• Sarah Miles

The Ultimate Guide to Carnival in Jamaica

If my Jamaican carnival experience was a song, it'd be Overdue by Erphaan Alves.


Can you believe that April 28th, 2019 will be my FIRST time ever jumping Jamaica Carnival? It honestly still baffles me. There's something unexplainable about experiencing carnival in your home country. This year is special, I can feel it- the music, the vibes. The timing could not be better to find myself on the BBC road.


For too many carnival Sundays, I have sat in the cold Canadian tundra, feeling sorry for myself and trying to avoid social media at all costs. As a first time jumper (in Jamaica), but many time observer, I wanted to build this guide to help any prospective revellers maximize the complete Carnival experience, or for professional bacchanalists to share their own tips.


While I'd be hesitant to call myself a veteran, I have jumped carnival twice in Barbados. Being able to experience Crop Over, in 2016 and 2018, allowed me to have test runs for Jamaica (and hopefully one day, Trinidad). From these two jump ups, to the countless soca parties I've attended, to my general knowledge about Jamaica, I have managed to accumulate some tips and tricks that hopefully you will be able to refer to in times of need.


As I am a bit short on personal photos, I turned to my friends and Twitter followers. I wanted this article to be truly representative of Jamaicans and their carnival experiences. The road is a welcoming space, and we should continuously strive to make it a more inclusive environment.


Buckle in guys, this is a long one.

Dad ready for di road!!

Savannah Grass??


I'm going to be real here, Jamaican Carnival is a fairly recent concept. Most West Indian carnivals possess a deeper, more complex and historical meaning than we, Jamaicans, could even imagine. While you may hear us bawling out 'Savannah Grass' on the road- we simply do not have one. We don't even cross the stage- let alone any stage.


My parents being the ultimate carnival goals circa 1989.

For many other nations, carnival goes beyond the one or two daily festivities. In Trinidad, carnival leads up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. From the steel plan to stick fighting, Trinidadian carnival is one of the most renowned for a reason. In Barbados, the name 'Crop Over' represents slaves' celebrations marking the end of sugar cane crop. While I'll save the extensive history lessons to the professionals, some may say that Jamaica's history isn't as 'meaningful'. For a brief overview of our history, I love this article.


It may be possible that Jamaica's Carnival history and meaning is currently being written, but as of now...we love de wildness and getting on stink and dutty. A lot of our carnival culture is, quite frankly, not our own but influenced but other nations' versions. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with that as there are aspects which make our carnival unique. Dancehall is slowly (ok, don't come for me) making it's way into some amazing soca collaborations that are truly representative of the vibes that Jamaica Carnival has. Nailah and Shenseea?? Is that even a question??


Over the past two to three years, Jamaica's Carnival scene has visibly changed immensely. This change has significantly increased Jamaica's potential, not only in aspects of tourism or popularity, but also internally by creating job opportunities and supporting local industries. There's more band choices, nuff fetes and people are attending from all over the world. It's a completely different ball game to the one I grew up around.


Maybe one day, we will discuss how classism in Jamaica has historically favoured carnival and its practices whilst simultaneously shaming dancehall- but that would take a whole blog post.


Carnival in Jamaica occurs every year on the Sunday one week after Easter Sunday, but preparations start far in advance. Trust me, it isn't your typical last minute, 'wing it' event. Preparing starts early, and entails a lot more than you'd think, and that begins with band selection.

Get in Yuh Section!


Every year, around November, you're going to want to be on the look out for band launches popping up across the island. If you're jumping carnival, your band is your core. While I chose to jump with Xodus Carnival, there are many other options for revellers to choose from. Currently, these include Bacchanal Jamaica, Xayamaca International, and One World Rebellion. In the past, Jamaica Carnival has also been an option to patrons.


Make sure to do your research. There are multiple resources, from carnival vlogs on YouTube to testimonies from friends. If yuh craven, ask about their lunch. If you hope to see a specific artiste on the road, stalk their IG for an idea of where he'll be. Kes, aka di gyal dem 'I Shall Return', I'm coming for you this year. Play smart. Bands often provide benefits to their revellers, whether it be after parties or discounts on services from their sponsors. At the end of the day, you're investing your money into a band. Spend wisely.


Your decision to jump with a band could be affected by your friends' choices, costumes, costs, their vibes on the road or (let's be real) band loyalty. While choosing a band can kind of seem like a cult decision, or involve nuff politics, don't take it too seriously. Carnival is about happiness, love, positivity- and all the other words the thesaurus can provide. Getting caught up with the competitiveness, whether on an institutional or personal level, is not beneficial to anybody.


Once you choose a band, you're going to want to pick your costume as soon as possible. There's nothing more frustrating than seeing your favourite choice sold out. Don't let it happen to you. If you know that you're jumping, put that deposit down to secure your spot. You want your costume to make you feel confident, sexy and comfortable. It's a day of celebration, and feeling self-conscious on the road is the absolute worst.


There are multiple costume types to choose from. As the customer, you have the choice and bands are very accommodating. From monokinis to bikinis, to wire or regular bras, to full coverage bottoms to thongs. There's even the option of t-shirts or wear your own 'Sunday Wear' (a twist on Trinidad's Monday Wear). Be smart and true to yourself. You know yourself (and your body) better than anyone else. If your boobs tend to fall out, choose a costume which will accommodate that. Personally, I feel uncomfortable with my batty outta doors, so I don't opt for a thong.


Costumes range from backline to frontline (or even super frontline). While these terms can sound confusing, they basically break down what your costume offers. Prices increase based on whether costumes include feathers, headpieces, body pieces. Naturally, as frontline costumes include more, they cost more- you can figure it out.

While feathers and accessories are absolutely stunning, they can be a nuisance. Wanting these add-ons can determine whether you're paying nuff. If it's for a couple pictures, question yourself if it's worth it. Personally, leg and arm pieces tend to bother me. If I don't have to pay for them, I won't as I know they'd get fling off within the first two hours on the road. It's important to also take into consideration the style of feathers your costume has. Over the years popular feather choices have ranged from headpieces to collars to, now, backpacks. I highly prefer backpacks as I find them easier to tie, and they're not *as* obstructive as some others.


As your costume (is likely) the most expensive factor in your carnival experience, you need to budget! Determining how much you want to spend on a costume may vary based on which parties you want to attend- so think smart and save, save, save.

Fete (Out Money)


Over the past few years, the amount of soca fetes in Kingston alone have tripled. While they may start from after Christmas, in sync with Trinidad's Carnival, they tend to become more popular after Lent begins.

My favourite way to keep up with fetes in Jamaica is to consult the holy grail- Lucy and Vagabond. They are such a key resource and do all the work for you (thanks btw). Every year they release the ultimate Fete List which displays all feteing options. This is a perfect way to evaluate all yours choices, and prioritize parties. This will allow you to budget in advance, and be on the look out for early bird and presold tickets. Being on top of your game is essential, and after paying your costume's bill, you definitely won't want to pay for an expensive, last minute ticket.


For those who aren't jumping carnival, fetes are the perfect way to experience the energy and excitement of the season. Carnival Sunday is not everyone's cup of tea, but luckily one can have an equally amazing experience by solely attending parties. Attending multiple fetes can cost just as much as playing mas. For some it's an argument of quality versus quantity, but as the reveller you have the choice.


Unfortunately, I'm not a hype gyal yet and am yet to receive endless comp tickets. While I can't review every individual party for you, there are many which have established names for themselves. Whether it be organizations from other Caribbean islands, or Jamaican companies, it can be fairly easy navigating the 'hits' and 'misses'. I'd recommend trying to attend one of every 'genre' of party. For instance, try and focus on attending at least one breakfast party, day party, night fete, and J'Ouvert for the season.


There's nothing better than a good breakfast or day party- all the Fashion Nova goodies roll out and being able to go to bed early is a plus. For me, waking up for a breakfast party is like waking up Christmas morning. There's definitely a different kind of aura and vibe to the day, and I always make the best memories. For Breakfast parties,