So there I was at another soca event, Busspepper, on a Saturday night, just minding my own business and then ‘ba-ding’ an opportunity of a lifetime gets thrown at me.
“How would I like to go to Miami Carnival in a few days?”. “Errrrrrmmmm, yeah of course but what’s the catch?”. “Well, blah blah, can’t make it so all you need is to get a flight and bring spending money. The room is already paid for.”
“Seriously?!?! I’M IN!!!”
So I squared it with work, jumped online and searched for a reasonably priced ticket, courtesy of STA travel, and patiently waited until Thursday 6th October.
So after I’d carefully chucked my gear in the suitcase after some last minute packing (it’s a common guy thing), I receive a misspelt text from American Airlines stating that my ‘flight was canceled’. At first I thought it was a joke but then remembered that Hurricane Matthew was in the vicinity, so as a precaution all flights to Florida were canceled, sorry I mean cancelled.
Ok, no drama. The next thing to do was to tweet the airline rather than call them and I found the whole experience quite painless. They got me out the next next day but it was via Dallas. Cool…I’d never been to Texas before so, let’s go.
Travel day / Friday
Now, I’ve never flown towards an actual hurricane before but despite some minor turbulence the pilots and the onboard computers got everyone there safe and sound and on time. So after a 2 hr stopover and me gasping in amazement at how massive Dallas Fort Worth International airport is (seriously, it’s something else) we landed to a beautiful sunset in Miami 2 hrs later.
I Whatsapped the ‘mandem’ to tell them I’d landed safely and I was on my way as I was in my first (and last) yellow cab to the hotel…I’ll explain more a bit later!
So, the Shelborne Hotel on Collins Avenue on 18th st. Very nice (in a Boris Johnson voice). Room 820 was a 3 bedroom apartment that had one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of resting my 42 year old backside on.
It was literally a quick pitstop turnaround as the first fète I had to attend was ‘Big Phat Fish’, an inclusive drinks event about a 30 min drive away. There were about 6 of us attending but how were we going to get there? UBER!!!!!!!!!!
Now, I’ve been a fan of this great service for the past few years purely for the simplicity, costs and ease of use. I’ve never used it outside of London and Uber in Miami is 5/5 and the one that picked us up and carried us safely was a Lincoln Navigator. I swear between that and the Infinity FX50, Escalade (complete with tv screens in the headrests showing Jurassic Park and complimentary bottles of water and sweets) end Toyota QX80, I was in automobile heaven…yes, I’m a bit of a car enthusiast…hmmm. Now, it’s not all sweetness and light. Since ‘Brexit’ the £ has fallen to unprecedented lows, the costs of everything has risen dramatically and that includes Uber. It can be expensive and it was expensive but on the flip side, getting to and from home safely and in comfort, you can’t really put a price on that.
That being said I found my first fate to be ok despite the postponements and location rearrangements due to hurricane Matthew and jet lag. We stayed for a few hours before tiredness and hunger got the better of us and we left.
Saturday – J’ouvert!
I wake up at some ungodly hour in the morning (thanks to jet lag) and decide to go for a little tour of the hotel. I’ve been very fortunate to stay in some pretty cool places but the Shelborne Hotel is the one place that beamed historical class with modern amenities. I just loved it.
Now, J’ouvert in Miami carnival is unlike any other J’ouvert ANYWHERE! It’s not on the streets but on a campus in Fort Lauderdale which is quite a long distance from South Beach, something like from Hackney to Watford. Also…if you’re not in a t-shirt band, you have to pay…to get in to play J’ouvert and you can’t bring in your own alcohol?!?
That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard! I asked my mate Daryl, a season fèter, why this was and he said it was the idea of the city to help fund itself…hmmm…I see the logic but it wasn’t very cultural.
Anyway, it was a blazing hot day, there were A LOT of people waiting to get messy with paint and drink and ‘get on bad’! One thing you have to take in to consideration at an event like this is that data coverage is a nightmare! If you’re trying to communicate with your crew via WhatsApp or organise an Uber…I suggest you move as far away as possible from the crowds and sound systems.
So after the last truck had turned off the music and feeling like you’ve done a cardio session in a sauna, it was time to leave and get back to rest before ‘Soca Brainwash later that night. I managed to get a ticket via an SOS Appeal on Bookface, sorry I meant Facebook, and got it for face value $75.
Now, anyone that has attended ‘Soca Brainwash’ at Trinidad Carnival knows that it’s a premium all inclusive event. So you can imagine my expectations were high for the Miami version. Unfortunately, reality slapped me in the face when we got in and there was a tent with a sign saying ‘$20 drink tokens here’. Now, I’ve just forked out $75 and now I have to pay for drinks too…at Soca Brainwash!?!?!? 🤔👎 We weren’t impressed. Again there were so many people there, I mean a good 4000 as a rough guesstimate and the stages were impressive but the playlists from the Djs were a bit…samey. It was like they just had a pre recording and were using the same folder. It wasn’t until the last Dj, I didn’t get his name, switched it up and played some older soca tunes mixed with some reggae which the crowd really appreciated. They should keep the brand the same no matter what country…..all inclusive and charge 1 set price and that’s it.
Would I do Soca Brainwash again in Miami? Probably not but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.
I wanted to go to ‘Wet Willies’ and ‘lime’ (hangout) on the strip later that night with my mates Tongo and Buddy but it was a straight case of ‘the soul was willing but the flesh was weak’ so I just went back to the hotel and passed out on my lovely comfortable bed.
Sunday – Carnival Day! 7am I’m wide awake and I switch on the 50″ and surf for a bit.
I’m not going to lie, if it wasn’t for the fact I was in Miami and the weather wasn’t so hot, I would have gladly stayed in bed all day but instead I rounded up the guys to go for a jog/stroll along South Beach.
Yeah, it was blazing hot by the time we got out around 8am that Sunday morning. Yeah, I didn’t run because it was blazing hot…and yeah I was that tourist…but hey…I WAS IN MIAMI so pease allow me to smile a little, thank you😁
Hindsight is a spiritual and personal thing but when your spidey senses kick, listen! Now remember earlier when I said I wanted to go out to ‘Wet Willies’ the night before? Well, luckily we didn’t as the whole area had been sealed off due to an incident that took place the night before. Have no idea what is was about but there were a lot of police officers and a CSI van at the scene, so it must have been very serious.
So the plan for today was to get an Uber and head over to Carnival which took place at Miami Dade county fair & exposition. This is a big park in Doral area of Miami next to Florida International University.
The venue is ridiculously big and after you pay to get inside the park you do not get that impression for it’s size. Most bands were supposed to meet at 3pm and there were already 1 or 2 ‘on the road’ by the time we got there but there was a slight obstacle in the shape of a fence. It was like apartheid and Guantanamo bay rolled into one.
So they mean to tell me that after travelling near 4,426 miles to jump with our friends and other masqueraders for carnival, they put a 7ft fence in the way? Nah…not having it, so when the ‘I don’t really care, I’m getting paid’ stewards conveniently looked the other way, we scaled the fence like commandos and blended into the crowd, quite naughty but it was very necessary. We soon headed to the section where all the bands were supposed to come out and we patiently waited, and waited, and waited for almost 2 hours but in the end we gave up waiting for Island Mas and our friends so we all went to party. The carnival was supposed to last until 11pm-ish but when we were leaving, band sections were still crossing the judging stage. Although I heard that a concert was taking place in the park once carnival was finished but to be honest I was so mashed up from all the dancing, drinking, hot weather and especially after a 90 minute hike to find my friend’s car, I really didn’t care.
Despite it being Monday and thanks to hurricane Matthew, there were was 1 more fète that had to be pushed back, Bright Colors Boatride (BCB4). Unfortunately due to another hurricane Nicole stirring in the Caribbean and causing storms, the Captain wisely decided not to take us out but instead keep us safely moored on the dock, which was fine by me. The London crew represented and we were often the centre of attention mainly caused by our cockney accents and positive vibes, I do like the Americans. I heard that Alison Hinds was onboard too but I guess she was keeping an ultra low profile. International Soca Monarch of 2016, Aaron “The Voice” St Louis gave a live performance of his tune ‘Cheers to Life’, which always pleases the crowd. The after party was held at the nearby Hilton hotel and despite me wanting to enjoy it and seeing a 12 year old Dj (yes, you read that right) and the hilarious comedian, Maja Hype, sleep was screaming my name. So, we all left thinking it was time to catch some ZzZzZzZzZ…nope! I.H.O.P @2.30am?!? Let’s go, so we all jammed up in Daryl’s BMW and went to go and sit in the coldest restaurant I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. It was so cold I swear I could cut glass with my nipples, but that’s another story!
The last day!
Saw Grass Mills was the first of three adventures on my final day in beautiful Miami. A short coach ride to one of America’s largest shopping malls did not disappoint. Again as previously mentioned, having a British accent in America and being black is nothing but an interesting and fascinating phenomenon. Americans just don’t get that there are black English people, it’s hilarious and when they ask where you’re from and you tell them, they all say that the want to go there as us Brits are ‘really cool’, bless ‘em! So after some dollars were spent, a few items were bought and a surreal experience in Victoria Secrets, part 2 of my day was about to begin.
A very good mate of mine who I used to go to school with in St Vincent, Mercer Peters, lives in Florida and he met me for a catchup. It was really good to see him and were chatting away en route to ‘Tootsies’ a gentleman’s club. I’d just like to include the following disclaimer…(BIG SMILEY FACE)
Anyway, the 3rd official adventure that day was a trip to the American Airlines Arena to see a pre season friendly between the Miami Heat and the New York Jets. So there I was just standing in the queue for a ticket and a little black lady asked “Excuse me Sir, would you like to buy a ticket?”, “Of course” I replied as I smiled. “How much for it?”. “$28” was the answer. SWEEEEEEEEET!!!!! So we watched the game from a really good vantage point and because ‘Jacqueline’ was a season ticket holder and a die hard fan, she knew everybody and everybody knew her! I really enjoyed my first NBA game and it was even more pleasurable seeing the home side win. I’m now a fan of the Miami Heat!
After the game I met the rest of the crew who were all sitting in different areas and we headed back to one of the accommodation spots to lime for a while. Anyway, while we were there Buddy made us play a drinking game ‘Cross the Bridge’…Google it, it was hilarious! Didn’t stay too long out though as I was flying out the next day and I still hadn’t packed yet.
So how would I summarise Miami Carnival and would I come back?…hmmm, very nice! (in a Boris Johnson voice) and Yes! Yeah, it was a bit pricey here and there and the actual Carnival experience was completely different to what I am normally used to but overall, I give it a thumbs up and a worthy alternative to the ever increasingly expensive Trinidad Carnival.
So that being said…I’ll see you again in 2017 Miami.