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Everything You Need To Know About Carnival In Jamaica (ie. A Newbie’s Guide to Taking On Carnival)

So you want to do Carnival in Jamaica? Before you save the date for Pretty Mas, buy your ticket and hop on a plane, you should make sure you’re prepared as possible. The best approach is to ask the die-hard Carnival enthusiasts, both Jamaicans and those who fly in every year.


Carnival road march happens the Sunday after Easter but most people start prepping from January 1. Some are on prep from even before that through the tempting Christmas Season. Why this insanity? Well, the perfect Carnival body of course! Those costumes are the ultimate body beautiful parade not to mention the sheer endurance needed to dance all day. The truth is though you’ll need to have some of that endurance in place from months before when all the bands have their official launch nights, which in true Carnival style is an epic party vibe.

After that there are parties every week with different themes, with bands like Bacchanal even taking you all the way out to St. Ann  for a beach bash! Each night has a theme but soca rules the night (or day!) for them all. This all leads up to the ‘Pretty Mas’ that we all associate with Carnival. Stamina is definitely a key ingredient.


So there are a few things you should do to prepare yourself for what is essentially a 2-month long epic partying experience if you are already on the island. Besides going to the gym you’ll have some other working out to do, that waist that is. Every year a new set of songs set the mood and each one comes with its own set of moves. You’re not prepared unless you can sing the lyrics at the top of your lungs every time it comes on, and it will play a LOT. You had better have the right dance moves to go with it too. Don’t worry, as long as you know the song you’ll be forgiven if you just want to ‘chip’ along (a way to catch your breath while still walking/dancing your way down the road) or wind your waist in place. So create that playlist and have it set on repeat until you’re humming in your sleep.


With the exception of the final Road March, overall comfort is the most important thing. Well, make sure that every outfit shows you off but you want to make sure you can dance through the night and into the morning. For those of you who enjoy a drink, this one’s a marathon. No matter what, make sure to stay hydrated at each and every event, especially for the day fetes.

There are a few other less than glamorous secrets that the veterans will share for the main road march. Comfort is still high on the list so shoes are very important, some go with sneakers but in recent years flat knee-high boots are all the rage. The insider secret is to make sure to clip your toenails if you don’t want to lose them after hours chipping down the road! Other handy things to have on the road include aspirin or some other painkiller, band-aids, a couple of safety pins, some basic cash and your phone. All in a pack kept close to your body. Make sure it’s waterproof though, as a tradition is to get hosed down from kind people lining the road or when you head behind the water truck traveling with you on the road to get misted down and cooled off when things start to heat up too much. The pack also leaves your hands free as you’ll need one to hold on to your giant mug for your rum or water (your choice), while the other is handy to wave in the air or grab the waist of whomever you are winding down to the ground with when your favourite tune starts pounding out of the speakers.


For Jouvert the rules are a little different, wear clothes you don’t care about as you’ll be covered in powder, paint and water as you dance with abandon. Another Jouvert tip is to carry an inexpensive basic phone. Things can get a little wild so best to let it be worry-free. This way if you lose sight of that phone you don’t ruin the fun.

Another little insider tip? Fiber drinks every day! Yes, this is a given for any man or woman to get rid of any bloating and to show off those abs you’ve been working on for months! Make sure to have a good breakfast the morning of though, you’ll want energy for the road. Drink lots of water along with your alcohol, you’ll stay hydrated and not get inebriated too quickly, after all, the idea is to enjoy the entire experience!


The morning of prep for ‘Pretty Mas’ is a little more involved. You’ll have picked up your pack from your Carnival band beforehand and made any adjustments you may need. Add on items that complement the costume are a choice for peace of mind from some, whether it’s skin coloured tights, a pair of shorts or the band T-shirt for those who don’t feel that comfortable in only the sequins and feathers of the traditional ‘barely there’ outfits. Make-up artists are booked way in advance and show up at people’s homes from before the sun rises to add on everything from fake eyelashes and rhinestones and flash tattoos to beautiful sultry sweat-proof make-up and glittering sheen for the body.


At the end of the road march, the crossing of the stage band by band marks the end of the road, or does it? Right after, people continue to party long into the day and night. There are many who choose to wrap it up then or head on to other parties, for those, a good plan is to carpool with two vehicles with a lot of room for feathers. Park one car somewhere close to the end of the march, then you all hop in the other vehicle and drive back to the where the march is to begin. This way you know your tired feet can look forward to hopping into a car with comfortable transportation to wherever you’re headed to next.


If you’re only headed to Jamaica for the main Carnival weekend, all of these tips are just as handy, even if you aren’t partying on the island every weekend leading up to the big day. There’s nothing stopping you from having your own build up wherever you are. Best of all, if you’re headed to Jamaica with a group of friends what better way to warm up during those winter months than having a great excuse to party and look forward to one of best partying experiences in Jamaica.

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