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Win 5000€ for a Cuba GetawayWith a mind numbing array of 1950s vintage Chevys roaming its streets, a vibrant salsa-infused nightlife, and a culture and history unlike any other place on the planet, Cuba is (and always will be) definitely different. From world-class scuba diving, to world-class beaches, to world-class entertainment, there's also definitely no shortage More »

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Home to Freud, opera, classical music and associated with plenty that just screams "fancy," Vienna is one of the most elegant cities on the planet. The thing is, it's still a city. And sometimes you just need to get out of the concrete jungle (as beautiful as this one happens to be) and explore what's More »

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Mind-boggling New York Attractions

While some people prefer to fritter away their vacations on a beach, sunscreen in one hand, margarita in the other, there are other options out there for those that prefer a bit more mental stimulation during their time away from work. New York is one such place where you can put your brain to work More »

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Transformers take fight to Orlando in 2013

4 hrs.

Courtesy Universal Orlando Resor

Universal Orlando Resorts' next blockbuster attraction will be the widely-popular Transformers: The Ride - 3D. The groundbreaking ride will bring the intergalactic battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons to Universal Studios Florida next summer.

Orlando, prepare for battle.

With the intergalactic war between the Autobots and Decepticons raging at Universal Studios Hollywood since last May (and in Singapore since 2011), it seems it was only a matter of time before the conflict spread to central Florida.

On Thursday, Universal executives announced that time would be summer 2013, with the opening of the blockbuster attraction Transformers: The Ride – 3D at Universal Studios Florida.

“We’ve had a great run with it in both Singapore and Hollywood,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. “Based on the overwhelming response, we figured why not Orlando?”

(NBC News and Universal Parks and Resorts are both owned by NBCUniversal.)

As fans of the toys, TV show and Megan Fox know, Transformers tells the tale of warring alien robots that can convert into vehicles or weapons as they battle for control of the universe. The Autobots are led by the heroic Optimus Prime; the Decepticons by the evil Megatron, with puny humans caught in the middle of the clanking, cranking action.

“At the end of the day, it’s a story of good and evil,” said Woodbury. “The visual experience of the movies is great fodder for us to take and turn into a ride experience.”

According to Woodbury, the ride itself will be identical to the ones in Hollywood and Singapore. Guests will queue through a control center, aka, the N.E.S.T., just as the Decepticons are about to attack. Donning 3D glasses and boarding motion-simulator vehicles, they’ll spend the next five minutes immersed in a series of chases, crashes and explosions delivered via elaborate sets, 14 movie screens and a 5,000-watt sound system.

Assuming they survive, they’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief as they exit through the Transformers Supply Vault, aka, the gift shop.

Meanwhile, a much larger, albeit less noisy, battle may also be in the offing. On Tuesday, executives at Disney announced the company was buying Lucasfilm, owner of the “Star Wars” franchise, for $4 billion.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the news echoed across the Internet at warp speeds, with jokes about potential new synergies — “When You Wish Upon a Death Star,” anyone — and the official announcement of a proposed “Star Wars 7” movie to be released in 2015. 

Even Disney got in the action, releasing an entertaining YouTube video that asked: Darth Vader, now that you’re part of the Disney family, what will you do next? The answer, apparently, is visit Cinderella’s castle, ride the tea cups and use the Force to pull the Sword from the Stone at the King Arthur Carousel.

Humor aside, though, the Lucasfilm deal may also represent the latest front in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of theme-park visitors. Coming on the heels of Disney’s previous purchases of Pixar (2006) and Marvel Entertainment (2009), the move means that several iconic franchises, including “Toy Story,” “Star Wars” and many (but not all) Marvel characters, are now under the Disney umbrella.

The potential for new rides, movie sequels and synergistic merchandising is huge — just as it is for Universal, which, of course, boasts its own franchise firepower with the likes of “Harry Potter,” “Shrek” and now “Transformers.”

“It’s all about capitalizing on a good franchise,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company. “They’re competing on the intellectual-property stage, looking for products that will appeal to the mass public — not only for now but for decades to come.”

Prepare for battle, indeed.

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

2 days

Disney buying Lucasfilm, will release new 'Star Wars' movie in 2015

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Transformers take fight to Orlando in 2013

4 hrs.

Courtesy Universal Orlando Resor

Universal Orlando Resorts' next blockbuster attraction will be the widely-popular Transformers: The Ride - 3D. The groundbreaking ride will bring the intergalactic battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons to Universal Studios Florida next summer.

Orlando, prepare for battle.

With the intergalactic war between the Autobots and Decepticons raging at Universal Studios Hollywood since last May (and in Singapore since 2011), it seems it was only a matter of time before the conflict spread to central Florida.

On Thursday, Universal executives announced that time would be summer 2013, with the opening of the blockbuster attraction Transformers: The Ride – 3D at Universal Studios Florida.

“We’ve had a great run with it in both Singapore and Hollywood,” said Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative. “Based on the overwhelming response, we figured why not Orlando?”

(NBC News and Universal Parks and Resorts are both owned by NBCUniversal.)

As fans of the toys, TV show and Megan Fox know, Transformers tells the tale of warring alien robots that can convert into vehicles or weapons as they battle for control of the universe. The Autobots are led by the heroic Optimus Prime; the Decepticons by the evil Megatron, with puny humans caught in the middle of the clanking, cranking action.

“At the end of the day, it’s a story of good and evil,” said Woodbury. “The visual experience of the movies is great fodder for us to take and turn into a ride experience.”

According to Woodbury, the ride itself will be identical to the ones in Hollywood and Singapore. Guests will queue through a control center, aka, the N.E.S.T., just as the Decepticons are about to attack. Donning 3D glasses and boarding motion-simulator vehicles, they’ll spend the next five minutes immersed in a series of chases, crashes and explosions delivered via elaborate sets, 14 movie screens and a 5,000-watt sound system.

Assuming they survive, they’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief as they exit through the Transformers Supply Vault, aka, the gift shop.

Meanwhile, a much larger, albeit less noisy, battle may also be in the offing. On Tuesday, executives at Disney announced the company was buying Lucasfilm, owner of the “Star Wars” franchise, for $4 billion.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the news echoed across the Internet at warp speeds, with jokes about potential new synergies — “When You Wish Upon a Death Star,” anyone — and the official announcement of a proposed “Star Wars 7” movie to be released in 2015. 

Even Disney got in the action, releasing an entertaining YouTube video that asked: Darth Vader, now that you’re part of the Disney family, what will you do next? The answer, apparently, is visit Cinderella’s castle, ride the tea cups and use the Force to pull the Sword from the Stone at the King Arthur Carousel.

Humor aside, though, the Lucasfilm deal may also represent the latest front in the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of theme-park visitors. Coming on the heels of Disney’s previous purchases of Pixar (2006) and Marvel Entertainment (2009), the move means that several iconic franchises, including “Toy Story,” “Star Wars” and many (but not all) Marvel characters, are now under the Disney umbrella.

The potential for new rides, movie sequels and synergistic merchandising is huge — just as it is for Universal, which, of course, boasts its own franchise firepower with the likes of “Harry Potter,” “Shrek” and now “Transformers.”

“It’s all about capitalizing on a good franchise,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company. “They’re competing on the intellectual-property stage, looking for products that will appeal to the mass public — not only for now but for decades to come.”

Prepare for battle, indeed.

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

2 days

Disney buying Lucasfilm, will release new 'Star Wars' movie in 2015

Close post

Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

8 hrs.

Courtesy World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association

The 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event in Bridgeville, Del., takes place Nov. 2-4.

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a ... well, if you’re in Bridgeville, Del., this weekend, it’s probably an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin that’s been launched into the wild blue yonder by a catapult, air cannon or other mechanical contraption.

It’s all part of the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event, Nov. 2–4. With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, it’s also our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

"It’s the combination of creativity and the oddity of it," said John Huber, president of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association (WCPCA), of the event’s appeal. "It’s problem-solving, it’s creative thinking, it’s artistic. You look at these machines and you just go, 'wow'."

Those machines include catapults powered by ropes and garage-door springs, high-speed centrifugal launchers and cannons that feature massive tanks of compressed air and barrels stretching 100 feet or more. 

Each one is the result of countless hours of research, construction and pre-competition testing. “Everyone who competes has built something from scratch,” said Daniel Collins, part of Team Chucky — which currently holds the world record in the Adult Torsion (rope-powered) Catapult category, with a launch of 3,636.39 feet.

“People spend an inordinate amount of time doing this,” he told NBC News. “It becomes an obsession.”

Courtesy World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association

The machines used in this event include catapults, high-speed centrifugal launchers and cannons.

That obsession is apparently rather widespread. “We have farmers to dentists to chemical engineers,” said Huber, who happens to be a nuclear engineer. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he’s also a competitor, whose team — Team Hypertension — has built a spring-loaded catapult that sits on a 14,000-pound trailer and generates 30,000 pounds of force.

“We've invested $75,000 in this thing and it’s just to throw a pumpkin,” he said.

It all comes together on a field at Royal Farms in Bridgeville, where the competitors — 115 this year, says Huber — set up along a mile-long firing line. Some of the launchers are so big they arrive on flatbed tractor-trailers and have to be assembled on site.

At that point, it’s all about winching ropes, stretching springs, aiming cannon barrels and loading slings, buckets and barrels with the appropriately-plump projectile. Firing one at a time across an open field, the results are tallied by ATV-riding spotters, who presumably manage to avoid the incoming ordnance.

“They measure the point of impact,” said Huber. “Trust me, with these distances, the pumpkins leave a hell of a crater.”

Courtesy Joanne Coward

Team Chucky currently holds the world record in the Adult Torsion (rope-powered) Catapult category, with a launch of 3,636.39 feet.

Meanwhile, back behind the firing line — and protected by a high backstop — spectators can cheer on their favorites, enjoy live music and browse booths selling food, crafts and clothing. There’s also a chili cook-off and pageant competitions for ages 4 to 18-plus.

It’s all in good fun, but also for a good cause. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the WCPCA donates a large share of the proceeds from the event to several charities and scholarship programs. With 75,000 to 100,000 spectators over the course of the three-day event, Huber says those donations run to the “hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.”

As for this year’s event, it’s expected to go on despite any after-effects of Hurricane Sandy and with the usual degree of friendly competition. Collins, for example, has set his sights, not on his fellow catapulters, but on the biggest guns in the game: the air cannons, one of which holds the overall world record of 4,483.51 feet.

“They used to laugh at us but last year we beat 44 percent of them,” he said. “Now they’re looking over their shoulders. It’s only a matter of time.”

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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‘Hobbit’s’ Peter Jackson, Gollum in travel video

Air New Zealand

Peter Jackson.

Passengers on Air New Zealand won't be sitting through a very dull safety video -- instead they'll see a clip that features Gollum crawling through the aisles and Peter Jackson finding the One Ring on the cabin floor.

PHOTOS: The Hard Road to "The Hobbit"

The airline company has debuted a Middle Earth inspired safety clip that was produced in partnership with Weta Workshop, which created the special effects for the "Lord of the Rings" films and the forthcoming "Hobbit" prequels.

The safety video, titled "An Unexpected Briefing" -- a reference to the first Hobbit film titled "An Unexpected Journey" -- features an aircraft pilot outfitted as a Grey wizard, an elf explaining how emergency oxygen masks work, passengers trying to pronounce "Mordor," and even Jackson uttering the infamous phrase "my precious" to the ring.

COVER STORY: "The Hobbit": Inside Peter Jackson and Warner Bros.' $1 Billion Gamble

"To have Gollum step off the movie screen for the first time and into an Air New Zealand aircraft is incredibly special and Sir Peter Jackson delivers a superb cameo," said Mike Tod, Air New Zealand's General Manager of Marketing and Communications, in a press release

The "Rings" films have been filmed in New Zealand, and the country has capitalized on the franchise's popularity, calling itself the "Home of Middle Earth" on its official tourism site. 

Watch the video!

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Commuters face obstacles and long lines in New York

Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

People board the NY Waterways ferry with the Manhattan skyline in the background Nov. 1, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Seth Wenig / AP

Commuters wait in a line to board busses into Manhattan in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. The line stretched twice around the arena and commuters reported wait times of one to three hours to get on a bus.

Andrew Gombert / EPA

Commuters wait in line to board buses to Manhattan outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Nov. 1.

Andrew Gombert / EPA

Commuters wait in line to board buses to Manhattan outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Nov. 1.

Andrew Gombert / EPA

Commuters cram onto a bus to Manhattan outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Nov. 1.

Jason Decrow / AP

Motorists sit in heavy traffic while crossing the Robert F. Kennedy Triboro Bridge during the morning rush, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in the Queens borough of New York.

Richard Drew / AP

Morning commuters ride a downtown-bound, west side subway train toward New York's Times Square, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. New York City moved closer to resuming its frenetic pace by getting back some of its vital subways.

CX Matiash / AP

A timetable board displays continued cancellations at Penn Station in New York as MTA resumed limited service on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.

Commuters heading into New York City from the five boroughs faced a longer commute than normal, with long lines, crowded buses, trains and highways. Though some subway service was restored, much of lower Manhattan was still without power and without service. Many of the bridges and tunnels were reopened, but not all, and commuters were faced with a new rule for drivers - cars crossing into Manhattan must carry three passengers. Tolls and fares were suspended in order to encourage people to take public transportation following the gridlock on Wednesday. New Jersey Transit was shut down as were many train lines running through Penn Station, one of the biggest transportation hubs in the area, which remained virtually empty. Full story

Video: Traffic snarl seen in aerial view of New York

Video: ‘Unwatering’ team is drying NYC subway tunnels

Video: Northeast airports reopen with limited service

 

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Superstorm Sandy made landfall Monday evening on a destructive and deadly path across the Northeast.

Launch slideshow

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