Orlando Carnival Downtown

Orlando Carnival Downtown
Photo: orlandocarnivaldowntown.com
Orlando Carnival Downtown is an annual Caribbean carnival held in Orlando, Florida over Memorial Day weekend. It has been bringing the joy of Caribbean culture and music to Downtown Orlando for almost four decades.

The Caribbean carnival is a unique amalgamation of European pre-Lenten celebrations and vibrant Caribbean culture, which itself is a melting pot of indigenous, European, African, and Asian cultures due to the influence of colonization and immigration. The modern Caribbean carnival originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 19th century. Over time, Caribbean immigrants have brought their Carnival traditions to other regions, including North America, giving rise to local celebrations of Caribbean culture.

In 1987, Johnson Gilbert decided to bring the Caribbean carnival to Orlando and organized the first “Carnival Party” with the help of a group of like-minded Orlando residents, which included Gloria Chandler, Mark Modeste, and Tina Stubbs, to name a few. Over years, the annual Carnival party has evolved into a three-day celebration filled with music, dancing, vibrant costumes, and delicious food. Today, the event is hosted by the Orlando Carnival Cultural Association.

Orlando Carnival Downtown typically kicks off on the Friday before Memorial Day with Carnival on the Runway, a showcase of breathtaking costumes. However, the real fun starts on Saturday at Orlando Carnival Jouvert. Jouvert, more correctly spelled J’ouvert, is a traditional Carnival opening party celebrated in many countries of the Caribbean. It normally starts before dawn and lasts until mid-morning, but Orlando Carnival Jouvert begins around 8 a.m. and lasts until midday. It is a morning of paint and water fights and pure revelry. Saturday afternoon is filled with the sounds of calypso, soca, reggae, and other genres of Caribbean music associated with Carnival festivities.

The Carnival itself takes place on Sunday, starting with the Orlando Downtown Carnival Mas Band Parade that marches through Downtown Orlando. It includes masquerade bands in artistically designed and elaborate costumes that represent the various cultures of the Caribbean with their traditional clothes, music, and dances. A panel of judges selects the Band of the Year, along with the Carnival King and Queen and Truck of the Year.

The parade is followed by a massive stage show with live performances and special guests. Over the years, Orlando Carnival Downtown has welcomed numerous top ranked recording artists, including Skinny Fabulous, Bunji Garlin, Fay-Ann Lyons, Tony Matterhorn, Machel Montano, Raymond Ramnarine, and many more.

The program of the annual Carnival also includes parties with DJs and street bands, arts and crafts vendors, and ethnic foods from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and other Caribbean nations, showcasing the best they have to offer.

Since its inception, Orlando Carnival Downtown has been held at several venues. As of 2024, the Carnival parade started on Church Street between Rio Grande Avenue and Tampa Avenue and ended at Tinker Field Historic Plaza, whereas the stage show took place at Camping World Stadium in the West Lakes neighborhood of Downtown Orlando, a venue with a capacity of over 60,000.

Orlando Downtown Carnival

Photo: Flowers Power




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