Your only destination to all things CARNIVAL
The Caribbean melting pot is a forge that year in and year out cranks out truly epic parties. Blend Afro-Caribbean music and a cupful of rum and you've got yourself a bashment that knows no boundaries.
The region hosts hundreds of celebrations annually, from casual local "jump-ups" to world-class cultural festivals to knee-walking, all-night blowouts. Here's a forecast of the early spring and summer frolics you shouldn't miss.
Carnival, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
April 24-May 3: As a former Danish colony with few Catholic connections, the carnival in St. Thomas isn't tied to the timing of Easter. This year, it's in late spring. It's not Trinidad, but it's a lot of fun. Plus St. Thomas is a lot closer and you won't need a passport. Events kick off on April 24, but really heat up with J'ouvert on Thursday May 1, as locals and tourists pour into the streets of Charlotte Amalie to dance to live music. Friday is the children's parade while the adult parade — which includes some masqueraders with costumes so large they need wheels — kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m., and lasts about eight hours. Afterwards, hard-core revelers head for the Carnival village for more partying with mocko jumbies, clowns and masqueraders. http://www.vinow.com/general_usvi/local_events/index.php?i=0&m=...
Antigua Sailing Week
April 26-May 2: The creme de la creme of the yachting set show up for Sailing Week in Antigua, which attracts everything from classic wooden sailboats to megayachts. Unless you have a 50- to 100-plus-foot yacht to enter in the races, you'll be more interested in the parties. And there are many. The best parties are located at the island's most scenic venues — Shirley Heights, Nelson's Dockyard, the Antigua Yacht Club — and you'll be rubbing elbows with the super-rich out to have a good time. http://www.sailingweek.com/v4/the-race/event-programme/
St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Fest
April 30-May 11: Along with the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest, St. Lucia is one of the region's premier music festivals. The backdrops couldn't be more stunning — Pigeon Island National Landmark, Rodney Bay, Mindoo Phillip Park — and the musical artists range from emerging regional stars to international favorites. Past lineups have included Diana Ross, John Legend, Ziggy Marley and the Gipsy Kings. This year's program is just as deep: The Commodores will perform. St. Lucia's favorite son, Teddyson John, makes two appearances this year along with Jacques Schwarz Bart's Jazz Racine Haiti. The Haitian-born, New York-based saxophonist is one of the foremost exponents of Kweyol jazz. http://www.stluciajazz.org
May - August: If you're not sure you have a travel window that will coincide with a particular date, the Cropover Festival in Barbados runs from late spring through summer. The festival covers the gamut of Bajan culture. It originated in the late-18th century as a celebration of "crop over," meaning the hard work of bringing in the sugar cane from the fields was over. There are calypso contests, soca concerts, heritage bus tours, visual arts exhibitions and, yes, carnival-like parades and costumes. Take a look at your calendar, then see what's in store on the island during your travel dates. There are plenty of opportunities to feast, listen and do some hip-gyrating winin'. http://www.barbados.org/cropclnd.htm#.UwarDnm8HDd
Boating the B.V.I.s
May 24-26: There are at least two good reasons to be in the British Virgin Islands the last weekend in May: Foxy's Wooden Boat Regatta and the Leverick Bay Poker Run. Foxy is of course the legendary party meister and proprietor of Foxy's on Jost van Dyke. While the high-tech megayachts will dominate at Antigua, back in 1974, Foxy decided that classic wooden boats — which are, honestly, pretty slow by comparison — should have a place to go mano a mano. The Wooden Boat Regatta was born and has grown every year since. There's even a "Classic" division for plastic (aka fiberglass) boats that are at least 30 years old. The bar will be blasting music all weekend and that incomparable Foxy vibe will be everywhere. The action at Foxy's ends on Sunday and moves to Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda for a power boat Poker Run. Participants will follow a fixed route. At each checkpoint, they'll get a playing card. Best hand at the finish wins. Up to 300 boats participate with the winner taking home upwards of $8,000. There's even a prize for best-dressed crew. http://foxysbar.com, http://www.pokerrunbvi.com.
Aruba Hi-Winds Tournament
July 1-7: While a lot of sail races are just watching small white boats crawling along the horizon, the Aruba Hi-Winds is pretty exciting visually. The race was born as a windsurfing regatta that was the proving ground for international legends like Robby Naish and Anders Bringdal. The racing is open to professionals and amateurs. If you're not going to get on the water yourself, the most adrenaline is found watching the Freestyle event where competitors use the waves to launch themselves and their rigs into acrobatic maneuvers; and in the kitesurfing, with the riders flying up 40 or more feet above the water. Land side, there are plenty of bars, parties and DJs — this is Aruba, after all. http://www.hiwindsaruba.com
Race For The Conch Swim, Providenciales
July 5: This is the Boston Marathon for open-water swimmers and it's held in Grace Bay, one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the Caribbean. The race is open to everyone from international competitors to newbies just looking to take some laps in the turquoise surf. There are three races: a 2.4-mile Ironman swim, a 1-mile swim and a ½-mile swim for beginners. http://www.ecoseaswim.com
Bermuda Big Game Classic
July 9-13: King of the big-money, big-game fishing tournaments, the Bermuda Big Game Classic is the first leg of the Triple Crown of billfishing. With prizes totaling nearly a half-million dollars, this isn't anything like the bass tournament down at the local lake. And that's just the official kitty — side bets among the competitors mean a lot more money will be changing hands. The competitors come to play tough, party hard and take home some cash. The atmosphere at the weigh-in each afternoon is electric, as big marlin are brought in and measured. Participants and spectators mingle in Hamilton's bars late into the evening, recapping the day's hunt and predicting success for the 'morrow. http://www.bermudabiggameclassic.com/index.jsp
Reggae Sumfest, Montego Bay, Jamaica
July 9-13: The legendary Reggae Sunplash shows that launched the careers of the genre's first generation of stars ended in the 1980s. In 1994, a group of music lovers and entrepreneurs in Montego Bay created Reggae Sumfest to pick up where Sunsplash left off, and in the 20 years since, they've helped power the careers of today's legends. Some of the past performers include Usher, Chris Brown, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Mary J. Blige, Maxi Priest, Alicia Keys, Destiny's Child and Ziggy Marley. This year, rising star Tessanne Chin is on the program. http://www.reggaesumfest.com/2013/index.php/en/
Fiesta de Merengue, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
July 25-August 10: The folk music of the Dominican Republic was co-opted by strongman Rafael Trujillo in the 1930s and used to trumpet his regime, much in the way Socialist Realism painting was used in the Soviet Union. While Trujillo is no longer with us, deposed by disaffected Dominicans in 1961, merengue has become indistinguishable from Dominican culture. The fast 2/4 rhythm and unique instrumentation — accordion, saxophone, tambora, a marímbula or bass guitar, güira — make it instantly recognizable. The Fiesta is loosely organized: bands take to stages along Santo Domingo's Malecón while others play on street corners and DJs spin wherever they can set up. The crowds drift from venue to venue, hips gyrating to the sounds. The big weekend parties are well planned, heavily sponsored and feature name performers, but the real stars are the music and the beautiful Colonial city of Santo Domingo. https://www.fest300.com/festivals/fiesta-de-merengue
Santiago de Apostol, Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico
July 25: The town of Loíza Aldea — just east of San Juan — adopted St. James the Apostle (Santiago Apóstal) and has evolved an elaborate annual festival in his honor. St. James was the patron saint of the Spanish military, credited with helping King Ferdinand (right, that Ferdinand) expel the North African Moors from Spain in the 15th century. The festival freely mixes European and African imagery. Costumed revelers don vejigante masks, typically made of coconut shells adorned with fantastic horns and painted in extravagant colors. These represent evil spirits or the Moors. Los Caballeros represent the Spanish soliders, while Los Viejos and Los Locas represent old men and crazy women. A series of processions culminates with Fiesta en el Batey Ayala, a street party. http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/loiza-festival/
Britjam, Montego Bay, Jamaica
March 11-18, 2015: Montego Bay is going to turn it up for Britjam Montego Bay 2015. The annual event encompasses 10 parties in seven days, each with it's own theme. If it'll be anything like this year's event, there's the Who's The Boss Welcome Party, Glamorous All White, Hydro Arena Aqua Olympics, We Love the 90's and the Lingerie & Pajama Party. These are pretty much what they sound like — lots of partiers packed into MoBay's nightclubs, raging to the island's hottest DJs. If you're hardy enough, you can buy a season pass to all 10 parties. Don't be shocked by the prices — they're quoted in Jamaican dollars which are currently worth about a penny U.S., so divide by 100. http://www.officialbritjam.com/
Cancun Riviera Maya Wine & Food Fest
March 12-15, 2015: This year (2014) was the third edition of this international food fete and it boasted real star power: guest of honor Daniel Bouloud, the James Beard-award-winning owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant Daniel in Manhattan. The festival also featured guest of honor Guillermo González Beristáin, of the famed Pangea restaurant in Monterrey. Events were themed to the "food of France" and included a welcome dinner, a gastronomic village with food from dozens of Riviera Maya restaurants, a gala tribute to Bouloud, wine tastings and demonstrations. Check the website for next year's festival details. http://www.crmfest.com.
St. Patrick's Day, Monserrat
March 17: Tiny Montserrat might be the last place you'd expect to see leprechauns leaping down the street, but the island is home to the region's biggest St. Patrick's Day celebration. Immigrants from Ireland left an indelible mark on Montserrat: Picture islanders dressed in cartoonish top hat and tails frolicking to the sounds of fife and drum. The day also commemorates the beginning of a 1768 slave uprising, so there are African elements as well, including a Slave Feast with traditional plantation food and a kite-flying contest. Much of the southern end of the island is off limits due to ongoing activity of the Soufriére Hills volcano, and the former capital, Plymouth, is abandoned under layers of ash. Volcano watching has joined hiking in the rainforest as the island's most popular activity. You may think you've had a hot time on St. Paddy's Day, but Montserrat takes it to a whole new level. http://www.visitmontserrat.com/St_Patricks_Festival
Puerto Rico Heineken Jazzfest, San Juan
Late March: If you like jazz and you like the Caribbean, this is one of the signature events you must attend. Back for it's 24th edition in 2014 (from March 20-23), the festival embraced the whole spectrum of jazz artists. This year, they included Branford Marsalis, the Sammy Morales Quintet, the Gabriel Vicéns Quintet with special guest Eddie Gómez, Terri Lyne Carrington and many more. The list of luminaries who've played this festival over the past two decades is long: Dave Valentin, Arturo Sandoval, Lee Ritnour, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Clarke, Ramsey Lewis, Paquito D'Rivera, Chick Corea, Gato Barbieri, Pat Metheny, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Dave Samuels, Buddy Guy … and that just scratches the surface. The concerts are held in the Anfiteatro Tito Puente — he was also a frequent performer — in the close-in San Juan district of Hato Rey. http://prheinekenjazz.com
Holders Season, Barbados
Late March to early April: Each year, Barbados puts on a showcase of international theatrical and musical talent with nine performances on nine consecutive nights. The performers are all headliners, drawn from the stages of London and Los Angeles, New York and Paris. They perform at Holders, a 17th-century plantation house overlooking the island's west coast. Highlights of the 2014 program included Joan Collins performing her acclaimed one-woman show, the Sinatra Jukebox tribute, 100 Years of Jazz (in 99 Minutes) and Dining With the Divas. http://holdersseason.com.
Saborea Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Early April: The foods of Puerto Rico take center stage at this San Juan culinary fest. Held at Escámbron Beach, the event includes a champagne and appetizers kickoff on Thursday night, followed on Friday by a dinner with each group of 10 guests personally served by one of 20 top chefs. The gastronomic village on the beach offers up samples of the fare from the island's top restaurants. Information: http://saboreapuertorico.com