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Set sail for a fun Rio beat
Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau Rio's colourful Sambadrome is packed for the carnival.

Passionate travellers invariably place the carnival in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro high on "must do" lists, and many cruise lines offer voyages that arrive in that sensual city for all the fun of the fiesta.

Our 2012 Guide to Cruising:
VOYAGE WITH THE ANCIENTS
WE'RE WARMING TO RADIANCE
AMUSING YOUNG SEA ADVENTURERS
HIGH SEAS HOLIDAY HOT SPOTS
MORE TO VALPARAISO THAN MEETS THE EYE
NO NEED TO PACK ‘JUST IN CASE’

It is mid-February when Rio celebrates big-time as its annual carnival, one of the world's liveliest and most colourful, explodes across the city.

And we are right in the heart of it, thanks to inspired scheduling by Celebrity Millennium which has us in port as the carnival begins, for three days and nights that are filled with excitement.

DANCE


We even dance to a Latin beat in Rio's buzzing streets using nifty footwork we learnt at sea while cruising from Argentina's Buenos Aires.

There is little time for sleep as we spend our Rio days sightseeing, taking in the city's many wonders, including Copacabana and Ipanema's curvaceous beaches.

Our nights are spent watching eye candy in the city's huge Sambadrome, where bands play and dancers cavort around floats that are a visual spectacle.

Entrance tickets and transport to and from the Sambadrome are organised by cruise ship staff, so we are assured of good seating. Some passengers catch the shuttle back to the ship before midnight each night, but most of us party on, losing inhibitions by joining locals standing on seats in the crowded stands to dance wildly to the infectious sound of bands in the parade.

When festivities finally wind down as dawn breaks we catch the last shuttle back on board, take a quick nap, make the most of the buffet breakfast, then head off for more sightseeing.

It is the perfect way to enjoy Rio's carnival as city hotels are overcrowded and overpriced during the festivities, taxis are in demand and restaurants are always packed.

Our cruise ship staff effortlessly (or so it seems) take the hard work out of enjoying the carnival.

True, it costs passengers extra for transport and parade tickets, and for visits to the samba schools to watch finishing touches being made to the huge themed floats that will take part in that night's parade, but it is worth every cent.

The samba schools work all year preparing for the next carnival and while wandering through their spacious quarters we hear bands rehearse and watch dancers go through complicated routines.

CARNIVAL 2012


Next year, Rio's carnival runs from February 18 to 21 when the cruise ships Veendam, Crystal Symphony, MSC Musica and Silver Spirit will be in port.

Holland America's Veendam's 16-night South American cruise to Chile starts in Rio de Janeiro during the carnival so passengers are booked into Rio's Plaza Copacabana Hotel for two nights before the ship sails. A day tour of Rio is included, but entry tickets to the carnival are extra.

Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony also gives guests time for the carnival during overnight stays in Rio de Janeiro by offering a choice of several fully escorted, reserved seating packages to the Sambadrome.

There is also the option to take part by marching in the parade, dressed in costume and performing with one of the samba schools.

All excursion participants (even those in the parade) are accompanied by experienced guides from beginning to end of the festivities, with late-night shore-to-ship shuttles.

MSC Cruises' Musica is in Rio on the first day of carnival (February 18), but sails that night for an eight-night return cruise via Ilheus, Salvador and Recife, all in Brazil.

Silversea's Silver Spirit arrives in Rio for the carnival at the end of a seven-day cruise from Buenos Aires, and guests are offered a post-cruise package that includes accommodation at one of the city's luxury hotels with pre-reserved grandstand seating to watch the samba parade.

FACT FILE


Crystal Symphony, wiltrans.com.au
MSC Musica, msccruises.com.au
Silver Spirit, silversea.com
Veendam, hollandamerica.com

Veronica Matheson was a guest of Celebrity Cruises.