Dispatch, Rio: In full sprint ahead of Summer Olympics


Hotels editor Danny King was in Brazil last week to check out the country's Olympics preparations. Read his first dispatch here; his second dispatch follows.

RIO DE JANEIRO -- With the 2016 Summer Games scheduled to begin in about 11 weeks, the locals appear willing and able to handle the approximately 600,000 people expected to join the party. Are they ready?

The opening and closing ceremonies will be taking place at the iconic Maracana Stadium near the city's center, while -- digest this one -- beach volleyball will be taking place at the legendary Copacabana Beach.

Even at a time of economic uncertainty for the country, these areas were teeming with activity last week -- workers by day, bar-goers by night and snarled traffic at all times in downtown. Locals, tourists and fitness buffs provided constant activity on the sand and at the huts at Copacabana and neighboring Ipanema Beach.

Take a visit further out west in the city's Barra da Tijuca suburb, and things are more of a work in progress. By the coast, businesses and residents line the boulevard that borders the 11 miles of beachfront in the district. Go slightly inland, though, and there's a lot of construction, whether it is nearly finished facilities such as the velodrome, aquatics center or Olympic Village, or the commuter rail service tracks and stations, which Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau director Michael Nagy says will connect Barra da Tijuca to downtown Rio by sometime in July.

One facility that was both completed and fascinating was the two-year-old Museu Selecao Brasileira, which celebrates the history of Brazil's national soccer ("futebol" in Portuguese) and its World Cup accomplishments with interactive displays, artifacts and lots of good-natured (and well-earned) pride.

As for accommodations, Nagy says the city's hotel inventory totals about 43,000 rooms, up about 65% from three years ago, and there's certainly a variety in that mix. New to the city are the Hilton Barra and Grand Hyatt Rio, which have opened within the past 13 months, while the iconic Nacional, to be reborn as the Grand Melia Nacional, and a Trump Hotels property are slated to finish up before the games.

As for the more established properties, our group experienced four, which were notable for reflecting the variety of the city (not to mention their huge buffets). Nearly complete with $55 million in renovations, the 538-room Sheraton Grand Rio, which hosted our stay and first opened in 1974, is the classic (and now updated) U.S.-style beach resort, complete with stunning ocean views, multiple eateries, an expansive lobby and its own cove just west of the city's Leblon district.

More businesslike is the Windsor Atlantica. Formerly a Le Meridien, the 545-room hotel sits across the street from Copacabana Beach and features a rooftop pool and the well-regarded 75-seat Alloro Ristorante.

Well-heeled partiers are most likely to appreciate the 89-room Fasano, which features the architecture of Philippe Starck (noted in the lodging industry for his work on SBE's SLS lifestyle properties). Mood-lit hallways, trapezoid-shaped rooms and a rooftop pool overlooking Ipanema Beach that hotels on the Las Vegas Strip would envy are among the hallmarks of the 9-year-old property.

Finally, and farthest west, there's the Sheraton Barra. That property, which started its life as a Radisson in 2003, is notable less for its design pedigree and more for its sheer pragmatism: each of its 292 rooms features both semicircular balconies overlooking the Atlantic and a suite set-up with both a fold-out couch and a kitchenette.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI