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  • Writer's pictureAngie

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO CARNIVAL: A FIRST-TIMER'S GUIDE TO PLANNING


HARTS frontline crosses the stage at Carnival 2019. Photo Credit: HARTS Carnival, IG: @hartscarnival

Carnival is a celebration occurring every year on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the Catholic holiday which marks the start of Lent (the 40 days period of reflection and preparation leading up to Easter). Carnival is known for its extravagant costumes, parades of masqueraders, and raucous fêtes as people from all over the world descend upon the islands of Trinidad & Tobago for what's known as the Caribbean's biggest party. It's so big, in fact, that the government of Trinidad and Tobago reports that in the 19 days leading up to and including Carnival Monday & Tuesday 2018, the country had over 33,000 visitor arrivals and experienced $47 million USD in expenditures.


So, you've been thinking about pulling together a crew and checking out Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago for yourself; but where to begin? Well, I've trimmed down the planning process to the bare essentials: the main components to budget for, what to purchase, and when. The timeline for booking is accelerated, so I hope you're ready!


HIGH-LEVEL 9-DAY ITINERARY & EXPENDITURES


Here's the high-level itinerary for our 9-day trip to Trinidad and Tobago.

Below is a list of the major expenditures for the trip. The All Inclusive parties included dinners, and the All Inclusive Road Package included lunch on both Carnival Monday and Tuesday as well as unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks with the Band.

Prices here are in USD. When in Trinidad & Tobago you'll see the dollar sign ($), but those will be TTD.

You read that right. The hotel in Port of Spain was $1200 per person. The same double queen room for 6-nights outside of the Carnival time-frame will run you less than $1000 total for the entire room. Lodging was the one must-have and there was very little to do about the cost given how late we booked, which leads me to my next section:


YOU NEED TO BOOK EARLY.



Yes, you!

Now that you've seen the costs for the big ticket items, you'll notice how expensive lodging in Port of Spain was for us (yes, that was $1200 PER PERSON. Ouch!). That's why the most important thin is planning WAY AHEAD of time if you want to get the best value out of your Carnival experience. The timelines for this trip were the most accelerated I’ve ever experienced. Keeping in mind that Carnival falls in February or March, you'll need to start booking things nearly 6 to 9 months in advance. In this case, find your squad of friends that don't have commitment issues, decide to go, and start booking yesterday.


For the best prices, most selection, and least amount of stress follow the below booking schedule:


No later than…


  • June: Book lodging for next year’s Carnival. Yes, this seems early, but they book up quickly since the dates are already known. I stayed at

  • July: Book Caribbean Airline flight to Tobago for the Wednesday after Carnival for some R&R.

  • September: Choose your band and register for your costume. You’ll only have to pay a deposit at this time, with final payment due before costume pickup in February/March.

  • October: Book your flight to + from Port of Spain, Trinidad. If you’re planning on going to Tobago after Carnival for some R&R, then check out Caribbean Airlines. There are flights from Tobago to Miami without having to book separate flights from Tobago back to Port of Spain and then on to your final destination. If you’re travelling through the US, major layover airport options will be MIA & JFK.

  • November: Purchase tickets to the fêtes when they are announced, especially for the popular events such as Soca Brainwash.

  • January: Book your ferry tickets from Port of Spain to Tobago now if you missed booking a flight before they sold out. Get the fast feerry.


What happens if you wait until …


  • July: There were only about 3 hotels (including small boutique hotels) conveniently in Port of Spain that still had availability. We were lucky to secure a room directly with a hotel, in the city, and not have to rely on AirBnB or to stay far out from the main activities. However, there were still several options (hotels and AirBnBs) outside of the center of Port of Spain throughout the fall if you're looking late.

  • August: Caribbean Airlines flights from Port of Spain to Tobago were already sold out. So we had to take the Ferry, which was a 3+ hr, bumpy, uncomfortable ride compared to a quick 30 minute flight. However, good thing there are ferries as an option!

  • October: The costumes we had selected for various Bands were all sold out, but there were still some good options available. With backline costume selection limited, we had to scramble to start the registration process with a couple of bands that had remaining (limited) backline selections. We ultimately were able to register with HARTS, which turned out to be great. However, if you want your top option, go ahead and register within a couple of months of the bands releasing their costumes.

  • January: Some of the larger, more popular events will be sold out. Things like Soca Brainwash sell out the day tickets go on sale in November! However, we still got tickets to some fun events like PHUKET All Inclusive and Estate 101 All Inclusive (FYI: this is your over 40s, grown and sexy crowd, but we had a blast).


WANT TO PLAY 'MAS? WHERE & WHEN TO GET YOUR COSTUME


My best friend and me crossing Carnival off our bucketlist!

Here's a quick list of Bands you can join. Each band releases their costume theme and designs in the summer, usually in July. Each band has a different theme each year and will have multiple costume "sections" to choose from (frontline being your most extravagant, all female costumes; backline being less extravagant, easier to move in, and more variety). Prices vary, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $600-1000 USD for a full backline costume with accessories, and including an All-Inclusive package of unlimited drinks + lunch.


I opted for Harts Carnival this time - as registration was easy, costumes were very beautiful and affordable, and their customer support was great. I had an amazing time with them, and would recommend them for a first-time masquerader. Next time, I'd like to try Tribe or Bliss - they were HUGE, had more folks in my age range (30s), a better mix of genders (HARTS was young, mostly women), and had a lot more melanated beauties (my girlfriends and I were some of the very few that we saw in Harts this year). Registration for Tribe/Bliss/ect do take some social networking ahead of time, so plan ahead and choose early!


Click the links below to see this year's themes and more information on registration.

To find out more about what each band is known for from an attendee's perspective, the registration process, ect. there is a great article here on The Global Carnivalist that does a much better, detailed description than I could in this high-level guide.


WHERE TO BUY TICKETS FOR PRE-CARNIVAL FETES?


I actually loved the Estate 101 fete; the food was great and I liked the mellow crowd.

Find your way over to Ticket Federation. They published a calendar of all the pre- and post-Carnival Fetes as they became available. You are able to buy tickets to many of them through ticket federation. You’ll note that some are listed as All-Inclusive, meaning the ticket includes open bar and food at the event. Ones denoted as a "Cooler Fete", means it is a BYOB (bring your own beer/alcohol) event.


Some fun events to check out:


Soca Brainwash - Music festival vibe

PHUKET All Inclusive - Fun late night party, tons of food, hype young crowd

Estate 101 All Inclusive - Grown and sexy, 40s and up crowd (mostly), top notch performances


Before Carnival Monday, there is also J'ouvert!


J'ouvert takes place late Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning.A fun, raucous night of paint, mud, and dancing (and rum!), it's the official kickoff to Carnival. As I walked through Port of Spain at 8am on Monday morning to go meet up with HARTS for Carnival Monday, there were still people wandering the streets finally heading home from their night of J'ouvert! I didn’t participate in J’ouvert this year, although I wish I had. When doing Carnival over the age of 30, keeping pace with back to back parties, late night J’ouvert and hopping into an early Monday morning of Carnival just wasn’t possible. Sleeping at some point was key to me having an enjoyable experience. If I had to do it over again, I would probably do J’ouvert and skip the first half of Carnival Monday (if I knew the route and where to find my band for lunch time).



WHAT TO DO AFTER CARNIVAL? HEAD TO TOBAGO!


The view from my front porch at The Naturalist Resort in Castara, Tobago.

If you have the ability to take extra time away from work, your body will thank you for a few days of rest and relaxation on the island of Tobago. You can buy cheap ($25) flights via Caribbean Airlines or a ferry ticket to get from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Scarborough, Tobago.


A lot of revelers stay in Scarborough, which has tons of lodging, beaches, and restaurants. However, if you really want to slow things down to island time you can head to the other side of the island to a small fishing village called Castara. Instantly, it felt like home. I suggest arranging a private transfer ahead of time; we didn't and had a difficult time finding a taxi driver willing to drive the 40 minutes to get to that side of the island without a guaranteed return fare. We got lucky and eventually found a driver who was planning to end his work day soon anyways.


For lodging, we stayed at The Naturalist Beach Resort. It's literally, right on the beach! There's nothing like waking up and falling asleep to the sound of ocean waves right outside your window.


Some recommendations for Castara you should check out:


  • Dinner and drinks at Boatview Beach Bar - call a couple of weeks ahead of time and make a reservation for dinner. Wednesday night there is an African drum circle and late-night DJ party after. My favorite meal in Castara was here.

  • Dinner and bonfire at Cascreole - Thursday night bonfire on the beach. Food decently good, the beach party was fun and late into the

Get a massage!

  • Book a 1 hour massage with Hazel - She was one of the best masseuses I have ever had, and really was crucial to my Carnival recovery process. She came to our bungalow and set up in my room. You can contact her via WhatsApp +1 868 790 8820, or visit her spa French Secrets Spa in Mount Irvine Bay Hotel if you're spending any time in Bucco.

After a massage and some time on the beach, you'll return home and to work rested and refreshed even though you just experienced of the largest parties of your life at Carnival... and your coworkers will be none the wiser ;)


-Angie

THAT'S IT! NOW, WHAT'S UP NEXT?


Well, I do have a 6-week Eurotrip to catch you up on, which included going to Ultra Europe Music Festival, some solo-travel, a road trip with friends, and my final yacht week in Montenegro!

Don't forget to follow for more on Instagram: @imtypeaokay


Need help in planning your next vacation?

I would love to help you! Visit www.optimizetravelco.com or email me directly at angie@typeaokay.com .


 




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1 Comment


Alex smith
Alex smith
Nov 26, 2021

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