boots, umbrellas, jackets and sweaters. So, don’t let the weather spoil the fun, and make sure you’re prepared, rain or sun!
#8: Stay healthy
One of the worst things that could happen to you when you’re on vacation, is falling sick! And during the carnival season, trust me on this: you want to be on your feet, ‘cause nobody wants to miss the beat! The funny thing is, I caught myself catching the cold > flu a day before the Carnival Jump up, and I posted the following picture on my social media. If you’ve spent a lot of time, effort and money planning out your carnival, it would be a waste (and a pity) to be down for Jouvert and Carnival Monday and Tuesday, especially if you can do something about it. In my case, almost everyone around me started to get sick, so I decided to nip it in the budJ
#9: Think Safety
Because there is a lot of excitement in the air during the carnival season, it is even more important to be conscious about your security. Safety rules that apply on a regular day become even more relevant during the carnival season. What I loved about Carnival in Dominica was the fact that Police presence was very visible and noticeable at all events that I attended, and this made me feel safer. However, this does not mean that you should behave recklessly, hoping to be saved by a man in uniform. Park your vehicle in sufficiently lit areas, lock all doors, do not go out with any valuables that you can’t safely carry with you, do not go to public bathrooms alone (especially ladies),
#10: Make time to rest!
In the midst of all the Carnival hype, make sure you find time to rest. Why? Because you need to be ready for the next day of jump up! And also, because Ash Wednesday (the next day) is a working day for the majority, and it would be quite a tragedy to go to work and perform sub-optimally. I believe that just as much as you commit yourself to enjoyment and celebration, you must demonstrate the same commitment to showing up for whatever comes next for you, on the day after Carnival Tuesday!
There, you have it! I hope you enjoyed this article and that the tips shared here can make you better prepared for Carnival 2019. Have you ever experienced Carnival? Where was it and what are your best tips to make the most out of it? Drop a comment below, and thanks for reading!
🍁”Adventure may hurt you but monotony will kill you.”🍁
More pictures of the Carnival Celebrations: