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Unidos da Tijuca wins 2012 Rio Carnival [PHOTOS]

Posted on 24 February 2012 by Danica


We just heard the samba school “Unidos de Tijuca” won the 2012 Rio Canvival Championship! Congratulations to them! We’re not surprised they won since we felt they had a very artistic and creative presentation.

Monday had the two top schools so we’re very happy our analysis on which day to go to Sambadrome Carnival turned out correct! Second place went to Salguiero which also paraded on Monday.

In case you weren’t there, here are a few highlights of the floats and dancers of “Unidos da Tijuca”, the championship school. Enjoy the photos!

Were you there too? Which school was your favorite?

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2012 Rio Carnival: Going on Sunday or Monday?

Posted on 04 January 2012 by Danica

With the Carnival in Rio only a little more than a month away, we decided to finally pull the trigger to buy the tickets.  These tickets are not cheap.  They range from ~$3500USD pp for a seat in the luxury suite with full butler, buffet and drink service, to less than $100 for a bleacher seat in an area where you will likely see nothing but performers getting ready.  A decent seat (bleacher in the middle of the runway) will likely set you back a couple hundred bucks depending on whether you want an assigned seat for that day or not.  So going to the Carnival is not a cheap investment by any means, and we want to make sure we fully enjoy the entire event in February.

While the entire Carnival lasts from Feb 18th (Fri) to Feb 21st (Tue) in 2012, the must-see parades are held on Sunday the 19th, and Monday the 20th.  This is because on these 2 days, the most talented Samba Schools, also known as the Special Group, will be competing for the Championship. Normally, six schools perform on Sunday and the other six perform on Monday.  Due to a fire last year, the schedule for 2012 is a bit different where 7 schools will be performing on Sunday, and six on Monday.  Either way, since we will be spending ~$500pp for the ticket, we did a quick analysis to decide which day will be more appealing to us.

Below is the schedule and ranking of the Special Group schools performing in 2012:

Rio Carnival Sun vs Mon Analysis

* Not judged due to 2010 fire.  It’s a long story.  If you are interested, just drop us a mail…

Rio Carnival Dancer


We decided to evaluate the desirability of these two days based on the following five factors: Value for Money, Atmosphere, Dance Quality, Performance Diversity and Story Line.  (If you’re impatient, scroll to the bottom if you want to know our answer now!)

1) Value for Money (Winner: Sunday)

Since the show on Sunday is 1hr 45 min longer than the one on Monday, we decided Sunday show is the winner here.  Who cares how long the show is, you ask?  Well, the longer the show, the more chance you get to take better pictures.  And even though we wouldn’t do it ourselves, you may decide to enter the event later or leave earlier, and if you do that, chances are you will be fighting with less crowd for traffic.  There will simply be more opportunities for people to come and go at different times of the night.

2) Atmosphere (Winner: Monday)

For this category, we looked at the popularity of the schools performing on these nights.  The assumption here is that the more popular the school is, the more excited the revelers will be as they show up to support their favorite school.  We know both Salgueiro and Mangueira have more popular samba clubs.  While Vila Isabel also has a Samba Club, the club pales in popularity as compared to the two schools above.

Furthermore, for Sunday, the best schools are not going to be performing until ~2:30am or so when Beija-Flor comes out, wheareas on Monday, you have Salgueiro and Mangueira performing starting 11pm and some of the top schools coming out after that.  We think Monday is the winner in this category.

3) Dance Quality (Winner: Monday)

We have included the ranking of the schools from 2006 to 2011 in the table above.  We first take the avg of the schools performing each year, and then do a weighted average by year.  If we are not sure about the ranking of the school in a given year, we assume the performance of the school is average and give it a 6.  Since our methodology is based on ranking, the lower the score, the better the performance is.

For example, for the Sunday performance, we do not have the 2011 ranking for Renascer de Jacarepagua and Portela, and as such, we assume a ranking of #6 for both schools.  Same goes for the 5 schools with missing 2006-2010 ranking performing on Sunday.  After calculating the average across all schools in 2006-2010, we know the 2006-2010 ranking is 5x more important than the 2011 ranking alone (because the school obtained that ranking over 5 years as opposed to 1), we take a weighted average to come to the final conclusion.  For the Sunday schools, the weighted average is 5.0, while the Monday schools have a weighted average of 4.9.  Since the weighted average of the Monday schools is lower than that of the Sunday schools, Monday is the winner here.

4) Performance Diversity (Winner: Monday)

We look for uniqueness of the performance in this category.  Within the Sunday schools, Mocidade is well known for its futuristic creations and having had the one and only flying parader over the years.  For the Monday schools, Sao Clemente will try to incorporate operas into the parade this year, and Salgueiro uses fire in its parade in most years.  We think Monday night will be more interesting to watch from a diversity standpoint.

5) Story Line (Winner: Monday)

Here are the themes of the Special Group this year:


1) Renascer de Jacarepagua:  Life and work of Romero Brito, a famous Brazilian painter, sculptor and screen printer

2) Portela: Religious parties of Bahia, a cultural melting pot in Brazil with marked influence from Africa

3) Imperatriz: Life and legacy of  Jorge Amado, a Brazilian world known writer

4) Mocidade:  Life and legacy of Portinari, one of the most famous Brazilian painters

5) Porto da Pedra:  History and importance of dairy products, especially yogurt, on a healthy nutrition

6) Beija-Flor:  Story of Sao Luis, capital city of Maranhão state.  The city was founded by the French, occupied by the Dutch and finally settled by the Portuguese

7) Vila Isabel:  Celebration of Angola and the African roots of Brazilian culture


1) Sao Clemente: Operas, movies and plays with music being the connection among them

2) Uniao da Ilha: Olympic games connecting London (host city of the 2012 Game) to Rio (host city of the 2016 Game)

3) Salgueiro: Celebration of the Brazilian culture where artists sell their works exposed hanging on cords

4) Mangueira:  Cacique de Ramos, the most famous carnival band of Rio de Janeiro

5) Unidos da Tijuca: Tribute to  Luiz Gonzaga, a popular Brazilian singer and composer

6) Grande Rio: Overcoming difficulties in life

Overall, we think the storyline of the Monday schools is more appealing to us.


Here is the results across all categories that we evaluate Sunday and Monday on:

1) Value for Money (Winner: Sunday)

2) Atmosphere (Winner: Monday)

3) Dance Quality (Winner: Monday)

4) Performance Diversity (Winner: Monday)

5) Story Line (Winner: Monday)

We value all factors equally.  As such, it is clear that Monday is the clear winner here.  Hope to see you all on Monday Feb 20th in the Sambodromo!

How do you decide which day to buy the Carnival tickets for?  We would love to hear from you!


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Happy New Year from Hong Kong!

Posted on 31 December 2011 by onthegroundtravel



Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong to celebrate the arrival of 2012.  This year, the countdown started at 11pm with periodic fireworks shooting off from the iconic buildings along the Harbor every 15 minutes.  At midnight, a spectacular pyrotechnics display, with its center along the facade of Two International Finance Center, marked the beginning of a new year.

Tips for Your Travel:

1) We have recently blogged about the ideal location to watch The Symphony of Lights performance along Victoria Harbor.  The same rules apply for watching the New Year’s fireworks, including staying on the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) side rather than anywhere else on the other side of the Harbor.

2) If you find the crowds along the Harbor is too unbearable, then sorry, for New Year’s Eve, the TST promenade is the best and only option you have if you want to watch the fireworks.  All viewpoints inside the Ocean Terminal are closed at 8pm to the general public.  For 2011, the Ocean Terminal had a shopping promotion, where  if you made more than $1000HKD in purchases at two different stores inside the Terminal and charged the purchases to a credit card, you would be able to redeem a VIP ticket to view the fireworks from the upper garage.  The promotion started around Christmas.  Next year if you use this option, please make sure that the store you make a purchase on is part of this promotion.  There are several shopping areas connected together to the Ocean Terminal so if you’re not careful you may accidentally walk out of the Ocean Terminal into another mall without realizing it.   Note that these tickets are very popular, so hurry and get your hands on them before they run out!


3) Arrive early!   We mean Times Square on New Year’s Eve early.

We arrived at 7pm thinking that we’d be early enough to find a nice spot to view the fireworks.   Really, who would wait 5 hours for a few fireworks!?   Apparently thousands of people.   It turns out that the TST promenade is a great picnic area, and so by 7pm, many revelers already settled down with blankets, playing cards, and having dinner.   If we were to do it again, we would arrive by 4pm at the absolute latest to stake out a decent spot.

4) If you are like us who typically scope out the location the day before to identify the best photo spots, know that on New Year’s Eve, police typically create a 4-5ft buffer zone along the Harbor.  This buffer zone will become an issue for your photography, so if you want to capture a clear unobstructed view of the fireworks from all the buildings (such as the ceiling of the upper level on the promenade) at midnight make sure you plan for it.  Experiment with your camera by stepping back several feet from the edge of the Harbor and you’ll know what we mean.

5) Good luck and enjoy the show!  Hong Kong also celebrates Chinese New Year with a similar fireworks display, and we are certain that the tips above apply for that day also!    If you missed a good photo on New Year’s Eve and are around for Chinese New Year  you’ll have a second chance!


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Christmas in Hong Kong!

Posted on 24 December 2011 by Danica


Few other cities celebrate Christmas like Hong Kong does.  Every year around Christmas time, buildings on both sides of the Victoria Harbor are lit up with Christmas lights.  The nightly Symphony of Lights performance is particularly attractive around this festive time when laser beams dance around the city, energized by the holiday lights.  The light and music show starts at 8pm but it only  lasts about 10 minutes so it’s essential to be at the harbor or other viewing points in advance or risk missing the show.

While people in other countries typically spend time with their families indoors on Christmas Eve, Hong Kong people take to the streets to watch the lights, shop, have dinner, and Sui Yeh (another meal after dinner) on that day.

Yesterday, we decided to participate in this Hong Kong tradition of viewing the festive lights on Christmas Eve.  We boarded the Star Ferry from Wanchai to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) in early evening.  The lighting was perfect for pictures around this time, and we were able to get a few good shots of the Hong Kong skyline from the ferry.  We arrived at TST around 6pm, and the Harbor was already packed with crowds jostling for the best position to watch the Symphony of Lights performance at 8pm.  We had dinner as quickly as we could (almost all restaurants had queues stretching out the door!).  Fortunately, we still had time after dinner so we went to Ocean Center to window shop.

We then joined the crowd of tourists, locals, families and photographers (many equipped with tripods) to watch and photograph the Symphony of Lights.   From there we went along Salisbury Road and Nathan Road with the rest of the crowd to see the area Christmas Lights.  The roads were closed to traffic to accommodate the thousands of people in the area.   Despite the large crowd,  everyone progressed in a civilized and orderly fashion.  Around midnight, we headed back home via MTR.


Tips for Your Travel:

1) Take the Star Ferry from Wanchai to TST.  You can take pictures of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center and the Golden Bauhinia Square before boarding the ferry, and you will be right in the middle of all the action when you arrive in TST

2) Catch the Symphony of Lights show at 8pm from TST.  Although you can watch the show from both sides of the Harbor, the view from TST is more impressive.  The soundtrack is broadcast is different languages: English on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Putonghua on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; and Cantonese on Sunday

3) If the harbor front area is packed and you find yourself looking for a quiet spot to take some pictures of the Harbor, try heading to the top level of the parking garage inside the Ocean Center.  It’s outdoors, the crowd is minimal, and the views are just as good.

4) Be prepared for road closures and traffic detours on Christmas Eve.  But don’t worry, the crowd is orderly, traffic signs are in English, and you should not have a problem finding someone who speak English to help you.

5) If taking the MTR, insure you have enough money loaded on your MTR ticket or Octupus card for your return trip.  The metro stations in the area will be packed and you will have to wait in long lines to recharge your card or ticket.


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My Love Affair with the Hyatt Regency Greenwich Lobby

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

The Hyatt Regency Greenwich hotel has one of the most romantic lobbies from our trips around the world.  Ever since I came back from Hawaii last year, I have been looking for a hotel with a lobby that has the open air tropical ambience of the hotels I stayed at in Hawaii. It’s no easy job to replicate (or compete with) the natural habitat of Hawaii, but the Hyatt Regency hotel in OldGreenwich, CT did a pretty darn good job at it.

Lobby of Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

Lobby of Hyatt Regency Greenwich from Trips Around the World

The hotel lobby of this Greenwich hotel is basically an indoor garden complete with a small stream and miniature stone figurines along a small stone path. Guests can stroll on the meandering path that connects from the bar at one end of the lobby to the restaurant in the other. In the evening, it’s particularly romantic to have a drink at the bar as the soft lights along the path light up and the sound of the flowing stream envelops you. It’s also worthwhile to mention that this is an indoor lobby, meaning rain or shine, whether it’s 100°F or -32°F outside, you still feel nice & cool in the lobby.

I think I just fell in love with this hotel.


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