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Cruise Views

Shipboard Samba Down to Rio

October 02, 1994|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

It looks like the Pasadena Rose Parade on amphetamines, costumed by Frederick's of Hollywood and orchestrated by the chain saw marching band from the Doo Dah Parade.

The giddy, gorgeous pre-Lenten Carnavale in Rio de Janeiro is still one of the most spectacular shows on earth, with 70,000 lavishly costumed singers and dancers parading through the Sambodromo during a three-night extravaganza beginning Feb. 25.

Unfortunately, Rio these days is also on many travelers' caution list because of its high rate of crime, particularly theft aimed at tourists.

We've found being aboard a cruise ship is the safest and most comfortable way to attend Carnavale. Guests are escorted on a private bus to and from the Sambodromo, where the samba schools parade. Security at the stadium is well enforced, and you're sitting among your fellow cruise ship passengers in a reserved area.

With your ship serving as hotel and restaurant, you don't have to worry about room reservations that aren't honored, waiters and chambermaids who fail to show up for work or any of the other problems that befall tourists during this collective annual madness. Rio's citizens drop everything including their jobs to devote themselves to four days of partying. They get little or no sleep, dozing on the beaches in the daytime so they can samba all night.

We've sailed to Carnavale in Rio twice now, first nearly 10 years ago with Sun Line's Stella Solaris, then again two years ago aboard Crystal Cruises' Crystal Harmony. This year, the Crystal Harmony is the only major cruise ship returning for Carnavale; the Stella Solaris will be sailing in the Amazon and Caribbean during late February.

The 960-passenger Crystal Harmony is perhaps the most luxurious of all traditional large cruise ships. Built in 1990 (and with a new sister ship set to debut next April), the ship provides top-quality food and service, with spacious cabins measuring from 183 square feet to penthouses at 948 square feet. All have sitting areas and bathrooms with tubs, and more than half have private verandas. Four cabins are specially configured for passengers with wheelchairs.

The 17-day cruise that will feature attendance at the Carnavale competition in the Sambodromobegins in Buenos Aires Feb. 21, then calls in Montevideo Feb. 22. There are two days at sea to rest up for late nights before the ship arrives in Rio on Feb. 25 at noon. The samba school competitions begin that evening, a Saturday, and continue through the evening of Feb. 27.

Crystal Harmony sails from Rio the morning of Feb. 27, going on to Recife, Devil's Island and Barbados, before docking in San Juan on March 9.

The line has recently announced a discount in effect on bookings made before Oct. 31 that takes 38% off the fare for the second cabin occupant. The offer covers all cabin categories except the most expensive Crystal Penthouse staterooms and the two lowest-priced accommodation categories.

For example, if a couple booked a deluxe stateroom in Category F on Deck Five before the Oct. 31 deadline, their fares with the discount would be $5,690 each, plus an additional $200 air add-on per person for round-trip air fare from Los Angeles. Port taxes would add another $135 per person.

Shore excursion prices for the Carnavale have not been set because the tickets have not been released by the Sambodromo officials, but a spokesman for Crystal estimates they will cost around $200 per person for one evening. At Carnavale, each samba school first selects its theme and composes its story-song, and the latter is played on local radio stations from December right until Carnavale so the audience can usually sing along.

Some travel tips if you go:

Rio in February is extremely hot and humid. Take cool, comfortable cotton clothing that you don't mind getting wet; the last time we went, we sat through a drenching downpour for at least an hour, and even with umbrellas weren't able to stay dry. And yes, the parade did go on in spite of the rain.

Because of the crush of crowds everywhere during Carnavale, exercise extreme caution with valuables. Leave your passport, travelers' checks, almost all your cash and all your jewelry locked up in the ship's safe deposit boxes or in your cabin safe. Take with you only what's essential during your outing. Never go out alone at night.

Escorted optional day shore excursions from the ship cover most of Rio's traditional sightseeing.

To get more information about Crystal's cruise to Rio's Carnavale, contact a travel agent or Crystal Cruises, (310) 785-9300.

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