Trinidad Carnival … aka “The Greatest Show on Earth”… aka That time you lost your voice and your breath crossing the stage … aka That time you lost a few pounds from two days of playing Mas … aka that time you fell in love again with the Trini accent … aka That time you discovered the special qualities of “soft candle”, better known in your home country as “candle grease” as the best and cheapest way to sooth sore feet, backs and shoulders … aka Some of the most fun you’ll have in your life.
If you’re planning to go next year or the year after that and you want a full carnival experience, whether you’re there for three days or seven, I have a couple suggestions:
Getting to Trinidad
You hear about people buying their tickets for the next year as soon as carnival is over, which isn’t as crazy as it sounds when you face the reality that the earlier you buy your ticket, you’re more than likely to get the best price, especially since traveling throughout the region is notoriously overpriced. Coming from Barbados, we bought our tickets on Caribbean Airlines in April, almost a whole year before carnival 2018 (my vacation wasn’t even applied for yet!) for US$200, which we snatched online like hungry vultures.
Where to Stay
So it was almost US$3,000 for a hotel room which would have held two people for the week that we were going to stay in Trinidad and we were a group of four. We went online and made calls for weeks looking at hotels and guest houses but by the middle of the year what hadn’t already been booked was too expensive. By the time we thought we would have to set up camp on Charlotte Street, our saviour came in the form of my sister’s friend who was amazing enough to let us stay at her house which was close to eh-ver-eee-thaaang.
If you decide to “play mas” and if you’ve chosen a popular all-inclusive band (i.e. Tribe, Bliss, Rogue, Yuma or Fantasy) you’ll have to go through the task of committee member registration. Listen! That in itself was an experience. After watching the live stream of the band launch toward the end of July (Yay Tribe!) we had to wait a few weeks to actually register as the prices of the costumes hadn’t been released as yet.
Just by the way, my three favourite costumes were “Alta Moda” by Tobye and Shoma for Bliss (I got my entire life!!!!!!!!), “Mirror Mirror” by Solange Govia for Tribe and “Vanity” by Marie Collette for Yuma.
Ok, back to registration. When the prices were revealed it was a mad rush to reach out to our contact, who then sent us an email invitation to register for the section “Mystique” by Sandra Hordatt (@sandilikeabeach on Instagram), we then went online and specified our costume size, whether we wanted any of the offered additions to our costumes and whether we wanted a vegetarian or non-vegetarian meal. All of that was done over the course of a few hours. Then zing! confirmation email and that process was thankfully over.
Buying event tickets
We used a combination of online purchasing and a ticket concierge service, the latter being somewhat of a hassle when we got to Trinidad but more on that later… I would suggest trying to buy as many online, using a reputable concierge service or a trusted friend to buy your tickets. Be careful with the concierge services, they aren’t created equally. I’ve heard horror stories of people not receiving tickets they paid for and missing events!
We chose Tribe Ignite (outdoor concert with Machel and Kes the Band, eeek!), Scorch Duck Work Pool Party, Soca Brainwash (you can’t go to just one!) and Vale Vibe breakfast party. All of these tickets were bought between December and January.
Choosing Monday Wear
Monday Wear. The outfits worn by women on Carnival Monday that can range from a simple one or two piece body suit/swimsuit to an embellished sorta kinda of costume that could cost a small fortune. It’s an industry that’s exploded over the last few years and has given birth to a set of designers who are popular within and beyond the Caribbean.
This year you could have chosen from the standards, Rebel (one of my personal favourites), Marie Collette (another fave), Humzee, Laura Narayansingh, Keisha Als and Chandra Maharaj to newbies like Sarah Jane Waddell’s collection, “Midas” (loved her pieces!). It’s up to you. Outside of Trinidad another popular designer was Suga Apple Swim from Barbados or pieces from Fashion Nova and Hot Miami Styles. I ended up wearing something I had already because my Fashion Nova piece that arrived two days before we left for carnival didn’t fit (of course!).
For us ladies, carnivals are a time that we want to look our best, so some of us spend months in the gym or head to the nearest plastic surgeon, especially after we’ve seen some of the costumes which only seem to work best with no boobs or fake boobs, thighs that are like, “cellulite who?” and butts that defy gravity.
If you’re into makeup, book from early with a professional makeup artist before the events you really want to show out for (unless you’re a boss at doing your own face that can stand up to several hours of sweat and in some cases, sun) or like what we did, for Carnival Monday and Tuesday only. We booked with @lolampop and @iheartmakeup246 (check them out on Instagram!), makeup artists from Barbados, who slaaaayyyyed our faces both days. Other than that, we made sure we brought everything we needed for the trip and a few extras as well.
– The MUSIC. This year was one of the beeeesssttt in my opinion. For weeks DJ Private Ryan’s Soca Starter and Soca Brainwash mixes were my workout playlist at the gym. Music was sweeet! Absolute Favourites: Soca Kingdom – Machel Montano and Super Blue, Savannah – Iwer George, Splinters – Shal Marshall, Full of Vibes – Voice and Marge Blackman, Hello – Kes the Band, Sweet Fuh Days – Patrice Roberts, Sokah – Nailah Blackman, Showtime – Machel, Hulk – Blax, O Lawd, Oye – Nailah Blackman and Like it like That – Kes. I was so happy that Marville’s songs Give it to Ya, Bang Bim and Gas it Up were popular too, in addition to Crop Over songs from Peter Ram, Leadpipe and Saddis, Allison Hinds, Edwin Yearwood and Jagwa de Champ, which made me hold my Bajan flag as high as I could at every event. But yeaah, I.could.not.wait to hear these and feel the energy of the crowds.
– Tribe goodie bag. I love my bag and towel, already started using the bag as my new beach bag.
– Scorch Duck Work pool party. Maybe because it was the first fete we went to (wait, what happened to Tribe Ignite? Stupse, more on that later), maybe because they mixed the drinks pretty strong or maybe it was the fact that we took our places at the front of the stage but that was my best party experience, for consistent vibes. Would I go again? YES.
– Being up front at Soca Brainwash when Private Ryan was taking us back through the past 5 years of Brainwash. Maaaan, I sweat like I was digging a manhole at midday in Bajan August heat but that part of Soca Brainwash was axxxxiooonn! I’ve been to two Brainwashes in Barbados and had to try Trinidad’s just once and while they’re organised differently, being in the thick of things was awesome.
– Food and general organisation of Vale. Organisers of all-inclusives take note. We pay a pretty penny to have food and drinks available several hours after the party has started. We pay a pretty penny not to be in lines like we’re waiting for the new iPhone. We pay a pretty penny to have a seamless security check with little wait time at the entrance. Vale checked all those boxes, along with the constantly cleaned bathrooms and well-stocked freshen up areas.
– Tribe’s on the road service. A BIIIIGGG Hail Up to the drink servers who were fast and freindly and the breakfast guy who gave us sandwiches even though breakfast was over. The lunch stops were good as well, more than enough food and the ice lollies were a nice touch. Sunblock station and makeup touch up at the lunch stop and the cooling mist on the road WIN!
– Crossing the stage at Socadrome on Carnival Tuesday and generally on the road. Check out my Instagram at @dan_ni246 to see how I summed up crossing the stage. If you’re a newbie, make sure you do it even if you don’t bother the next time you go. The feeling for the time you’re there is pure euphoria. I love how anticipation is built by having the security link arms and make you wait your turn and then when they break the chain with silly grins on their faces so masqueraders can charge through like crazy people, love it.
– The general vibe in and around Port of Spain. I can’t speak for the rest of the country but I love how carnival was everywhere. In the print ads, the music in every store and restaurant we went into, the feeling you got Carnival Monday and Tuesday (for me, especially Tuesday) seeing the beautiful costumes and everyone being so happy and friendly. Even leaving the airport, people going back to their countries with their headpieces and backpacks in plastic bags taking them home as souvenirs. For me, seeing people from law school that I hadn’t seen in years, some since graduation and meeting new people who are now a part of the experience with you.
– Tribe’s costume collection. We waited for four hours in the chilly mountain air at the Cascadia Hotel, with some unmannerly as ass Tribe workers making as we say in Barbados, “mock sport” at our agitation for being made to wait so long for a procedure that was supposed to take no more than thirty minutes to an hour as I was told. In past years, as recent as 2014, I was told the process took about twenty minutes. You have to do better Tribe! I watched your Youtube video with your employees boldly stating that it was the “Ultimate Carnival Experience” and expected nothing less, based on everything I had heard and my US$903 costume. If you’re having an issue, your workers should be upfront with patrons and not drop snarky comments. Many of us had flown in that day and were tired and were not in the mood for bullshit. We received an apology and an explanation off to the side from a really nice guy who was working at the front. However, due to the long wait, we ended up missing Tribe Ignite and had to scalp our tickets. I was pissed as hell at that. My only chance to see Machel and Kes in Trinidad at a Tribe event and I miss it because of Tribe? Stupse.
– Long food lines like we were in Oliver Twist at Soca Brainwash. Loved the fact that it was all inclusive, where at home in Barbados it’s a cooler fete inclusive of food (Note: Tickets are much cheaper here). I don’t know if it’s a numbers thing or if it was the intermittent rain at the beginning but all the food stations weren’t visible with one sweep of the eye, which resulted in us going to a stall that was serving plantain in fried bake because they had run out of shark. I ended up seeing the lasagne and other food stalls later and by then I had eaten french fries and geera pork (which I got late but was good).
– Walking for almost two hours in Port of Spain to find Tribe on Carnival Monday. Note to newbies: If you want to avoid wasting time looking for the band, (1) Don’t use the D’Junction app, it was useless and (2) Get to the band’s starting point at the time they say they’re going to move off. By the time we found the band, we were parched and miserable. My vibe was dead in the water. Never again.
– Meeting with the concierge guy on the road (literally) to collect tickets or collecting them the morning of the same event. No bueno.
– The weird harness/vag thong part of my costume. Too much to explain here but costume designers, a costume must not only be pretty (which mine was) it should be functional and comfortable too. I mean, you’re wearing it all day, so yeah.
I would definitely go back but with the understanding that the events you choose and the time you get on the road are definitely important. So are proper shoes, haha. I learnt the hard way at Vale. Disclaimer: I did not make it to Last Lap, which finishes at 10:00pm. I have a bad back and for those of you who know what that feels like, no need to say anymore.
Next time I would try a cruise (heard Candy Coated Cruise was off the chain!) and definitely have to make up for missing seeing Machel. Might try jumping with Bliss next time, heard good things about them or maybe Rogue?
Sooo see you at Jamaica carnival? (I wish!)
Err, ok. Crop over then? 🙂