The ultimate guide to Carnival in Rio: parties and parades

What’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro without its lively parties and parades? Now that planning, packing, and logistics are taken care of, it’s time to think about the important stuff: your social calendar. In this second installment of the ultimate guide to Carnival in Rio, we’ll walk you through some of the main events.

Blocos and bandas

The essence of street Carnival in Brazil can be found in the festive parties that wind their way through the roads of Rio in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. These blocos (street parties) and bandas (Carnival bands) consist of drummers, dancers, and hordes of drunken participants, with a background of samba music. Meanwhile, an entourage of drink sellers purvey cerveja (beer) and caipirinhas (cocktail made of cachaça, lime, and sugar) to keep the crowd appropriately inebriated.

Perhaps the most legendary bloco is the Banda de Ipanema, which this year takes place on February 4th and 18th at 5:30pm. The gathering point is at the Praça General Osorio, and the parade generally goes on for several hours. Expect old-time marchinhas (traditional Carnival songs), flamboyant drag queens, and a particularly touching tribute to the late composer Pixinguinha in front of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Paz.

Cordão da Bola Preta is another popular bloco, drawing up to two million revelers dressed in signature black polka dots on white. This year, the event will take place on February 10th at 8pm and 18th at 9:30am, with a meeting point at Cinelândia.

A searchable list of blocos can be found on the website of Riotur, the city’s official tourism bureau. For the full experience, throw on a crazy costume, hide your valuables, stay hydrated (with both caipirinhas and lots of water), and hit the streets. You never know where you’ll end up!

Balls

Another way to experience Rio Carnival is at the city’s costume and black tie balls. The fanciest is the annual Magic Ball, held at the opulent Copacabana Palace Hotel. The ball attracts its fair share of Brazilian celebrities, but it’s also open to the public for the just-above-budget ticket price of $1300. This year, the event will be held on February 18th.

A more reasonable option are the balls held at Rio Scala, one of the city’s most popular nightclubs. With themes like Black Balls (featuring music from Cordão da Bola Preta) and Long Live the Beer! (self-explanatory), these balls are a bit more casual, a bit more rambunctious, and also a bit more accessible, with ticket prices ranging from $70-150.


Samba Parades

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the highlight of Carnival: the samba parades. Thousands upon thousands of spectators gather at the world-famous Sambódromo stadium to cheer on Rio’s samba schools as they put on performances with choreographed dances, elaborate costumes, decked-out floats, and of course, the rich sounds of samba music.

The best schools perform at the main parades on the Sunday and Monday of Carnival (February 19th and 20th this year). Unsurprisingly, these are the costliest parades to attend. If you live in Rio, you can purchase tickets relatively cheaply on the ground starting in January. Otherwise, you have a few options. If it’s not imperative that you get a good seat at one of the main parades, you can take your chances and wait until you arrive in Rio to purchase a ticket from a travel agent. Be mindful that this path becomes more difficult if you don’t speak Portuguese, and there are a significant number of counterfeit tickets floating around. Your other option is to purchase a ticket online through a registered travel agent like Rio-Carnival.net. While the tickets are sold at a significant mark-up (think $200-300 for a good seat) this option was recommended to me as the safest bet.

If you’re not content to sit and watch, you also have the option of joining the parade by purchasing a special costume package through a registered travel agent. Your costume then becomes your “ticket” into the parade, and you get the chance to march with one of the participating samba schools. Bragging rights don’t come cheap, though; costumes can cost upwards of $500.

For more information on planning a trip to Rio Carnival, check out the first installment in this series: The ultimate guide to Carnival in Rio: planning, packing, and logistics. And stay tuned for on-the-ground coverage of Rio Carnival 2012 starting on February 17th!

[Flickr images via Sarah Ahearn, Rodrigo Soldon, Patricia Figuera, sfmission.com]

Video: The Pearly Kings and Queens, a London tradition


You gotta love English traditions: The Queen, Sunday roast, jellied eels, real ale, Morris dancers, and Cockneys in suits covered with pearl buttons singing “I Have a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”.

They’re called the Pearly Kings and Queens or The Pearlies and they’ve been around for a century, which makes them pretty recent as far as English traditions go. The movement got its start in London with Henry Croft, an orphan street sweeper. Despite being pretty bad off himself, he wanted to raise money for charity. He needed a way to attract attention so as he went about his rounds he picked up any pearl buttons he found and fashioned an elaborate suit out of them. This made him a walking advertisement for good causes. In 1911 the first Pearly society was formed.

The thousands of buttons take weeks to sew on and suits can weigh up to 80 kg (176 lbs). Each design has a meaning, like an anchor for hope. You can see a full list of symbols here. The Pearlies do events throughout the year, with September’s Harvest Festival being the main event. The London Pearly Kings and Queens Society is having a second Harvest festival at St. Paul’s on October 9, so if you’re in town, head on over and see some Cockney fun.

[Photo courtesy Garry Knight]

London, Pearlies

Watching a small village parade in Malta

village parade
I just returned from a week in the small island country of Malta. For our first trip with our nearly two-month old baby, we decided to rent a house outside the village of Xaghra on Malta’s smaller island Gozo. Picking us up from the ferry, our landlady explained how the town was gearing up for the national Victory Day holiday on September 8th as well as the village patron saint’s feast celebration, and each night there would be smaller festivities building up to the main event. Every night we’d walk to the square, choose among the handful of restaurants to eat (with a population of 4,200, it’s among the more cosmopolitan of Gozitan villages), and watch the square fill with people chatting, eating, and playing bingo, as it turned out. We saw girls in outfits that would be considered skimpy in a Miami nightclub flirt on the church steps with boys wearing shirts with religious icons. On our last night on Gozo, the square was more packed than usual and soon we discovered why: a parade was about to start!

%Gallery-133057%The village parade consisted mainly of a marching band and a large statue of the village’s patron saint, Our Lady of Victories, carried by a team of local men, many who had been enjoying a few Cisk beers. The make up of the band’s members was motley but memorable, including a tiny man carrying a drum that nearly dwarfed him, a boy barely in his teens playing among musicians decades older, a pretty young woman in high wedge heels. The band started out in the square, playing various Gozitan and Maltese anthems, before moving down the main road under a rain of confetti. We followed the band along the street until we were stopped in a bottleneck in front of Our Lady of Victories. You do NOT want to get in front of Our Lady, lest you want to be scolded by the man in charge of her and her (increasingly drunken) handlers. We moved aside and let the band continue down the street, leaving a thick carpet of confetti. Every child in town came out to gather bunches of confetti, build forts in it, and throw it at their friends.

As the crowd began to disperse, we stopped at a snack bar where they played a recording of the songs we had just heard, in search of a nightcap. Even a dozen years of living in New York with its legendary parades couldn’t compare to the fun we had at a small Gozitan feast, and this was just a warm up celebration! In New York, you wouldn’t see a child rolling around making confetti angels. In New York, you can’t touch the floats. In New York, you couldn’t buy a magnum of good local wine after hours and be told apologetically that it would cost 4 euro. But in Gozo, a family of Russian/American New York City expats from Istanbul could feel dazzled by a small village feast.

Boston Celebrates Its Bruins with a Massive Parade

I wasn’t going to be in Boston on Saturday morning. But with the city planning to celebrate its sports heroes, who won the Stanley Cup after a drought of nearly 40 years, I tore up my road trip schedule and made a beeline for Beantown.

Riding on Boston’s famous Duck Boats, the team paraded through the streets, holding the cup aloft as hundreds of thousands cheered. Goodwill was everywhere, and it lasted through the weekend: On Sunday, the Bruins threw out ceremonial first pitches at Fenway Park as the baseball faithful gave a standing ovation. With the cup now in Boston, the city can safely brag that it is indeed Titletown, USA.

Traveling the American Road – Boston Bruins Celebration Parade


New Pixar Pals parade disappoints many Disney World fans

Walt Disney World debuted a new parade – Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! – at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Sunday. The new parade features characters from Pixar films Up! and Ratatouille that have never appeared in a Disney parade before.

New stuff at Disney is frequently met with breathless wonder by the many fans of all things Disney out there. But when it comes to this parade, reaction from Disney World fans, including many locals who turned out to see the parade’s debut, has not been good.

In the comments sections of blogs and YouTube videos about the Pixar Pals parade, Disney fans are describing the parade as “low budget,” “horrible” and “disappointing.”

Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! replaces the Block Party Bash, a street party-parade hybrid that moved through the streets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and stopped at certain points to bring the audience out to dance with characters from popular movies including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and A Bug’s Life.

The main beefs with the parade seem to fall into two categories: First, that the parade is not different enough from its predecessor Block Party Bash, and second, that the parade is too short.As for the charge that the Pixar Pals parade is too similar to Block Party Bash, well, it is pretty similar. Many of the floats are the same; the rest are simply repainted. Cast members’ costumes and props are also unchanged.

“All of the floats are recycled from Block Party Bash, merely repainted and slightly re-themed and the music isn’t original. Overall, it comes as a disappointment to many who had high hopes for the new production,” writes a blogger at easyWDW.com.

And is the parade, which has a soundtrack made up largely of Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day,” too short? At less than 8 minutes in length, it is shorter than other Disney Parks parades, which typically clock in closer to the 15-minute mark.

Shelley Caran of OnTheGoinMCO.com describes Pixar Pals as a “lack luster eight minute blink and you missed it.”

About the only positive reaction we could find in the blogosphere comes from Ricky Brigante of Inside the Magic.net, who was a vocal opponent of the way the Block Party Bash stopped in the theme park’s walkways each day: “At least it doesn’t hog the streets for extended periods of time like Block Party Bash once did.”

So, while kids may enjoy catching a glimpse of their favorite movie characters, the overall consensus from the grown-ups seems to be that Disney’s previous afternoon “parade,” Block Party Bash, was superior.

StudiosCentral.com, a blog devoted to the Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park where the new parade debuted, writes: “The previous two daytime parades at the Studios, Block Party Bash and Stars & Motor Cars Parade, were far superior displays and much more of an engaging experience. … For those that have enjoyed quality Disney World parades over the years, you may find yourself disappointed and underwhelmed.”

Now that you’ve seen the video, what do you think?

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