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Disney’s Billion Dollar Theme Park Gamble

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Guests travel to Walt Disney World seeking the ultimate vacation experience, and Disney continues to develop new ways to deliver the best possible vacation. The company has invested over a billion dollars in their MyMagic+ system, which employs wearable technology and RFID (radio frequency identification) chips to fine tune and customize guests’ experiences. Disney has high hopes for MyMagic+, but so far many guests aren’t sold on the idea.

A recent MSN Money profile on MyMagic+ reveals the technology behind this new system, Disney’s expectations for the program, and guests’ decidedly mixed reviews.

It’s a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips — which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.

That tracking power also is what makes them so important for Disney’s $14.1 billion theme park and resort business. Intelligence collected using the bands coupled with what visitors input into the related My Disney Experience app and website — all voluntary — help Disney determine when to add more staff at rides, what restaurants should serve, which souvenirs should be stocked, and how many employees in costume should roam around at any given time. Data about customer preferences could be used to craft e-mails or text messages alerting them to restaurant menu changes or sudden openings for reservations in an expedited queue at Space Mountain or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

The goal is to offer people what Tom Staggs, head of the company’s parks and resorts unit, calls “a more immersive, more seamless, and more personal experience” — allowing Disney employees to address a child by name, for example, or wish someone a happy birthday.

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18 Reasons Why You Wish You Were in Israel Right Now

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

With 49 states buried in snow and most schools in the northeastern U.S. looking at anywhere from 7-10 snow days to make up, our country is ready for a warm up of national proportions. Throw on your heat lamps, put on a bathing suit under that fleece, and cuddle up to these 18 (the number of chai or “life”) warm images of sun, beach and desert (sweet, hot desert) from Israel.

Waking up before sunrise - totally worth it! </p>
<p><a href=Just an abundance of #beauty. #HulaValley #Israel #freedom #River #Mountain #Green

Good morning! בוקר טוב! Bonne journee! Доброе утро! Всем прекрасного солнечного дня! #flowers #instaflowers #nature #4simply4 #ig_treasures

Flowers of the Negev Desert. Цветы пустыни Негев. #israel #ig_israel #gf_israel #e_srael #hapitria #allunique_pro #israeli_moments #Israel_PhotoGraphers #ig_treasures #4simply4 #nature #desert #negev #naturehippys #Naturehippys #ig_captures #ig_captures_nature #power_group #ihavenicepic #nature_uc #awesome_foto #floralfix #_nature_features #ig_diamondshotz

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Disney Raises Theme Park Ticket Prices Again

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Over the weekend, Disney Parks announced a ticket price increase for Walt Disney World, effective this week. From the Orlando Sentinel:

Disney’s Magic Kingdom guests will have to fork over a few extra dollars for single-day park admission.

The tickets will cost $99 for adults and children 10 and up.

This $4 price hike keeps Magic Kingdom the most expensive Disney park.

A one-day ticket for Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will go from $90 to $94.

“Our pricing reflects the high quality and breadth of experiences we offer and our ongoing commitment to investing in our parks,” Disney spokesman Bryan Malenius said Saturday. “We offer a variety of ticket options that provide a great value, and find that most guests select multi-day tickets that offer additional savings.”

This increase was the second in less than a year. The company did not announce a hike in prices for Disneyland on Saturday, but insiders expect an increase in the not too distant future.

Many of the Disney fans I’ve spoken with bristled at the higher prices, but it’s worth noting that purchasing multi-day ticket packages can ease the blow a little – and the no expiration option, though expensive, allows guests to save tickets for years at a time.

Over at Theme Park Insider, Robert Niles put the price hike in perspective:

As long as more people keep going to the parks each year, theme parks will keep increasing their prices. Disney World’s attendance is up, so it’s just supply-and-demand for Disney to raise its prices. If you think Disney World’s gotten too expensive, don’t bother complaining. Disney’s looking at attendance numbers when setting prices, not people moaning online.

The fact of the matter is that dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans and other guests who really want to visit Walt Disney World will suck it up and pay the higher ticket prices. Even with the increased admission, Disney World still provides a tremendous value.

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16 Protest Photos: A World in Chaos

Thursday, February 20th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Kiev in in flames and Caracas is rioting.

Here are some pictures from protests happening around the world via Instagram.

Change is in the air.

KIEV

#euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

#euromaidan #kiev

#euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

#euromaidan

#wakeupamerica #kiev #euromaidan

My American Instagram followers can suck it if they don't like what they see #euromaidan #kiev #ukraine

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The 10 Things You Must Do at Disney World

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in November of 2011. It is being republished as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists of 2013. Wait… What’s a 2011 list doing in a 2013 compilation the sensible person asks? My excuse: this article is one of PJ Lifestyle’s biggest hits, in 2013 drawing more readers than many new lists published that year. It’s one of Chris Queen’s first pieces that demonstrated he’d do a fantastic job on the Disney beat for PJ Lifestyle. I’ve given it a a face-lift with some new images for the age of Instagram… Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months.

I’m a major Disney fan — I grew up on Disney, and it has been a key influence throughout my life. From films to music to television series there’s always been some type of Disney entertainment playing in the background. I can’t think of a period in my life without Disney.

Growing up in a family that’s nutty for Disney, Walt Disney World has always been our favorite vacation destination. My parents honeymooned there and they first took me as an infant. By my count, I’ve been to Walt Disney World 25 times, though others in my family think I may have been more times. Since my nieces were born, we’ve tried to make our pilgrimages at least once a year.

I love planning our trips to Walt Disney World almost as much as I love going there. Planning helps us build anticipation and makes our trips that much sweeter. There’s no greater excitement than the expectancy that comes with a Walt Disney World trip.

My whole family have become experts for our friends and acquaintances when it comes to Walt Disney World. People constantly ask us for tips and trip-planning advice. In fact, my sister and I have talked about opening a travel agency specializing in Disney trips.

So without further ado, here’s a list of ten essential Walt Disney World experiences. If you’ve never been or if you haven’t been in a long time, hopefully these tips will help you plan and know what to expect. If you’ve been many times like me, maybe this list can inspire some good-natured debate about what’s best at Walt Disney World.

Next: Heaven for the Disney collector…

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5 Attractions I Wish Were Still At Walt Disney World

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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As someone who has traveled to Walt Disney World more times than I can count, I’ve seen attractions come and go. Disney closes and changes attractions for many different reasons – some rides become outdated, while others diminish in popularity or become too difficult or expensive to maintain. Other attractions go to make way for new ideas.

The Disney Dining site (a terrific site fill of great tips and fun list posts) recently produced their list of ten Walt Disney World attractions they wish were still around. While I agree with the spirit of their list, I didn’t agree with the placement of some of the attractions on the list, so I gave in to the temptation to create my own list.

Many of these selections stem from sheer nostalgic value, but I really do miss these rides. If you think of other attractions that you think should be on this list, feel free to share in the comments section below.

5. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1971-1994)

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The submarine ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea captured my imagination as a kid. In typical Disney fashion, the attraction was set up to immerse guests in believing they were in the depths of the ocean even though they were only a few feet underwater. Disney closed the submarine ride in 1994, but they didn’t fill in the lagoon for a few years. Part of New Fantasyland sits in that space now, so I suppose it’s a worthwhile tradeoff all these years later.

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Boycott, Divestment & ScarJo: Pop Culture Questions #BDS

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

scarlettsodastream

The boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has been the stuff of universities, investment groups and the American Jewish community until now. Thanks to the stardom of Scarlett Johansson the BDS battle has made its way into the mainstream. While pop culture addicts more attuned to the size of Kim Kardashian’s rear end will pass by the politically fueled story, chances are that the more intelligent among us, including ScarJo’s Avengers following, may take a second look at the morality behind the latest #BDSFail.

The players in this story have drawn a more definitive line in the sand than Walter Sobchak, with left-wing Jewish American sources like the Forward throwing early punches at Johansson’s presumed first move into the political realm:

…Johansson would do well to realize that “normalizing” the Israeli occupation is a bad use of her celebrity.

Justifying the sucker punch with statistics from the openly biased “Whoprofits.org” (“a project that researches and exposes ‘the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies’ in the occupation”), the Forward got its own slap down from the Israeli leftist paper Ha’aretz, which lives too close to the facts to avoid them completely:

It is true that SodaStream employs hundreds of Palestinians under terms they probably wouldn’t get at a similar Palestinian firm and Birnbaum, to his credit, was willing even to embarrass the Israeli president in defence of his Palestinian workers.

ScarJo’s decision to leave OxFam was the star’s reaction to BDS movement leaders who demanded the international non-profit organization cut ties with the SodaStream spokeswoman who defended the Israeli company, saying:

SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

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Will Tomorrowland See A Makeover From ‘A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away’?

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Tomorrowland

Back in the summer, I wrote about the rumors that Disney has plans in the works for a Star Wars-themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So far, we haven’t seen anything more substantive than those rumors. But since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, fans and theme park experts alike have speculated how the company would fold its new acquisition into the theme parks. Now, rumors have begun to swirl that Disney is planning a rehab of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland influenced by the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII.

The typically reliable MiceChat recently offered up a full update on Disneyland’s traffic numbers during the Christmas season (up!) and the park’s plans for the future. For those who like change, there’s apparently good news. Some of it is definitely coming, but it may not happen as quickly or be as drastic as Star Wars fans may have hoped. On the bright side, however, much of it may involve specific details from Episode VII, as the Disneyland crew recently was given a rundown on the plot and new characters that will be introduced to incorporate into their designs.

Apparently, the Tomorrowland remodel has been split into two phases… The first phase will involve relatively simple cosmetic alterations. The Astro Orbitor, [sic] that giant eyesore little kid’s ride pictured above, will be ripped out, along with the deserted track from People Mover. The buildings will also all be redone to look like a giant space port. Then, down the road, phase two will involve scrapping Autopia and replacing it with a speeder bike ride, putting some kind of spaceship walk through on the People Mover track, installing a new Astro Orbitor [sic] closer to Space Mountain and more, all positioned in the backhalf of Tomorrowland.

For Star Wars fans, this rumor (sorry, regardless of the source, it’s still just hearsay) could generate some excitement, and hopefully it will lead to changes at Walt Disney World as well – whether the changes be to  Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom or to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Adding a long popular franchise that just happens to be part of the Disney family into the parks is a wise move for both the creatives and the business people.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the comments at the end of the article, where commenters complained that a Star Wars patina is a bad addition to Tomorrowland, since the films take place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Of course, these folks have lost sight of the fact that Tomorrowland at both American parks isn’t exactly futuristic today. Imagineers have given Tomorrowland in both California and Florida – along with portions of Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea – a charming retro-futuristic vibe, influenced by science fiction from Old Hollywood as well as the works of Jules Verne. Art Deco flourishes abound throughout both lands, and other touches show a decided 20th century sense of style. It’s not strictly futuristic, but it is a distinct feel for these lands.

The bottom line is that Disney knows what it’s doing. The success of the Star Tours attraction and the Star Wars Weekends events demonstrate that Disney’s partnership with Lucasfilm paid off handsomely long before Disney bought the studio. I can’t help but believe that adding a bit of Star Wars influence to Tomorrowland (and a Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios – please, please, please) can pay off even more.

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Disney’s Tasty, Controversial Turkey Legs

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

turkeyleg

Of all the food options available at Disney Parks, many guests swear by the Jumbo Turkey Legs. I’ve never had one myself, but according to some guests, the Turkey Legs are a sure bet for a savory treat.

Like other famous Disney Parks snacks – the Dole Whip and the Mickey Ice Cream Bars – the Turkey Legs have spawned a merchandise industry all their own. The Turkey Legs made their debut in the late 1980s and have increased in popularity over the years – so much, in fact, that the New York Times featured the treats in a recent front page article.

Disney parks are about selling memories, and a spokeswoman, Angela Bliss, noted that foods like turkey legs play “an integral part in the storytelling.” For instance, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, they have been sold as “dinosaur bones.”

Disney is also in the business of making money, of course, and a jumbo turkey leg sells for up to $11.79.

Naturally, something that so many guests enjoy is going to generate some controversy. On one side, Disney executives fear that the Jumbo Turkey Legs steer guests away from more healthy snack options. (Because we all spend our vacations seeking out health food.)

Still, some executives at Disney’s corporate offices worry that the craze is starting to obscure their efforts to improve overall food offerings and nudge customers toward healthier items. Of the 12 million children’s meals Disney serves annually, for instance, more than 50 percent now come with milk, juice or water instead of soda. Disney has also sharply reduced salt in its children’s meals.

[...]

Each leg is roughly 720 calories with 36 grams of fat, according to a supplier, Yoakum Packing.

On the other hand (or leg, if you prefer), some poultry industry watchdogs and other assorted killjoys have expressed their concern about the sheer size of the Turkey Legs. In a response to the Times piece, Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns wrote:

Why are these Disney theme park turkey legs so big? Turkeys have been artificially bred to grow so large that their legs, big as they are, cannot support their body weight.

The disability of turkeys bred for the meat industry is well documented in the scientific poultry literature.

Clearly Ms. Davis didn’t read the whole article, because if she had, she would have read that the legs come from tom turkeys, which are much larger than the hens we see around our Thanksgiving tables.

Despite the frenzy, it looks like Jumbo Turkey Legs are here to stay at Disney Parks. Any item that sells in the millions (Disney projected that they would sell two million of them in 2013) is bound to withstand controversy.

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3 Ways Walt Disney World Can Improve Transportation Around The Resort

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

monorail

If you’re read much of my work here or at my own website, chrisqueen.net, or if you’ve spent more than five minutes around me, you know how much Disney means to me. I admire Walt Disney, his brother Roy, and the men and women who built the company. I’ve enjoyed most of the films and several of the TV projects over the years. Most of all, I love Walt Disney World and the history, culture, and secrets that surround Disney’s theme parks.

Even though I’m a Disney fanboy through and through, I’m willing to admit that the company doesn’t always get things right. One of the ways Disney falls short of excellence is in the transportation at Walt Disney World. From the earliest days of his parks, Walt Disney placed a premium on transportation not just as a way to get around, but as an experience too. From pleasant trains and boat rides to the sleek monorails, Walt intended for transportation to be part of the fun. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting around property, guests are more likely to encounter long waits for buses.

I’ve come up with three ideas for ways Disney can improve transportation around Walt Disney World. I admit that two of these ideas are pipe dreams, but Disney could implement one of them today if they wanted to. Let’s start with an idea that would honor Walt’s legacy in a really unique way.

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70 Years & Counting: Hitler Is Still Hot

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The AP reports that Munich-based Constantin Film will be producing a movie based on German author Timur Vermes’s bestselling novel about the Nazi Dictator. In Er ist Wieder Da, Adolf Hitler “…awakens in modern-day Berlin and becomes the star of a TV comedy show.” No word on whether this “comedy show” will mirror the contemporary Asian game show trend of finding humor in putting fellow citizens in odd, even purportedly life-threatening situations. The film is set to be released in 2015.

Despite Hitler being a “touchy subject” for many Germans, the novel has sold over 1.3 million copies since its debut in 2012. English speakers, have no fear. A translation of the book, titled Look Who’s Back, will be released in April of next year.

In other Hitler satire news, Hitler Rants Parodies (featured above) recently celebrated five years on the web. BothVermes and Constantin Film have as much to do with the YouTube sensation as the psychotic mass murdering dictator has to do with having a laugh. One thing we can confirm: the authors of Er is Wieder Da and Hitler Rants Parodies both know how to humorously kill a conversation.

No word yet on when the satirical biopic about Soviet leader Josef Stalin (working title: Hitler Always Said I Should Laugh More) is set to hit the silver screen. According to several unconfirmed reports, the studio involved is having trouble obtaining a finished draft of the script that isn’t covered in trace amounts of polonium-210.

hitlerstalin

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The Top 5 Christmas Season Traditions At Walt Disney World

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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Walt Disney World possesses its own brand of magic 365 days a year, but from early November to shortly after the New Year, the World becomes something much more magical as the whole resort takes on the air of Christmas.

The holidays really are a special time to visit Walt Disney World. Sure, prices go up during this “peak” season and at times the crowds go up just as much, but it’s worth the extra saving to be able to experience the parks and resorts in their full Christmas regalia.

At night, Cinderella Castle transforms into a wintry ice castle. Each park and resort boasts its own unique tree, and the decorations match the theme of each land and attraction. World of Disney in Downtown Disney is the perfect place for gift shopping, while at World Showcase in Epcot, each nation features storytellers who share that country’s holiday traditions.

Above everything else, five events and experiences stand out. These traditions make a November or December vacation to Walt Disney World one the whole family will remember forever.

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Want a Quiet Island Getaway? Try Tristan da Cunha, World’s Most Remote Inhabited Island

Friday, October 18th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Tristan da Cunha

Imagine a lush, verdant island paradise where the inhabitants are friendly, the scenery is breathtaking, and you won’t find another tourist for miles. No smoke monsters. No need to befriend a volleyball. You may be thinking of Tristan da Cunha.

The South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha may sound like an idyllic getaway, but traveling to the British territory is a bit of a trick – its nearest neighbor, the island of St. Helena, lies a staggering 1,501 miles away, making Tristan the world’s most remote inhabited island.

“To get here, you would have to get a flight to Cape Town and reserve a berth on either the fishing ship or the research vessel that comes once a year,” says Ian Lavarello, chief islander. “The trip takes between six or seven days and that’s also weather-dependent. In the winter months it could take nine, ten days to get to the island from Cape Town.”

One travel website offers trips to Tristan da Cunha, but they start at $8,250, and travel dates are limited.

The territory has a fascinating history that dates back to the 16th century.

The four islands that make up the tiny nation – Tristan, Inaccessible, Gough and Nightingale – were discovered and named by Portuguese admiral Admiral Tristao da Cunha in 1506. No one attempted to colonize the rocky outcrop until more than 300 years later, when Napoleon was exiled to nearby St. Helena. Realizing the island’s strategic position, the British military quickly took possession of Tristan in 1816. A young Scottish Corporal and his family were stationed on the island and several other men of various nationalities landed there by happenstance.

As the story goes, when Tristan found itself with five lonely bachelors by 1827, the islanders commissioned a regular visitor of Tristan to bring back five suitable women from St. Helena. By 1832, the population had grown to 34, with six happy couples and 22 children.

Tristan da Cunha

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The Scariest Part of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Mickey's Boo To You Halloween Parade

If you’re a regular reader of my posts here (bless your heart), you know that I spent last week, along with three generations of my family, at Walt Disney World. We make a pilgrimage about once a year, and most of our last few trips have taken place on our local school system’s fall break. Going this time of year has afforded us the chance to go to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

For the uninitiated, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a special event at the Magic Kingdom that requires a separate ticket. Cast members usher non-party guests out of the park at 7:00, and the fun begins – including special parades and fireworks, trick-or-treating for everyone, and, most importantly, shorter lines for attractions.

Sunday afternoon, we set off for the Magic Kingdom, with my nieces dolled up in their costumes. My sister and brother-in-law put their girls in cute, late summer dresses inspired by Minnie Mouse and Snow White – not the actual replicas, mind you, but stylized dresses – while my brother and sister-in-law dressed their daughter as a hula girl. It didn’t take long for us to find out that those costumes were mere child’s play compared to some of the adults we saw.

Before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never really been a costume kind of guy, and Halloween was never a big deal for us growing up. I grew up in a rural area, and few of our neighbors bothered with candy, so we just didn’t make a big deal of the whole costume and trick-or-treat thing. Besides, at Walt Disney World, I’m all about comfort. At the party, I wore a Haunted Mansion themed T-shirt that netted me quite a few compliments, thank you very much. But enough about me.

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The 8 Worst Commutes in the World

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Washington, D.C. is notorious for traffic jams, road closures (oh, hey Mr. President), and commutes worthy of their own epic fairytale. D.C. has an underground metro, several bus lines, Amtrak, the MARC train, zipcars, and a bike share system.  There are a million ways to get around this little city–which also means there are a lot of ways to get held up.

However, there are commuters out there who love their commute–even if it’s really long and involves a delay.  Some people use the time in the car (aka traffic) to conduct business calls, catch up with the news, or relax to some classic music.  The bus and train crowd usually list one of the positives of “riding” as being able to read or do work. However, despite being able to make the best of their commuting situation, sometimes, the commute just goes bad… That minivan hit that sedan where 395 merges after the bridge and now they’re blocking traffic instead of getting out of the way.  The metro decides to “unload” passengers and now you have to walk 2 miles to work or locate a cab.  The metro is on fire. The metro is malfunctioning.  There aren’t any available bikes at the bike-share. The road is shut down for a parade of circus animals.

This is the day-to-day in D.C.

Yes, it is extremely frustrating sometimes, but we should be thankful for our situation.  Here are a few pictures of hellish commutes from cities around the world.  Thank your lucky stars.

Sao Paulo, Brazil

and you thought the Nats game crowd was bad…

sao-paulo-brazil-is-home-to-some-of-the-worlds-biggest-traffic-jams-and-its-subway-stations-are-a-bit-overcrowded

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Can you imagine seeing this as the metro crosses the Potomac?

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Come With Me To Walt Disney World!

Friday, October 4th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Walt Disney World

If you don’t know by now how much I love Disney – and Walt Disney World in particular – you haven’t really paid that much attention. Every year or so, three generations of my family make a pilgrimage to Walt Disney World, and next week is this year’s trip.

Since I’ll be gone next week, you won’t see any posts from me while I’m gone. Instead, I’m saving those for when I get back and share some great stuff about this trip.

I’d like to invite you to go with me. No, you don’t have to pack your bag or ask your boss for time off. But you can join me and my family vicariously, and here’s how:

** Follow me on Instagram: chrisqueen
** Follow me on Twitter: chrisqueen
** I don’t think I’ll post much to Facebook, but you can like my author page just in case.

I hope you’ll join me on this trip. We’re going to have a good time, and you just might get a little extra context to go along with my posts when I get back.

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A Tasty Trip Through the Amish Stands of Lancaster County

Monday, August 26th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson

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I’ve long admired the Amish from the time, years ago, I saw an old Amish couple in an artisans’ mercado in Tijuana haggling like ninjas with a guy selling blown glass. What’s not to love about a self-sufficient community with a staggering 95 percent success rate in starting businesses and about people who load up on gravy and pie yet make health professionals jealous? And perhaps the greatest point of admiration: the kindness and concern that the Lancaster County Amish immediately showed for the wife and family of the monster who gunned down 10 of their girls in a schoolhouse in 2006, killing five before taking his own life.

It’s just a little over two and a half hours from the D.C. area up to the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country. I’m not sure why I never made the trip before in nearly five years on the East Coast, except I didn’t want to be one of those tourists perceived as gawking at the plain people while contributing to the vehicular traffic making the roads a bit more perilous for the horses and buggies. This congressional recess, I decided I needed a bit of time around people who don’t give one whit about federal politics. Off to Amish country I went.

I knew there was a 20 percent chance of rain on Friday, but there was a 90 percent chance of more annoying tourists on Saturday, so I chanced it with the rain and got sprinkles. I arrived early in Intercourse, Pa., and first stopped at the oh-so-touristy Kitchen Kettle Village so the puppacita could stretch her paws. She enjoyed lots of flowers to sniff, stores to wander in and out of, the occasional piece of fallen kettle corn and staring at Amish men washing buggies and caring for horses used for tourist rides. I wasn’t opening my wallet for the higher prices and gaudy tourist items like the T-shirt that proclaimed “Virginia may be for lovers, but Pennsylvania is for Intercourse.” I vowed then and there that I would only buy from the Amish on this trip. And so with a list of tips about good roadside locations in hand, my GPS and I set out to find the best of Intercourse.

Not that GPS is necessarily needed — if you want to keep it real in Amish country, just follow the horse apples.

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The Southern Tourism War of 2013: Enterprise, AL vs. Covington, GA

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Covington, GA

I’ve written briefly before about how my hometown of Covington, GA has played host to Hollywood productions for nearly six decades. Currently, The Vampire Diaries films here, and the show has brought with it a unique brand of tourism. A local couple takes Vampire Diaries fans on tours, and fans camp out to watch hours upon hours of filming around town. The cult nature of the show lends a kitschy vibe to the cottage industry it has produced in Covington.

Our local Chamber of Commerce recently debuted an ad spoofing the vampire culture in Covington at a baseball tournament that took place here in town. The ad features a vampire who takes a mother and daughter on a tour of Covington. More importantly, it features many of our town’s beautiful sites. It’s clever, funny, and well made (other than the vampire’s ridiculous accent) – no sane person would take it for anything other than a spoof.

And then there’s Kyle Mooty, editor of the Enterprise Ledger in Enterprise, AL. Mooty got his  undies in a bunch over the ad, and he expresses his ridiculous indignation in an editorial with the sensational (and stupid) headline, Covington, Ga., Where Killing is Promoted. Mr. No-Humor Mooty writes:

Not that Covington’s Chamber of Commerce was planning on rolling out the red carpet for me anytime soon anyway, but the video has scared me away from that town forever. No, the lame-acting vampire who stalks a mother and daughter and eventually consumes (we are led to believe) the mother, hardly scared me, it was the fact that some higher-ups in the town actually approved the video to be used as a promotional tool for the town. Who wants to be in a town with leadership that careless?

[...]

It would be akin to Brentwood, Calif., showing the chase of O.J. Simpson in his buddy’s Bronco as a promotional tool for that Los Angeles suburb.

Let’s go ahead and have Cincinnati promote the fact that Charles Manson was born there, Chicago promote that O’Hare is considered the most dangerous airport in the U.S., or Pinos Altos, N.M., promote the fact that one of its residents was killed by a mountain lion in 2008. Oh boy, Mom, let’s go hiking in Pinos Altos.  While we’re at it, let’s see a commercial for the Big Apple telling us to visit New York City, the best possible place in the U.S. to catch the flu. Or St. Louis, which can say it’s only a short drive across the Mississippi River Bridge away from East St. Louis, Ill., considered by many as the worst town in America.

News flash, Kyle: Vampires don’t exist! All the other examples you mentioned are terrible events that took place in the real world, but a television series about vampires doesn’t quite touch them.

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Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, And Maybe Stay for Dinner!

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
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I would like another helping, please!

I hope you all stuffed yourselves on lobster bisque, foie gras, and indulged in a martini or two.  If you’re up for another destination of culinary awesomeness, get ready to buy some bigger pants—because your eyes are going to be bigger than your stomach.

Toscana is the name of this jewel and it is located, conveniently, one block east of Union Station.  The restaurant is quaint — a bright yellow row-house located on the corner of F Street NE and 2nd Street NE  – but don’t let its humble exterior fool you.  What it lacks in grandiose landscaping and property, it makes up for in hospitality, flavor, and culinary genius.

The owner is named Daniele — and it is commonplace to see him either in the kitchen, cooking away over a hot stove, or out on the patio, serving dinner to his neighbors and his own family. He likes to chat with patrons and is always interested in how the food tasted. Daniele is a master at making you feel at home — he’s a real, warm Italian. In fact, he returns to Italy each year to lead a culinary and wine tour. (You can sign up for this food and wine tour with Daniele to see Tuscany.)

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Rediscovering Washington, D.C.: Acting Like a Tourist and (Surprisingly) Liking It

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
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“There’s no place like D.C….”

The good and bad of living in a city that is a tourist destination is that all of your friends and relatives come to visit you (this is a pro, by the way).  The con of having such frequent guests is that you are expected to tour them around the city and D.C. metro area each time.  Constant visits to sites around D.C. tend to get repetitive.  HOW many times can you see the Natural History Museum before they might as well hire you as a guide?  The monuments are pretty constant in their appearance—the only changes are either the building of hideous scaffolding to make improvements (at a glacial pace) or orange tape to block off re-paving projects.  Also, D.C. is small and getting from Point A to Point B usually requires that you pass several D.C. landmarks.  Needless to say, they start to blend in to the landscape.

Writing this, I realized how unfortunate this is.  Washington D.C. is a VERY cool city that is chock-full of buildings dedicated to history and extraordinary Americans.  I live in the same city as the “Star Spangled Banner Flag,” a piece of Plymouth Rock, the red slippers from Wizard of Oz, and several dresses from America’s First Ladies.  I mean, isn’t that pretty cool?  To answer myself, yes, it is.

My brother and his girlfriend came into town last week. It was their first time in Washington, D.C.  Honestly, in the beginning I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of having to visit all the museums and monuments again.

But, I accepted my fate:  I was going to have to revisit many of the museums that I had seen before. However, this time, I “rediscovered” one of the most popular tourist destinations in D.C. and even found a new one! Not too shabby for a girl who thought she’d “seen” all of D.C.

Break out the Hawaiian shirt and sunscreen! It’s time to go be a tourist!

Put on those Walking Shoes!

Yes, I’ve been to the National Museum of American History many, many times, but instead of getting mad at the fleet of baby strollers, or just shutting my mind off and breezing through, I actually took the time to read all the information on the exhibits that I had skipped over and/or written off as “boring” during my previous visits.  My brother is very interested in politics and history and he ended up being MY tour guide in some of the museum exhibits.  It was also really fun just to watch his sheer amazement at some of the museum’s artifacts. It was like watching a child on Christmas morning with all of the “oohs” and “ahhs.”  It gave me a new appreciation for the museum — and taking D.C. “new-bees” to visit.  Also, did I mention it’s free?

Who should go? Even if you think you’ve “seen it all,” you haven’t.  Take some friends and re-visit the American history museum.  They have rotating exhibits and you’re bound to discover something that you haven’t seen before.

Where is it? Smithsonian National Museum of American History

14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C., 20001

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Who Are the Abortion Debate Extremists?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 - by Leslie Loftis

French Pro-Life March

When some left vs right American cultural battle made the news, friends abroad would either ask for an explanation from my husband and me, both known conservatives, or offer advice for our cultural wars. Almost always, the conversation was cordial but premised on an assumption that the American right held the extreme position.

Europeans made reasonable assumptions based on the tenor and headlines but rarely did the news or dinner party discussion cover the details. So few knew that American conservatives rarely held the extreme position. And American expats often endured some unexpected culture shock, especially concerning matters of race, sex, and immigration.

Abortion provides an excellent illustration of the problem. When the subject came up in the 2008 election, when Europe loved Obama (how times do change) and couldn’t stomach pro-life Palin, one friend advised that we could avoid all of our abortion drama if we allowed for reasonable rules making abortion legal during the first trimester with a committee of doctors to determine case-by-case availability of abortions in the second trimester, like they did in Denmark. Trying not to scoff at just how unreasonable those rules would sound to the American pro-choice movement, I asked for her opinion on later abortions. She was taken aback. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. Another time, Italians looked at me as if I was crazy when I asked about parental consent for minors. Of course a minor needed parental consent! Was I mad? And wasn’t I the American conservative?

Stories aside, we can easily compare the regulations.

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Kathy Shaidle’s Guide For Your First Visit to Israel

Sunday, June 9th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

A beach in Tel Aviv, image courtesy shutterstock.

Editor’s Note: With PJ Media’s co-founder Roger L. Simon blogging from Israel this past week, now is a good time to think about a first trip to Israel for those who have not yet visited. This article from Kathy Shaidle first appeared as four pieces originally published November 23December 13, 2012.  - DS

5 Places to Visit in Israel

Click here for the basics.

5 Hidden Gems to Visit in Israel

Click here for some more advanced destinations.

Food, Manners and Unrequited Love: What Every Visitor to Israel Needs to Know

And click here for Kathy’s conclusion with some important tips.

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How Often Do Medical Emergencies Occur on Flights?

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 - by Theodore Dalrymple

When I was in my mid-twenties I developed heart failure on a flight to India. It was caused by viral myocarditis, and I found the whole experience interesting rather than alarming because I was still at an age when I thought I could not possibly die. Neither did it occur to me to request medical assistance: I had some insight into the helplessness of doctors in such situations.

A couple of years later I accompanied a madman on a flight back to his own country. His main symptom was a desire to kill himself by jumping out of high windows: not the ideal airline passenger, you might have thought. In my pocket I had a syringe ready with tranquillizer with which to jab him if he became difficult. It was all arranged very casually, but in the event nothing untoward happened.

We are better organized now, of course, as a paper in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine shows. The authors collected data on the medical emergencies that occurred among roughly 10 percent of airline passengers worldwide between January 2008 and October 2010.

It is often said that flying is the safest means of transportation, and it does not seem to be medically very hazardous either. There was one emergency every 604 flights, and one per 62,500 passengers. Moreover, most of the emergencies turned out to be trivial or minor; only 7.3 percent – that is to say, 875 of 11,920 cases – resulted in diversion of the aircraft. Of course, 875 flights is a lot relative to most people’s lifetime, but it was 875 of 7,198,116 flights.

The most common symptom was fainting or feeling faint, followed by breathlessness and then nausea or vomiting. There were 30 deaths on board and 6 shortly after landing. The age of the oldest passenger to have suffered an emergency in flight was 100 (he didn’t die, though, and lived to fly another day).

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NBC News Undercover Video Validates Claim of Disney Black Market Tour Guides

Saturday, June 1st, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the reports of wealthy Manhattan families hiring disabled individuals to pose as family members so that the guests could cut in line at Walt Disney World. Among the many comments I received disagreeing with me was one dismissing the claim as an urban legend.

Thanks to NBC News — something you’ll probably never hear me say again — we have proof that such behavior takes place at Disneyland in California. Investigative reporter Jeff Rossen and his team went undercover to expose the black market tour guides:

The rides, the characters: Disneyland is “the happiest place on earth” — except if you’re waiting in those long lines, you and your kids, waiting hours in the heat.

So how did one family get to skip past everyone? They did it ride after ride after ride, escorted to the front every time.

It’s the outrageous business few even know about: families bypassing the lines by hiring disabled tour guides with special passes. At most theme parks like Disney, they have great policies: The disabled get speedy access to rides. But now healthy families are abusing the system, paying disabled guides to get them in with up to five guests.

[...]

On ads we found on Craigslist, tour guides brag about their disabled passes: “Let’s cut the Disney lines together,” “access to … special entrances.”

On the video — which you can view here — two guests who possess the special passes (and who both look quite able-bodied) took a producer and his family to bypass even the longest of lines at Disneyland.

First up was a guide named Mara, who said she got her pass after a car accident. “I’m here to make sure everyone has fun at Disneyland and we get on as many rides as possible,” she told us.

“And you have a secret weapon that’s going to help us?” our producer asked.

“I do. I have a special card that’s going to help us beat the lines,” Mara replied with a wink.

And she charged $50 an hour to do it.

[...]

Our second disabled guide, Ryan, charged our family $200 and got them right through another side door at Star Tours, an attraction inspired by “Star Wars.” “I cant believe we’re getting past everybody,” our producer exclaimed.

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