It’s Carnival Season! Since catching the “carnival bug” when visiting family in Trinidad, I decided to make it for the Scotia Bank Caribbean Carnival (formally known as Caribana) in Toronto. 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. Here are some tips that would keep you ready for the road.
Find a Band
In order to play mas, you must be in a mas band, right? Band Launches are usually 4-8 months before the carnival. Trinidad Carnival Diary and Carnival Info are great sources to find out when band launches are. You can also keep up on the various bands’ Instagram and Facebook Pages for launch dates and costume prices.
Depending on the carnival and sometimes band, you can pay as little as $215 or as much as $900+ (yes, $900 USD or more) for your costume, food, drinks, and security. If the band sells out, choose another. Some people also resell their costumes because of unfortunate events or to make a profit. Just be cautious when purchasing from resellers.
After playing, some bands have early registration for legacy members to play the next year. There are other bands that offer group discounts for 5 or more people playing. Keep in touch with section leaders to see if this is offered. Some bands leaders are personable, others not so much.
Have Transportation & Place to Stay
Get this EARLY. Just like any trip, the longer you wait, the more you spend. I’ve proudly taken the Megabus to Canada for $5 booking a ticket in the wee hours of the morning. It was probably their error, but it was honored and I was happy. Arrange for a pickup via taxi or transportation services. If you’re familiar with the area, have GPS, and are able to drive, rent a car. There are Carnival Payment plans for hotels and some bands offer group rates and discounts for hotels. You can also look into renting guesthouses or use services like Airbnb.
Wear 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.
Sunscreen and Sunglasses
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.
You don’t have to take your $300 Gucci 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.
Fanny Pack or Small Bag
As ladies, we want to look good, but we also need to keep fresh. Keep a small bag handy holding essentials (lip balm/gloss/stick, wet wipes, sweat rag, tampons, feminine products, sunscreen, cell phone, camera, vex money etc). Some people like to keep the last three items on their person, which is completely understandable. In the fun, there are thieves looking for an opportunity. Just use your best judgment when carrying items of value.
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”.
Makeup/Glitter and Accessories
Well, this isn’t really necessary, but the more the better IMO. There are loads of people that will do your makeup professionally or you can practice a 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 eyeshadow, 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.
*Bonus* Plan ahead and have a good time
Put in your vacation time in advance. After you paid for your costume, transportation, and hotel, it’ll suck if you can’t get approved for vacation. 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. There are fêtes before and after the parade, Kiddie Carnival, Dimanche Gras, King and Queen, Panorama, Machel Monday, Calypso/ Soca Monarch Competitions and much more.
There are things as a first timer that may frustrate you (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 West Indian culture, it is a time for fun.
I haven’t played mas alone, and I don’t recommend it your first time. Especially as a woman. I feel it’s always better with a group. It keeps you mindful of others in the midst of the crowd. Always be aware of your surroundings and be safe.
Are you planning to play mas in the US or Internationally? What are your essentials and/or tips?