Montevideo: The World's Most Amazing Carnival
This article was written by Lisa Marie Mercer on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Uruguay, South America, and beyond. In 2011, after exploring most parts of the globe, she and her husband wandered off to Uruguay, and decided to give it a new name: home.
Rivaled only by its momentous soccer games, the Montevideo Carnival is the second largest event in Uruguay. Lasting six weeks, it's also the longest carnival in the world. Although it bears some similarity to the Carnival celebrations in other corners of the globe, the Montevideo Carnival differs dramatically in its origins and raison d'etre.
The Story Behind Carnival
Carnival—also called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday—dates back to pagan fertility festivals, including the rambunctious Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the arrival of Christianity brought religion to Rome. Although the priests did not condone any type of hedonistic celebration, they realized the futility of any attempt to abolish the festivities. Instead, the priests figured "if you can't beat them, join them," and incorporated the events into their religious rituals. It so came to pass that Mardi Gras took place on Tuesday on the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent. It represented a last chance for binging and merrymaking before the forthcoming period of austerity and sacrifice.
That's not how Carnival evolved in Uruguay. As a country that places high value on the separation between church and state, Uruguay refers to Christmas morning as Family Day, and Holy Week as Tourism Week. Yet, having endured many years under a fascist dictatorship, Uruguayans understand the value of freedom of the human spirit, which the Carnival celebration embraces with open arms.
Despite Uruguay's South American location, about 93 percent of its citizens claim European descent. In 1750, the monied European families residing in Montevideo decided to import slaves from Eastern, Equatorial and Western African countries. The slaves, stripped of their culture and ethnicity, would often gather to practice candombe, a drum-based dance and music form, indigenous to the various African cultures. Its lyrics conveyed nostalgia for the homeland, and the despair at being forced into slavery. Uruguay eventually abolished slavery, but candombe prevailed as an art form. During the 20th century, the ethnic music and dance form evolved into Carnival, and became a municipally sanctioned annual event.
Although Carnival usually takes place in February or March, preparations for it begin in December. Groups of men, and sometimes a few women, parade through Montevideo's Barrio Sur, their handcrafted wooden drums slung across their chests. These comparsas, as they are called, are rehearsing for the Llamadas, the event that signals the start of Carnival. In 2005, the first group of female candombe drummers entered the Carnival scene. A total of 78 women now form La Melaza, and all-female candombe group. In the past, dressing in scantily-clad outfits and performing seductive rhythmic dances was the role of the female Carnival performer; now they play the big drums and help make the music. Meanwhile, the election of the zonal carnival queens usually takes place in December, and the Carnival of Promises, a children's parade, happens in January.
A Time Of Celebration
On the first night of Carnival, thousands of drummers, dancers, and flag wavers march through the streets of Montevideo. This is not just a parade. The different comparsas compete for the best dancers, costumes, and strongest drum beats. Later on, in addition to the music and dancing, the Murgas, a type of street performer, entertain visitors with their satirical comedy acts, which are often of a political nature. The Lubolos are white men who paint their faces black, and perform the songs of the former African slaves. Although this might evoke images of the racist minstrel shows of yesteryear, its intent is quite different. The minstrel show expressed mockery. In contrast, the Lubolo performance is a form of empathy, and perhaps, a belated, albeit awkward apology.
One final tip: Hotels book up early during Carnival season. If you plan to go, make your reservations as early as possible.
Holiday Travel Tips From Samantha Brown
Traveling with little ones this holiday season? Check out these great holiday travel tips from Travel Channel host and new mom, Samantha Brown. Be prepared. Pack your own childproofing items—like outlet covers, foam corners, a sliding door lock, and a cord wind-up—and plan to protect your kiddies from any potential dangers whether you're going to Grandma's or staying in an unfamilar hotel room. Samantha recommends crouching down on the floor as soon as you get there to get a better idea of what's interesting and within reach at your child's eye level. Bring the holidays with you. Going to be away from home during the holidays? Pack or pick up some festive goodies like mistletoe, tinsel, garland, or other meaningful keepsakes and decorate your hotel room! It'll help keep everyone in the holiday spirit and let the kids feel more at home in a new place. Samantha says to be careful and not bring any cherished, irreplaceable items in case they break or get lost during your travels, but to still let each family member bring something special along. TSA cares. Last year, the TSA made travel easier for families by allowing children ages 12 and under to walk through airport security while keeping their shoes and light jackets on. Always check TSA.gov before you go, but this latest development will help make the process a little easier for those traveling with youngsters this holiday season. The TSA also released this fun animated video to help kids prepare for their security line experience. Always pack extra food. Samantha recommends packing enough snacks for you and the kids so everyone stays in good spirits and no one—especially parents—arrives cranky with a tummy ache. Don't forget your camera! Bring your camera or camera-phone along for the ride and have everyone in the family get in on the act. Encourage teens and tweens to help capture the memories, laughs, and special moments on their cameras and smartphones, then, Samantha says, use everyone's photos to create an album as a thank you to your holiday host or as a way to commemmorate your family's trip away from home. Always be a good house guest. If you're visiting family for the holidays, keep in mind that your host has gone through a lot of planning and preparing to make sure you have a wonderful visit. Encourage the whole family to be on their best behavior, bring your host a gift to say thanks, always compliment the food, and help to clean up once you're done feasting. Samantha says it's the little things that count. Do your homework before you go. If you're visiting a new city during the holidays, do some research to see where you can find beautiful Christmas lights displays, local attractions, and fun, family-friendly treats like festive markets and affordable ice skating rinks, before you get there. Samantha recommends a family trip to New York City's Central Park Zoo to watch the monkeys "undecorate" a small tree covered with treats, and visiting the "Christmas Around the World" event at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to learn about how different cultures celebrate the season. Keep your sanity. A recent study by Embassy Suites Hotels shows that 70 percent of Americans admit they'd rather stay in a hotel than with their family members—if they knew it wouldn't upset them. Samantha says it's not meant to offend your relatives, but rather to make sure everybody gets along and has enough space; in other words, a sanity-saving measure. Samantha recommends Embassy Suites, an affordable hotel brand that is dedicated to making vacations easier and and more fun for families. Start the day off right with a full (and free) made-to-order breakfast, and enjoy free snacks and drinks at the hotel's complimentary evening reception at night. The best part: every room at an Embassy Suites property is a two-room suite, giving your family a chance to spread out with two separate sleeping areas and a large table for the kids to use when they want to draw and color.
Stay in NYC for $100 a Night During Hotel Week
Don't miss this—New York City's fifth annual Hotel Week is happening Jan. 3-15, 2016. Rooms at more than a dozen participating hotels around the city are being offered from $100 and $200 per night, which can save you tons of money compared to regular prices that are often in the $500 range. Listed below are the participating hotels, their "prix-fixe" price ranges, and how to take advantage of the deals. Room prices are per night and do not include hotel taxes—some of the hotels (noted below) also include continental breakfast. ROOMS FROM $100 A NIGHT Pod 39 (The New Pod Hotel)Where it is: Murray Hill, Midtown East; 145 East 39th StreetHow to save: Call 212/865-5700 and mention Hotel Week Wolcott HotelWhere it is: NoMad, Midtown, 4 West 31st Street between 5th Avenue and BroadwayHow to save: Call 212-268-2900 and mention Hotel Week or book online with promo code NJW2016. Cosmopolitan Hotel TribecaWhere it is: Tribeca; 95 West BroadwayHow to save: Enter promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or mention Hotel Week when you call 1-888-895-9400 to book. Econo Lodge Times SquareWhere it is: Times Square; 302 West 47th StreetHow to save: Book online with promo code LHOTEL or call 212/246-1991 and mention Hotel Week. Holiday Inn ManhattanWhere it is: Financial District; 99 Washington StreetHow to save: Call 855/914-1383 and mention Hotel Week or book online using the link above. The Paul HotelWhere it is: NoMad; 32 West 29th StreetHow to save: Book online using promo code LHOTEL or by calling 212/204-5750. ROOMS FROM $200 A NIGHT Hotel Gansevoort Park Avenue NYCWhere it is: Gramercy, NoMad; 420 Park Avenue SouthHow to save: Book online and mention promo code HWP or call 1-877-830-9889 and mention Hotel Week. Hotel Gansevoort MeatpackingWhere it is: Meatpacking District, 18 Ninth Avenue at 13th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HWP when booking online or mention Hotel Week when you call 212-206-6700 to book. Hotel ElyseeWhere it is: Midtown; 60 East 54th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online, or call 212/753-1066 and mention Hotel Week. Hotel GiraffeWhere it is: NoMad; 365 Park Avenue South at 26th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or call 212-685-7700 and mention Hotel Week.Bonus: Continental breakfast included. Hotel Mela Times SquareWhere it is: Times Square, 120 W 44th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or call 212-710-7000 to book by phone and mention Hotel Week. The Library HotelWhere it is: Midtown; 299 Madison AvenueHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or call 212/983-4500 and mention Hotel Week. Sanctuary Hotel NYCWhere it is: Times Square; 132 West 47th StreetHow to save: Call 212/234-7000 and mention Hotel Week or book online using the link above. Refinery Hotel New YorkWhere it is: Midtown/Fashion District; 63 West 38th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or mention Hotel Week when you call 646/664-0310 to book. The LudlowWhere it is: Lower East Side; 180 Ludlow Street between Houston and StantonHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEKNYC to book online or call 212/432-1818 and mention Hotel Week. The MarltonWhere it is: Greenwich Village; 5 West 8th StreetHow to save: Book online with promo code IG42015 or mention Hotel Week when you call 212/321-0100 to book. The Roxy Hotel TribecaWhere it is: Tribeca; 2 Avenue of the AmericasHow to save: Call 877/519-6600 and mention Hotel Week or book online using the link above. SoHo Grand HotelWhere it is: SoHo; 310 West BroadwayHow to save: Book online using the link above or mention Hotel Week when you call 800/965-3000 to book. The MaritimeWhere it is: Chelsea, Meatpacking District; 363 West 16th StreetHow to save: Use promo code HOTELWEEK when booking online or call 212/242-4300 and mention Hotel Week when booking by phone.
Don't Miss These Holiday Travel Sales!
Tour packages, hotels, cruises, and train travel are all on sale this holiday season. Here's what you need to know. TOUR PACKAGES • Be on the lookout now thru Dec. 24 for the 12 Days of G sale by G Adventures. Check their website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed daily for new discounts on tours from all over the world and while you're there, enter to wiin a free trip for two to the Galápagos Islands. So far, they've offered 15 percent discounts on select tours to China, North America, East Africa, Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, as well as 15 percent off several of their sailing and local living packages. Participating packages must be booked by Dec. 31, 2013 for travel by Sept. 30, 2014. • Contiki, a company that specializes in tours for 18-35-year-olds, is offering 15 percent off 15 of their European trips when you book now thru Dec. 31, 2013, and use promo code EUROPE15. Tours on sale include the following: European Discovery, European Highlights, European Horizon, Simply Italy, Italian Espresso, European Magic, Spanish Spree, European Whirl, Amsterdam to Barcelona, European Escapade, Eastern Road, European Experience, Mediterranean Highlights, Great Britain & Ireland, and European Inspiration, and range anywhere from 8-21 days. Be sure to check out their 31 Days of Contiki page daily for inspiring travel quotes, travel tips, and giveaways. TRAIN TRAVEL IN EUROPE • Rail Europe is offering two big year end specials to help travelers get around Europe this month. You can save 35 percent off all TGV train tickets when traveling with France and to and from Milan and Luxembourg—prices usually start around $66 before the discount is taken, so be sure to use promo code TGV35 when booking your tickets now thru Dec. 31, 2013. The Swiss Pass Free Day deal gives you five days of travel around Switzerland for the price of four with the purchase of a First Class 4-Day Swiss Pass. You'll get five consecutive days of unlimited travel on scenic routes like the Glacier Express, Wilhelm Tell Express, and Golden Pass Line, and have access to public transportation in 75 Swiss cities, complimentary admission to more than 470 museums, and save 50 percent off most mountain railways. Swiss Pass Free Day deal must be booked by Dec. 20, 2013 for travel thru Dec. 31, 2013. Passes start at $482. CRUISES • Cruisevoyant is celebrating the holidays with its 12 Days of Cruisemas sale and will be releasing a new cruise deal every day now thru Dec. 25—check the website daily for specials like a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale for from $594 per person or a 15-day cruise to Hawaii and Mexico from San Francisco for from $1,099 per person. Specials may vary; based on availability. Check the website for more details about travel dates. • You can save up to $2,000 per stateroom and earn up to $100 worth of onboard spending with the Season of Savings sale by Princess Cruises, happening now thru Friday, Dec. 20. You'll save on more than 125 cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Panama Canal—offers include a 4-day Western Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale from $249 per person and a 3-day cruise from L.A. to Ensenada, Mexico, for from $169 per person. Use promo code RXZ when booking this deal. Sale ends at 11:59 PST on Dec. 20, 2013. HOTELS • Book your Resort Holiday Getaway at one of several participating Marriott properties now thru Dec. 26 for travel thru Jan. 31, 2014, and you'll receive a $50 resort credit per night (up to $200 resort credit). Rooms at the following hotels start at $149 a night: Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina, JW Marriott Orlando Grand Lakes, Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club, and Spa (pictured above), Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, Orlando World Center Marriott, Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, and the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pampano Beach Resort & Spa. Visit marriott.com/resortholidaygetaway.com and enter promo code P91 when booking. Based on availability; room rate does not include taxes and fees. • You can save 15 percent off the best available rate at Aston Hotels & Resorts this holiday season thanks to the 12 Days of Aston sale happening now thru Dec. 23 at twelve of their properties. Sale prices include rooms in Hawaii at the Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel from $89 a night, Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel from $123 a night, Aston at the Waikiki Banyan from $127 a night, Hotel Renew by Aston and the Aston Waikiki Sunset from $135 a night, and rooms at the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower from $382 a night; on Maui, rooms at the Aston Ka'anapali Shores are offered from $184 a night, while the Aston at The Whaler on Ka'anapali Beach has rooms from $221 a night; on Kauai, you can stay at the Aston Waimea Plantation Cottage for from $210 a night; on the Big Island of Hawaii, rooms at the Aston Waikoloa Colony Villas start at $178 a night; in Lake Tahoe, California, rooms at the Aston Lakeland Village Beach & Mountain Resort start at $93 a night; and in Lake Las Vegas, Nevada, the Aston MonteLago Village Resort has rooms from $85 a night. Book by Dec. 23, 2013 for travel by Mar. 31, 2014. Based on availability; prices quoted do not include taxes and fees. Call 866/774-2924 or visit astonhotels.com to book your stay. • Best Western is offering 20 percent off hotel prices when you book the internet-only rate on stays now thru Feb. 2, 2014. For an even better deal, register for the Best Western Rewards program to earn 1,000 bonus rewards points on stays prior to Feb. 2, 2013—elite level members will earn 500 more bonus points per stay, for a total of 1,500 points. For bookings now thru Jan. 5, 2014, Best Western will donate an additional 500 points for every elite stay to the Best Western For A Better World Charities. • Red Roof Inn properties around the country are offering 20 percent off the best available rate when you book your stay 10 days in advance. Please note that the Nicest Price deal is largely nonrefundable (a full advanced payment is required at the time of booking and no refunds or credits will be given for cancellations, no-shows, or changes with your reservation), but you can score some great deals by planning ahead of time. Choose the Nicest Price option when booking this deal online, or call 800/733-7663 to book your stay by phone.
Great Getaways: Savannah
If you're looking for a fun, affordable southern getaway, visit Savannah, where you'll find the perfect mix of southern hospitality, nightlife, and enough action to satisfy every food lover and history buff. Savor the tastes of SavannahAlthough things may have gotten a little controversial recently, Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady & Sons, is still one of Savannah's major attractions for foodies and fans alike—folks have been known to make reservations online up to a year in advance or else risk waiting in a line that wraps around its home at 102 West Congress Street. For a more traditional southern dining experience, try Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room at 107 West Jones Street, where you'll share a giant table and make new friends as you chow down on fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato soufflé, okra gumbo, corn muffins, and black-eyed peas. If you're still not full after all that, head to Leopold's Ice Cream, a Savannah legend that's been serving the sweet treat since 1919 (212 E. Broughton St). Check out the old fortsMake history interesting for your family by showing them around the places where it all happened. Fort Pulaski National Monument, located about 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, was pummeled by cannon fire during the Civil War and once served as a Union prison—spend some time exploring the tiny tunnels built into the hillside that let you pop up at different vantage points around the fort. Just 10 minutes from downtown Savannah, Old Fort Jackson sits along the Savannah River and is one of oldest standing brick structures on the east coast. If you have time to take a drive, Fort McAllister Historic Park is home to 4.3 miles of hiking and biking trails, Fort tours, and historical Civil War demonstrations 45-minutes south of Savannah on the shores of the Ogeechee River. Stroll around Savannah's great outdoorsSavannah is a great city to take a walk—you'll be met with scenic squares and picturesque scenery at almost every turn, so don't forget your camera! Movie buffs will want to visit Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump told the story of his fascinating life while waiting for the bus. If you're a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fan, make a pilgrimage out to historic Bonaventure Cemetery 15 minutes from Savannah's downtown and pay a visit to poet Conrad Aiken, singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer, and several of Savannah's most famous residents. You can also visit the grave of Danny Lewis Hansford, whose death was popularized by the book, next door in Greenwich Cemetery—his gravestone is often covered in roses, cigarettes, cigars, coins, and sealed bottles of bourbon. Back in town, take a stroll or have a picnic in beautiful Forsyth Park, a gorgeous green space within the Historic District and easily accessible by Savannah's free DOT Express Shuttle. If you've brought your precious pup with you to Savannah, check out Oliver Bentleys Historic Dog Walk Tour, a tour led by the popular dog product company's mascot, Ollie B (and owner of course), that lets you and your furry friend "sniff out Savannah" and explore another, four-legged, side of the city ($20 for adults, $10 for children ages 9-17, children under 8 are free, limited to two leashed dogs per human). Take a ghost tour—if you're brave enough!Pick a ghost tour, any ghost tour. Savannah is rumored to be the most haunted city in the U.S. so naturally, there are plenty of options to go with—choose from the trolley-tour fun of Ghosts & Gravestones, gain some liquid courage during the Ghost City Pub Crawl by Ghost City Tours, or brave the streets at night while being led around town by your guide with Cobblestone Tours. Either way, you'll learn about the city's hauntings, tragic tales of unfortunate circumstances, and maybe even see a ghost or two. Anything can happen—you'd be surprised how much of the city was actually built on the remains of its former residents! Spend a day at the beach in Tybee IslandCraving some sun and sand? Tybee Island is only about a 20-minute drive from Savannah and is home to the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, a 270-year-old site where you can visit historic buildings and see what it was really like to live on the property in 1732. The view from the top* is worth the $9 entrance price ($7 for children ages 6-17, seniors, and military members—free for Coast Guard members with a valid ID). If all else fails, find your perfect spot of sand and spend a day in the warm waves of Tybee Island Beach. Mark your calendars—Tybee Island Restaurant Week is happening Jan. 17-26, 2014, so don't miss this opportunity to sample some great seafood—The Crab Shack is offering great prix fixe options from $25. Stay in the heart of the city for lessBook your stay at the Best Western PLUS Savannah Historic District, located right along River Street, a five-minute walk from some of the city's best nightlife along the Riverfront, and across the street from Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos, a legend of the Savannah late-night entertainment scene. Rooms are priced from $79 and include complimentary continental breakfast. Park your car at the hotel for $12 and take advantage of the city's vibrant nightlife options—you can even get around for free via the DOT Express Shuttle, River Street Streetcar, or hop a free ride on the Savannah Belles Ferry to access the Riverfront area. *Please note the Tybee Island Lighthouse will be closed for painting thru Jan. 31, 2014, but the rest of the museum site is still open to the public at a discounted entry price.