It’s Carnival Season! I caught the “Carnival bug” after experiencing Trinidad Carnival and J’ouvert last year and I decided to visit Toronto for their Caribana Parade. I also have family there and it is close enough to NY to go for a quick weekend trip via bus (Megabus or Greyhound) or plane (Flights leave from all NYC airports for around the same price). We’ve all been carnival virgins at some point so here are some tips for playing mas for the first time and getting ready for a Caribbean Carnival.
Carnival Safety: Is it safe to play Mas Alone?
There are many people that play mas alone and there are carnival concierge services available to pair you with other solo travelers. I recommend exchanging information so you feel a bit more comfortable traveling with someone you don’t know. If you’re playing with a group of friends, keep an eye on the crowd since there will be lots of drinking, wining, jumping and excitement along the parade route. Remember to always be aware of your surroundings, stay hydrated, and be safe.
Put in your vacation time in advance. After you paid for your carnival costume, flight, transportation, and hotel, it’ll suck if you can’t get it approved. If you don’t have the money to play mas, it’s ok because there are other events. In most carnivals, the parade of the bands is free or low cost to view. There are many fêtes and events before and after the parade, J’ouvert, Kiddie Carnival, Dimanche Gras, King and Queen, Panorama, Machel Monday, Calypso/ Soca Monarch Competitions and much more.
Find a Mas Band
The first tip for getting ready for a Caribbean carnival is looking for a mas band. Band launch for Trinidad Carnival usually starts in July. For other Caribbean carnivals, you can expect costume information 4-8 months ahead. You can keep up with the various bands’ Instagram and Facebook Pages for launch dates and Carnival costume prices. Carnival costumes for women come in front line, back line, t-shirt bands, and custom Monday wear. Depending on the carnival location and sometimes band, you can pay as little as $200 or as much as $1500 USD+ to play mas which includes your carnival costume, food, drinks, and security. If the band sells out, choose another. There are also services that provide Trinidad costumes for sale because of unfortunate events or to make a profit. When purchasing from resellers and make sure to make the necessary arrangements so you can pick up the costume yourself.
Get Your Flight, Transportation & Lodging EARLY
Figure our travel and lodging information EARLY. Just like any trip, the longer you wait, the more money you spend on flights and lodging. Arrange for a pickup from the airport via taxi, friend, or other transportation services. If you’re familiar with the area, have GPS, and are able to drive, rent a car. If you’re playing mas via a group tour, there may be a Carnival Payment plan for lodging and carnival costume. You can also look into saving money by staying in a guesthouse or using services like Airbnb.
Basic Essentials for Carnival
Getting ready for a Caribbean Carnival includes what to bring along. Here’s a list of basic essentials for Carnival. To get an idea of what to pack, you can also check out my free carnival packing list.
Comfortable Shoes: I cannot stress this enough. You will literally be walking from sunrise to sunset. Unless you’re a pro that wears 4-inch heels while jumping, waving, wining and drinking for 8-10+ hours, do yourself a favor n get some comfy sneakers, flats or boots. You can jazz them up with rhinestones, paint, feathers or glitter to go with the costume some more.
Sunglasses: You don’t have to take your $300 shades. Just buy a cheap $5 or $10 pair. Especially because they may get broken or lost. Shades are not really necessary, but it keeps the sun out your eyes in case it’s beaming all day.
Safety Pins: You never know if your costume may be too big or starts to fall apart while on the road. It happens. Keep pins handy in case you or a friend has a “wardrobe malfunction”.
Sunscreen: Again, you will be out in the sun ALL day. You don’t want to feel it the next day with a sunburn. Make sure to apply and reapply throughout the day. I usually have the spray-on sunscreen. It’s much easier for application than the lotion sunscreen especially when you’re on the go.
Fanny Pack or Small Bag: Keep a small bag or fanny pack for basic essentials. Just use your best judgment when carrying valuable items.
Carnival Makeup, Glitter and Accessories
Well, this isn’t really necessary, but the more the better. There are loads of people that will do your makeup professionally or you can do a carnival-inspired look you liked on YouTube. Even if you’re not an everyday makeup person, it’s only for a day or two and it’s fun. It doesn’t have to be a “full face”; some eye shadow, colored mascara or eyeliner, and a colorful lipstick or gloss can be enough.
Glitter is a must. It gets messy and you’ll probably be scrubbing glitter off your face and body weeks later, but in key points, it reflects great with the sun and looks good in pictures. Just don’t get carried away. Jazz up your look some more with costume jewelry bracelets, rings, and earrings. There will be loads of people wearing the same costume as you. Accessorize to stand out from the rest.
Do everyone a favor and DO not bring nylon stockings for carnival. Purchase carnival stockings or wear no stocking at all.
From planning to participating, getting ready for a Caribbean Carnival is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure to have all your ducks in a row before leaving and pace yourself while you’re there. If you’re going to an all-inclusive or cooler fete, make sure to have enough water to stay hydrated. The last thing you want to do is pass out or be hospitalized for drinking too much.
Have a Good Time
There are things that may frustrate you in the Caribbean Carnival (the going and stopping, long walking, stormers), but try and make the best of it. You paid the money for the food, drinks, and costumes, so enjoy. As much as Carnival is a celebration of Caribbean culture, it is a time for fun.
What are some other tips for getting ready for a Caribbean Carnival?