Caribbean Sailing: Celebrating carnival

Caribbean Sailing

It happens every single time you sail in the Caribbean. It happens every time you sail in the Caribbean. The calm, idyllic anchorage is perfect for relaxing. But suddenly the warm tropical breezes beckon you to the shore like a siren song. The Caribbean hosts hundreds of parties every year. These include religious celebrations and music festivals, fishing tournaments and sporting competitions. A party in paradise is almost guaranteed to be part of your Caribbean sailing vacation, no matter where you are. Annual Carnival is however the best party. It is basically a street party and a mix of theater, art, folklore, and party. The annual Carnival is a big deal on each island. Preparations for the next one start almost immediately after the previous one finishes.

Carnival began in Italy hundreds of years ago, when Catholics hosted wild costumes festivals just before Lent. The festival was named “Carnevale” because they weren’t allowed to eat meat during Lent. The famed Carnival celebrations spread to many other Catholic countries like France, Spain, and Portugal. Carnival was also established in the New World by Catholic Europeans who set up colonies and participated in the slave trade.

Carnival celebrations can be found all over the islands today. These Carnival celebrations have changed from the original Italian costumes festivals to something that is distinctively Caribbean and varies from island to island.

To island. The Caribbean Carnival is a blend of African music and dance, as well European cultures. The African tradition of moving through the villages in circles in masks and costumes to bring good luck, solve problems, and calm angered spirits is an important part of the Caribbean Carnival celebration. Carnival is a way for Caribbean people to show their African cultural heritage by making elaborate masks or costumes. To create costumes that represent a common theme, it takes months of creativity and energy.

Carnival was first celebrated between December 26th and Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This traditional time is still used by Trinidad, which hosts the largest carnival with daily events that last four weeks, leading up to Shrove Monday. These two days are the culmination of all parades, largest floats, and final competitions that determine the winners of different contests.

Some islands have their carnivals at different times to avoid clashes and to allow people to enjoy multiple celebrations throughout the year. To find out the schedule of events for your Caribbean sailing vacation, contact each island’s tourism office. A charter around Carnival is great fun. Each island might celebrate Carnival at a different time of the year. However, there are common themes to the celebration. Carnival is a great way to remember other historical events on the island. Many people will wear elaborate costumes (Mas), and all of them will be accompanied by music. Street parades (Pan), which are often colorful, are accompanied by lots and lots of music (especially Calypso and bands), and usually a King and Queen elected.

Here’s a look at Carnival celebrations on the islands.

British Virgin Islands

This Carnival is the largest event in BVI. It has two names. It is sometimes called the “August Festival”, but others refer to it as “Emancipation Festival”. It starts on July 1st, and ends on August 31st. This annual celebration commemorates the 1834 Emancipation Act, which ended slavery in British West Indies. There are events across the region. However, most of the celebrations take place in Road Town, Tortola. You will be treated with live music, dancing, street performers and parties. There are also food and drink booths that have a Caribbean flair. The Calypso King is crowned in a hotly contested competition. A competition is held to crown a festival queen. You should not miss the street food vendors, the calypso and reggae costume contests, the kids’ pageants, the festival queen competition, the carnival all night party and the giant costume parade.

St. Martin/Sint Maarten

The island is unique in that it has both a French side and a Dutch side. Depending on where you live on the island, Carnival celebrations are different. French St. Martin is part of Guadeloupe. See below. Carnival in Dutch Sint Maarten starts with the Balloon Jump-Up following Easter and continues until April 30th, Queen Beatrix’s birthday. The Balloon Jump-Up marks the opening of Carnival Village. This area is located two blocks away from Front Street and houses more than 100 food vendors. With their colorful costumes, floats, and live music, the Jump-Up parades have become a popular Carnival attraction.

The Grand Carnival Parade is the largest, featuring elaborately dressed Carnival dancers that travel four miles. Between parades, steel drum bands from other Caribbean island countries entertain spectators. The festivities include competitions, especially Calypso contests. Calypso is a traditional Caribbean art form. It tests the solo performer’s improvisational skills and narrative abilities. In a fight for the title, the winner will face the previous year’s Calypso King and Queen. A Jump-Up Parade, called Jouvert (pronounced Jouvey), is held the day after a Calypso monarch has been crowned. It starts at 4 a.m. each morning and ends at sunrise. The Last Lap Jump-Up is the grand finale of Carnival. It is led by King Momo (the straw figure who rules over Carnival). Carnival ends with King Momo being burned to the ground. According to local legend, he leaves the island clean by taking the sins of his villages with him.

St. Barths

St. Barths is the only country in the world that Carnival ends at the close of Ash Wednesday. Officially, it begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday but is officially started the day after New Year’s Day. The Carnival associations hold rehearsals on the streets, and people spend their time creating the beautiful floats for parades. All night dance party marks the official beginning of Fat Saturday (Samedi Gras). King Vaval, a giant mannequin, is the king of Carnival. King Vaval is a giant mannequin who is accompanied by revelers on Fat Sunday (Dimanche Gras), when people can enjoy Jump-Ups throughout the day and late night parties. Carnival is celebrated with parties every night. Everyone dresses up in red on Fat Monday (Lundi Gras), to celebrate the day of the Red Devils. These costumes are stunning works of art, decorated with glitter and reflective silver. Ash Wednesday is the final day when everyone dresses up in black and white to attend King Vavel’s funeral. The Carnival ends at 7 p.m., when King Vavel’s straw figure is burnt.

St. Kitts and Nevis

Carnival on St. Kitts & Nevis officially starts on Christmas Eve and ends at midnight on New Year’s Day. Costume making and float building are the unofficial beginnings of Carnival. Carnival is a season that includes many activities, including street jamming and calypso competitions, beauty pageants, street dancing, mocko jumbies, and traditional folklore such as masquerades and mocko jumbies.


Antigua Carnival dates back August 1, 1834 when slavery was abolished. Locals took to the streets to celebrate their freedom and have been celebrating it ever since. It was declared Carnival in 1957. Antigua’s Carnival is always held around the end of July through the beginning of August. There are ten days worth of celebrations that include parades, Jump Ups, shows, and dancing to Calypso. Visitors on Caribbean sailing charters can enjoy the Antigua Carnival and immerse themselves in the island’s culture. St. John is filled with street performers and food and drink booths during Carnival. Pan Ban- steel pan orchestras – are followed closely by dance troupes in intricate costumes. The event ends with a huge road party called Jouvert (meaning “day break”) where everyone is dancing to the steel drum beats.


Carnival in Montserrat takes place between Christmas and New Year’s Day. There are parades, steel bands, jump-ups, queen competitions, and King and Queen contests. Carnival’s highlight is the finals of the calypso contest. Here, performers dress up in costumes and perform their calypsos. Calypso can be used to make a social comment about what is happening on the island and also express opinions about the government. The songs are often double-entendres and quiet risky. The winners of the competition are awarded prizes and celebrity status, and will represent Montserrat at inter-island contests. Carnival includes the calypso contest, steel bands, sporting events and dancing contests.


Guadeloupe’s Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday. Rehearsals start in January with groups dressed in costumes and performing in the streets. Carnival heats up between Shrove Sunday & Ash Wednesday. Parades, dancing and masquerades are all part of Shrove Sunday. Shrove Tuesday is a day when pajama-clad masqueraders perform throughout the day. Guadeloupe’s unique celebrations of Carnival are evident as revelers dress up in black-and-white he and shewolves and take to the streets. Carnival ends with King Vaval’s cremation. Midway between Easter Sunday and Carnival, Carnival is revived one day later at Mid-Lent Thursday. Here revelers dress up as devils in red and black costumes.


Mas Domnik takes place at the pre-Lenten traditional time. There are many activities on the island during the ten-day celebration. There are street Jump-Ups and calypso performances. Carnival’s opening parade begins. The queen contestants, calypsonians and the most popular bands, people wearing sensay costumes, Moko Jumbies, cheerleaders, and many other people parade through the streets, in a kaleidoscope color encouraged by large crowds of spectators. Carnival is full of costume contests and street jams as well as beauty pageants, calypso contests, costumes, sensay festivals, street jams, and other activities. The final two days of Carnival see music, culture, and people come together to celebrate the occasion with parades, costumes, and bands. Ash Wednesday is the final event, with the burning of Carnival King and the start of Lent.


Crop Over, Barbados’ most popular and loudest festival, is held in May. It continues throughout the summer with a variety of events. The celebration of the end of sugarcane harvest in Barbados dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when it was one of the largest sugar producers in the world. The celebration continues today with greater pomp and grandeur. In early July, the event officially starts with the ceremonial delivery and crowning of the Carnival King & Queen.

The next five weeks are filled with live music, including tuk, soca, and street bands, dancing, food and craft market, cultural presentations, and much more. Pic-O-De-Crop, which is part of Carnival celebrations, is part of a fierce competition for the title of best calypso group. In a bid for the title of Calypso Kings, the best bands will compete against each other. This is a wonderful community event. Carnival ends with the “Grand Kadooment” parade. For the final contest for “Designer Of The Year”, costumed bands will take to the streets. As DJs play the best music, revelers in elaborate costumes representing various themes dance through the streets while dancing to the beat.

St. Vincent and The Grenadines

Vincy Mas, or Carnival as it is now known, was originally celebrated by French colonists in late 18th century France as a pre-Lenten festival. Under the British rule, Carnival was continued as a celebration for the privileged classes. They celebrated the four days before Ash Wednesday with their annual “Masked Balls”. The freedom of the slaves brought Carnival to the streets, introducing African cultural traditions. The colonial authorities tried to ban the celebration in 1872. Vincentians decided on February 11, 1879 that Carnival would continue to be celebrated regardless of ban. The resistance of the people led to riots on the streets and the St.

Vincent Carnival Riots were a part of the island’s history. The festival grew until 1973 when the Carnival Development Committee was established to organize and plan the carnival. The official celebration of Carnival was changed by the CDC in 1976. Vincy Mas is today a ten-day festival of Pan (panorama), Calypso, and Mas (costumes), which sees society become non-racial and classless at the end of June. Kingstown becomes a hub of activity, with constant excitement. Vincy Mas is full of laughter and joy. Streets are filled with the constant hammering from temporary bars to DJ music. There are many competitions including Queen Shows (beauty pageants), calypso, and costume bands. You will be overwhelmed by the chaos, clash of music and display of talent that takes place on the Caribbean island during Vincy Mas.


Carnival is Grenada’s most important annual festival. Carnival is a celebrated festival known for its unique cultural character, creativity, and color. It takes place in the second week of August, one week after Emancipation Day celebrations. Each parish may have its own traditional costumes or mas but the main Carnival action takes place in St. George’s. The opening of several calypso tents in July marks the beginning of festivities. Here singers compete for the chance to participate in the National Calypso Monarch Competition. Carnival festivities gain momentum in early August.

The week includes cultural presentations and calypso performances, as well as steel bands practicing for the Panorama competition. Carnival week continues with the National Carnival Queen Show, the Soca Monarch Finals and the Panorama Steel Band Competition. Carnival Sunday will bring the Dimanche Gras Show, which features the Kings and Queens from the Fancy Mas bands in a competition for the title of King and Queen of Carnival. On Carnival Monday at dawn, Grenada’s streets are filled with traditional maskers portraying Jab-Jabs (devils), and social commentaries on the highlights of this year (Olemas).

Both spectators and masqueraders dance on the streets to the beat of DJs and steel bands. The fancy, or pretty bands make their way to the big platform for the fierce Band of the Year contest on Monday afternoon. The street party continues into the night as Monday Night Mas Bands dance and wave brightly colored fluorescent lights through the streets. This continues until Tuesday morning. Carnival Tuesday sees spectators and masqueraders dance in the streets alongside the fancy bands. The official Carnival celebration ends at midnight.