Caribbean Carnival: How to get started.

Caribbean carnival feather backpacks

This blog is specifically for carnival newbies.

So you have seen the pictures and videos of carnival, and you have decided it’s something you’re not going to miss in 2022/2023.  First off, congratulations!  Second, Carnival is TRULY FOR EVERYONE, so get that out of your mind right now! 

The decision to participate in Caribbean carnival for the first time is thrilling, but you might experience a little stress because you have so many questions.  The purpose of this blog is to get you started on a journey that is almost certain to be the first of many carnival experiences in your life.  Let’s begin!

Step 1: Do your homework on Caribbean carnival.

Doing Homework about Carnival
Its important to know a little bit about Carnival. Image Credit: Polina Tankilevitch

Understanding what Caribbean carnival is about is important.  If you are not of West-Indian descent, you might be having discussions about your carnival experiences with your friends, family, that are not either.  To spread a positive message and help demystify many misunderstandings, it’s important that you engage in discussions about carnival from an educated perspective.  At the end of the day, people will form their own opinions, but not understanding the history of carnival and why people play mas will support the formation of those negative perceptions and opinions.  If you’re going to play Mas, help elevate the cultural experience in a positive light.  

For a few years, I was definitely failing on this.  Read about my journey here.

 A couple great resources about Caribbean culture and carnival include:

Take the time to learn about the music!  Be sure to check out The Soca Influencer on Instagram. Not only is he funny, but he will also expose you to Soca and Calypso music from all the different island countries.

Learn how to wine/whine! It is the signature form of dance for carnival.  Look up dance/fitness classes in your area or online that are themed “soca fitness”, or something similar.  One fantastic online fitness resource is Socanomics.  Be sure to let them know AWM sent you!  Of course, you don’t have to wine/whine on the road the whole time.  Carnival is about freedom of expression afterall.

Step 2: Choose your carnival crew wisely.

Carnival Crew Group Travel
Carnival Crew at Miami Carnival 2021. Image Credit: Krave the Band.

Who you choose to go with to carnival can seriously make or break your experience.  If you choose to go alone, that is fine too.  As a matter of fact, if the only thing that is holding you back from participating is a crew, it’s okay to go alone.  The theory is: You will never play Mas alone, and it is true. I currently have friendships developed when I met them on the road at carnival.

While it is not a deal breaker, I would encourage you to go your first carnival with an experienced masquerader.  They will teach you the tips and tricks that you can carry on with your future experiences.  Putting on a costume, purchasing tickets, what to wear and bring are super important.  An experienced masquerader will bring you wealth of knowledge and lower your stress levels.

People you DONT want in your crew: Off and on friendships, patterns of financial instability, judgemental people, and people that cannot hold their alcohol. If you are couple’d up and want to go with your significant other, read this blog. These are a few characteristics to look for in potential road partners, and I will elaborate later in a blog on this.

Step 3: Budget your carnival experience.

Budgeting for Carnival
Put your budget together before you even start looking at costumes!

Before we even THINK about where to have your first carnival experience, you should consider your budget.  The budget includes: transportation, fete tickets, outfits, your carnival costume, and other necessities that you might need.  By all means, I would love everyone to go overseas for carnival, but if you can’t afford it, it’s totally okay!  There are several carnival events happening in the United States.  Don’t let anyone put you down for not experiencing Caribbean carnival in the island countries.  There’s nothing wrong with starting in the states. Honestly, I think it’s very wise to start small.  For a list of 2022 carnival events overseas and in the US, please click here.

Step 4: Find a list of carnival bands for your event. Do your homework.

Carnival Bands Atlanta-Dekalb Carnival
List of bands participating in Atlanta-Dekalb Carnival.

Once you have checked the carnival calendar and decided where you’d like to attend, the next step is to view the website and check out the list of bands. If you are starting your research before the band launch, bear in mind that the carnival mas bands will likely have costumes from the previous event on display.  But you can at least get a feel of what their costumes generally look like, what they offer with the carnival experience, and their price points.

Government entities and band associations will have a list of the participating bands (in most cases).  Once you have reviewed the list of carnival bands, start doing your own personal research. 

Review their websites, and their social media platforms.  I strongly recommend you find groups (through Facebook or WhatsApp) to get varying opinions on certain bands. You can even use Google to find reviews and blog entries from other content creators.  If you know other experienced masqueraders, ask their opinions. Use the information you’ve obtained to create a short list of band launches you would like to attend. You will find that with a little digging, you may cross a band off your list before the band launch even happens.  

Step 5: Attend the band launches.

Atlanta carnival 2022 Band launch flyer
Band launch announcement for Atlanta carnival 2022.

The carnival mas bands will launch either virtually or in person.  A virtual launch is definitely convenient, but observing how well or easy the model can wear a costume is also important.  Either way, get a feel of the overall presentation of the costumes and figure out if the vibe the bands are giving is for you.  I would recommend you give all the other bands a look before making your decision. But in some cases, that may be hard, because popular bands sell out quickly.  If you are interested in looking at the band launch dates for Atlanta and Atlanta-Dekalb carnival, click here.

Step 6: Scrutinize bang for buck.

Caribbean carnival not cheap! With any huge purchase, do a price analysis before you make a decision.

A warning to carnival newbies: Do not get stuck on the costume.  When registering to play Mas, you have to understand that bands offer more than a costume: They offer an entire carnival experience.  For more about this, check out my blog here.

Besides, what sense would it make to drop a lot of money on a costume, but get shorthanded on the frills?  Carnival Mas bands offer alcohol, meals, goody bags, photographers, roving security, and sometimes j’ouvert is included.  It’s important to make a price comparison with these bands.  Sometimes it’s better to go with a different carnival band, even if they are not offering your favorite costume.

Step 7: Take the leap and register!

Wire bra registration carnival costume with wire bra
Example of a registration portal online.

Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to register!  Registration includes a deposit on your costume (up to 50%).  You will provide your personal information, such as name, address, etc., along with your sizes.  My recommendation to you is to order your current size, not your goal size.  

A new trend I am currently seeing are carnival mas bands requiring full payment for your feather add-ons. This may push your initial deposit beyond 50%.

Once you place your deposit for registration, understand your funds are non-refundable, and sometimes they may not accept changes to your order.

You will be given a specific date to complete your payments.  Understand that your carnival costume must be paid in full before your pickup date.

Step 8: Get excited and get ready!

Excited for Caribbean Carnival
Photo Credit: Dallas Carnival Website

Time to plan your travel logistics, acquire fete tickets and outfits,  get your carnival accessories and work on endurance!  Prepare your mind and body for what’s going to be an amazing experience.  For a list on must-haves, check here.

And be sure to continue to check this website for more tips and information. I also have a collection of informational videos on my IGTV and YouTube.

I can’t wait to see you on the road!

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