Rio Carnival 2012: what’s new this year

Rio Carnival 2012 is being looked upon as the Brazilian city’s “coming of age”. Not only are experts predicting a record number of revelers, but the world’s eyes will also be trained on Rio de Janeiro to see how it manages the crowds and festivities, particularly as the city prepares to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Organizers are pulling out all the stops to make this year’s Carnival celebration not only safe and smooth, but also an experience to remember. Here’s a rundown of what’s new about 2012’s festivities.

Shiny new Sambódromo
The world-famous Sambódromo stadium, home to Carnival’s renowned samba parades, just underwent a $20 million facelift in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. Unveiled Sunday, the renovations include new elevators, hospitality boxes, and sound equipment; improved access for people with disabilities; and improvements to the track where the samba dancers march. The new stadium will also be able to accommodate 12,500 additional spectators, which will make this year’s samba parades the biggest yet.

Hot celebrities
Rio Carnival 2012 will have plenty to offer celebrity-spotters. Jennifer Lopez, who recently recorded a sexy Carnival-themed commercial for Brahma beer, “was invited” to the Brazilian brewer’s private box at the Sambódromo for the samba parades. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner will be enjoying the parades from rival brewer Devassa’s box, reports the AFP. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has also confirmed her attendance on Twitter.

Pricier hotels
A recent survey released by SindRio, the city’s Syndicate of Hotels, Bars, and Restaurants, revealed that room rates in Rio’s main tourist areas have risen by an average of 17.6 percent from last year. The syndicate’s director told the Wall Street Journal that the price raise was due to sector-wide facility and service upgrades in preparation for the World Cup and Olympic Games.

More Brazilians
According to the SindRio report, domestic tourism is also on the rise. As of January 30, 68 percent of all hotel reservations in Rio’s main tourist areas during Carnival weekend had been placed by Brazilians.

Less rich foreigners
At the same time, the number of international reservations in the city’s top luxury properties is down, from 70 percent of bookings to a paltry 50 percent, reports the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association. The economic crisis in North America and Europe is the likely culprit, said the Journal.

Additional street security
Last week, Carnival organizers feared chaos after police officers and fire fighters announced they were going on strike just before festivities were due to kick off. Thankfully, the strike was poorly attended and fizzled until it was officially called off on Monday. For extra assurance, city officials have announced that they will dispatch 50,000 police officers to the streets of Rio, as well as send up a remote-control camera blimp to keep watch over the festivities.

Gadling coverage from day one!

Today, I’ll be heading down to Rio to provide up-to-the-minute dispatches on the good, the bad, and the outrageous aspects of Rio Carnival 2012. Stay tuned; this is a party you won’t want to miss.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

[Flickr image via Luciano Guelfi]

The Playboy jet: How Hugh Hefner traveled in style

In 1969, Hugh Hefner was the king of the world. His magazine empire was at its peak, and he was about to expand Playboy to 37 different countries. At the time, one quarter of all American college age men were buying his magazine – every single month.

So – what is a successful and flamboyant magazine publisher to do? Well, in the case of Mr. Hefner, he purchased himself a jet – a big jet.

On January 27, 1969, the McDonnell Douglas company finished production on a DC-9-32, and one month later, Hugh Hefner took delivery of N950PB, nicknamed “the Big Bunny”.

This was no normal jet – despite the wild 60’s, not many business owners had the creativity – or the money to invest in their own flying home away from home.Shower, private entry and a movie theater

Even by today’s private jet standards, N950PB was a very luxurious jetliner. A rear folding private entrance took Hefner directly to his private quarters with an elliptical bed. After a long flight, he could take a shower or get some work done in his conference room.

Passengers were also treated well!

Fellow passengers could relax in the bar or enjoy a movie on the big screen. Once everyone was in the mood, they could even dance in the “discotheque” complete with lights and an 8-Track deck.

Indeed – the DC-9-32 really was a bit of Playboy in the skies. The only thing missing was a swimming pool and bowling alley.

Hugh Hefner never made a secret about his love of beautiful women- and admitted that his many, many mile high club endeavors were just like they are on the ground – albeit with “better memories”.

N950PB’s flight crew members were obviously selected for their looks – but these were real professionals. The Jet Bunnies were all trained at Continental Airlines in LA where they’d learn inflight safety and food preparation.

From party plane to retirement

Originally, his plane was based at Purdue and was maintained by the aviation department of the University. Sadly, things started to go downhill for the magazine in the mid 70’s, so the party plane was sold to Venezuela Airlines and reborn as “YV-19C“. She then spent several years in storage.

In 1989, Aeromexico renamed her “Ciduad Juarez“, repainted her and used her for domestic Mexican routes. The era of The Big Bunny came to an end in 2004 when she was finally retired for good.

[Photos from:]

Party with Hef at the Playboy Mansion for Halloween

If haunted houses, ghost hunts, cemetery tours, zombie pub crawls and other usual Halloween attractions just aren’t sexy enough to make your holiday complete, if you want more girls and less gore, and if you’ve got $1000 to drop, make plans now to attend the Kandy Halloween Party at the Playboy Mansion.

I was always under the impression that you had to be an invited guest (or a lowly “Tunnel of Love” ride attendant as my husband was for the party in 1999) to attend. That’s not the case. A $1000 ticket and a costume (which is mandatory) will get you access to “1,000 of the sexiest girls in the world”, plus Hef and some Bunny-loving celebrities.

The party will be held on October 24th and tickets cost $1000-$2000 per person, unless you want to roll in some serious style. Then you’ll need to shell out about $10,000 for a table or cabana, table service, Crystal, seating for 8-10 people, and a Kabana girl to attend to your every need.

I wonder if November’s cover girl, Marge Simpson, will be there.

[via Jaunted]