7 Things To Know About Antigua Carnival, The Caribbean's Greatest Summer Festival

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All across the Caribbean, hundreds of major events are held each year. These events include colorful carnivals and a range of festivals focusing on art, music, food, rum, film, sports, etc. which showcase the Caribbean region’s rich culture and heritage. One of the more popular carnivals is the Antigua Carnival which has been held for over sixty years and brands itself as the Caribbean’s Greatest Summer Festival.

1. History of Antigua Carnival

Antigua Carnival has been held annually since 1957. Before this, a one day carnival was organized in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  Before then, as on most Caribbean islands, there was a Christmas festival that was celebrated annually and had many of the carnival elements including a parade with iron bands and masqueraders.

Levering the history and experience from the Christmas festival, the first Antigua Carnival was held in 1957 to help attract tourists during the summer months which is traditionally low season. Another primary reason for having Antigua Carnival during the summer is to commemorate the emancipation of slavery.  Slavery was abolished in Antigua & Barbuda on August 1st, 1834 and during that time, thousands of newly freed slaves took to the streets of the capital city of St. John’s to celebrate their freedom.

Antigua Carnival was established to commemorate the island's emancipation from slavery and sixty-three years later they still pay tribute to their African forefathers. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.
Four young women paying tribute to their African forefathers as part of Antigua Carnival. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

2. Antigua Carnival Logo

Antigua Carnival which has been held for over 60 years is one of the oldest summer festivals in the Caribbean and its creative display of culture, music, revelry, and mas is showcased in their logo. In fact, there are four key elements to look out for in the Antigua Carnival logo. Specifically revelry, music, culture and the general spirit of Antigua & Barbuda.
* Revelry is symbolized by the Carnival Man dancing on one foot and swaying to the right.
* Music is symbolized by the steel pan around his waist.
* Culture is expressed by the dynamic and festive colors in the back and headpieces of the costume.
* The Spirit of Antigua and Barbuda is symbolized by the figure carrying the Antigua and Barbudan flag.

Antigua Carnival_The Caribbean's Greatest Summer Festival.
Antigua Carnival: Antiguans always find unique and creative ways to incorporate their African culture into their annual celebrations. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Antigua Carnival logo and an Antiguan man were a headpiece depicting the logo. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

3. When is Antigua Carnival held

Antigua Carnival is traditionally held at the end of July to the first Tuesday in August. From its humble beginnings, it is now a 13-day affair with a wide range of events for all age groups including competitions and parades. The 2019 dates for Antigua Carnival are Thursday, July 25th to Tuesday, August 6th with most events taking place at the Antigua Recreation Ground on Factory Road in St. John’s.

Besides the local population, Antigua Carnival is particularly attractive to Antiguan and Barbudan nationals living abroad as well as regional and international visitors who have a passion or interest in culture and Carnival-style events and festivals. In fact, Antigua Carnival attracts visitors mainly from other Caribbean islands plus the United States, Canada, and Europe. At some shows/events, attendance can soar as high as 15,000 participants and for the road parades as much as 18,000 participants.

Antigua Carnival: Children are always a key part of the celebrations. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Children are always a key part of the Antigua Carnival celebrations. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

4. What events are held during Antigua Carnival

Antigua Carnival events can be broken down into three main categories: pageants, music (calypso, soca, steel pan) concerts/competitions and parades.

Pageants

Pageant events have been included in Antigua Carnival since the first edition of the Queen of Carnival in 1957. The focus then as now is not just on beauty but showcasing the participants’ culture, talent, and general knowledge. The Antigua Carnival pageant events include:
* Queen of Carnival
* Mr & Miss Teenage Pageant
* Jaycees Queen Show

Antigua Carnival: Cultural Dancers. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Cultural dancers at Antigua Carnival celebrations. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Musical events

Many of the leading events at Antigua Carnival showcase both steel pan and calypso which is a staple in the Antigua & Barbuda music industry. Calypso which started in Trinidad can be traced back to West African Kaiso, and canboulay music is often laced with social and political commentary.

Steel pan originated in Trinidad, but interestingly, the oldest pan group in the world, the Hells Gate Steel Orchestra hails from Antigua and Barbuda. Today, the National Panorama Competition is one of the most significant events on the Antigua Carnival calendar, and the Party Monarch featuring soca music, a derivative of calypso is another major event. The full line up of music events at Antigua Carnival include:

* Junior Party Monarch
* Ricardo Drue presents Drue’s Day
* Caribbean Melting Pot
* Junior Calypso Monarch
* Calypso Monarch
* Panorama Competition
* Party Monarch

Antigua Carnival: Tian Winter's Winning Performance in the 2018 Party Monarch Competition. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Antigua Carnival: Tian Winter’s winning performance in the 2018 Party Monarch Competition. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Parades

When most think of carnival, parades are what comes to mind, and Antigua Carnival does not disappoint as even before its inception, parades have been an integral part of celebrations on the island. To date, there are seven parades with crowds as large as 20,000 participants and a huge number of onlookers from the sidelines. The list of parades include:

* Opening Parade & Ceremony
* T-Shirt Mas
* J’ouvert
* Junior Carnival
* Carnival Monday
* Carnival Tuesday

The events detailed above are just the official events for Antigua Carnival. There are many more parties and fetes for Antigua Carnival which can make the whole experience overwhelming. Thus for someone attending for the first time, here are what should be on your must see/experience list: T-Shirt Mas, Caribbean Melting Pot, Panorama Competition, Party Monarch Competition, J’ouvert, Carnival Monday and Parade of the Bands (Carnival Tuesday). These events take place towards the end of the festival and so are great for those who can’t commit to the full 13-day Antigua Carnival experience.

For ticketed Antigua Carnival events including the pageants, concerts, and competition, the leading retail outlets are located at the Antigua Recreation Grounds and the Office of the National Festivals Commission during the Carnival Season. You can also purchase your tickets online via the Ticketing App.

Antigua Carnival: Tuesday Mas Queen of the Band (Myst Carnival). Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Antigua Carnival: Tuesday Mas Queen of the Band (Myst Carnival). Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

5. Participating in Parades at Antigua Carnival

Antigua Carnival is not just a spectator event; visitors can take part in most of the parades via one of the mas bands including Beautiful People, Myst Carnival, Insane Carnival, Barefoot, Dumztree Carnival, Misfitz Carnival, and Xklusive Carnival. Participating in Antigua Carnival Monday and Tuesday with full costume would be the ultimate, or visitors can test the waters by participating in Jou’vert or T-Shirt Mas.

As warm up to Antigua Carnival Monday and Tuesday, there is a J’ouvert event which symbolizes the emancipation of slavery dating back to 1834 in Antigua & Barbuda. J’ouvert starts early in the morning – around 3 am to 10 am with thousands of revelers taking to the street to follow trucks with live bands or sound systems to jump-up, dance and celebrate. Some J’ouvert mas band not only provide music but also an all-inclusive J’ouvert experience with t-shirt, paint, powder, food, and drink.

Antigua Carnival: Each year, thousands of people flood the city streets to celebrate J'ouvert. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Antigua Carnival: Each year, thousands of people flood the city streets to celebrate J’ouvert. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

T-Shirt mas bands are quite common in most Caribbean carnivals, but Antigua Carnival is the only one that has an entire parade just for T-Shirt mas bands. So instead of elaborate traditional or modern feather costumes, the only requirement for those who take part in the parade which goes through the streets of St John’s is a troupe T-shirt. The T-shirt mas bands are not just colorful but also fashionable, and many women modify their T-shirts to make bikinis, dresses, and rompers. Some men also alter their T-shirts though the designs are not as elaborate.  To find a mas band to participate with, check out the Antigua Carnival website.

Antigua Carnival: T-shirt Mas is unique to Antigua's Carnival attracting over 18,000 masqueraders annually. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. T-shirt Mas is unique to Antigua Carnival attracting over 18,000 masqueraders annually. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

6. Spectating the Monday + Tuesday Parades at Antigua Carnival

The parades held on the final Monday and Tuesday are the highlight of Antigua Carnival. On average, between Between 25 and 30 mas troupes and groups participate in the Antigua Carnival parades. The modern-day feather costumes which are all beautiful get much of the attention, but it is essential to look out for more of the traditional elements of the parades which pay homage to Antigua’s Caribbean and African heritage.

These elements include Stiltwalkers (Moko Jumbie), John Bull, Sensei, Majorettes and Cultural Dancers. More traditional aspects of the Antigua Carnival include Skellihoppers, The Cultural Carnival Divas, Iron Bands, Steel Bands, African Mas Troupes, and Traditional Mas Bands. These more traditional and cultural elements of Antigua Carnival will be highlighted on Carnival Monday. In addition to this, the modern (party) mas bands will still be a part of the parade in masquerading their ‘Monday Wear.’

Antigua Carnival: Majorettes. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Majorettes at Antigua Carnival. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Antigua Carnival: John Bull. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. John Bull at Antigua Carnival. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Antigua Carnival: Stilt Walker. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Stilt walker at Antigua Carnival. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Carnival Tuesday, on the other hand, is a more holistic parade which encompasses all of the elements of carnival including floats, steel bands, jam bands, the cultural elements and masqueraders in their full costumes (traditional and party costumes). The Carnival Monday parade begins at 2 pm, and the route is close to 1.5 miles through the streets of the capital city of St John’s. The parade on Carnival Tuesday starts at noon and is a little longer, approximately two miles, also through the streets of St. John’s.

Antigua Carnival: Pretty Ladies, Pretty Costumes, Antigua Carnival is Pretty Awesome. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. A group of pretty ladies in costume at Antigua Carnival. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission.

Antigua Carnival: Carnival Men on display during the Tuesday's Parade of the Bands. Photo Credit: © Antigua Barbuda Festival Commission. Antigua Carnival: Carnival Men on display during the Tuesday’s Parade of the Bands.

7. Antigua Carnival Vacation Packages

As anticipation builds for Antigua Carnival, most Caribbean tour operators will offer some sort of package. Visitors from the United Kingdom can check out SN Travel a specialist Caribbean travel agency based in London with 45 years experience who are offering an Antigua Carnival vacation package. Specifically, the SN Travel Antigua Carnival package includes:

* 8 Nights departing 30th July OR 14 Nights departing 24th July
* 8 Nights £1440 or 14 Nights £1936

Price includes:

* Return flights from London Gatwick Airport
* 3 Star all-inclusive accommodation at Starfish Jolly Beach Resort
* All meals, snacks, and alcohol while you are at the hotel

SN Travel is also able to offer an Antigua Carnival vacation package with departure from other airports and staying at a different Antigua hotel, but the prices will no doubt vary. So get in touch with  SN Travel for a quote as Antigua Carnival awaits!  With pre-carnival fetes and 13-days of festivities including pageants, musical concerts /competitions, and parades, there is much to see and experience during Antigua Carnival.

How to get to Antigua

To get to Antigua, search for flights arriving at the V. C. Bird International Airport (IATA: ANU) located 5miles northeast of St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda.

From Canada, search for flights to Antigua via CanJet and Air Canada.

From within the Caribbean, search for flights to Antigua via LIAT and Caribbean Airlines.

From continental Europe, search for flights via Alitalia which has a direct flight from Milan, and Condor Airlines from Frankfurt.

From the United States, search for flights to Antigua via Delta, US Airways, United Airlines, WestJet and JetBlue.

From the United Kingdom, consider flights with British Airways which has daily flights from London Gatwick to Antigua. Or you can search for flights via fly to Virgin Atlantic who flight to Antigua three times a week from London Gatwick, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

For more information on visiting Antigua & Barbuda, check out the official tourism website.

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Ursula Petula Barzey

Ursula Petula Barzey

Founder | Digital Content Creator at Caribbean & Co.
Ursula Petula Barzey is a digital marketing professional and Founder of Caribbean & Co. which has allowed her to reconnect with her Montserratian and Caribbean roots!

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