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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How not to have a terrible time at the Caribana Parade

The following is a post that I pulled off Tripadvisor. It was posted by a spectator who came to Toronto to see the Parade and wasn’t impressed by what he saw.

I am posting it for two reasons:
1. Caribana always has room to improve, so if organizers or band leaders read the post, maybe they can bear it in mind for the future.
2. The visitor made some mistakes which could have been avoided with a liitle inside info. I would like to try and provide people with this info BEFORE they hit the parade and go and complain on Tripadvisor.

I made it to Caribana after waiting for years to see the parade again. However after a few hours I gave up. I planned my entire family vacation and return to Toronto looking forward to this event.
First, getting there was a nightmare. I was traveling with family who live in the Toronto area. We finally took a cab instead of the streetcar not wanting to be late (haha). I was warned (begged) not to believe the publish start time but I was too excited about getting there. Once there we were lucky enough to get in the staging area where the performers were gathering. We took nice shots of the floats and performers. We tried to get a good viewing spot which was almost impossible because of the huge fence. The fence barrier is new from what I recall of my previous visit.
Once the parade got started it was fun and exciting to see, then came the huge truck in the middle of the parade, completely blocking the view from one side. This leave you wishing you had chosen the other side of the street. Once the trucks passed, the marchers were back on, which was fun to see. Suddenly there were security guards with snow fences separating the marchers. Now I am trying to take pictures behind a chain linked fence and hoping not to get the security guard along with organizers in the photos (Pfffff) Once that was painfully accomplish there was a looooooong break in the procession. I thought the parade was over so I gave up my viewing spot just to see more floats heading down the street. By now I had enough or not enough to justify staying. , I really couldn't see much behind the fence with the trucks, organizers and security guards on the route. I am ready to call it a day, so we did.
I waited years to attend Caribana, a few hours to determine that too much had change and weeks asking why? So this ends my obsession and wish to see Caribana. I went, I saw , I got a few pictures for my album, I am done!. Maybe I gave up too soon, but my time in Toronto was precious and I wanted to use it wisely. Maybe I should have stuck with the memory of the first time I saw the parade years ago.

Many spectators complain about them not enjoying themselves at Caribana, so I want to make a post to help newcomers know what to do to maximize their enjoyment.

My first suggestion is to get a costume and join a band that is in the few spots in the parade. If you do this and you don’t listen to anything else I have to say on this blog, you will probably have a good time.

But really this post is for the benefit of spectators (The vast majority of attendees). If there is no possible way you can be convinced to actually play mas, I still want you to have a good time. And if you follow some simple guidelines I think you can enjoy yourself.
1. You want to sit down and watch your mas.
If you want to watch mas and see the parade with an unobstructed view, and have a seat. There is paid seating available in the CNE (Canadian national exhibition). Unfortunately, they are bleachers, so you might want to walk with an umbrella, to either shade from rain or too much sun, or if you like sun, at least bring some sunscreen. These bleachers are located right next to the judges, so you will see the masqueraders in all their glory, and there won’t be any stormers in the band. Also your view won’t be obstructed by music trucks, security or anything else. You will have food and beverages available for purchase. You can also pack your cooler. There won’t be booze on sale in that area, so you might want to discreetly pack your cooler to suit. There will also be bathrooms provided. This is the civilized way to take in the parade, a good option for the elderly, infirm, those with small children, or maybe people who just want to see the costumes but don’t really like crowds.

2. You want to see the mas, but you don’t want to pay and you don’t mind standing up and you don’t mind mingling with the masses.
You want to position yourself on the lakeshore, as close to the CNE as possible.
I would suggest taking up a position on the north side of the street (not on the side with the lake) This is because, there are some trees for shade and you are unlikely to have a music truck park right in front of you blocking your view. If you reach early and claim a spot on the little hill very close to the entrance, you should be good. You can walk with a blanket, cooler umbrella etc… it’s a good option for families.

3. The parade will never hit lakeshore at 10am ….. EVER
I know organizers say the parade starts at 10am, but really this is the time there is media stuff and polititians talking and bandleaders now tying to run down stray way masqueraders and beg them to get into their sections please. At 10 am, it still have masqueraders home trying to wash off paint from the jouvert fete the night before. You will probably start seeing bands between 11 am and noon. You still should be there at 10am or earlier if you want to secure a good spot at the beginning of the route.

4. You want to see mas, but you really want to mingle and soak up all the atmosphere, you aren’t looking to stand up one spot whole day.

Well there is lots to look around and do. If you start at the beginning of the route, cross the lakeshore to the south side and walk west. You will encounter all kinds of arts and crafts, Lots of people selling all the Caribbean favorites.
This is a very unscientific poll, but for some reason, the food is dominated by the Jamaican food ie Jerk chicken, Rice and peas, Fried fish and some Curry goat. But you can find pretty much any Caribbean food you are looking for.
You will also come across beer tents and music stations where guys setup up speakers and blast music. It’s a really good time.

5. I am young (at heart) and refuse to get a costume, but I insist on jumping the barricades and storming the band

I must admit, when I was a 17 year old student, fresh from Trinidad, with limited funds and a teenage libido, I was all up in the people band, looking to teif a wine. Now that, I am older and wiser and can afford to pay for my costume, I realize that this behavior causes some problems.
1. Firstly, the Hundreds of thousands of people who make the trek to the lakeshore, didn’t come to see you, so if there are more “spectators” in the band than masqueraders, it kinda spoils the show.
2. Secondly, it is a safety hazard when there is a crush of people jammed into a really small area, trapped there by 9 foot high fences and there are 18 wheelers rolling along the route. Mix in alcohol and youthful exuberance and there are problems.
3. Because of the crowds, bandleaders have resorted to having many security guards wearing T-shirts and Jeans while roping the band, or even worse, carrying construction fencing. This really gets in the way of picture taking and doesn’t add to the experience. Maybe the security could be issued board shorts and one of the colorful vests that male costume makers seem to favor these days. That would be nice, but I’m not sure what it would cost. I think it would look really good though. If security was muscular with no shirts and matching shorts, you might entice more ladies to join your band…… Good marketing point.

Gaps in the Parade.

The Parade is by volunteers and the masqueraders are paying customers. Their main focus is to have a good time, and play their mas. This is not the Santa Claus parade. I have no idea how to organize an event of this size and I now how unruly a bunch of partying West Indians can be, so please have some patience and realize that there will be delays. I don’t know what causes them, but I know the organizers have a thankless job, so bear with them, they are doing their best.

Getting There.

Parking can be pretty expensive, and traffic can be a pain (Also if you are drinking, dplease don't drive). The best bet is to park at a GO Train Station and take the train straight into the CNE (Exhibition). I Don't really have patience for the TTC, but if you can deal with it, you can grab a bus from Bathurst Station or from Dufferin station. Also you can call 416-393-INFO for details.

Anyways, this post is getting too long, and I have several months to go. When I think of more tips I will post again



HQ said...


This post is so necessary!

I think it's crazy to go to Caribana and not play mas though. The road is so short! You can play your mas and still mingle and carry on for the rest of the day! Last year, I got to Lakeshore at 11am (Nationz). Didn't leave until 8pm!! LOL

Karabana said...

I agree, for visitors, why go & not play?, you get to experience a true jump up the proper way (in costume).

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