Carnival Prep + Getting ready for carnival

Need tips for getting ready for Carnival? Carnival is a celebration that takes place in various countries across the Caribbean region and diaspora, marking a period of revelry, music trucks playing the rhythms of soca and calypso music, dancing in street parties, and elaborate costumes.

The origins of Carnival in the Caribbean can be traced back to a blend of African, European, and indigenous influences. Many Caribbean islands have a history of slavery and colonialism, and Carnival emerged as a way for communities to celebrate the resilience and freedom of African Slaves through music, dance, and masquerade. While the dates and traditions may vary on each island, the spirit of Caribbean Carnival remains consistent as it expresses local culture, heritage, creativity, and community during the carnival season.

After taking a trip to Port of Spain for Trinidad Carnival and J’ouvert, I caught the Carnival spirit and immediately booked a trip to Toronto for Caribana. It was a no-brainer for me to attend since it is close enough to NY for a quick weekend trip via bus and plane. 

If you’re a carnival chaser attending Carnival in the USA, the Caribbean, or another country in the diaspora for the first time, here is your ultimate guide sharing tips on getting ready for Carnival.

Carnival Prep Tips for Getting Ready for a Caribbean Carnival + getting ready for carnival

Carnival Safety: Is it safe to play Mas Alone?

Many people play mas alone, and carnival concierge services are available to pair you with other solo travelers. I recommend downloading the Solo Mas App and interacting with fellow solo masqueraders. You can exchange information to feel more comfortable playing mas or attending fetes with someone you don’t know.

If you’re playing with a crew 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.

Plan Ahead

Put in your vacation time in advance. After you have 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 fetes and events before and after the parade: J’ouvert, Kiddie Carnival, Dimanche Gras, King and Queen, Panorama, Machel Monday, Calypso/ Soca Monarch Competitions, and more.

Choose Your Carnival Destination Wisely

When preparing for your first carnival, the first thing to do is select the Carnival celebration that suits your travel style. From Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous Carnival to Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant street parties, each destination offers a unique experience. Research the cultural differences, local traditions, and the type of music that dominates the festivities to ensure you make the most of your time.

Get Flights, Transportation & Lodging EARLY

The next step for getting ready for Carnival is researching travel and lodging options. Like any trip, the longer you wait, the more money you spend on flights and accomodations. Arrange for a pickup from the airport via taxi, friend, or other transportation services. Rent a car if you’re familiar with the area and feel comfortable driving.

If you play mas via a group tour or concierge service, a Carnival Payment plan for lodging and carnival costumes may be available. You can also save money by staying in a guesthouse or using services like Airbnb.

Booking.com

Familiarize Yourself with the Music

Familiarize yourself with the music so you can enjoy the vibes. Soca music is the main genre for most carnivals. Depending on the island, you will also hear a mix of calypso, rake & scrape, Dancehall (in Jamaica), Kompa, Zouk, or Bouyon.

Register with a Mas Band

To participate in the official parade for judging, you must be part of the band. After securing your flight and lodging, research and register with an all-inclusive band. Registering with Carnival bands includes, but isn’t limited to, your costume and participation in the official parade of bands on Carnival Monday and Carnival Tuesday, unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, live entertainment, and security.

Band launch season for Trinidad Carnival usually starts in July. For other Caribbean carnivals, you can expect costume information 4-8 months ahead. Keep up with the various mas bands via their mailing list or social media pages for launch dates and Carnival costume prices.

Here is a list of popular masquerade bands for Trinidad & Tobago Carnival to get started:

  • Bliss Carnival
  • Harts Carnival
  • K2K Alliance & Partners
  • Paparazzi Carnival
  • Pure Carnival
  • Rogue Carnival
  • Ronnie & Caro
  • Showtime Carnival
  • Tribe Carnival
  • YUMA Vibe Carnival

There are a variety of frontline, midline, and backline costumes, t-shirt bands, and Monday wear costumes to choose from. Depending on the carnival location and sometimes band, you can pay as little as $300 or as much as $1500 USD+ to play mas, including your carnival costume, food, drinks, goodie bag, wristband to participate, and security. A good rule is to choose your top three sections. You can pick the next one if your top choice gets sold out.

If the band sells out, choose another. Some services sell Caribbean Carnival costumes because life happens or people want to profit. When purchasing from resellers, make sure to make the necessary arrangements so you can pick up the costume yourself.

Get Your Fete Tickets

Fetes or parties are also part of the carnival experience. Soca Brainwash is a popular fete during Trinidad, Caribana, Miami, and Jamaica carnival. This fete usually sells out within minutes, so remember to set your timer, and may the odds ever be in your favor.

Pack Carnival Essentials

It is important to be mindful of what to pack when preparing for carnival. Here’s a list of carnival must haves to include when getting ready for Carnival. Check out my free carnival packing list to know what to bring along.

Comfortable Shoes

I cannot stress this enough. You will be standing for long periods of time, from sunrise to sunset. Unless you’re a pro at wearing heels while jumping, waving, wining, and drinking for 8-10+ hours, do yourself a favor and get some comfy sneakers, flats, or boots. You can jazz them up with rhinestones, paint, feathers, or glitter to accompany the costume.

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 they keep the sun out of your eyes in case it’s beaming all day.

Safety Pins

You never know if your costume may be too big or start to fall apart while on the road. It happens. Keep pins handy if you or a friend has a “wardrobe malfunction.”

Portable Phone Charger

Since I take photos and videos with my cell phone, I pack a portable charger so I’m always connected.

Sunscreen

Again, you will be in the sun on Carnival Day for most of the day. Make sure to apply and reapply sunscreen throughout the day. I usually have spray-on sunscreen since it is easy to apply on the go.

Fanny Pack or Thigh Bag

Keep a small bag, fanny pack, or thigh bag for vex money, my phone, charger, ID, and other miscellaneous items. Just use your best judgment when carrying valuable items.

Carnival Makeup, Glitter, and Accessories

Makeup isn’t necessary, but it helps enhance your look. Many people 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 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 gets messy, and you’ll probably be scrubbing it 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.

Mix up your look 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.

Purchase carnival fishnet stockings that match your skin tone for a seamless look with your costume and extra support.

Pace Yourself

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 all-inclusive parties or cooler fetes, make sure to have lots of 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

With the rise of social media, Caribbean Carnivals are becoming a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world eager to participate in the unique blend of culture, music, and joy from the carnival experience.

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 it. As much as Carnival celebrates freedom and Caribbean culture, it is also a time for fun.

Read More Carnival Tips and Reviews

Quick and Easy Carnival Makeup Inspiration for the Road

The Best Caribbean Carnival Hairstyles for Women

Experience Bahamian Culture at Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival

Carnival Prep: Tips for Getting Ready for a Caribbean Carnival + getting ready for carnival

Do you have any other Carnival tips? Share them in the comments below.

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