How Playing Mas At Carnival In The Cayman Islands Reminded Me To Celebrate Life

I feel most at home in the Caribbean. My family is from Haiti, and whenever I travel to the islands, I can feel my shoulders start to relax; my breathing slows down and things just feel a little less complicated. Though I live in sunny South Florida, it’s still a world away from the slower pace of Caribbean islands. 

I’ve traveled extensively throughout the West Indies, and the Cayman Islands has been on my radar for a while. I recently had the chance to experience it. The flight into the capital, George Town, is just over an hour from Miami, which made it a perfect location for a long weekend meetup with one of my best friends. 

Though some may think that all Caribbean islands are alike, each one has its own unique personality. When my driver picked me up from the airport, I asked him what made the Cayman Islands special. “People come from all over for Seven Mile Beach,” he told me. “And it’s also known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” I would soon find out he was right.

Fifteen minutes later, I checked into The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa and after meeting up with my friend and dropping my bags off in our room, we had our toes in the white sand on Seven Mile Beach. 

Over the course of a few days, I also checked out what culinary treats the island had to offer — and it was a lot. I lunched on citrus-marinated conch and parmesan-crusted fried asparagus at Thatch and Barrel, a new cliffside restaurant in Pedro St. James. I feasted on an eight-course seafood tasting menu that featured fresh lobster and lionfish at Blue by Eric Ripert in the recently reopened Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

We ate fresh snapper and curried chickpeas over coconut rice at Tillies, a restaurant in the newly opened Palm Heights. It’s a stylish boutique hotel filled with chic ’70s furniture and decor. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Island Naturals Cafe, a vegan restaurant that served up thick slices of homemade bread topped with avocado and spinach. And at our hotel, we noshed on fresh sushi rolls at Woto and tender steaks at Beach House.

But the highlight of my stay in the Cayman Islands was the CayMAS Carnival. During CayMAS, the usually quiet island comes alive with late-night beach fêtes, lively block parties, and a parade of trucks with speakers stacked a mile high as soca music reverberates through the streets of downtown George Town. 

How Playing Mas At Carnival In The Cayman Islands Reminded Me To Celebrate Life

Like other Caribbean countries, Carnival in the Cayman Islands is a colorful celebration of the island’s culture. The inclusive island-wide party also reflects the diversity of the island, which is home to over 100 different nationalities. Carnival in the Cayman Islands dates back to 1983 and during the main event, the road parade, thousands of Caymanians and visitors fill the streets in a glorious display of color and sound. 

I’ve attended Carnivals before, but I’ve always been content to watch from the sidelines. But this particular weekend, I wanted to “play mas” or dress up for the masquerade parade with the Cayman’s Swanky Carnival band.

Now if you’ve seen any Carnival costumes, you may notice the — ahem — lack of material. At first, I was worried about having a wardrobe malfunction or two, but my fears were put to rest after communicating with Carnival organizers. The Swanky Carnival team worked with designers at Carnival MW and delivered a costume that exceeded my expectations (and stayed in place). 

That day, I wore a sparkly black and silver one-piece bodysuit with black feathered wings, and as my friend and I joined the parade of revelers, we were welcomed like family. We were surrounded by all kinds of bodies. People of all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities, and all different ages took to the streets. Carnival is a celebration of bodies, of movement — of life. It’s a festival of freedom and an acknowledgment that life is sweet and worth celebrating. 

We danced for miles that day, and under the Caymanian sun, I felt energized and renewed. At the end of the parade route, I fell on the grass, drenched in sweat, feet sore, my stockings ripped. I laid back on the grass and I closed my eyes. It was a feeling I had before. Once again, I felt like I was home.