A Rookie’s Suggestions for Trini Carnival

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the pleasure of attending carnival in Trinidad earlier this month.  Although my stay was short, I have a number of tips to offer those who would like to not only attend, but participate as well.  Please note that these are merely suggestions based upon my personal experience and are not meant to be taken as gospel or law.

  1. Decide NOW.  Decide whether or not you would like to just be a spectator or if you want to actually participate in the various activities and events.
  2. Start planning NOW.  Carnival dates for the next decade can be viewed by visiting the http://www.gotrinidadandtobago.com/events/trinidad-tobago-carnival/ site.  Please note that the dates posted on this site only reflect carnival Monday and Tuesday.  If you want specific information for the white party, sunny side up, or other events, you will have to check with one of bands or groups.
  3. Reach out NOW.  If you decide that you wish to participate in some of the activities, visit some of the various sponsor sites to contact the various bands for packaging information and prices.
  4. Save NOW.  Carnival is not cheap.
    • Airfare, as one might expect, can range anywhere from $600 to well over $2000 depending on when you purchase and which carrier you choose to fly.  As of March 2014, a third US flag carrier was added to the list of those permitted to fly to the Port of Spain (POS) airport, so that should help with some the costs.  Airline tickets for various destinations are typically available 335 days out from your initial date of travel, so airline tickets for next year’s event are available now.  If you have a voucher or credit on one of the airlines that fly to POS, considering using that to offset the cost.  A friend of mine allowed me to use their voucher for American Airlines and I only paid $113.00 round trip for my ticket.
    • Unless you are booking a package, inclusive of hotel accommodations, check hotel rates now and make your arrangements accordingly.  Moreover, if you are one of the few lucky business travelers who has racked up tons of points and free stays at chain hotels, consider using them (if that particular hotel or chain is located in Trinidad).  I was actually able to use my Hilton Honors points for my stay this year.  Therefore I didn’t have to pay for my room.  The room rate at the time that I booked my stay was $299.00/night without taxes and fees for a king bed.
    • Unless you are on a package that includes all or some of your meals, allocate enough money in your budget to to account for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Even though some of my meals were covered at the various activities in which I participated, I packed some instant meals and snack bars in my suitcase to keep me satiated during my stay.  I am a very picky person and it is often very difficult for me to find something I like to eat.  Food is not expensive so you can probably get by on $40/day depending on your dietary needs.
    • If you planning to play with a band on Carnival tuesday, please know that the costume alone for this year’s celebration ranged from $700 to over $1200, depending on the band.  Keep in mind that these costumes are poorly made and pieces of the costume will fall off prior to you even getting on the road.  So, you can take a glue gun to try to salvage your jewels, but do not expect the costume to be nowhere in value near what you are paying for it.  You are paying for the experience.
  • Brainstorm your outfits NOW.  Whether or not you decide to participate in all of the events, some of the events, or just carry on as a spectator, plan your wardrobe ahead of time.  Trinidad is located in a tropical temperature and individuals who are sensitive to heat and humidity need to wear cool, light clothing.  Additionally, this is not the time to buy a new pair of shoes and wear them for the first time upon arrival.  Break in your new boots, heels, or even tennis shoes NOW.  Additionally, if you decided to play Mas, gel inserts will be your best friend.  If you decided to do Jouvert, this is the time that you want to pack your dirty t-shirt, throw away shorts or pants, old, stinky tennis shoes and a scarf to protect your hair.
  • Leave the inner germaphobe  and xenophobe at home–especially if you participate (willingly or otherwise).  There is a reason why you bring throw away clothes with you, if you participate in Jouvert.  You are going to be covered from head to shoe in mud and paint.  Prepare to get dirty.  If the thought of being gooed up with paint and mud bothers you, stay away, far far away from Jouvert.    If you do not like people (yes I said people meaning men and women) invading your personal space, or if the thought of a random stranger wining on you gives you the creeps, DO NOT participate.  Wining is cultural and, unless you want to look like Wanda the wall flower, wine yuh waste or stop wasting space.
  • Consider the weather.  Although we do not know what mother nature may or may not do, one thing this year has shown us is that you can expect the unexpected.  Therefore, in the unlikely event that Polar Vortex part deux happens next year, I would highly recommend that you consider purchasing travel insurance less you experience a travel interruption, or even worse— your flight is cancelled in its entirety.
  • Convert some money, but not all of your money.  Although Trinidad has its own currency, the US dollar is readily accepted around the island.  US currency was accepted by the taxi drivers, the various market vendors and at the hotel.  The exchange rate during this year’s carnival was $6TT to $1US.  Thus, a bowl of soup that would run $8US would be $48TT.  A bottle of rum at the airport would run $12US or $72TT.  Learn from my mistake and DO NOT change money at the airport.  Although they do not charge a commission, they do not exchange money at the best rate either.  The rate that I was given was $5.75TT to $1 US; the hotel exchange rate was $6TT to $1US.
  • Get your cardio on NOW.  With the exception of traveling to the various parties and to and from the airport, you will probably end up doing a lot of walking.  Therefore you want to be in very good shape.  This is especially true if you decided to play Mas.  You can bet that you will be dancing, jumping, walking and masquerading for at least 8 hours/day.  Stretch ahead of time, if necessary.
  • Make sure you know where your phone and camera are at all times.  Unfortunately, during some of the revery and wining, a few of the individuals in my group lost their cameras and cellphones.  If you plan to take items of value, make sure you have a wrist strap or some way to secure the item with you.  If you are traveling with a friend or group, consider asking someone to keep the item in a purse or bag for you.  There is nothing worse than taking a lot of lovely pictures and videos only to not be able to view them when you return to your destination.
  • Pace Yourself.  It’s often been said that you should “go hard or go home”.  Well, in some respects and circles that is true, but when you are exposed to heat and on your feet for long periods of time, you need to mind your consumption of the lovely beverages.  Hennessy and orange juice became my best friend on this trip and prior to it, I never had Hennessy in my entire life.  When I felt myself getting “nice”, I had enough common sense to start drinking water because I the standing rule in my group was “no one is toting a load.”

If you want more information, feel free to visit sites such as GoTrinidadandTobago, Lehwego, and Trinidad Carnival Diary for more information.  Consider reaching out to some of the various groups and bands using social media as well.  Regardless of what you decide to do, be it spectate or participate, just check your ego at the door, let your hair down and have a good time!!

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