Brazil for New Years, Part 2

Brazil for New Years, Part 2

After the Emiliano and an amazing start to the trip, we rented a van from Movida, a local Brazilian car rental agency, to drive to Buzios, a famous beach town a few hours away from Rio.  

This was my first time in Brazil, and I had heard that driving there could be, to put it mildly, adventurous.  So I signed up for all the extra insurance offered by Movida, to be extra safe.  I normally just use my Capital One Venture X for car rentals in the US as it provides primary rental car insurance, which is super awesome for those who own cars / have normal car insurance.  This way, unlike a lot of credit cards, even the Amex Platinum, which is vaunted for its travel and shopping protections, if you need to use the insurance, you don’t have to go through your personal car insurance first.  The Capital One Venture X, then, helps prevents a hit to your insurance and potential premium increase.

In this case, however, being abroad with a language barrier, I decided to just go with the local rental insurance.  I had booked a great rate on the car by booking far ahead - monitoring prices as we got closer, the rate nearly quadrupled.  If it had gotten too expensive, it would have been possible for us to go bus, but not nearly as comfortable and definitely more steps.  We also really wanted a car in Buzios to make travel easier; given it was New Years, the normal dune buggy rental may have been sold out.

We made it to Buzios relatively easily, despite warnings of lots of New Year’s traffic.  It was amazing to see the water as we got close and arrived.  Absolutely gorgeous.  We had booked a big house a short walk to some of the many beaches in Buzios via a local vacation rental.  It was humongous, with perhaps 10 bedrooms and almost as many baths, a pool and great front area, and even a trampoline and play area in the back, though I was a little apprehensive about using the trampoline.

We had a great time over a few days in Buzios.  The weather was actually somewhat rainy and cool for much of it, but the house and company helped make the best of the situation.  Then, the last two days, the sun came out and things warmed up.  Definitely a fun way to end our time there.

Sadly, our traffic luck ran out on the way back to Rio - we didn’t leave as early as we should have, and spent about 5 hrs getting back - it took us 3.5 hrs getting there, with normal traffic around 3 hrs.  We arrived at the Hilton Copacabana, which I had booked with a Free Night Certificate from my Amex Hilton Aspire, an amazing card that comes with tons of perks (The other Hilton cards currently have an amazing sign up bonus until mid July with Free Night Certificate, as well - post to come about this very shortly).  The room would have cost $600 without it due to proximity to New Year’s, so it was an amazing use of the certificate.

The Hiton Copacabana was the complete opposite of the Emiliano.  Large, dated, super bustling.  We tried to unload our luggage and check in but were constantly getting hurried along for parking too long, while waiting for the people in front of us to check in, even though I was able to go to the Diamond Desk in the Executive lounge.  It was still a very slow, arduous process.  After getting everything sorted with no shortage of anxiety, we made it to the room, an upgraded room due to the Diamond status from the Hilton Aspire card.  It was nice to have a corner room, but there was no balcony, and the windows opened very slightly, and then only to lots of road noise from the signature boulevard in front.  

The room itself was fine, kind of boring and dated, but definitely serviceable, especially for free and only one night.  I decided to check out the rest of the hotel.  The rooftop was amazing, but insanely crowded - there is a pool on the roof, but it was packed to the gills, and did not look fun at all.  My wife tried it out and said it was lukewarm - not what you want.  The gym was small, dark, and claustrophopic.  

All is not lost, though - due to Diamond status, we also got executive lounge access, where we had checked in.  They had a great spread, food and drinks, and though the lounge was packed, it didn’t seem too crazy.  I was sad to only be able to eat/drink a little bit before we made our way to dinner. 

From a recommendation from our Brazilian friend, we went to Rubaiyat, a Brazilian steakhouse chain.  Hold that thought, though - this was no churrascaria.  We wanted quality, not quantity.  And had some of the best steak we’ve ever had.  Even more excitingly, though, was the restuarant’s location right next to a horse racing track.  While it wasn’t an official race, we were able to see several practice heats, which was super exciting, being literally 5-10 feet from the track.

The next day, we left very early for the airport - our flight was at 9am, but heard we should be at the airport super early due to slowness with customs and security.  We grabbed a taxi from the Hilton at 6am and made it to the airport by 630am.  Turns out there was no need to worry at all, there were no lines at security or exit immigration, and we had plenty of time to relax.  That said, the walk from checkin to plane was horrendous, taking us a long, long time.  Good thing we had the extra time!

I had booked Delta on miles coming back, Rio-Atlanta-Newark (living in Brooklyn, I generally try to avoid flying into/out of Newark, but the points redemptions were way too expensive for LGA around New Years), but our ATL-EWR flight was delayed multiple hours due to weather.  Thankfully, we were able to spend that time in one of the numerous Delta SkyClubs in Atlanta thanks to the Amex Platinum, which provides Delta SkyClub access when you are flying Delta.  Pretty great.  This lounge was staffed by the most engaging, hilarious servers I have ever encountered in a Skyclub, or any lounge, really.  It was really awesome and helped pass the time - of course, along with a plate of ribs, mac and cheese, and other goodness.  While normally I’m a bit underwhelmed by Delta Skyclubs, this, and the new LGA and SLC ones, have started to change my mind.

After the three hour delay and a turbulent flight back to New York, we landed at Newark and were greeted with a $200 Uber ride back to the city, given it was 130am.  Insane.  Thankfully, there were three of us, and we picked up an additional person who was also shocked at the prices.  They had a British accent, so they were safe, isn’t that how it works?