Winter Wonderlands

by Sherri Eisenberg

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The trimmings: In 2011, Rio will once again erect the world's largest floating Christmas tree (17 years running, according to Guinness World Records). The 28-story-tall structure will illuminate the lagoon behind Ipanema and Leblon beaches. The party on the sand goes all day, although the real fun begins at 7:30 pm, when the almost three million lights are lit. Christmas carols such as "Noite Feliz" ("Silent Night") blast to keep the holiday spirits high and play until the last lighting (January 6, Epiphany day). If the sandy beaches somehow have you missing the blankets of white stuff back home, locals are known to dress up their houses in fake snow. White Christmas, indeed.

Check in: Rio's famous Copacabana Palace has seen many holidays (it opened in 1923) and is the place to be for dinner on Christmas Eve. The spread includes bacalhau (codfish), farofa (a side dish made of roasted manioc flour), sweet panettone bread, and elaborate tropical-fruit platters for dessert. The meal ends with a visit from Papai Noel, who dresses in silk to be comfortable in this hot climate.

Copacabana Palace
1702 Avenida Atlântica
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tel: 800 237 1236 (toll-free)
From $342 per night

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