From where he sits inside Rio’s Sambadrome, a snack vendor mulls what the global financial crisis means for “the greatest party on earth.” First, the bad news: fewer foreigners at this year’s Carnival.

“The gringos who are coming this year — there are substantially fewer, and those who are coming are spending less money,” Cagiza Acides Paixao said.

On the upside: In Rio, nothing can stop a good time.

“Carnival in Brazil — with its marvellous sun, beaches, samba all year round, and, you know, the girls — it will shine, with or without a crisis,” Paixao said as samba music blasted from his small shop.

So it goes for the anything-goes pre-Lenten drink-and-flesh fest, which ran through yesterday.

While the percentage of foreigners in the crowds is expected to drop to 30 per cent from about half, Rio’s official tourism agency expects Brazilians to make up the difference, for about 719,000 tourists, a slight increase over last year’s 705,000.

They are expected to inject $521 million US into the city’s economy, up from $510 million last year.

And the government still plans to dole out 65 million free condoms.

For weeks, dour reports have splashed across the pages of Brazil’s newspapers: Top samba schools don’t have the money to finish their floats. A handful of small cities in Brazil’s interior cancelled Carnival altogether.

With fewer foreigners spending dollars and euros, locals will struggle to bring in the money they count on to make ends meet all year.

The schools have struggled this year to land corporate sponsors to help pay the $2.5 million on average that each club spends on its parade show, said Cahe Rodrigues, the “carnavelsco” responsible for designing the themes, costumes and floats for the top-contending Grande Rio samba school.

“This (is) the year of creativity, because the artists have to redouble their efforts to be able to compete for the championship,” said Rodrigues, whose show was to include hundreds of drummers and a replica of the Moulin Rouge. “This year is forcing the carnavalescos to push their imaginations.”

Some of the fiercely competitive schools have reportedly been forced to save money by trading basic construction materials this year. And one, Imperio Serrano, is using 5,000 plastic bottles to build a huge octopus for its Mysteries of the Sea float.

So far, they appear to focus on non-controversial themes, like celebrating the ties between France and Brazil. There has been no hint of provocative presentations like last year’s Holocaust float, which prompted international outrage.