Review: JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

In honor of the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I’ve decided to publish some previously un-published blog entries that I already had written about my trip there last September.  I’m not going to change anything since these were my thoughts immediately upon returning from Rio.  


 

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro 


We arrived in the late morning after our overnight flight from Houston via a private transfer from the airport to the hotel. Though we arrived well before check-in time, they still had our room ready.  This was probably because my roommate this trip was Platinum Status with Marriott.  By comparison, I was only Gold status, which I received as a benefit of having United Premier 1K status.

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

The JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is located smack, dab in the middle of Copacabana Beach, making it one of the best situated hotels on Copacabana.  The lobby was undergoing renovations while we were there, so that was a bit obnoxious, but we got over it.  Despite the ongoing renovations, the two-story lobby was quite large and an overall attractive space.

We had a standard deluxe ocean-view room on the 11th floor with a beautiful view of Copacabana beach.  It was a good-sized room with a functional bathroom and very comfortable beds.  The highlight of the room was the view.

Since we were both Marriott elite, we had access to the concierge lounge.  The concierge lounge features a two-story glass wall overlooking Copacabana.  There is ample seating space with a couple of TVs and computers.  Breakfast is served in the lounge, and it was delicious.  They also serve a variety of tasty appetizers every evening, along with unlimited beer and wine.  I ended up spending more time in this lounge than I planned, but oh well!

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro Concierge Lounge

One of my favorite features of the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro is the stellar rooftop patio and pool.  The rooftop has an amazing view of Copacabana.  I spent one evening here around sunset, and it was beautiful.  There is a nice bar where one can order a beer or a fantastic caipirinha.  The rooftop pool looks inviting, though I didn’t take a dip.  From the south side of the roof deck, one can see the sunset behind the Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer statue.  It’s just a fantastic outdoor space, and one of my favorite things about the hotel.

All in all, this is probably one of the best hotels in all of Rio de Janeiro due primarily to its location.  Marriott is mighty proud of this hotel too, as it’s quite pricey.

How I booked it…

We booked this hotel with Marriott points.  My friend had a ton of points since he regularly stays with Marriott, so he used those.  The JW Marriott is a category 8 hotel, which requires 40,000 Marriott points per night.  This is still a decent deal considering the standard rates at this hotel are often well north of USD $400.

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

Marriott Rewards Free Night Award Chart

 

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions

In honor of the ongoing 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I’ve decided to publish some previously un-published blog entries that I already had written about my trip there last September.  I’m not going to change anything since these were my thoughts immediately upon returning from Rio.   Also included are some pictures from the soccer futbol game I attended at the famed Maracana Stadium.


 

For previous installments from this trip, please see the links below:

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Revew:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro

An entry from a previous stop in Rio:  

Eight hours in Rio de Janeiro


Getting there and Getting around

As previously mentioned, a group of friends and I booked this trip down to Rio due to an extremely low price that was offered by United last February for Rio flights leaving Orlando. This forced me into a pretty crazy routing, as I flew all over the place to and from Rio. Getting down there, I flew Washington to Orlando to Houston to Rio. And on the way back, I flew Rio to Houston to Denver to Orlando to Washington. Yeah — that’s a lot of flying. But hey, I got mad miles for it, and I slept most of the time, so it wasn’t all that bad!

My routing:  US Airways in Red; United in Blue

My routing: DCA-MCO-IAH-GIG// GIG-IAH-DEN-MCO-DCA; US Airways in Red; United in Blue

The flights were nothing terrible, and nothing great to speak of. Since my long flights were in economy class, I don’t find those particularly interesting, so I’ll hold off on a full-fledged flight review.  I did get a very roomy first row of economy plus behind BusinessFirst on United’s B777-200 (two-class, pre-merger Continental configuration).  This was great because it featured even more leg room than the standard Economy Plus, and there was only a bulkhead in front of me — not another seat.

Getting to and from the Beaches from GIG

Ground Transportation to and from the beaches (Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and Barra)

We arrived at Rio de Janeiro’s Galieleo International Airport around 9:30am and proceeded directly through immigration and customs. Since this was not my first time in Brazil, I already had obtained a Brazil Visa, which is necessary for entrance to the country for US citizens. We pre-arranged a shuttle to our hotels through shuttlerio.com. This cost 20 real per person, each way, and it a pretty good deal. Considering the Real Onibus is 13 real per person each way to the beaches, the extra 7 real is definitely worth it since the shuttle takes a much more direct path to the beach with fewer stops. The shuttle took a little less than an hour to get to the JW Marriott on Copacabana, while the bus can take 90 minutes to two hours at times.

For detailed information on taking the Real Onibus to or from GIG to the beaches, see this post:  Eight Hours in Rio de Janeiro.

Our trip back to the airport took well over two hours on the Real Onibus from Copacabana, so be sure to allot plenty of time.  In fact, be sure to allot plenty of time no matter which mode of transportation you choose — the traffic in Rio is horrendous.

During the next three days, I did a whole bunch of different activities. From lounging on Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches to visiting Cristo Redentor to attending a Botafogo soccer game at the famed Marancana Stadium – I had a packed three days.

Transportation along the beaches

The three major beaches in Rio are Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon (from north to south).  While Ipanema and Leblon are connected, there’s a mountain between Copacabana and Ipanema, so transit is needed.  There are a series of public buses that run every 5-10 minutes from multiple stops along all beaches, so that’s the cheapest and easiest way to get from one spot to another.  Since I was with a group, we found it easier to just take a cab to meet different parts of our group at Ipanema.  Split three ways, the cab was quick and cheap.

 Seeing the sights (Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain)

There are various tour operators that can arrange a trip for you to either of these landmarks.  Since we had a group, we hired a guide who took us everywhere in a minibus — it was really fantastic, and I highly recommend you look into that route just for convenience sake.  Otherwise, you can easily take a cab to Sugarloaf Mountain.  Cabbing to Christ the Redeemer could be a little more complicated.  You can either cab to the base of the mountain and take a tramway up, or you can cab all the way to the top.  You can likely negotiate a round trip rate for the cabbie to wait for you up top, but I imagine it would be a tad pricey.

General Impressions

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about my trip to Rio, simply because of Brazil’s somewhat negative reputation due to the violence in Rio and other large cities.  After spending four days there, I am happy to report that at no point did I feel in danger in any way, shape, or form.  Granted, you need to be aware as you do in any large city, but from my experience, the danger of Rio did not apply.  Now, do keep in mind that I stuck to the upper end beach communities of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon during my time, there – it wasn’t like I was roaming favelas at 3am.  Still, most tourists – especially from the US – focus their time on those beach communities anyway.

One big takeaway from the time I spent there was the terrible, terrible traffic.  It took two hours to get from the beach to the airport, and traffic in general was gridlock – especially during anytime close to traditional rush hours.

The single most attractive quality of Rio – its location on the ocean and along the mountains are it’s single biggest challenge.  Due to these geographical restrictions, infrastructure is pretty poor in Rio.  I honestly cannot imagine how they will successfully rectify their infrastructure and improve it enough to successfully host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  I imagine the city will come to a literal stand-still for those 16 days.  Rio may survive next summer’s FIFA World Cup, simply because the event will be spread throughout 12 different cities in Brazil, and only 5-6 games will actually be held in Rio.

Despite these infrastructure deficiencies, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rio.  It is one of the most beautiful cities I have  visited anywhere in the World.  I am completely looking forward to returning sometime soon… will I be there for the World Cup next summer?  There’s a very good chance!

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Ten Things I Did in Rio

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
Review:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro


As detailed in an earlier post, I decided to head on down to Rio for Labor Day for a weekend of sun, fun, and caipirinhas!  Over four days and three nights, I managed to see and do a good bit.  There are several things that I’d like to do if I had more time, but all-in-all, four days is plenty of time to see most cities around the world.  Without further adieu, here’s ten crazy awesome things that I did in Rio…

Being a tourist

Being a tourist

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

One of the eight wonders of the modern world, Cristo Redentor is a sight to behold.  Perched almost 3,000 feet over the city on the Corcavado, Cristo Redentor is a must while you’re in Rio.  Our group hired a private guide who took us in a bus up to the top of Corcovado.  The statue was impressive, and the views of Rio are purely spectacular.  This is one of the few places I’ve ever been where I got the chills taking in the views and just realizing where I was standing at that moment in time.  It’s truly the iconic symbol of Brazil, and it was surely an amazing experience.

The sights and sounds of Ipanema Beach

Ipanema is without a doubt the most active beach in Rio.  Centered around lifeguard post 9, Ipanema is the epicenter of scantily clad Brazilians of all shapes and sizes.  Spending a few hours here soaking in the sun and some cheap Brazilian beer is a must.  I ended up spending the better part of six hours on Ipanema with my group of about 12 friends.  Many beers were had.  Brazilian gifts were procured.  Dental floss bikinis were seen.  The weather was a perfect 80 degrees and sunny.  It was pretty much paradise.

 

Have a caipirinha along Copacabana

Copacabana Beach from the JW Marriott

Copacabana Beach from the JW Marriott

The caipirinha is the iconic adult beverage in Brazil, and there’s nowhere better to have it than on one of the country’s most famous beaches.  Our group had multiple caipirinhas during this trip, but none perhaps as memorable as late night along the sidewalk at Copacabana.  It was an awesome time just people watching and enjoying this Brazilian treat.

Visit the Feira de São Cristóvão marketplace for an authentic lunch

After the trip to Sugarloaf, the group was led by our guide, Carlos to a large market in downtown Rio called Feira de São Cristóvão.  Here, we at lunch at a fantastic spot called Estação Baião De Dois.  We got what amounted to a mound of meat – and that was fine by everyone.  Absolutely delicious.  We appeared to be the only Westerners in the place, and that was a good thing – the food was amazing.

Attend a futbol game at Maracanã StadiumIMG_4574

This was at the very top of my list!  I love going to sporting events when in other countries.  I always try to attend a futbol game when I’m in Europe or South America.  Maracanã is the epitome of international soccer.  In addition to being the de facto home of the Braziilian National Team, it was also home to the first FIFA World Cup Final.  It will be the home of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final.  And of course, it will also be the site for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  Needless to say, I was pretty pumped about getting to see a soccer game in this venue – arguably the most famous soccer venue in the world (no disrespect to Wembley and Camp Nou).  We had amazing seats – about fifteen rows up from midfield for the game between Sao Paulo and hometown Botafogo (one of four teams that call Rio home).  This marked my second soccer game in South America in six months (River Plate in Buenos Aires last March), so naturally, I was thrilled.

Gorge yourself at a Brazilian Churrascarria

One of the first things people think of when they think of Brazillian food is the Brazilian steakhouse, or churrascaria.   Popularized by chains in the states such as Fogo de Chão and Texas de Brazil, these places are literally all you can eat steak… just delicious.  We ate at one of the more popular places in Rio called Porçao in Ipanema.  It was indeed delicious, albeit relatively expensive.  In the future, I’d probably head to a more low key place where I would likely get the same quantity and quality of food for maybe half the price.

Rio and Sugar Loaf

Rio and Sugar Loaf

Sugarloaf Mountain

We took the tram up to Sugarloaf mountain – another popular landmark in Rio.  From here, you can see another angle of the beaches, and downtown, as well as a very unique view of planes approaching the Santos-Dumont Airport – from above!  The tram ride up to the mountain is fantastic featuring awesome views of the beaches and harbor.

Sample some cachaça at Academia de Cachaça

As the main liquor ingredient in the caipirinha, cachaça is a liquor that is foreign to most Americans.  So naturally, like good tourists, we set out to sample all sorts of cachaça at Academia de Cachaça in Leblon.  This place had dozens upon dozens of different flavors, types, and kinds of cachaça – it was pretty impressive.  I admittedly did not partake in too much of it since I was glued to my phone awaiting updates on the season opener for my beloved Auburn Tigers.  Needless to say, the rest of the group sampled multiple types of cachaça.

Sample the nightlife on a pub crawl

When I show up in a foreign city with no clue what to do as far as nightlife is concerned, I’ve found that a pub crawl is a great way to get introduced to some of the livelier neighborhoods in the city.  Three of use decided to partake in the Pub Crawl Carioca.  This was a good time with a  mix of locals and tourists.  We went to four places in Leblon, Ipanema, and Lagoa.  While some pub crawls are a bust, this one was most certainly not!

Take in sunset on Copacabana on the JW Marriott rooftop with a drink in hand

My hotel for the weekend was the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro.  Its location in the middle of Copacabana is hard to beat.  The hotel itself is great — I really had no complaints, as the location really just makes the place probably the premier place to stay in Rio.  The room was more than adequate, and the club lounge was great.  One of the coolest features of the hotel is its 18th floor rooftop pool, bar, and terrace.  The views of Copacabana in the front, and Corcavado in the back are ridiculous.  With a few beers and caipirinha’s in hand, our group enjoyed the first evening on Friday night as the sun went below the mountains in the West.

Though three nights and four days is plenty of time to see Rio, there are still several things that I would have loved to do if I had even more time in Rio.  And that may happen in the near future, as I’m currently booked to return to Rio de Janeiro next June for the 2014 FIFA World Cup!

 

Labor Day Weekend in Rio: Introduction

Introduction
Ten Things I Did in Rio
Getting There, Getting Around, and General Impressions
Review:  JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro


As I landed in Istanbul last Valentine’s Day, I received an e-mail alerting me to an inordinately low fare to Rio de Janeiro on United for pretty much all year.  I just happened to be on this trip to Istanbul with a bunch of travel friends, so the only logical thing for us to do was to immediately book a trip together to Rio!

So there we were, drinking free alcohol from the Club Level of the Grand Hyatt Istanbul – just blocks from Taksim Square.  And what were we doing?  Planning out what to do in Istanbul that weekend?  Nope.

We were trying to book the most insane routings you could think of to get to Rio de Janeiro over Labor Day weekend and rack up as many miles as possible.  At the time, this was a great idea since I was gunning for United Premier 1K status.  Now, having achieved that status a few weeks ago, this routing looks pretty silly — even to me.Screen shot 2013-08-28 at 4.09.22 PM

Thursday morning, I will be flying to Orlando — and then Houston to catch my Thursday night redeye flight to Rio de Janeiro.  On Monday evening, I’ll be on the overnight flight back to Houston and then will be connecting to Denver, back to Orlando, and finally home to DC.  It’s a total of 14,812 miles in an airplane — a perfect way to spend the weekend, right?

This may not suck Courtesy:  JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro

This may not suck
Courtesy: JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro

There are at least a dozen travel / miles enthusiasts who are making this trip, and we have a bunch of events planned.   I’m slated to stay at the JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro — smack-dab in the middle of the famed Copacabana Beach.  I will be staying a total of four days and three nights in Rio – a perfect getaway for Labor Day weekend.  During my time here, I will be spending some time on the beach, touring various sights including Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer, and the beach neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana.  I also plan on sampling a ton of Brazilian food including dinner at Porcao – one of the more famous churrascarias (Brazilian-style steakhouses).

Sunday, I’ll be attending a futbol (soccer) game at the famous Marancana Stadium — the future site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final and the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.  I especially can’t wait for that, as I love going to sporting events in other countries.

I’ve been to Rio before, but was only there for a few hours on Ipanema Beach during a layover to start out my crazy 15-day adventure this past June.  I’m definitely looking forward to spending some more time in Rio.  Who knows?  If I love it, I may just go back for the 2014 FIFA World Cup — I’ve already got award tickets booked just in case!

Does anyone have any suggestions for some other things to do or places to eat while in Rio?  If so, I’d love to hear them!

DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Eight hours in Rio de Janeiro

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


 

My TAM flight arrived in Rio de Janeiro Terminal 2 a little after 6:30am, and I decided to proceed in the direction of transfer passengers despite the fact that my connecting flight to Santiago didn’t depart until 3:00pm.  I wanted to spend a bit of time in the lounge to charge my iPhone up since it would be functioning as my camera for the day.

Since I had been to the Rio airport a few months earlier, I was familiar with its layout, and knew exactly where the lounges were.  As I tried to check-in to the Smiles VIP lounge, which I used last time while traveling TAM, I was advised by the agent that there was a new lounge next door for TAM and LAN passengers, and that I could access that lounge as a Star Alliance Gold passenger.  So I popped on into the “SEA” lounge next door and was admitted quickly.

There was a small spread – almost identical to the spread in the other lounge, consisting of small appetizers, Brazilian pastries, and an assortment of drinks. The chairs were pretty uncomfortable, and the lounge had a pretty cold feeling to it.   It’s honestly not a lounge in which I’d care to spend much more than an hour.  However, the Wi-Fi worked great, and I was able to charge up my iPhone quickly.

Mission accomplished.

After about 45 minutes, it was time to trek into the city.  First thing was to find a place to store my luggage while I was gone.  I proceeded through immigration after a bit of initial confusion, and found the MALEX luggage lockers.  These are located outside on the departure levels of both Terminals 1 and 2.  You can get a locker for 12 Brazilian Real (about USD $6).  The exchange rate is approximately USD $1: 2..15 Brazilian Real at the present time.

I then looked for the blue bus with a yellow crown on it, the Real Auto Onibus.  This bus is really easy to take, and only costs 13 real each way.  It runs every 15 minutes, and normally takes about an hour to get to Ipanema or Copacabana, but since I was taking it on a Friday morning during rush hour, it ended up taking about an hour and a half to get to Ipanema.

The bus dropped me off right in the middle of Ipanema Beach after multiple stops.  The bus goes downtown, the Santos Dumont Airport, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Barra.

Ipanema!

Ipanema!

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

Ipanema

After walking to the end of Ipanema, I decided that it was time for a couple beers and an early lunch.  I settled on one of the many kiosks lining the beach.   Lunch was nothing special – a chicken sandwich (lame, I know).

Part of my lunch

Part of my lunch

It was a beautiful morning, and the beach really looked enticing.  Due to my limited time on this layover, I’d have to forgo getting in the water and save it for my next trip to Rio over Labor Day.

The water looked real nice

The water looked real nice

After lunch and a couple beers, it was approaching noon.  I figured that I had better start making my way back to the airport.  In order to get a bus on the way back, one must find the blue, “Real Onibus” bus with the destination of “Aeropuerto Internacional”.  They come by every 15 minutes, but there is no rhyme or reason as to where they actually stop.  So the best way to flag down one of these busses is to position oneself near a traffic light and wave like a crazy person when the bus is approaching. Again, it is 13 Brazilian Real (~USD$6.50) each way.

I boarded the bus, and we drove back along Copacabana.  There was much more activity along Copacabana on this day, and I briefly regretted not going there instead.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have to save it for the next trip.

 

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists.  Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Sandcastle on Copacabana welcoming tourists. Rio is home to the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Anyway, the trip back to the airport was a little over an hour, and I arrived about 1:30pm.  After a quick trip through security and immigration, I headed back to the “Sea lounge” for a quick snack and a Fanta (when in Rome…).  Fifteen minutes later, my flight to Santiago was ready for boarding and I headed to the gate.

Overall, this was not a bad way to spend an eight-hour layover.  Instead of staying in the rather drab and boring Rio airport, I got to hangout along one of the more famous beaches in the world.

Not a bad way to spend the morning, that’s for sure.