Trinidad Carnival 2018: A Planning Guide

If you know me, you know that Trinidad Carnival has been on my bucket list since.

In the past, I had been content simply watching the performances and videos and oooh-ing and aaah-ing at all the beautiful, colorful costumes...and admittedly, perhaps feeling a little green-eyed towards all the people who had a chance to go. As I approach the big 3-0 (yikes!), the idea to attend fi real has been slowly percolating in my mind. It wasn't until this year's staging that the FOMO-ness hit peak levels. I don't have any major responsibilities yet so if not now, when? Time to make it a reality.

When I started doing the research, I went through a series of emotions; the most blatant and lasting of which were heavy shock and piercing horror. Y'all, people willingly spend on average $5,000 USD or more ANNUALLY to attend T&T Carnival, and I just cannottttttt. I repeat, per annum. My blood pressure just spiked again. With this discovery, I felt discouraged and dismayed and at first, even my expertise in uncovering hidden deals failed me. BUT GOD! With constant flight scanner alerts, VRBO/Airbnb/Hotel/Trip Advisor research, the God-given people at Global Carnivalist who provide the best information and pure, amazing LUCK, your girl is going and spending less than $2K! 

You should already be prepping for Trinidad Carnival 2018, but if you haven't started yet, here is my mid-year present to you. We are just under 7 months out until the single greatest festival on earth, so get to planning! Here are some tips.

 

Carnival Monday: FEBRUARY 12, 2018

CARNIVAL TUESDAY: FEBRUARY 13, 2018

prime dates: February 7, 2018 - February 14, 2018

 

WHERE TO STAY

In your T&T Carnival budget, this is the line item that determines whether you sink or swim. It is typically beyond your control and there's no way around it: you need a place to sleep. During Trinidad Carnival, prices for accommodations spike in such disrespectful fashion. Before you purchase your flight, make sure you sort out your accommodations first.

Popular hotels include: Hyatt Regency; Hilton Hotel; Kapok Hotel; Marriott; Radisson. These go for about $450 - $550 per night with strict rules on double occupancy. Do all your additions and multiplications and what you will spend for a one-week stay is sure to induce heartburn. You can either bite the bullet if you're blessed like that, or find a more affordable alternative. There are many bed & breakfasts across Port of Spain of varying star ratings that will cut your costs by half. And if you feel comfortable and fancy saving even more, you can venture further out to Piarco, San Juan and Chaguanas. I have seen decent places in those areas going for as little as $100/night.

HOW TO GET THERE

Flight fares to Port of Spain during that week are ridiculous. My research shows that the cheapest fares are typically 10 months in advance of Carnival before the Carnival band launches. But since we have passed that benchmark, fares typically reduce in price around November or December. Another thing you can try is to check out flights that originate from main Caribbean hubs, if you will -- Miami and New York - and getting a separate flight/bus/train to those hubs from your city. Splitting up the tickets may end up saving you some money.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Taxis, though convenient, are likely going to be expensive, especially if you will be staying outside Port of Spain. Uber arrived in Port of Spain earlier this year, but keep in mind that surge pricing is likely to persist throughout Carnival week. Many Carnival chasers recommend hiring a private driver for the duration of your stay. If you're adventurous like me and want some flexibility, you can rent a car with unlimited mileage. Right now, car rentals are as low as $300 for the week, inclusive of insurance and gas. Make sure you make your reservations in advance! 

FETE-ING

Trinidad Carnival fetes are not cheap. You're worried about that $40 cover at your local July 4th party? Double that for your average cooler fete (a BYOB party) or triple that for your average all-inclusive fete (food & drinks included). There are outliers as well. How much you spend is fully dependent on the type of event you attend and the number of events you attend. To be fully prepared, have the list of fetes you want to attend prepared and your money stashed in advance of ticket sales because they sell out FAST. Last year, Soca Brainwash sold out within a few hours. 

HOW TO PLAY MAS

Mas vs. Money: this is a serious point of contention. I'll be real, if you want to save money, do not play mas. But honestly, what is Trinidad Carnival without masquerade? I am making the tough choice as I write.

For those totally unfamiliar with Carnival: if you want to play mas, you have to join a masquerade band. You can't just show up with your home made costume and join the road march with the other bands. Band launches are underway right now and the costumes I have seen so far are ahhhh-mazing! [See a few below]

There are many bands but the most popular ones are: Tribe, Yuma & Fantasy. I was not going to play mas next year but like I said, I am strongly reconsidering that decision. I will make up my mind after I have reviewed every band's offerings.

Backline costumes range between $600 - $850. Frontline costumes start at $1000 and beyond.  Men's costumes are typically $500.

GET STINK & DUTTY

If you're going to skip out on playing mas, you better not miss J'ouvert too! J'ouvert takes place in the early hours of Carnival Monday and you can expect to get smacked in the face - everywhere really - with paint, powder, mud and chocolate. For the ultimate experience, I highly recommend joining a J'ouvert band, which includes a pre-party, drinks to your heart's desire, food, swag bag and more perks. Popular bands include: Dirty Dozen, Red Ants, Yellow Devilz, and the alternative J'ouvert experience Caesar's Army. As with fete tickets, make sure you know which band you'd like to join in advance of package sales.

GET IN SHAPE

Stamina is the name of the game when it comes to Trinidad Carnival, and fitness will definitely come in handy if you join a mas band and participate in the road march/parade. I have started mapping out my 6 month workout plan. Godspeed.

 

TENTATIVE BUDGET

(Based on a 2-person trip; costs are for each person)

  • Accommodations: $400 - $1,900
  • Flight: $500 - $1300
  • Transportation: $100 - $500
  • Fetes: $400 - $1000
  • Costume: $500 - $1500
  • J'ouvert band: $100 - $200
  • Spending Money (Food, Souvenirs & perhaps, a day trip to Tobago): $300 - $600

TOTAL: $2,300 - $7,000

 

You: Issa joke ting, right?

Me: *slowly shakes head*

You: Stress wan kill me die.

 

Of course, you can always travel with FestiHopp and save yourself the wahala.