Five Steps to Follow to Enjoy a Perfect Trinidad Carnival

Carnival Tuesday, the culmination of all the Trinidad Carnival events, brought out some beautiful costumes. // Photo by Jennifer Hartley of Ottawa Life Magazine

If you think partying for almost a full week straight doesn't require a little hard work, intelligence and a heavy dose of discipline, you have never been to Trinidad Carnival.

Travel Agent recently returned from our onsite coverage of the Caribbean's most popular Carnival celebration and learned some valuable tips on how to stay fully charged throughout a week full of afternoon, evening and even morning bashes.

Eat, Eat, Eat

Cooks along Queens Park Savannah in Trinidad serve up everything from roasted chicken to the national favorite, Doubles. // Photo by Joe Pike

One of the beautiful qualities of Trinidad is its diversity, as there is a unique blend of Indian, Syrian and Chinese cultures present within the destination. And all of the nationalities' special marks on Trinidad can be found within the dining, the traditions and the people.

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Doubles is a common street food in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a sandwich made with two bara (flat fried bread) filled with channa (curried chick peas). These little guys are messy as heck, so be sure to load up on napkins, but boy is it worth the clean up and you'd be surprised how well a hot mess of chick peas can go with a local Carib beer. 

Topped with either mango, shadon beni, cucumber, coconut, tamarind, or extra pepper sauce, this delicacy is the most popular fast food in Trinidad and Tobago. A surprisingly impressive spot to grab a quick double is actually right outside Trinidad's Piarco International Airport.
 
If you arrive in Trinidad and want to get some food in your stomach before heading to the hotel, there is a Doubles stand to the left of the main exit of the airport. They are delicious and they are cheap, going for only $1 each. 

For an option a little closer to the hotels, head to Queens Park Savannah, as the "street food" here consists of some delicious Doubles and corn soup. We ate at Betty's and loved both. Make sure to get the small corn soup, as the large is way too big for an appetizer, but that's never a bad problem to have. Other restaurants on the strip offer everything from Doubles to roasted chicken.

Bake and Sharks are popular hangouts in Trinidad where locals gather to grab a bite of some fried flatbread filled with fried pieces of shark meat and various other ingredients and sauces.

The most popular one is Richard's Bake and Shark in Maracas Bay. The fish sandwich at Richard's is constantly hailed as being one of the best in all of the Caribbean.

We ate at nearby Asha's Bake 'N' Shark, which was also pretty delicious. Everything in Trinidad, especially when you get outside of the hotels, is very affordable, especially if you're coming from the Northeast, where a $3 beer or a $5 sandwich is hard to come by.

We also dined at a very impressive Chinese restaurant, Town, which is a fairly new, trendy hangout with dim lights and a lot of blacks and bright greens. Get the beef and broccoli and the spring rolls. There is also a vast selection of fine wines here. We enjoyed the Pinot Noir we sipped with our meal.  

Another Indian influence commonly served in Trinidad is the Roti. A great place for this is Shiann's Roti Shop. This place gets some flak for the slow service sometimes, but we thought the food was great. We had the shrimp Roti and it was very tasty. We thought the portions were great. This or any Roti was also a smart sandwich to eat before a day of drinking at the Soca Brainwash 2016. Eating something heavy that you know will absorb some alcohol is also a smart way to last through the night.

Book the Hyatt Now

Bottom line is, if clients are interested in attending Trinidad Carnival in 2017, book them a stay at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad as soon as possible.

In fact, when Travel Agent was leaving this year's Trinidad Carnival, we were told rooms at the Hyatt were already being booked for next year. 

This is because it is clearly the best hotel to stay at in Port of Spain and isn't that much more expensive than the rest of the hotels, considering there is a lot of price gouging at nearby hotels during Trinidad Carnival.

If the Hyatt fills up or if clients are looking to save a few bucks on the rooms, the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre would be a solid option. 

The overall vibe of the Hyatt Regency Trinidad is both lively and chill at the same time, making it a great place to kick back and relax after a day (or morning) of hard partying and dancing in the Caribbean sun. The service here is also a step above the other nearby hotels.

These Three Parties Are a Must

J'ouvert

Travel Agent's Joe Pike (far right) and his fellow Dirty Dozen revelers embrace the paint as part of the J'ouvert celebration, the best party of Trinidad Carnival. // Photo by Toni Anne Thomas of Caribbean Vibrations TV

Come tired and leave covered in paint and ready to seize the day... after a shower and a long siesta. 

Live musicians, including vocalists and deejays, take to the stage from about 3:30 to 4:30 a.m., getting "band" members fueled up with beer, rum punch and some heavily pounding soca music before revelers take to the streets. Bands are basically names given to the seperate groups taking part in the party. Travel Agent was part of the Dirty Dozen band. 

About five trucks, all going roughly 1 to 5 mph, follow band members as they parade through the streets. One of the trucks serves as the music, housing nothing but gigantic speakers all blaring music to keep the energy high. There is also a truck serving as the bar and another one that has portable bathrooms on board.  

It won't take long before you start to feel some cold paint first slowly splashing you in small little drips and drops. Then people start to up the quantity of paint, baby powder, mud, oil and whatever else can make a mess. Full handfuls of paints are commonly wiped on your face and then the buckets start flat out getting dumped. We were all like dancing Jackson Pollock canvases. 

The true beauty of J'ouvert, however, is that even if you begin as a different gender or race as your fellow reveler, when it's through, you're all covered in the same paint.

J'ouvert is French for "day break." In 1783, when slavery was prevalent, French settlers would throw masquerade balls that the slaves were barred from. The slaves would instead throw their own parties in their backyards, wearing costumes to mock their slave owners. So, in many respects, J'ouvert was born from a revolt against oppression. 

Some experts say the tradition of paint was spawned in remembrance of civil disturbances in Port of Spain when the people smeared themselves with oil or paint to avoid being recognized.

Soca Brainwash 2016

The Soca Brainwash 2016 was basically a terrific outdoor concert festival. It takes place a little later in the afternoon around 3:30 p.m., giving party-goers the opportunity to sneak in a nap and grab some lunch before a marathon dance party in the sun ensues. 

Soca music, which is a variation of calypso, is a genre of Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early to mid 970s, and developed into a range of styles in the 1980s and later.

Carnival Tuesday

Carnival Tuesday, the culmination of all the Trinidad Carnival events, was surprisingly the most subdued of all the parties Travel Agent attended. And it was quite refreshing.

Although we expected it to be a bit more wild, we were also relieved that it wasn't. It was special in a different way. It was great to just see the many unique costumes that obviously required a lot of love to make and the beautiful smiles that went along with them. This was a day of pride. Sure, the drinks flowed and the music cranked, but this was a far less crazy party than J'ouvert and Soca Brainwash 2016.

The highlight of any carnival is crossing the stage, so we are not exactly going out on a limb when we say this was Travel Agent's favorite part of Carnival Tuesday. Sure, getting into costume and cracking open that first Carib of the day as fellow Carnival-goers begin making there way on foot to the parade was a sight to see, but crossing the stage represented perhaps the culmination of the week for Travel Agent. 

It was the last crazy act we would partake in. Guests began jumping up to the music and started to form a herd of drunken masqueraders bouncing their way across a literal stage as bleachers full of attendees clapped and screamed for the people "playing mas," which is a phrase for bascially participating in Carnival. 

Book a Local Tour Guide/Driver

f you're looking for a reliable and knowledgeable tour guide on the ground in Trinidad, we were quite impressed with Gerald "Mr. Nick" Nicholas of Sensational Tours and Transport. He accompanied us with his own driver while he sat in the passenger seat pointing out historical facts and notable landmarks. He also seemed to know everyone in Trinidad and those kind of people are usually incredible assets for any vacation. Agents looking to book Sensational Tours and Transport, should e-mail [email protected].

Take a Post Trip to Tobago

Trinidad Carnival, which takes place in early February, is perhaps the one time of the year Trinidad can stand on its own as a vacation without pairing it up with sister island, Tobago. It's also the one time of the year where seven days is a necessary length of time for any Caribbean getaway. 

If clients can get an extra day or two on top of their six-to-seven day stay for Trinidad Carnival, Tobago is a great spot to either detox or to simply continue the party without the people.

Visit www.gotrinidadandtobago.com and keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest Caribbean news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent's Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike.

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