The Long-Awaited Return of Trinidad Carnival, A How To Guide
Trinidad is one of two islands that comprise the country of Trinidad and Tobago. The country is the southernmost island in the Lesser Antilles area of the Caribbean, nestled off the northeastern coast of Venezuela.
Trinidad is one of the bigger Caribbean islands, but it’s still a relatively small country. Yet it is one of many countries that host the “biggest show on earth”, carnival. Its trademark is the “Mother of Carnival” because it is the largest carnival in the Caribbean.
What is Carnival?
Carnival is a festival of parades, parties (fetes), and other cultural or musical forms of expression that encompass this celebration. Carnival timing can be different across countries due to various religious, cultural, and seasonal traditions.
Trinidad’s annual carnival is a melting pot of traditions of the Trini people held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The 2023 Trinidad carnival season is fast approaching from Monday, February 20th through Tuesday, February 21st. However, the party starts a week before Carnival Sunday is known as “carnival week”. This is when the most popular fetes will occur this year.
It’s hard to believe that the last carnival in Trinidad was in 2020, right before the world shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Carnival slowly returned to some locations across the world in 2022. However, sadly to the disappointment of carnival enthusiasts, Trinidad’s carnival did not return that year. So trust me when I say the return of Trinidad’s carnival in 2023 will be an epic celebration. Anticipate a jam-packed roster of old favorites and new activities to choose from leading up to Carnival Monday and the star of the show Carnival Tuesday.
Whether you are a carnival newbie or veteran, here are some tips to help you navigate through what is predicted to be one of the best Trinidad carnival seasons in years!
Let The Music Play
If carnival was a movie then the Caribbean music genres of calypso and soca are its musical soundtrack. So in order to truly immerse yourself in the carnival experience, you should get to know the latest songs that will rule the radio, inside a fete, and on the carnival road. Not only do these infectious songs energize revelers during carnival, but the best soca songs also go on to compete for the coveted International Soca Monarch and Road March titles.
One of Trinidad’s leading soca DJs and music producers, Private Ryan, publishes a free playlist annually called Soca Starter to excite you about the carnival season’s new music. The 2023 playlist is titled Return to Mecca. You can find it on SoundCloud and YouTube music streaming platforms. Another way to familiarize yourself with soca artists is by watching the latest music video releases which are curated on the YouTube channel JulianspromosTV.
This music lifts my mood to a happy place that I can channel during and beyond the carnival season.
Whenever you travel to any country, I always recommend learning some of the local slang and terminology. Start with these ten Trini terms that can help you blend in.
- Allyuh = all of you or everyone
- Bacchanal = a spectacle or having a good time at a party
- Bake and Shark = a popular Trinidad sandwich consisting of a “bake” fried dough bread and a fried filet of shark with special spicy sauces
- Lime = to get together or hang out
- DDI = an acronym for “Down di Islands” which are islands located off the northwest coast of Trinidad
- Doubles = curried chana (chickpea masala) served between two pieces of fried bread and flavorful toppings
- Fete = Party
- Jouvert = a type of party or procession that begins at the top of the morning until mid-morning hours on Carnival Monday
- Play Mas = marching with a band procession and partying through the streets of Trinidad on Carnival Monday and Tuesday
- Wine = a style of dance rolling your waistline in a slow or fast pace either up or down to the rhythm of a soca beat
Fete All Day and Night Long
A party isn’t a party until you’ve been to a fete in Trinidad. You’ll have access to a variety of options to satisfy all of your carnival desires. The fetes are in exciting locations on beaches, boats or catamarans, private or all-inclusive events, music concerts, and more. The biggest decision you’ll have to make is if you are on “Team No Sleep” partying from sun-up to sun-down. Or if you are on “Team Sleep” with a need to relax in between fetes.
Some trusted fete favorites include Caesar’s Army AM Beach, Beach House All Inclusive, Tribe Ignite, Silent Morning (boat ride), Duck Work Pool + Cabana Party or DDI Cooler Cruise, the Soca Brainwash theme party, and Red Ants or Caesar’s Army Bush Jouverts. Plus annual concerts by popular soca artists Machel Montano, Kes The Band, Patrice Roberts, Voice, Lyrikal, and more also return to enhance your entertainment choices.
Keep on all of the wristbands of the events you’ve attended as a badge of honor.
Ready For The Road
The best part of your Trinidad carnival experience hands down is playing mas with a carnival band in a beautiful costume, marching from the Socadrome stage through the streets of Port of Spain, all while partying to the sounds of soca provided by a steel pan band or DJ.
The beauty of carnival is that it’s body positive. It also welcomes everyone from around the world to participate along with Trinis. So please be respectful of the culture.
Choosing a band often comes down to which costume you like the best. I personally like the TRIBE band and its associate bands such as Rogue, Lost Tribe, Bliss, and Pure Carnival. But there are many other great bands such as Yuma, Harts Carnival, Legacy, and jazz musician Etienne Charles’s Riddim, Brass, & Mas.
Select a band costume section months to a year in advance to avoid the risk of your preference selling out. This includes selecting what to buy for the more casual Carnival Monday wear (or bring your own outfit) and the beautifully designed official Carnival Tuesday costume. Bands provide you with a swag bag and wristband for access to unlimited beverages, snacks, lunch, a refresh station, and a bathroom.
Brace yourself for the sticker shock of playing mas with a band in 2023 when you order in advance. The increased prices this year can range from approximately $1,000 for a backline costume with a feathered backpack; to approximately $2,000 for a frontline costume with a feathered backpack. So my advice is to budget accordingly.
Contact a band the week leading up to the carnival about canceled or left-over costume orders with discounted prices as an alternative. There is no guarantee to find your size so this strategy is potentially risky. Or you can also opt to be a spectator anywhere along the carnival procession route for free.
Planning For Your Trip
Visitors typically secure hotels, costumes, or tickets to fetes and concert events for carnivals online in most cases. If planning a carnival experience yourself becomes too stressful, utilize a concierge service like We Plan You Jam. Or book your trip through a group travel company like African American Travelers (AAT) and Carnival Jumpers.
Added to the mix this year is a new carnival cruise option called Epic Carnival Experiences. It sails from Barbados and docks in Trinidad. It allows you to experience the 2023 carnival for five days and six nights. This cruise is brought to you by top-tier party promoters such as Scorch and Caesar’s Army. They have partnered with DJs like Walshy Fire (one-third of the Major Lazer) and Private Ryan for this venture too.
Therefore, if you decide to participate in Trinidad Carnival with friends or solo, simply enjoy all that it has to offer because it’s truly a trip of a lifetime!
For more of my adventures abroad, in my hometown Philly, or across the USA follow Culturist Diva on IG and Twitter. I appreciate any support with a like, comment, and share of posts.