Last month (October 2018), I went to Miami by myself for their annual carnival, after having spontaneously booked a cheap flight a few weeks earlier without any knowledge of the carnival apart from its dates. I’ve been to a lot of Caribbean carnivals around the world, so I was sure it would be fine, and I thought I would share my experience and newfound knowledge with you, in the hope that you’ll decide (or have already decided) to go too.
Miami Carnival (technically called Miami Broward Carnival) tends to happen at the beginning of October, but Google is your best friend when it comes to finding dates for the years to come. At the time of writing, the official date for 2019 has not been published (unless I’m not looking properly).
As with most carnivals, there are three main aspects of the Miami Carnival experience – fetes (parties), Jouvert and Carnival. Jouvert happens the day before Carnival, and there are fetes most days and nights for a few weeks in the run-up to Carnival. I stayed in Miami for 8 nights, and that was plenty of time to experience a few fetes and do Jouvert and Carnival, as well as explore the city, however you could also experience this if you just went for half that amount of time, or even less.
The first thing I would recommend you do, after booking flights and accommodation, is find a costume you like and register/pay for it. I booked my flights about a month before the carnival itself, and a lot of the nicer costumes were sold out (serves me right really), so the earlier the better with this. There are a lot of bands (carnival groups) to choose from. I went with an enormous one called One Island, which I would recommend, but some others include Freaks Mas, Mascots International, Generation X Miami, and D Junction Mas. To see their costumes, just Google the name of the band.
Some bands (One Island included) include a Jouvert package when you buy a Carnival costume from them, but if yours doesn’t, make sure you buy one separately. A popular Jouvert band is Red Antz, but there are plenty more such as GenX and White Noise.
After this (but to be honest most of these won’t sell out too quickly), you can get your fete tickets. In order to see what fetes were on offer, I used a few different methods.
- Searching the Instagram hashtag – #miamicarinval2018 and then scrolling down to see fete flyers. If you click on a fete flyer, it will probably have a ticket sale link in the caption. Easy peasy!
- The Facebook group called ‘What Fetes Yuh Goin’, often abbreviated to WFYG (a group for carnival chasers to share ideas/information/questions about carnival related activities. Very very helpful)
- Going on ticket websites such as Eventbrite and TicketGateway and typing ‘Miami’ into the search bar
I ended up going to two fetes, as I also spent a lot of my time there doing random exploring, so I didn’t have unlimited time for feting. The first one I went to was Tribe Ignite (their Instagram is @carnivaltribe). This happens every year, and I would DEFINITELY recommend it. It had free drinks for the first few hours, so I went when it opened to take advantage of this, and I had made friends within about half an hour (I think we can thank the rum for this). The venue was big enough, the vibes were very positive and the DJs played a good variety of soca. This is me living my best life at Tribe with some new carnival friends:
The other fete I went to was called Viva La Carnival. I think this also happens every year. It was less fun than Tribe for me because the venue was too packed and the DJs played some non-carnival related things like hiphop, which wasn’t really what I had paid for. I still had a decent time though, and I met some people from the WFYG Facebook group:
The next thing is Jouvert. At most carnivals, this happens in the night (e.g. from midnight to 7am), but in Miami, I get the impression that the police / local authorities want to have a LOT of control over the carnival, so instead of gallivanting through the streets in the middle of the night, Miami Jouvert involves following your truck around a massive park in the daytime. This sounds quite lame, but it wasn’t actually so bad.
As I mentioned, the band I chose (One Island) included a Jouvert package, so I went with them. In order to get into the park, which is enclosed by barriers, you need to have a ticket. If you buy a jouvert package, this will include your park entry ticket. You get searched on the way in and you can’t bring alcohol in with you.
Of course your Jouvert band will provide drinks, but this year, One Island had a drinks policy that I’d never experienced before – each person had a few (I think 4) tabs on their wristband and you had to pull off a tab and give it to them each time you wanted a drink… aka there was a drinks limit. This was crazy to me, as Carnival is normally a time when people drink as much as they want. Anyway, if this happens with your Jouvert band and you want more alcohol, there are a lot of alcohol sellers inside the park.
Once you go inside, you just find the truck for your band, get breakfast from your truck once it starts serving, and wait for them to start moving. Once they start, they basically follow the other trucks, at the pace of a baby snail, stopping about 500 times, around the edge of the massive park, until they reach the exit gate, at which point Jouvert is over for that band.
Because no one could be inside the park without a ticket, there wasn’t really a security problem, which meant there was no need for people to stay within the ropes behind their own truck. This was quite liberating, as it meant you could just go to a different truck if you didn’t like the song yours was playing. I roamed quite a lot and made some more friends. I was quite impressed when our truck started spraying out coloured foam, as I hadn’t seen this at Jouvert before:
My advice for Jouvert is:
- Bring toilet paper (you will need to have invested in the all-important waterproof phone pouch for this, which you can see I have in the photo). Thankfully for small-bladder people like me, there are actually loads of portaloos around the park.
- Wear suncream
- Make sure you have enough phone battery to order an Uber to get home (if you don’t have a rental car or a ride). It was all the way in Fort Lauderdale this year so getting home was no joke.
The Carnival itself is the day after Jouvert, but it’s fine because Jouvert finishes before dark so you have time to wash the paint off and get a decent sleep (and go to a fete if you want. The Viva La Carnival fete I went to was actually after Jouvert so I just had a nap before it). Hopefully by this stage you will have already collected your costume (make sure you keep checking your junk mail, and the social media pages of your band, in the run-up to Carnival to find out when and where costume collection is).
Unlike most carnivals, Miami Carnival doesn’t require you to wake up early, which was a nice change. The meeting time is something like 1pm, but you can go later and it’s fine. I think I went for about 3pm. It happens in an enormous stadium, but you meet in a park next to the stadium. When I arrived, One Island was just setting off, aka moving from the park towards the stadium. One thing that stood out to me was that the vibes were already great, whereas at some carnivals, people take ages to actually get into it. Drinks service was quick in my opinion, and there was no drinks limitation like at Jouvert.
Similarly to Jouvert, you couldn’t be there without a ticket so there wasn’t a security problem, so again there was no band security and you could be behind whichever truck you wanted. Although the vibes at One Island were good, I found it to be quite crowded by the truck because it’s such a popular band, so I spent a lot of time roaming and just kept going back to One Island for drinks. Needless to say, I made some more friends.
Once your truck has been round the edge of the stadium, it will reach Judging Point, and then once you’ve crossed the stage with your band, you will end up in the middle of the stadium, basically a huge grassy area, full of people who have bought $20 tickets to be in there but weren’t in a band.
After crossing the stage, the trucks all park up at different spots around the park and continue playing music. There’s also an enclosed area with a stage which holds the Carnival concert later that evening, featuring soca artists from Trinidad etc.
The trucks serve food again once they’ve parked up, so I sat on the grass and ate mine. By this stage, it was dark and the vibe felt a little different from when we were going round the stadium. It wasn’t scary or anything, but it was just a bit less inviting, and obviously it feels a bit more weird being in a costume when there are loads of people around you in normal clothes (the people who had bought tickets to see the concert).
I had already had an amazing time with the band, so I didn’t stay long at this part because I didn’t think it was going to be as much fun, and I was quite tired. If I was with friends it might have been different, but I just didn’t really fancy roaming this huge crowd by myself in the dark in a bikini and feathers basically.
The thing that stood out for me at the carnival in general was the friendliness of the people I met. Maybe I just happened to walk past the friendliest people there… I don’t know… but I honestly had a crazy amount of fun, whichever truck I was behind when we were going around the stadium, and it never felt like an issue that I was by myself (until the part after crossing the stage).
It really made a positive difference for me that it was so easy to wander around all the different bands, rather than having to stay within the confines of the ropes behind one truck. Overall, I would say that Miami Carnival should definitely be on your list if you’re a fellow ‘carnival chaser’.