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5 places to get spooked this Halloween

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Courtesy Tennessee State Museum

A notorious criminal’s mummified thumb from the early 1800s is among the spooky objects you’ll find at the Tennessee State Museum’s Haunted Museum Ghost Story Festival.

From zombie parades and haunted mansions to scream parks, pumpkin patches and maize mazes, the Halloween season has gone way beyond trick-or-treating and morphed into big business.

“It used to be a simple hayride with some high school kids in rubber masks and plastic knives,” Patrick Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) told NBC News. “Now it’s much more sophisticated, with many places offering extremely high-tech theater entertainment.”

Konopelski estimates there are now more than 2,500 haunted attractions generating combined revenue that exceeds $300 million each year. His list includes standalone haunted houses, “mega-haunts,” haunted scream parks and themed-amusement park adventures, as well as haunted events at zoos, farms, museums and former asylums and penitentiaries.

Ready to scream? Here are five places to get spooked and startled this Halloween:

Headless horseman country
Washington Irving’s headless horseman still prowls New York’s Hudson Valley. Look (out) for him on the mile-long evening hayride through the woods, with stops at six haunted houses and a labyrinth corn maze offered by Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted House in Ulster Park, N.Y. At Sunnyside, Irving’s former home in Tarrytown, ghost stories, magic shows and puppet shows are offered in the day during Legend Weekends in October. At night, nearby Philipsburg Manor transforms into Horseman’s Hollow, a walking trail where human and non-human creatures lurk in the shadows. There are also candlelight performances of Washington Irving’s classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and lantern-light tours of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried.

Zombies in 7-D
Fans of zombies, roller coasters, horror films and interactive shooting galleries can combine those passions in San Francisco at the 7D Experience, a digital theater on Pier 39 with full-motion seats and interactive laser technology. During October, the attraction is premiering “Zombies!,” which invites audiences to blast away as many Zombies as they can.

Thumbs up in Tennessee
During the free Haunted Museum Ghost Story Festival on Oct. 20 at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, there will be a ghost trail through the building with stops at the mummies (a cat and a person) along the way. Costumed storytellers, armed with objects usually locked away in storage, will be telling scary tales, including the stories of the Bell Witch Bucket and John Murrell—a notorious criminal from the early 1800s whose mummified thumb is said to be the digit residing in the specially made coffin in the museum’s vaults.

Frights by the fire
Ghosts and ghost stories are the stuff of campouts, and many public and private campgrounds have Halloween-themed activities and special events during the Halloween season. “Some even have Halloween activities the weekend after Halloween for those that want to go trick-or-treating and dress up once more,” said Jeff Crider, spokesman for the National Association of RV Parks Campgrounds. For example, the KOA campground in Hagerstown, Md., is hosting Halloween-themed activities every weekend through Oct. 28 and operates a haunted house on a property next door. Some Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts are celebrating Halloween as well.

The end
While not a special Halloween venue, a visit to the Famous Endings Museum would be a good way to close out the spooky season. The museum contains John Herzig’s collection of memorabilia relating to the funerals and memorials of famous people.

“I’ve got about 1,500 items,” Herzig told NBC News, “including original flower arrangements from the funeral of Elvis Presley’s mother and items relating to the funerals of most every U.S. president.” Herzig enjoys giving personal tours through the museum, but urges guests to call ahead to make an appointment because the museum is located inside the Toland-Herzig Funeral Home in Dover, Ohio.

Find more by Harriet Baskas on and follow her on Twitter.

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FBI: Man tried to open plane’s door after landing

2 hrs.

The FBI has arrested a man accused of disrupting a Delta Air Lines Inc. flight and damaging the airplane by running up the aisle shortly after landing and attempting to open an emergency exit.

Anatoliy N. Baranovich was accused of interfering with a flight from Boston to Salt Lake City on Monday night, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Federal authorities say Baranovich woke up during the plane’s descent and started yelling in Russian. Baranovich told agents he thought the aircraft’s wing was on fire and was trying to warn others.

Officials say they do not believe he posed a terrorist threat.

Baranovich was carrying a Ukrainian passport and U.S. visa. His age or place of residence were not immediately available.

After the plane touched down, Baranovich got up from his seat and ran to the back of the aircraft, according to the complaint. He then tried to open the emergency exit door as a flight attendant ordered him to stop.

The door jammed and caused an emergency inflatable slide to malfunction, which caused “extensive damage” to the plane’s fuselage, the FBI said.

Several passengers tried to wrestle Baranovich to the ground while he attempted to open another emergency exit door. One passenger forced him to the ground and held him until the plane taxied to a gate, where law enforcement and medical personnel had been called.

Baranovich told agents that he had been visiting family in Ukraine and was headed to Portland, Ore., after a stop in Salt Lake City, according to the FBI. He also told agents he had consumed alcohol while traveling but did not specify when or how much.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said Baranovich was scheduled to appear in court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Fly free faster by mixing miles and money

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A screenshot of

If you’re like many travelers, you probably have multiple frequent-flier accounts, none of which ever seem to have enough miles or points to snag that free round trip ticket.

Ten-thousand miles here, five-thousand points there; pretty soon you’re talking… paying real money for your airfare and watching your not-quite-big-enough account balances languish and eventually expire.

The folks at feel your pain and would like to help. Last week, the loyalty-program-management website unveiled Combo Fares, which allow travelers to use a combination of cash and miles (or points) to purchase two one-way fares on separate airlines.

“Sometimes people don’t have 25,000 miles for a round trip ticket but they’ve got 12,500,” said MileWise co-founder and co-CEO Sanjay Kothari. “With Combo Fares, you can do one search and see all the different options for both outbound and return flights in one place.”

For example, during a recent search for a flight between Los Angeles and New York, the site returned several dozen results, including a round trip on US Airways for $385 (the lowest cash fare available), a round trip award ticket on Alaska for 25,000 miles and a Combo fare that combined an outbound flight on United for 12,500 miles and return flight on US Air for $137.

Valuing those miles at 1.4 cents per mile, Kothari calculates that the Combo fare essentially cost $315, significantly cheaper than either the Alaska award (valued at $353) or the US Air cash fare.

“There’s a general misconception out there that mileage seats are never available,” he told NBC News, “but our results show that there are always some.”

The challenge, of course, is finding them, which, for travelers with multiple accounts, typically entails serial visits to multiple airline websites.

“The problem is that there’s no transparency with awards,” said Brian Kelly of “The Kayaks and Travelocitys of the world have done a decent job of providing it for paid fares, but as far as award tickets go, it’s been a free-for-all.”

MileWise seeks to simplify the process by serving as a metasearch engine for award seats. It will work for any user but is most effective for those who register and provide their specific frequent-flier account details. For the latter, the site will return the most relevant results: i.e., flights based on actual account balances and status.

And in a clever bit of marketing, the site also assigns each flight a “WisePrice,” which calculates the miles or points you earn for cash tickets and “subtracts” it from the retail price. In the above example, the $137 US Air ticket would add 2,464 miles to your account, worth approximately $34.

Alas, you’d still pay the full $137 fare, but to Kothari, at least, “you’re earning $34 worth of ‘currency.'”

The site is not without issues. Since all flights are booked on the airlines’ proprietary sites, Combo Fares require two separate reservations, which can lead to technical difficulties. During the above search, for example, the US Air link connected directly to a page offering a round trip fare of $435, requiring another round of clicks to access the appropriate $137 one-way fare.

The bigger issue — and one that also impacts users of other mileage-tracking sites, such as AwardWallet and Traxo — is that airlines are beginning to take issue with the sites’ accessing their plan members’ data. In recent months, both American and Delta have threatened legal action against the sites, forbidding access to members’ accounts.

“It’s a shame that airlines are using this ruse that it’s a security issue,” said Kelly. “If banks and credit-card companies can link to other third-party apps, there’s no reason the airlines shouldn’t allow consumers to use applications that simplify their lives.”

For his part, Kothari says he’s currently in discussions with American and Delta and “hopeful” that they’ll come to an agreement that will allow MileWise to access members’ accounts and show award availability again.

In the meantime, Kelly suggests that websites like MileWise should be considered, not as the final arbiter of award availability, but as additional tools in your frequent-flier arsenal.

“At the end of the day, these sites can help but they’re not the final answer,” he told NBC News. “The bottom line is to educate yourself about the programs you participate in, know the ins and outs and leverage that information to get the most value out of your miles.”

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.

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Enjoy fall foliage by boat

5 hrs.

Courtesy New York Water Taxi

New York Water Taxi in NYC is one of a handful of enterprising boat companies that now offer traffic-free foliage tours by water.

Driving around looking at the gorgeous amber, orange and sunset-colored leaves of deciduous trees is a familiar fall road trip, but a handful of enterprising boat companies now offer traffic-free foliage tours by water.

For three upcoming Sundays (Oct. 21 and 28, and Nov. 4), New York Water Taxi offers guided day trips leaving from Manhattan at 12:30 p.m., and gliding 60 miles up the Hudson River to West Point. Introduced two years ago, the five-hour round-trip takes passengers past historic sights such as Grant’s Tomb, and Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving is now buried; and offers views of brightly hued trees like red maple, yellow birch and flowering dogwood. The $65 ticket price includes lunch (sandwiches, salads and desserts from Fresco by Scotto); a cash bar sells cocktails costing up to $10. The route is so popular that the company also does a VIP tour lasting a full weekend, with a night in West Point, rooftop cocktails at a lounge overlooking the Hudson Valley, and a tour of America’s oldest winery, Brotherhood, which still uses cellars dug in 1839.
Tickets are $499 for one person, or $750 for two.

More fall foliage cruises:

DC Cruises, Oct. 20-Nov. 24 (weekends only)
One-hour cruises on double-decker boats take passengers through the capital’s waterways, passing sights like the Jefferson Memorial, flanked by brilliant trees. Passengers can sip free hot cider from Ziegler’s, made from regionally-sourced apples. A Thanksgiving day cruise swaps cider for pumpkin-spiced tea and other festive snacks.
Tickets: $24 for adults, $12 for children.

Atlantic Seal Cruises, Oct. 6-27
Three-hour excursions on a 28-person cruiser navigate around the small islands of Maine’s Casco Bay. As the company name suggests, harbor seals congregate on rock ledges and play in the bay as the boats pass. Other wildlife native to the area includes osprey, herons and the occasional whale.
Tickets: $35 for adults, $25 for children 5-12, $20 for children 1-5.

Mississippi River Cruises, Sept. 27-Nov. 17
The Celebration Belle, a classic 800-passenger paddlewheel boat, departs from both Moline, Ill., and Dubuque, Iowa, on four-hour Mississippi cruises. A lunch buffet with dishes like baked cranberry-glazed chicken and turtle cheesecake—all prepared fresh on board—is included, as is live music from the Celebration River Cruises band.
Tickets: $60 for adults, $45 for children.

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Disney announces weekly park surprises for 2013

Richard Drew / AP

People with mouse ear caps and balloons gather near a three-story castle mad of ice in New York’s Times Square. On Wednesday, Disney announced a new program for 2013, “Limited Time Magic,” in which guests will encounter surprise weekly themes at Disney parks in Florida and California.

Social media will be a big component of a new program announced by Disney Wednesday in which the company’s parks in California and Florida will feature weekly surprise themes and events.

The “Limited Time Magic” program announced Wednesday will include impromptu concerts, dance parties, colored lighting, character meet-and-greets, new menu and merchandise items and other events at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Orlando.

Disney will use Twitter, blogs, websites and other online activity to let park visitors know what’s happening. Guests might also be asked to vote on which characters they’d like to see or be sent on scavenger hunts with hints to figure out what’s new or different.

“It’s a fun, lighthearted, new way to get people engaged,” Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president of global marketing and sales for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said at a news conference in Manhattan announcing the program.

Disney erected a 25-foot-tall castle made of ice in Times Square to symbolize the fleeting nature of the weekly surprises, and water ran down the turrets as the ice melted Wednesday morning. Blase New Yorkers hurried past without giving it a second glance but some fans and tourists donned mouse ears and took pictures.

Each “Limited Time Magic” theme will last a week. Plans include celebrations of July Fourth, “Pirate Week,” 3-D chalk art, “Long Lost Friends Week” featuring lesser-known Disney characters. A Valentine’s Day celebration will feature pink and red lighting on Disney castles and romantic candlelit dinners in park restaurants.

Other Disney park news this year includes the June opening of Cars Land at California Adventure at Disneyland, and the continuing expansion of Fantasyland at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The Fantasyland project, which is the largest expansion in the park’s 41-year history, began in March with the first of two Dumbo rides taking flight and is expected to be completed in 2014.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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