Why Nothing's Like Playing Mas at Caribana

Summer Festival Road Trip: The annual Toronto carnival's worth a visit, whether you're in costume or not.

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From boat cruises to fetes (the French-creole word for festival but often used to refer to parties) visitors to Caribana can enjoy a laid-back night on the water in Lake Ontario or opt for a more upbeat, fun-filled night at one of the local night clubs or outdoor parks where many of the big names in Caribbean music also come to perform.

One main event leading up to the Caribana parade is the King and Queen Show, which will be held at Lamport Stadium on August 1. The leaders of each Caribana mas camp will don their costumes and showcase them to parade judges while onlookers admire. At the end of the night, a king and queen are crowned.

During the parade the mas bands are also in competition to be named band of the year; a judging spot they must pass by as they trek down the road rates each band on costume design, creativity, presentation and energy of the masqueraders.

Caribana marks a day of pure celebration of all things Caribbean, and it's a time when we all raise our flags in unison, each representing every single Caribbean nation -- a clash of cultures in celebration.

After the festivities of the Caribana carnival are over, cool down that same night or the next day by exploring Toronto's tourist gems.

The Toronto Islands are a scenic mini-getaway within a getaway. This small chain of islands offers a panoramic view of what is considered North America's cleanest city. Ferries to the islands leave from the Ferrydocks (9 Queen's Quay West). Explore the Centerville Amusement Park at Centre Island or the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.

You'll most definitely work up an appetite after Caribana. Ritz Caribbean Foods (211 Yonge St.), not far away from Dundas Square, will satiate your appetite for rice and peas and oxtail or jerk chicken, which you can eat while treading down Lake Shore Boulevard.

Bond Place Hotel (65 Dundas St. East) is a prime place to stay overnight. Located just a minute away from Toronto's version of Times Square, Yonge-Dundas Square, Bond Place Hotel is within walking distance to many of the area's attractions, including the Eaton Centre Mall and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I've been to Caribana three times, and each time I felt at home again; every sense was awoken as I reacquainted myself with my Guyanese culture and basked in the sun, the sweat, the good vibes, the music and the delicious food, including barbeque and jerk chicken and roti served with chicken curry.

The festival welcomes everyone from North America to Europe and even Africa, bringing together all of the cultures who helped shape the Caribbean -- though this time, not under the iron fist of colonialism, but under the welcoming smiles and open arms of celebration. That reason alone is enough to go, give it a chance and, as one popular soca song urges, get on bad.

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