I have compiled the Ultimate guide to Caribana from my experience in 2017! Here you will find major tips to get you prepared for one of the largest festivals in North America. Let me start by saying anyone can play a part in this festival! It is not only limited to those from the Caribbean.
Lingo: Don’t look like a rookie without knowing these basic terms to Carnival. This is the first start to everything you need to know. Check out the list here!
Booking: There are thousands of people ready to hit the road and there’s usually no time to waste!
*Book your hotel/Airbnb in the ‘entertainment district’ or as close to it as possible. This is the downtown area and everything nearby is walking distance (mall/restaurants/liquor store/supermarket/Toronto sign etc.) Look near Yonge street!
***Before you book anything: PLEASE make sure everyone visiting Canada has a clean record. Canada is known for a low crime rate and any misdemeanors is considered a felony there. You must have a clean record for 10 years prior to attending. If you have a DUI don’t even think about visiting. Shoplifting/marijuana/sex on the beach whatever you did, make sure it has been expunged or you’ll be turned away. *** Don’t quote me, but I heard it may be easier to fly straight into Toronto vs driving thru the border and getting chosen for a “random” inspection.
If you have an American passport, Canada doesn’t stamp it! (Not like I was super excited for that or anything). But anyway……
Hotels need to be booked by early April the latest. By the time we went to book on April 30th, most places were already sold out. Note: People cancel! If all the hotels are sold, don’t lose hope, keep checking back because hotels will be available closer to the date.
*Keep in mind; if you are booking an Airbnb DO NOT tell them you are there for Caribana. Most hosts don’t want any parties or bunch of “rowdy” people in their place and they will decline your request or cancel on you. (In January, I had one host tell me she was renovating a bathroom and she didn’t know when she was going to start-the weekend before and after were booked though hmmmm).
*A lot of hotels will offer packages along with your room. In my opinion the packages are a waste because they offer the parties that weren’t popular and no one from my group went to any of them.
Getting to Toronto: There are several routes to get to Toronto.
-Toronto airport code: YYZ or YTZ (closer)
-We chose to fly to Buffalo, NY then rent a car to drive over. The flight was cheaper this way, and we used to extra money to split a rental car. If you choose this route, you can make a stop at Niagara Falls. It was only 30 minutes to get to the border then a 7-minute drive away from the border to Niagara parking. I preferred to have a car because Uber had surcharges in Toronto and by the time you pay for that, you might as well have your own car.
-Renting a car from Main Street is less expensive than the airport. Just take a 10-minute Uber to pick it up. Keep in mind there are thousands of people that will be there so you should reserve your car in advance because they will sell out.
-A lot of people in the DMV area did a party bus and drove over, so you can search for that bus as well.
-Megabus and Greyhound provide several affordable routes from different cities.
How to be a masquerader at Caribana: In other words “How do I know which costume to choose”? If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re interested in how you too can be half naked in one of those bright colored costumes with huge feathers. Read here for a guide on how to choose costumes and more.
Weather: Keep an eye on the weather as you get closer to the day. We found out it was going to rain all weekend and it did! The high was 70 degrees for the weekend (70 up north isn’t the same as 70 in the south)! We were freezing and it rained on and off the entire weekend but the rain didn’t stop the show. Keep a poncho nearby! And fellas, keeping a large umbrella might make you popular with the ladies *wink wink*.
Alcohol: Unlike most countries, Toronto does NOT provide alcohol to masqueraders. You must provide your own so have your tumbler ready. They do however provide water on the trucks. If you buy the miniature bottles from the liquor store, you can easily store it in a fanny pack or pouch.
Food: Each masquerader receives a wristband with a ticket attached for food. You can choose to use it in the beginning before the parade starts or after the parade. Warning: the lines are ridiculously long and unorganized. It’s pretty much equivalent to the ice cream truck pulling up at a school giving out free ice cream; or maybe a celebrity trying to walk through a crowd with no security. Feathers were everywhere, just awful ha ha. There are other vendors that you can purchase food from if you don’t want to deal with the chaos.
Parade arrival: We were instructed to arrive by 8:00am and the parade was to start at 9:30. I do suggest arriving early because it takes a minute to find your band and the employees didn’t know much either. Make sure you pay attention to what space number you are given, that helps you find your way. However we didn’t start moving on the road until 10:30 so you really have plenty of time to explore. During that time, everyone just stood around taking photos, making last minute costume adjustments and listened to the trucks perform sound checks.
Music: Before you attend carnival, it’s best you start listening to the music. Typing in Soca 2017 or one of your favorite soca artists will get you ready to pelt waist. I recommend you using these playlist while working out. It helps you keep your energy all the way up. A few of the most popular songs from this weekend was Jump x Rupee, Bruk off yuh back x Konshens, Fi Di Jockey x Aidonia, Gyal You a Party Animal x Charly Black, When Mi Party x Popcaan, Fast Wine x Machel Montano, Palance Around De World x King Raj, I am Blessed x Mr. Vegas, Calling in Sick x King Bubba, Ducking x Fadda Fox.
End of Parade: At the end of the parade, masqueraders and attendees all participate in a giant block party. There is plenty of music to keep the party going, along with food trucks and vendors. I would recommend bringing Canadian cash for all transactions because they will not give you American change.
The Fence: Fences have been installed within the recent years to keep non-masqueraders off the road. The fence is the average parade fence that stands about 4 feet tall. Non masqueraders are known to unfortunately ‘jump’ the fence to be apart of the festival. #Respectthemas and those that have paid money to be on the road.
Parties: When buying party tickets please be aware of “scammers”. All of our tickets were bought through ticketgateway (basically the ticketmaster of Canada). You can read more about the parties we attended HERE.
Exchanging money: The American dollar is worth more than the Canadian so I highly suggest exchanging money upon arrival. If you pay in American money, you will get change in Canadian money so you are losing change with every purchase. Some debit/credit cards charge for an international purchase, so do your research to see if your card will charge you. ATMs will certainly charge you to take money out. Just play it safe and take out cash from the start!
Caribana 2018 will be August 2-6 2018. Start preparing now, see you on the road!
If you have any comments to help those attending Caribana please drop them below.