Caribbean calendar: Storms don't stop 2018 festivalsDec 29, 2017
By: Melanie Reffes
Source: USA Today
While many choose a Caribbean vacation to loll on the sandy beaches and relax under the sun, there’s no better way to enhance the tropical vibe than visiting one of many local festivals.
Photo: St. Maarten Carnival Queen, Credit: St. Maarten Tourism Bureau
Determined to rebuild after Hurricane Irma’s unprecedented fury, the island is getting ready for the Heineken Regatta, the first major event since the September storm. On the calendar for March 1-4, sailors from 35 countries race the clear sea as spectators line the shores cheering on the winners. Although the hurricane destroyed some of the yachts, much of the marine infrastructure like the St. Maarten Yacht Club remains intact. “Rebuilding has been impressive and we are confident that the island will be fully prepared to welcome sailors in March,” said Michelle van der Werff, regatta director.
Also on the calendar, the St. Maarten Carnival from April 12 to May 3 is family fun with plenty of parades that wind down Front Street in the capital city of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the dual-nation island. Thousands decorated in skimpy feathered costumes and onlookers in their party best make merry at jump-ups, reggae concerts, calypso competitions, soca rumbles and Carnival Queen pageants. “Coming off the heels of such a terrible situation with Irma,” said Rolando Brison, the island’s tourism tourism, “our people will band together for the 29th year of our Carnival.”
Photo: Anguilla Summer Festival in August, Credit: ATB
Making remarkable progress since the hurricane battered so much, the little island across the sea from St. Maarten is packing the new year with an eclectic mix of festivals. For fans of electronic music, Livin in the Sun rocks Jan. 5-7 with DJs keeping a beat on Sandy Ground. For reggae fans, Moonsplash (March 10-11) is the longest-running independent music festival in the Eastern Caribbean and the island’s liveliest seaside shindig. Although the beachfront venue Dune Preserve suffered storm damage, rebuilding is underway for the much-anticipated festival hosted by local reggae hero Bankie Banx.
Stay a while for Festival del Mar from March 31 to April 1, where lobster lovers find plenty on the grill, fans of fried Johnny cakes line up for seconds and a sunny afternoon is all about a game of dominoes under the sea grape trees, crab races on the beach and buttering the catch of the day. In May, Anguilla Regatta sets sail May 12-13, Literary Festival is on the books for May 17-20, and on May 30, Anguilla Day is celebrated with a boat race around the island. The Summer Festival (Aug. 1-12) is the biggest party on the calendar with racing on the sea and barbecues on the beach. ivisitanguilla.com
Photo: Bring your dancing shoes...Carnival goes from Jan. 6 to Feb. 11, Credit: Aruba Tourism
Bring your dancing shoes and party dresses to Carnival from Jan. 6 to Feb. 11 when the streets come alive with torch-lit parades, dancers perched on fabulous floats and the wildly popular Pajama Parade. After the Burning of King Momo on the last day, the island goes on hiatus for an official day of rest called Carnival Monday.
The Food Truck Festival (April 28-30) at the Plaza Kikki Habibe in downtown Oranjestad is where you’ll find curbside treats dished up at a host of trucks like El Mexicano and Candela Grill. For those looking to get away for the Memorial Day weekend, Soul Beach Music (May 24- 29) is jam-packed with beach parties, comedy nights and big names like Cedric the Entertainer on May 26 at the Renaissance Festival Plaza; Usher, The Roots and Faith Evans at Harbor Arena on May 27; and Mary J. Blige strutting her stuff on May 28, also at the Harbor Arena. visitaruba.com
Looking ahead to October, Eat Local Restaurant Month is a terrific way to taste-test lunches for $15 and dinners from $30 to $40. Participating restaurants include Screaming Eagle in Oranjestad with cleverly named apps like "tipsy oysters and yellowfin tuna" gussied up with herring caviar and topped at the table with champagne and the quirky "dinner-in-bed," option which really is dinner served in bed.
Photo Credit: St Lucia Tourism Authority
For a weekend of sipping and snacking, head to the newly minted Food & Rum Festival making its debut Jan. 12-14 with a myriad of rum-inspired tipples and rum-paired dishes. For music lovers, the big ticket is Saint Lucia Jazz (May 6-13), power-packed with concerts on picturesque Pigeon Island. More fun in the sun comes on May 30 when the St. Lucia Summer Festival kicks off two months of parades, steel pan concerts, calypso contests, beauty pageants and the Outrageous Sexy in Black show on July 13. The largest cultural festival on the island winds down on Aug. 1 at Carnival Village in Laborie on the southwest coast and Parade of the Bands in Gros Islet on the northern tip. saintlucia.org
Photo: Curacao carnival, Cedit: Curacao Tourist Board
Jump up and get down at one of the liveliest and longest-running carnivals in the tropics. From Jan. 22 to Feb. 13, pretty parades with flashy floats snake their way through Banda Abou on the western side of the island and Willemstad, the capital city. Marchers keep the beat as throngs of sidewalk spectators cheer the carnival’s best dressed as they compete for King, Queen and Prince trophies. Plenty of merrymaking for kids and teens with junior pageants and pint-sized parades and at the finale called Gran Marcha or Grand Parade, a big straw-filled doll called Momo is burned. Tips for carnival goers: Arrive early to snag a good vantage point or ask your hotel concierge to arrange seating in advance and let loose with the locals. curacao.com/en
Photo: Jamaica's PremierMusic Festival, Credit: Reggae Sumfest
Feb. 1-28, the island celebrates Reggae Month with concerts at Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston and the Bob Marley Birthday Bash Feb. 1-6 at the MX3 Entertainment Centre on West End Road in Negril. Tickets to hear reggae superstars perform in honor of the island's most beloved music legend sell out faster than Jamaican hotcakes. visitjamaica.com
It’s a reggae repeat at the Red Stripe-sponsored Reggae Sumfest (July 15 – 21) in the open-air field called the Catherine Hall Festival Grounds in Montego Bay. Thousands make the pilgrimage for the all-night shows, beach parties and meet and greets with dancehall and reggae luminaries.
Photo: Red Devils on Fat Tuesday, Credit: Henri Solomon / Martinque Tourism
It is four days of non-stop partying during Carnaval de Martinique, Feb. 11–14, kicking off on Fat Sunday when 30,000 carousers outfitted in crazy colorful carnival costumes pack the streets of the capital city Fort-de-France. More like theater than a traditional carnival, stand-outs are the Burlesque Wedding on Fat Monday, Red Devils on Fat Tuesday and the Black and White Parade on Ash Wednesday. Keeping carnival fever at a high pitch, bands fan the island ensuring even small villages come alive with music day and night. us.martinique.org
Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: The world's second largest Carnival, Credit: Trinidad and Tobago Tourism
Every year on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the world’s second-largest Carnival (after the ginormous party in Rio de Janeiro) heats up the twin-island nation Feb. 12-13. More impressive for its stamina than its size, Trinidad’s Carnival, dubbed the "Greatest Show on Earth," kicks off at 4 a.m. with the J’ouvert, or jump-up, when thousands of party goers covered in paint, grease, mud and chocolate boogie through the streets until the sun comes up. On Carnival Tuesday, masqueraders in rhinestone-decorated thongs groove to high-octane calypso, steelpan and soca. Partyers compete in costumes outfitted with light shows, sound effects and lasers, steel bands vie for prizes and roadside chefs dish up classic Trini specialities like “shark and bake” fried flatbread sandwiches stuffed with fish and a West Indian melange of spices. gotrinidadandtobago.com
Photo: Antigua Sailing Week turns 51 in 2018, Credit: Paul Wyeth
One of the premier sailing regattas in the world and the largest in the Caribbean, Antigua Sailing Week is on the calendar from April 28 to May 4. High-tech racing boats vie for prizes as fans chase the race from cliff tops, bars and on tour boats. The regal regatta turns 51 years old in 2018 and attracts 5,000 spectators, 200 yachts and 1,500 participants. On-the-water action takes place on the south coast at English and Falmouth Harbours while landlubbers make merry on a different beach every day, at the Shirley Heights Lookout, Captain’s cocktail parties and Nelson’s Dockyard, where the winning skippers and their crews are feted in grand style.
Photo: Cocoa pods and calabash bowls, Source: Grenada Chocolate Fest
Celebrating the Spice Island’s bounty of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and yes, organic cocoa, Grenada Chocolate Fest (May 11-19) is nirvana for chocoholics and others with a sweet tooth. The roster of chocolate-themed stuff to do includes sampling chocolate ice cream, sipping chocolate-infused beer and rum, shopping at a chocolate crafts bazaar, indulging in a chocolate massage, nibbling bean-to-bar bonbons at the Grenada Chocolate Company and touring the Belmont Estate, a 17th-century cocoa plantation. There are more sweet indulgences at yoga chocolate meditation, chocolate-making workshops and “Be a Farmer for a Day,” where you’ll learn how to crack the pods and collect the beans.
Cocoa passes are sold for each event and hotel packages are offered at True Blue Bay and Mount Cinnamon Resort. “Grenada’s chocolate has become quite a phenomenon attracting chocolate lovers from all over the world,” said Mark Kitchen, general manager, Mount Cinnamon. “We are dedicated to supporting the local culture of Grenada and we’re thrilled to be a part of the festival this year.”
Photo: Mango inspired cuisine, Credit: Nevis Tourism Authority
Celebrating the many varieties of mangoes that call the island home, the Mango & Food Festival runs July 5-8. The annual festival is hosted by Food Network personalities chef Judy Joo and chef Seamus Mullen. Big ticket mango-inspired events include classes with the chefs, a mango party on Oualie Beach and fruity treats at resorts like the Nisbet Plantation, where you’ll find bartenders pouring Fanny Nisbet mango coladas that pair nicely with mango curry-glazed seared red snapper and a slice of mango yogurt cheesecake.
“There are more than 40 varieties of mangoes that grow on Nevis,” said Greg Phillip, CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority. “Our festival is an opportunity for us to showcase our sweetest resource.” Tickets include one master class with a chef, seat at the Nevisian Chefs Mango Feast, souvenir Nevis bag and mango festival apron. Many hotels like Four Seasons Resort Nevis and the Nisbet Plantation get into the mango frame of mind with themed packages and special dinners.
Turks and Caicos
Photo: Conch Festival goes from Nov 23 - 24, Credit: Turks & Caicos Tourism
A combo platter of culture and cuisine, Conch Festival (Nov. 23-24) in Blue Hills takes over the un-touristy fishing village on the northwest shore of Providenciales, or Provo, as fans call the largest city in the island chain. The tasty marine snail makes a tasty appearance in fritters, salads, chowders and stews as chefs compete for best in show called the “Conch-etition,” conch blowers entertain the kids and games on the beach keep the day lively. turksandcaicostourism.com