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5 Hot Carnival and Mardi Gras Destinations for 2016

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Winter can sometimes summon seasonal blues. To help lift spirits – and, of course, ring in Lent and the eventual spring thaw – a slew of cities around the world kick the doldrums to the curb with their biggest parties of the year. Here are 5 Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations from TPG Contributor Kelsy Chauvin that heat up the frosty season.

There is no Mardi Gras in New Orleans without beads. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
There is no Mardi Gras in New Orleans without beads. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

1. New Orleans Mardi Gras

“Mardi Gras” translates to “Fat Tuesday” to mark the wild abandon of eating and drinking the day before fasting on Ash Wednesday. No American city honors that tradition better than the Big Easy, where indulgence is a way of life. With 2016 Mardi Gras falling early this year on February 9, revelers are already prepping to celebrate with rowdy parades like Bacchus and Endymion the weekend of February 5-7 (along with many smaller parades happening all over the city and around Louisiana).

Since New Orleans thrives on tourism all year round, there are loads of hotels to choose from; many of them part of rewards programs. Mardi Gras marks peak travel season in the Crescent City, so it’s wise to reserve as far in advance as possible and take advantage of points-based upgrades and other special deals upon booking. Check out Eric Rosen’s Destination of the Week: New Orleans for more hot tips of where to stay and how to get there.

Millions of revelers descend on the Sambadrome for Carnival. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Millions of revelers descend on the Sambadrome for Carnival. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

2. Rio de Janeiro Carnival

Carnival in Brazil’s most exciting beachside metropolis started in the 18th century. Today, the celebration welcomes around one million spectators to join five full days (minimum) of dancing and music starting the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Although there are regular street parades for more than a week prior to Fat Tuesday, in Rio you’ll want to buy an advance ticket to the Sambadrome. There, you’ll join countless other partygoers from near and far in tiered viewing stands and overlook the annual march of Rio’s samba schools. The “Sambadrome Parades” are held every night of Carnival.

Along with New Orleans, Rio is home to one of the world’s biggest, most flamboyant pre-Lenten festivals. Plan well ahead for accommodations and flights. A card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is especially beneficial with no foreign transaction fees and 2x points on travel and dining at restaurants. Catch more local travel advice with TPG’s Destination of the Week: Rio de Janeiro.

ice’s Carnivale is filled with flashy colors and giant personalities. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Nice’s Carnival is filled with flashy colors and giant personalities. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

3. Nice Carnaval

Southern France’s Cote d’Azur may not have the raucous reputation of NOLA or Rio, but for two weeks in February, Nice flies its most festive carnaval colors – this year February 13-28. Each year’s theme – this year’s is the “King of Media” – inspires participants to build 18 amazing floats, which proceed parade-style through town along with legions of papier-mache figures and more than 1,000 musicians and performers. Nice carnavalers chase away the winter gloom with flower showers tossed from the annual “Flower Parade” floats, plus the illuminated floats that light up the city in the “Parade of Lights.”

Book travel a couple months out, as well as your reserved seating access pass in the grandstands of Place Massena, the hub of Nice’s carnaval parade routes and events. For transportation tips to, from and around Nice, read TPG Contributor Lane Nieset’s handy Tips for Train Travel & Transportation in France.

Masquerades are on parade at Venice’s Carnevale. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Masquerades are on parade at Venice’s Carnevale. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

4. Venice Carnevale

As one might expect from one of the world’s most beautiful cities, carnevale in Venice is considered one of the most visually striking affairs. Elaborate masks are the main attraction, with the more impressive ones ornamented in gold leaf, leather, porcelain, feathers and even real gemstones and are usually part of equally extravagant full-body costumes. Masquerading merrymakers roam the city’s winding walkways during the nearly three-week-long celebration (in 2016, from January 23-February 9). Its famous canals and piazzas are magically transformed into colorscapes with music and performance day and night.

Venice is a marvelous UNESCO World Heritage City that every traveler should experience, and Carnevale is a dreamy time to visit. Plan your trip and maximize points with wisdom from TPG’s Destination of the Week: Venice.

Carnival de Quebec’s famous mascot Bonhomme leads the annual “snow bath.” Photo by Kelsy Chauvin.
Carnival de Quebec’s famous mascot Bonhomme leads the annual “snow bath.” Image by Kelsy Chauvin.

5. Quebec City Carnaval

Most of the world’s annual carnivals are firmly rooted in religious traditions. Head north for something different in the snow and winter sun, Canadian style. The annual Carnaval de Quebec runs this year from January 29-February 14, marking one of the world’s biggest winter festivals. More than 200 events span from the nutty to the competitive: canoe races across the icy St. Lawrence River, horse-drawn sleigh races through the Plains of Abraham, giant snow slides, late-night dance parties inside the Ice Palace and the annual “snow bath,” featuring wild Canucks cavorting outdoors in bathing suits in sub-freezing temperatures. Don’t miss a photo with Carnival mascot Bonhomme, a giant grinning snowman who speaks; or a glass of “caribou,” the traditional drink made of red wine, sugar and any type of hard liquor (to keep the wine from freezing solid).

Quebec City is home to Fairmont, Hilton, Marriott and other rewards hotels, but if you’re curious about something authentically chill, consider earning points for a night spent in the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel). Make sure to bring a sweater.

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