A Rookie’s Guide to Trinidad Carnival

Heading to Trinidad Carnival this year? Get ready for one of the best times of your life.  As you’re preparing for for an all-day-all-night bonanza lasting almost a week, and the blazing Caribbean sun that blares over the island, you might be asking yourself: how do I prepare to keep myself in one piece during the sheer bacchanal? This guide will answer the rookie questions you might be embarrassed to ask, and show you how to pack for TnT Carnival by listing everything that you might need to keep yourself cool and comfortable during your Trinidadian adventure. Each item is hand-selected from Amazon and cost-friendly at under $40. If you plan to purchase these items from Amazon – you can also access the shopping guide list below in it’s entirety here. 

There are a few basic things you want to know before attending TnT Carnival. I’m assuming that if you’ve gone as far to get to the packing portion of your trip – you’ve probably already learned that attending Carnival can involve months of careful planning: hopefully you’ve squared away which band you’re going to play with, your costume, and all the fetes (parties) you will attend this year. If you haven’t–here are the things you need to know:

Why should you join a Carnival Mas Band?

Being part of a band is what truly makes the experience of Trinidad Carnival. There are various bands associated with TnT Carnival that offer an experience unique to their brand. No matter the unique offerings of each band, the main event of ‘playing mas’ is the collective experience on Carnival Tuesday where all the bands march the streets and dance to Soca music till the sun goes down and then back up. We opted to take part of a band that offered an all-inclusive experience – which included costume, all you can eat/drink, airport pick up/drop off, professional make up, body airbrush, transportation, access to exclusive fetes, and more.

Bear in mind: band registration must be made in advance. For what it’s worth, our group happened to play with Fantasy and Tribe, though we also came to learn that Lost Tribe is highly recommended–among many others. For more information on the various types of bands and experiences, click here

How do you go about purchasing a Carnival costume?

To purchase a costume for carnival, you must join a Carnival Mas Band.  As mentioned before, registration must be done in advance to be part of these bands–TnT Carnival is generally not a last-minute trip. To give you an idea of how many months of advance planning is required–Trinidad Carnival falls on the first week of March and these bands often launch their costume collections around June to August of the year before. But it’s all worth it! The launch of these costumes make for one helluva fashion show. You will want to register and reserve your costume ahead of time as they tend to sell out.

The cost of the costume is dependent on the band, style, and details. You can expect to pay anywhere between $600-$900 for male costumes and $850 – $2000+ for female costumes. Please note that the cost of the costume isn’t exclusive to the costume itself, this price tag usually includes the entire experience for Carnival Tuesday: unlimited food, drinks, security, access to the mas itself, etc.

In order to ensure your costume fits, your band will require measurements as these costumes are tailored. Your band will also arrange the delivery of your costume for when you arrive in Trinidad. They generally provide a few other necessities such as a branded beach bag, towel, tumbler for open bar parties, snacks, medicine, etc. with the costume.

Make sure to pack the following items to complete your Carnival costume:

Stockings – $14

You’ll want a pair of skin tone fishnet hosiery to rock with your Carnival costume. There is also the option to wear the costume bare-legged but the stocking route is most popular.

Sewing Kit – $8

In case your carnival outfit needs any last minute adjusting, it’s handy to have a sewing kit.

Strapless Sticky Bra – $17

Depending on the style of your costume, having a strapless and backless sticky bra of some sorts may come in handy. You will be dancing for hours so keep in mind that you’ll want a fresh bra for a stronger stick.

What is the difference between ‘front line’ and ‘back line’ costumes?

Front line costume – this calls for a more elaborate costume with large Victoria Secret Fashion Show-style wings. These costumes are more expensive but also offer advantages such as access to the designer for any questions, exclusive air-conditioned tents during the lunch break, and makeup artists for touch ups during the day of the parade. The one disadvantage of these wings is navigating with them – these wings are massive and take up a lot of space. If you’re wanting to wine and get down on it – you’ll be better off with a back line costume.

Back line costume – I rocked a back line costume and had zero complaints. The difference was a smaller set of wings that I actually wound up appreciating due to their added flexibility when navigating large crowds, and most importantly–dancing!

Here is an example of back line costumes

What do you do with your TnT Costume and Wings after Carnival?

After Carnival – you’ll have a large (back line costume) or extra large (front line costume) pair of wings to take home with you. Unless you packed in a way that allows you to self-pack your wings without bending them in your suitcase – you’ll want to figure out how you can bring them back home. There are a few airlines (e.g., Caribbean Airlines) that will allow you to bring your wings as a carry-on but they must be able to fit in the over-head bin space. Otherwise, you will need to arrange to have them shipped home.

How does one ‘Fete’ at TnT Carnival?

Fetes are parties that happen during the Carnival season in Trinidad. The larger and more exclusive fetes aren’t your average party – these are everything-included bashes in which you never know WHO will show up. When we say all-inclusive–that means all-you-can-eat food and alcohol. And speaking of food–make sure to try a double (fried dough with curried chickpeas) and Bake & Shark sandwich at these all-inclusive fetes. And if you like spicy, the pepper sauce can’t be beat.

Fetes start at various times – 4am, 1pm, midnight, etc. and go on till sunrise/sunset. There are many types of fetes you can attend. A few of the popular ones we attended follow:

Soca Brainwash – Alice & Wonderland-themed party on a massive lawn. There you’ll find a DJ tent, performance stage, cuisines from all over the world, and several open bars.

Pictured outside of Soca Brainwash

Caesar’s Army – this is a paint-throwing party that Rihanna’s played in before.

Diamond Vale Breakfast – this was a sunrise breakfast party set at an opulent private ranch in the suburbs outside of Port of Spain. Guests were dress to impress, DJs were booming, and we even ran into Usain Bolt and his squad. When we say you never know whom you might run into in this Caribbean extravaganza, we mean it!

J’Ouvert:  This is the official start to Carnival as it kicks off Carnival Monday morning between the hours of 3 and 4am. For those participating, basically the drill is you’ll want to nap on Sunday night between the hours of around 7 pm and midnight. Just after midnight, around 1 am, troupes of friends and performers rise, get dressed, and hit the streets. Dozens of pre-arranged processions fill the streets of central Port of Spain, with out-of-this-world themes to match: everything from flour tossing to face painting to Cocoa Devil’s, a chocolate sauce-throwing troupe that some in our group soaked up. Each private procession is accompanied and guided by a semi-truck thumping Soca from massive speakers, and as the different processions inevitably cross paths and intermingle, intense dancing and revelry ensue through miles upon miles of the main avenues of the city until sunrise! An indescribable rhythm pervades the city all night as every participant arrives ready to show out–so make sure to stretch beforehand and get in it to win it! You’ll want a dope pair of shades, light-up toys if you’re into that sort of thing, a pair of sneakers and shorts that you don’t care to destroy.

You can find a larger list of fetes here. Below are a list of items you will want to consider bringing for some these fetes.

Baby oil – $5

You will want to apply baby oil BEFORE J’Ouvert so the paint doesn’t stick to your skin

Baby Wipes – $12

Ideal for wiping down the body glitter, dirt, and sweat

That said, with such a wide array of events to choose from, as long as you’ve done your research and are traveling with a great and trustworthy crew, just about any schedule of fetes and bands is bound to provide you with several days of energy and euphoria.

What to wear to fetes in Trinidad

Colors, vibes, and euphoria – that’s what you should think about when you’re figuring out your fete outfits! You will want to base your fete attire by the type of fete you are attending. Leave your luxury and designer items at home – you can find great, affordable outfits on sites like FashionNova, Forever 21, NastyGal, etc to dirty wine in all day and night long! The below items are to help inspire your fete vibes. Please note these would not be appropriate for a ‘J’ouvert’ type of fete , but more so for something like ‘Soca Brainwash’.

Body Jewelry- $25

If you’re wanting to go for that statement look.

A little black dress – $16

Definitely pack a few dresses that you can dress up or wear ‘semi-casually’ throughout the day. You never know when these will come in handy.

Bodysuits – $30

Perfect to tie with shorts, skirts, or stockings!

One piece bathing suit – $25

I absolutely love the versatility of a one-piece bathing suit – you can rock this three ways in Trinidad. One piece and shorts/skirt, one piece with stockings, or one piece by the pool/beach.

Two-piece outfit – $19

If you don’t feel like pairing your outfits – two piece suits are fun and easy.

Face Jewel Tattoos – $13

For those wanting to bling out, effortlessly.

Eye Shadow Glitter – $15

I found this glitter to be perfect for that glossy, heavy shine eye shadow

 Travel-size Hair Spray – $9

It is hella hot and humid in Trinidad, you’re on an island after all. Your hair will do all sorts of crazy things. Don’t spend too much time styling and put your effort in purchasing strong hold hair spray. You’ll be glad you did!

What kind of shoes should one pack for TnT Carnival?

You will want to bring shoes that are comfortable as you’ll be on your feet all day. PSA – Stay TF away from heels! If you want some height to your ensemble – the recommendation is to find a pair of wedges around 2in tall that are comfortable. Here are some examples of shoes –

Boots to go with Costume – $17

You will want a pair of boots like this to go with your Carnival costume. I was hesitant to buy boots because of the heat in Trinidad, but everyone was rocking these. Get into the costume spirit by picking a boot that matches your costume you can decorate!

Flats – $40 

Find yourself a pair of cute flats you can wear to the fetes

Gladiator Sandals – $24

This style of flat shoe is also popular to wear to fetes and day parties

Gel Insoles – $10

As mentioned, you are on your feet all day long – walking, dancing, and wining. You will thank me later for packing a pair of gel insoles for your shoes

Sneakers – $24

You want a cheap pair of tennis shoes you’re ok with destroying. These shoes will come in handy for fetes like Caesar’s Army and J’ouvert.

The Packing Essentials for Trinidad Carnival:

These are items you don’t want to forget!

Lip Balm – $3 

To keep the lips hydrated, many women kept tinted lip balm on them in their

First Aid Kit – $22 

As a safety precaution, it’s always smart to take a first aid kit with you on any trip. Ladies–I’d advise keeping a band-aid or two in your fanny packs, especially if you’re prone to blisters after hours of marching in the street.

Makeup Remover Wipes – $11

I’ve been using this makeup remover for years and it really wipes away all the dirt and makeup. Perfect for when you’re trying to remove all the glitter from your face and body

Hand Sanitizer – $9

You will want to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer on you at all times, especially to grub a bake and shark after hours of dancing and drinking at a sunrise fete. Ladies–you can hold one of these in your fanny pack.

 Tide to go Pen – $8 

In case any outfit accidents go down!

Money Pouch – $18

Keep those dolla dolla bills secured. You’ll definitely want something discrete like this as dancing with a purse most likely won’t cut it!

Ziploc Bags – $20 

Always travel with a few Ziploc bags to put dirty or wet clothes in

Bug Spray WITH Deet – $9

Or the alternative is the bug spray bracelets

Cleansing Cloths – $9

To help keep the lady bits clean

Do NOT forget these!

Keep in mind folks you are traveling to a small island. Sure today’s world is digital, but you want to make sure you have copies of everything here:

  • Passport
  • Flight tickets
  • Fete ticket print outs – these must be printed
  • Costume receipt print out
  • Hotel confirmation
  • Rental car/taxi confirmation

Last and most importantly–bring a POSITIVE attitude and have fun!

All smiles because TnT Carnival is a BLAST!

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