Dancers dressed as slaves pushed a float decked out as the ship that brought the Portuguese royal family to Brazil two centuries ago, marking the final night of Rio's annual carnival parade. Donned in golden conquistador outfits, hundreds of drummers from the Mocidade de Independente samba group beat time Monday night to propel its 4,500 members down the Sambadrome stadium's (700-meter long parade ground. Fans cheered from packed stands, waving flags with the group's signature green and white colors as fireworks exploded overhead and the parading continued into Tuesday's pre-dawn darkness. "It's a pure thrill, there's nothing like it," drum queen Thatiana Patgung said before parading in a bikini made of gilded sequins. Mocidade, which last won the carnival championship in 1996, was the first of six groups scheduled to parade late Monday and into Tuesday morning. Intermittent rain did little to dampen festivities outside the stadium, or to keep locals and tourists from flocking to informal carnival "blocos" around the city. "It's the most fun you can have without getting arrested," 17-year-old Paulo Sergio Viera said as he sprayed shaving cream over the heads of several friends dancing in the streets of the Ipanema beach neighborhood. Dancing behind a slow-moving truck that blasted samba music near Copacabana beach, Texan tourist Eduardo Nihill downed a beer but insisted that Brazil's carnival is about more than alcohol, beautiful women and music. "The Brazilians have a true love of life," the 23-year-old college student from Dallas said. "I've been to 30 or 40 countries and I've never seen anything like it: It's pure happiness here." The Sambadrome parades, which end Tuesday, featured six other top-tier groups on Sunday and early Monday. The Viradouro group generated a huge outcry after reports that it planned to parade with a dancing Hitler and "Holocaust victim" mannequins, meant to conjure up its theme: "It Gives You Goosebumps." After a judge ordered the group to retool its display, Vradouro instead featured a float with men and women standing still while wearing white gowns and gags in a demand for free speech. "You don't build the future by burying the past," read a banner on Viradouro's new float. Hundreds of other dancers represented execution victims, wearing electric chairs, while others were dressed as cockroaches and some even skied down a 40-meter (130-foot) ice-coated float. Each samba group has 80 minutes to parade through the Sambadrome, an 85,000-seat venue built for the annual samba "school" competition. The event is taken as seriously as soccer in Latin America's largest nation. The competition winds down Tuesday morning with a parade by the current champion Beija Flor, or "Hummingbird." A panel of judges ranks groups on their costumes, floats and featured dancers and on how well they move their thousands-strong groups through the stadium. A new champion will be announced Wednesday on a program televised live nationwide.