How to Survive Your First Carnival

Starting at the end of July, Anguilla was buzzing with talent competitions, Battle of the Band nights, food everywhere you turned, and, of course, boat races. Carnival had arrived! Every summer, Anguillians celebrate their emancipation from slavery with parades, colorful costumes, and the crowning event – a gigantic beach party held the first Monday in August.

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Each year on August Monday, 12,000 people regularly flood our little island to participate in the Caribbean’s largest beach party. It starts with J’ouvert in the Valley, the center of the island and our capital. Folks gather at 4am to walk alongside popular local Soca bands playing on huge trucks, making a four hour snails-pace trek down to Sandy Ground, the beach where the rest of the day is spent drinking rum punches and listening to live music.

I experienced my first Carnival three years ago, and I was a little nervous going into it. First of all, I don’t like crowds. Barely reaching 5’2″, I tend to get lost in them really, really easily. Add a couple of cocktails to the mix, and I was pretty sure I’d end up at the Missing Children tent, next to a guy with a loud speaker announcing that I was ready to be collected by whomever I belonged to.

As it turned out though, I made it through the day without any serious mishaps, and have enjoyed several Carnivals since then. Being no longer afraid to wind my way through the beach revelers, I feel like I can now offer advice for the island newbies out there on how to survive Carnival.

1. Make sure you have some sort of home base.

One year, my group rented an apartment on the beach, and we had a locked room to put our stuff in. Another year, our group hung out on an old boat trailer. Either way, it was nice to have a spot where you knew you could find people in your group if you decided to take a walk or spend some time in the sea. Which brings me to my next point…

2. When swimming in the sea at Carnival beach parties, do not put your head under the water.

This is how half the island ended up getting extremely ill about five years ago. Think about it – people are drinking all day long, there is a serious lack of public restrooms, and they’re all hanging out in the water. Catch my drift? Take a dip and cool off. Just don’t put your head under.

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3. Pack your beach bag like an EMT.

My beach bag on August Monday is legendary, and has made me many friends through its offerings. As a rule, I always carry a variety of pharmaceuticals in it – Advil, Immodium, Pepto Bismol, Neosporin, Band-Aids… pretty much everything you need to cure whatever ails you. Oh yeah, and wine. Wine makes friends, too.

4. Bring a change of clothes.

Or better yet, several changes of clothes. And don’t even think about bringing that adorable little cover-up you just got or your new expensive shades. Odds are, anything nice you wear will get trashed. Actually, anything you wear period will probably get trashed. It’s a long day of drinking on the beach under the sun, surrounded by overflowing trash cans, and grill smoke from the many vendors. Having an extra change of clothes or two makes a huge difference in comfort as the day goes on.

5. Sip, don’t gulp.

My mom uttered those words to me when I was sixteen at a wedding, when I was somehow allowed to drink wine with dinner. I didn’t heed her advice. I ended up throwing up for a solid day. For Carnival, do yourself a favor and take my mother’s advice. It’s a long day, and you don’t want to be the one that has to be carried to the Red Cross tent.

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The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to Carnival is to just take it all in. Go see the toddler beauty pageant, watch Miss Anguilla get crowned, see the Calypsonians battle it out to be named King. It’s a great time of year to go out and party hard – after all, you’ll have plenty of time to detox when the island shuts down until tourist season starts again in November.

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Heidi Tiefenthaler

About Heidi Tiefenthaler

Heidi is currently living every tourist’s fantasy of going on vacation, falling in love with a local, and moving to an island to live happily ever after. Her “ever after” includes daily trips to the grocery store to see if the food containers have come in yet, playing with her Whippet/Terrier/Anguillan Long Dog mix, Oliver, on the beach, and drinking wine with her boyfriend’s extremely large and much beloved network of cousins. Heidi is an ardent animal lover with future plans to own a herd of goats, once she figures out a way to train goats to stay off her roof and not get stuck up there while she’s at the beach.

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5 thoughts on “How to Survive Your First Carnival

  1. We will be on St. John for carnival next summer. I am a little excited and a little scared. It will be my husband, myself and out 10 year old son. Any advice??

    • Hi Ramona,

      How exciting! Have you seen Ashley’s posts of the STJ carnival – there are two parts that you can find under her name in our sidebar. Some of it can get very – um – adult… You may want to feel it out as the day goes on to decide what may or may not be appropriate for your son. 😉

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