Carnival on the island of Trinidad and Tobago is a highly anticipated annual event. The boisterous parade of calypso and soca bands dressed in elaborate costumes is not only fun to watch, but also an amazing experience to be a part of. Visitors and Trini natives alike are welcome to join one of the many Carnival "Mas Bands" (short for Masquerader bands), but reservations ahead of time are necessary.
When you march with one of the Carnival bands through the streets of Port of Spain it is referred to as "playing mas" and means you will be wearing the band's elaborate costume while dancing through the streets to the island music. This is a great experience to share with friends.
Choosing a Mas Band
You may want to decide on a band by its costume—each band playing in Carnival will have its own color scheme and theme, as well as style. Some bands, like the one called Bikini Mas, feature very revealing, sexy costumes, while others will be more conservative. Each band is divided into sections (where you march within the group, like front or back) with each section having its own costume. You also have to pay for the costume, so checking out the cost ahead of time is a good idea.
For some Mas bands, you pay for the costume and simply march along with them. If you choose an all-inclusive band, however, your payment will not only cover the costume but also alcoholic and other beverages, food, and mobile washrooms. Spots for all-inclusive (as well as the popular mas bands) fill up quickly, so you need to make a reservation early on.
Mas Band Costumes
Besides the music, Carnival is all about the costumes! To say that Carnival costumes are elaborate is an understatement. They are made months in advance and created by some of Trinidad's top designers—there is even a fashion show revealing the outfits. That being said, be prepared to spend some money—costumes start at about $200 and can go up to more than $1000. Almost all have some glitter and glam (some much more than others) and range from very revealing to more concealing.
Premium All-Inclusive Mas Bands
Many visitors choose to "play mas" with one of the large, all-inclusive bands like Tribe or Harts. Here are some of the main Mas Bands that offer high-end frills. Don't forget to plan early: Some bands start taking reservations beginning in August!
- Tribe: This all-inclusive band, while being the largest at Carnival, has prided itself on not sacrificing quality. The cost includes the costume, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, food, security, mobile bathrooms, and on-site paramedics, and the TRIBE Cool Zone. They sell out every year so you need to book early.
- Harts: Since 1961, this mas band has been the first of many things, from putting beads on bikinis for costumes to linking the music so each masquerader hears the music simultaneously. Their all-inclusive package includes costumes, two days of lunch plus food park amenities, goody bags, the HARTS Cool Zone, and security, mobile bathrooms, and paramedics.
- Fantasy: From their "mind-blowing" costumes to high-end service, Fantasy is committed to making your Carnival experience one to remember. To register, you need to contact a committee member to acquire the access code.
- Passion: This Mas Band is all-inclusive plus so much more, featuring freshly prepared meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack) each day, fully stocked ultra-premium bar with a champagne offering Tuesday evening, a rest-stop with massage and make-up stations, after party, and photography and videography available after the event.
- The Lost Tribe: Earning 2nd place as Downtown Band of the Year their first year out, The Lost Tribe strives to win the coveted Band of the Year award. The all-inclusive package includes the costume—which they tailor to bring out the dancer in you—as well as a few meals, a private lunch park, DJ entertainment, and goody bags.
Other Mas Bands
If you are looking to join the Carnival fun but don't need all of the fancy extras, these Mas Bands offer beautiful costumes and an exciting experience.
- Showtime: This Mas Band not only provides entertainment but also encourages cultural education and the relationship between us and the world around us.
- Bliss: The "fun-loving daughter of Tribe," Bliss offers costumes created by top designers. You need to register through committee members and affiliates.
- Flirt: This award-winning Mas Band believes that Carnival is more than the fancy frills that other all-inclusive bands provide and strives to bring the experience back to its roots honoring this twin-island nation.
- Petlemas: With their motto "sexy, intimate, fun," Petlemas' goal is to provide beautiful costumes and a safe environment to enjoy Carnival to the fullest.
- Ronnie & Caro Carnival Band: In addition to gorgeous themed costumes, this Mas Band offers unique items with the packages, such as lollies, liquor-soaked prunes, and tequila shots.
- Utopia Mas: Offering a variety of packages, some including the J'ouvert mas and after-party boat rides, you can customize your experience.
- You can also take a look at other Mas Bands such as D Krewe, Legacy, Paparazzi, Trini Revellers, and Yuma Vibe.
J'ouvert, the French word for "day opens," takes place Carnival Monday, the morning before dawn. Revelers gather on the streets of Port of Spain with their bodies covered in mud, oil coca, or paint. Similar to playing mas, joining a J'ouvert band is called "playing J'ouvert." Playing J'ouvert is less expensive than playing mas, and bit more basic—you are provided with a simple costume, breakfast, alcohol, and music. If you are interested in this experience, check out bands such as Chocolate City, Dirty Dozen, Mudders International, We Love J'Ouvert, and Yellow Devils.