When Miami Carnival was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, its absence left a huge hole in many Caribbean hearts. It returned in 2021 — the first North American Carnival since the pandemic began — to great excitement even with special protocols and a mask requirement.
This year, masks aren’t required — and organizers expect even bigger attendance.
“Last year, we had exceptional attendance because people were tired of being at home,” said executive director Mario Zamora. “Still, there was a drop because of concern over super spreading. But this year, we’re looking at 2019 all over again.”
Made up of four events that stretch across two weekends and two counties, Miami Carnival kicks off on Oct. 1, with the Junior Carnival at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill. The following weekend comes Panorama, the steel drum competition in Lauderhill, then the action moves south to Miami with J’ouvert, where calypso and soca bands and their followers get off to an early start with dancing, music and revelry at Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition.
The celebration, which draws visitors from as far as New York, Boston, Canada and the U.K., ends the next day with the 38th annual Miami Carnival Parade of Bands and soca concert featuring more than 20 international artists from Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua, Haiti, St. Lucia and South Africa. More than 30,000 masqueraders will be judged on creativity, craftsmanship, and presentation.
Throughout the weekend, guests will witness eye-catching costumes, eat traditional food and participate in a joyous celebration of Caribbean culture.
The traditions pay homage to “the rawest form of self-expression,” according to Marlon Hill, legal counsel for Miami-Broward One Carnival Host Committee.
“Carnival is born out of the resistance against oppression,” he says. “For Caribbean communities, for immigrant communities, it’s a rite of passage. To be able to express yourself through costumes and masks, to hear the music you hear every year, it’s something that’s meaningful to every family and extended family.”
This year, masks — the surgical kind, not the colorful sort worn by the dancers — will be optional though encouraged, and Zamora says that organizers will have them for revelers who decide they want one.
New this year is the J’ouvert Jam Zone, which offers an immersive J’ouvert experience with paint and powder and includes a complimentary drink from sponsor Babuxca. There will be live performances there by Iwer George, Skinny Banton, and Tallpree.
Miami Carnival is vital to the local economy, Hill says. The four main events aren’t the only parties — he estimates that more than 200 private events also take place during these nine days.
“It brings in around $15 million from visitors, and that’s a conservative estimate,” he says. “Restaurants are packed, people are buying food and costumes. Venues have to be rented.”
But the most important thing about Carnival, he says, is that vital connection to Caribbean culture.
“It’s a time where you connect with family and friends using culture as a common convener,” he says, adding that the energy that reverberates from the music is what he loves best about Carnival.
“It’s unlike anything else when you hear it with friends and family,” he says. “It’s euphoric, an emotionally impactful moment.”
When: Oct. 1; Oct. 7-9.
Events and prices
Junior Carnival: 1-10 p.m. Oct. 1, Central Broward Regional Park, 3700 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill; $15
Panorama: 5 p.m.-midnight Oct. 7, Central Broward Regional Park, Lauderhill; $25
J’ouvert: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 8, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Tamiami Park, 10901 SW 24th St., Miami; $50
Parade of Bands and Soca Concert: 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Oct. 9, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Miami; $40
Shuttle locations for J’ouvert and Parade of Bands: Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th St. Miami; Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Place, Lauderhill; Lincoln Square Parking lot 18441 NW Second Ave., Miami Gardens
Tickets and more information: miamicarnival.org or 305-653-1877