Subscribe today
Get Cruise Critic in your inbox
Luxury Deals Luxury Ship Reviews Luxury Itineraries Luxury Features Luxury Cruise Forum
Virtual Cruises
Home > Virtual Cruises > South America on Azamara Journey
South America on Azamara Journey
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Day 3: Setting Sail
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay
Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio
Day 7: Carnaval in Rio!
Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo
Day 9: Disembarkation in Buenos Aires
Related Links
Azamara Journey ship review
Azamara Journey Member reviews
South America & Antarctica Cruises
South America & Antarctica Messages
Azamara Messages
Day 7: Monday, Carnaval in Rio!
Carnaval in Rio!
I awoke to light rain and cloudy skies. We just can't seem to get a break with the weather. I'm concerned about sitting in the totally open Sambadrome getting pelted by rain for hours tonight. Not pleasant, but here I am halfway around the world intending to attend this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle -- what's a little rain?

This morning's plan is to take the closest thing to an exotic tour offered in Rio, an "off-road adventure" combining Jeep travel and hiking. Again, these were not the ideal conditions for this type of excursion, but it was manageable, as long as it didn't turn into a downpour....

....which it did almost as soon as we ducked under the canvas tarps covering the benches in the flatbed of our vehicles. One thing is certain about Brazil: when it starts to rain, street vendors materialize out of thin air hawking disposable ponchos. The typical price is $3 -- as long as there is more than one seller present. If there's only one, expect to pay between $10 and $15, depending on how hard it's raining. Representatives from the shore excursion department went from Jeep to Jeep informing passengers that, should they decide not to go, there would be a full refund. One guest in our Jeep chose to pull the ripcord.

Our tour was to take place in the Tijuca Forest, which, at 13,000 acres, is purportedly the largest urban forest in the world. I was surprised to learn that it is man-made -- that is to say, all the trees have been planted by people or have grown from the seeds, spores or runners produced by the original plantings. Animals, including raccoons, margays (tree ocelots), snakes, coati mundis and three species of monkeys were also introduced by the planners. The rainforest is now protected as a national park.

Our first stop was park headquarters, which offered the top three items on every tourist's wish list: postcards and other souvenirs, bottled water, and restrooms. From there, we strode across the entry road to view the magnificent Taunay Falls, named for the landscape architect who designed all the plantings, roads and trails of the park. Resplendent in our spiffy $3 ponchos, off we went to trek along the muddy trail, while our guide pluckily described all the trees and other plants we encountered along the way. Though water continued to fall from above (it was hard to determine how much was rain and how much dripped from the canopy above), the sky seemed marginally brighter toward the end, and when we reached a clearing with a picturesque pool and second waterfall, it had actually abated to a drizzle.

By the time the tour was over, the rain had let up altogether, and if there was no sunshine, at least the sky continued to brighten. On our way back to the ship, we were even able to slide back the tarp as we passed a bloco, which allowed us to shoot pictures and interact with the revelers. They came up to the sides of our vehicle and -- in perfect English, mind you -- almost begged us to join the party, tossing up cans of beer to pass around, shaking hands, hugging. The spirit was infectious!

By the time we were scheduled to depart for the Sambadrome, it had virtually stopped raining (for the moment). At about 7 p.m., we piled into buses and were issued our documents: two plastic, magnetically striped cards. One was the size of a credit card and in a plastic slip case; the other was larger and on a lanyard, much like a rock concert backstage pass. This larger card had our seating information (sector, row and seat number) and made an excellent souvenir. We were all in Sector Nine, one of two excellently positioned sectors given over in large part to Rio tourism. Seating was amphitheater-style concrete benches, with "seat" numbers painted on the surface. Those who showed up at the gathering spot on the ship were assigned lower bus numbers, and the lower bus numbers corresponded to the closest rows. Aboard the bus, we were also issued "Carnaval 2008" stadium cushions (also good souvenirs).

Of course, we had been told many times that once the parades started, nearly everyone would be on their feet. This bit of information, it turned out, fell on deaf ears for many passengers and created an unfortunate reduction of their enjoyment. Samba school parades are very much like dramatic moments in any sport. Imagine a "Hail Mary" pass in a pro football game. People jump to their feet and then sit back down when the play is over -- same with Carnaval. However, with samba school parades, each "play" lasts nearly an hour and a half.

We had people behind us who physically were unable to stand for long periods of time. Unfortunately, with literally thousands of people in the stands on their feet, there was nothing they could do to ameliorate their situation. This should be a caveat for those for whom standing long periods is a problem. Seating in the concrete grandstand sectors of the Sambadrome may not be appropriate for them, and inquiring about investing extra money for ground level front row seats may be a possible solution.

On the way to the Sambadrome, our guide explained that it was expected that we would be able to view the parades of three samba schools, at which point it would be about 11:40 p.m. Each samba school can take up to 80 minutes to complete its parade, and schools are penalized by the judges for going over the 80-minute time limit. Digital clocks all over the stadium keep track of the elapsed time. The "witching hour" was 11:40 p.m., the time continuous bus service would start running back to the ship. Bus service would continue till the last Samba School had finished its parade, probably around 6 a.m.

The Sambadrome is like a drag strip with seating on either side of a bright white roadway in the center. A hashed yellow line bisects the roadway, giving the float drivers something to line up on. The feeling inside the Sambadrome is incredibly safe, and everywhere you look are "Rio Tourism" staff members (most of whom speak English) who assist attendees and answer questions. The mood is festive from the moment you enter.

Sector Nine is about midway down the roadway, and all the floats and dancers stop there to perform. (The judge's box is almost directly across.) At 8:30 p.m., fireworks exploded at the far end of the roadway. (In the Sambadrome, fireworks signal the beginning and end of each parade). The first parade was not actually a samba school, but some sort of introduction, with only one float. Almost as soon as it had exited the other end of the 'drome, off went the fireworks again, and the parade for the first samba school, from Sao Clemente, began. It's difficult for a neophyte to see the structure of the parades -- there are so many different aspects -- but some semblance of order begins to emerge with mulatas, those strikingly beautiful women everyone associates with Carnaval in barely-there sequined and feathered outfits with four-inch heels, samba-ing up a storm out in front of each float. Between the floats appear troupes of spinning, samba dancers in elaborate, complex thematic costumes. Somewhere about one-third of the way through the parade, what appear to be some sort of samba school royalty -- one of each gender -- is presented to the audience with much cheering, as a flag bearer waves the samba school flag. It should be mentioned that each samba school chooses a single samba song, which is played over and over for the entirety of the parade. At the midpoint of the parade comes the "percussion wing," sometimes literally hundreds of drummers, and sometimes as part of a huge brass band, along with the Sambadrome sound truck. In the second half of the parade are the less-skilled, less coordinated dancers, who march along spinning and dancing with no visible pattern.

Each parade has a theme. Sao Clemente's theme was the return of the Portuguese royal family to Brazil 200 years ago. The parade lasted 76 minutes; then there was a break of about a half-hour while the roadway was cleaned and the next parade marshaled at the end of the Sambadrome. The samba school from Porto da Pedra celebrated 100 years of Japanese immigration and had floats with loads of Asian icons -- even a troop of dancing sushi chefs wearing hats in the shape of giant sushi "boats" filled with simulated sushi!

Though the schedule presumed there would be time for three samba schools to parade by 11:40 p.m., the second samba school was just wrapping up its parade at that time. Many fellow passengers chose to leave at that point. But the parade by Salgueiro, the third samba school was spectacular. Titled "Eternal Passion," it highlighted the history of Rio and its most famous landmarks, including a float in the shape of a stretch of Copacabana Beach and its broad mosaic sidewalks.

I learned later on (alas, too late), that you can do more than watch the samba school parades in the Sambadrome. You, or I, or any of us for that matter, can actually march with one of the samba schools! It would take a bit of research and preplanning, but here's how it works: You contact the samba school and pay a fee (usually about $200). Then, you are required to attend at least one rehearsal and buy your costume from the samba school (which you get to keep; how's that for the ultimate souvenir?), and that's it! One of our fellow passengers, a Carioca, paraded with Sao Clemente on that first night. She told me that if I'd met her early enough in the cruise, I could have done it too.

Next time I come to Carnaval, count me in!
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio red arrow Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo

Luxury Cruise Lines
Cruise Lines: Abercrombie & Kent American Safari Aqua Expeditions Azamara Bora Bora Cruises Compagnie du Ponant Cruise Asia Ltd. Crystal Cunard French Country Waterways Go Barging Hapag-Lloyd Hebridean Heritage Line Lindblad Expeditions Oberoi Group Oceania Orion Expedition Cruises Paul Gauguin Cruises Regent Seven Seas Sea Cloud Cruises Seabourn SeaDream Silversea Star Clippers Travel Dynamics Uniworld Windstar

About UsAdvertisingPressPrivacySite MapStoreSubscribe
UK Cruises | Cruises

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.