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]