The new Star Tours attraction that will soon debut at Disneyland adds several layers of 3-D realism to the 1980s-era simulator ride, making the experience less like watching a movie and more like being in the middle of the action.
I took a few preview rides Friday at Disneyland on the updated attraction, which offers 54 possible storylines, and I found myself wanting to jump back in line after each galactic journey.
With lifelike digital imagery and high-definition, 3-D characters that slam into the Starspeeder 1000 windshield, Star Tours 2.0 is light-years better than the 1987 original. I found myself repeatedly grasping for a handhold as our motion simulator fell down chasms, dodged laser fire and raced across the stars.
Spoiler alert: Star Tours 2.0 ride details below
The queue area features the same layout as the old ride with new layers of details and plenty of sight gags (including a few hidden Mickeys). C3PO, the accidental pilot of our Starspeeder, sets up the storyline of the Empire’s search for a Rebel spy during the pre-show.
My favorite new character in the queue area is the thermal-scanner droid who doubles as an interstellar stand-up comic: “What did the droid say to the human? One zero one one zero one zero zero zero one one. What, you don’t speak binary?”
The Starspeeder motion simulators, which to the untrained eye look almost identical to the 1987 originals, remain largely unchanged on the inside with some of the armrests still showing telltale signs of decades-old grime.
But that’s where the similarities between the old and new rides end.
The new journey takes riders on a sightseeing tour of the “Star Wars” galaxy, with possible stops at Hoth, Kashyyyk, Tatooine, Coruscant, Naboo or the Death Star, depending on which of the random storylines your flight crew draws.
So far I’ve been to five of the six possible destinations. My favorite was Naboo, where the Starspeeder dives underwater and encounters a slobbery sea creature that shakes the vehicle with a big 3-D finale that’s startling even when you know it’s coming.
If I could request my favorite storyline, I’d choose the storm-trooper launch sequence with the Tatooine pod race (the inspiration for the Star Tours reboot), the Yoda emergency transmission and the Naboo finale.
But then again, I still haven’t seen the Death Star sequence or watched the Princess Leia transmission. My preferences could change. I guess I’ll just have to ride again.
I found only two faults with the new ride:
The mid-ride transmissions from Leia, Yoda or Ackbar literally bring the voyage to a halt, interrupting an otherwise thrilling ride.
And if you’re prone to dizziness, the 3-D imagery may mess with your equilibrium.
But those are minor quibbles with an otherwise fantastic update to a venerable classic.
The deal: The Aztec Ocean Resort in Seaside Heights is offering the “Summer Family Escape.”
Cost: Starting at $399 per family of four, plus tax, using promo code “Hotel Experts.”
What’s included: Three-night stay in a breezeway or streetside room; breakfast for four one morning; free beach access for two adults; two new Casino Pier/Breakwater Beach Ride Slide Combo Passes.
When: July 4 through Sept. 1.
Information: Call 732-793-3000 or 888-976-9277 or visit aztecoceanresort.com.
The deal: Cedars Beeches Bed Breakfast in Long Branch is offering the “Romance for Two” package.
Cost: Starting at $400 using promo code “Romance for two.”
What’s included: King room accommodations; hotel taxes and gratuities; breakfast daily; massage for two; massage tax; bottle of wine upon arrival; sweet treat; 25-percent discount on performances at N.J. Repertory Theatre.
When: Through Dec. 31.
Information: Call 732-571-6777 or 1-800-323-5655 or visit cedarsand beeches.com.
The deal: The Atlantic City Hotel Experts in Atlantic City is offering the “Atlantic City Dinner Show Package.”
Cost: Starting at $95 per night based on double occupancy, using promo code “Hotel Experts.”
What’s included: Deluxe room at the Tropicana Casino Atlantic City; two tickets to the Comedy Stop Show; two Fiesta dinner or breakfast buffet tickets; two Starbucks signature drip coffees; two pastries of your choice; $700 in shopping discounts at the Walk — Atlantic City Outlets; $10 restaurant coupon for the Melting Pot in Atlantic City.
When: Through Dec. 31.
Information: Call 1-800-631-8399 or visit achotelexperts.com.
— Alexis Tarrazi
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Space Mountain attraction has reopened at Walt Disney World, a day after a rider was found unconscious.
The roller coaster was up and running Sunday morning. Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said the ride had been inspected and was working properly.
A 48-year-old woman was found unconscious and not responsive at the end of a spin on the attraction Saturday morning. The woman was breathing on her own, however, and she was transported to a local hospital for treatment.
Disney referred all questions about the woman’s medical condition to Dr. Phillips Hospital. Messages left with hospital officials were not immediately returned Sunday.
The theme park warns that riders should be in good health and not suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems or other medical conditions.
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Visitors will again be able to ride free shuttle buses to attractions in Hot Springs on days with heavy tourist traffic.
The Sentinel-Record newspaper reported that the buses will roll on weekends and holidays starting Saturday and running through Sept. 5.
The air-conditioned shuttles will run at 30-minute intervals, stopping at Hot Springs National Park, Magic Springs Crystal Falls theme and water park, and the downtown historic and arts district.
The newspaper reported that the buses, which will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will be equipped with bike racks.
The city and the National Park Service work together to offer the service.
Several free park-and-ride sites will be available, including the Hot Springs Convention Center parking lot on Convention Boulevard, Transportation Plaza on Broadway Terrace, and the Exchange Street Parking Plaza on Central Avenue, where parking on the top two floors is free. Riders can board the shuttle at Central Avenue in front of the parking deck.
The buses will travel up Hot Springs Mountain to the Mountain Tower, back through downtown Hot Springs, out to Magic Springs, into Gulpha Gorge Campground and back to downtown. The drivers will provide information about the areas where the buses travel.
Stops at local hotels also will be included.
Information from: The Sentinel-Record, http://www.hotsr.com
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – An Icelandic volcano flung ash, smoke and steam miles (kilometers) into the air Sunday and dropped a thick layer of gray soot in an eruption far more forceful — but likely far less impactful — than the one that grounded planes across Europe last year.
The country’s main airport was closed and pilots were warned to steer clear of Iceland as areas close to the Grimsvotn (GREEMSH-votn) volcano were plunged into darkness. But scientists said another widespread aviation shutdown was unlikely, in part because the ash from this eruption is coarser and was falling to Earth more quickly.
The volcano, which lies beneath the ice of the uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland, began erupting Saturday for the first time since 2004. It was the volcano’s largest eruption in 100 years.
The ash from Grimsvotn — about 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of the capital, Reykjavik — turned the sky black Sunday and rained down on nearby buildings, cars and fields. Civil protection workers helped farmers get their animals into shelters and urged residents to wear masks and stay indoors. No ash fell on the capital.
Scientists said the eruption won’t have the global impact of last year’s eruption some 80 miles (130 kilometers) away at the Eyjafjallajokull (pronounced ay-yah-FYAH-lah-yer-kuhl) volcano, which left 10 million travelers stranded around the world.
“It is not likely to be anything on the scale that was produced last year when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted,” University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson told The Associated Press. “That was an unusual volcano, an unusual ash size distribution and unusual weather pattern, which all conspired together to make life difficult in Europe.”
Still, Icelandic air traffic control operator ISAVIA established a 120 nautical mile (220 kilometer) no-fly zone around the volcano, closed Keflavik airport, the country’s main hub, and canceled all domestic flights. It said Keflavik would stay shut until at least noon Monday, canceling about 40 international flights.
Trans-Atlantic planes — including Air Force One, due to carry President Barack Obama to Ireland later Sunday — were told to stay away from Iceland.
The European air traffic control agency in Brussels, Eurocontrol, however, said there was no impact on European or trans-Atlantic flights further south and said it did not anticipate any impact through Monday.
Britain’s Meteorological Office, which runs Europe’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, said the plume from the volcano would spread largely northeast until Monday, but some ash would creep south and east, toward the crowded skies over northern Europe.
Where it goes after that depends on the intensity of the eruption and weather patterns.
A Met Office spokeswoman said if the eruption continues at its current rate, “the U.K. could be at risk of seeing some volcanic ash later this week.” She spoke on condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name.
University of Iceland geophysicist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson said the Grimsvotn eruption was “much bigger and more intensive” than last year’s eruption and 10 times as powerful as Grimsvotn’s last explosion in 2004.
“There is a very large area in southeast Iceland where there is almost total darkness and heavy fall of ash,” he said. “But it is not spreading nearly as much. The winds are not as strong as they were (last year).”
He said the ash now is coarser than in last year’s eruption, falling to the ground more quickly.
Grimsvotn’s eruption in 2004 lasted for several days and briefly disrupted international flights. The volcano also erupted in 1998, 1996 and 1993.
Sparsely populated Iceland is one of the world’s most geologically unstable countries, sitting astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American continental plates rub up against one another. Frequent earthquakes push magma from deep underground toward the surface, and volcanic eruptions are common. The ground is covered by hardened black lava from past eruptions and steam belches from the earth — harnessed by Icelanders for geothermal power.
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland often spark flash flooding from melting glacier ice but rarely cause deaths. Usually they only have a local impact, but when they do draw the world’s attention, it’s in a spectacular way.
The 1783 eruption of the Laki volcano spewed a toxic cloud over Europe, killing tens of thousands of people. Crops failed and famine spread.
In April 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull eruption prompted aviation officials to close Europe’s air space for five days out of fear that the ash could harm jet engines. Thousands of flights were grounded, airlines lost millions of dollars and weary travelers slept on airport floors across northern Europe.
Some airline chiefs complained that regulators had overreacted. But a study last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded the shutdown had been justified. It said the hard, sharp particles of volcanic ash blasted high into the air could have caused jet engines to fail and sandblasted airplane windows.
Scientists said there were already signs that the latest eruption was tapering off.
“The intensity of the eruption has decreased markedly overnight,” Matthew Roberts of the Icelandic Meteorological Office told the BBC, saying the ash plume had fallen to about 6 miles (10 kilometers) high.
Gudmundsson said the duration of the latest eruption would probably be short.
“In two or three days, the worst should be over,” he said.
Jill Lawless reported from London.
The deal pops up on your Facebook news feed, and it’s irresistible: Pay $7 to get $14 worth of food at your favorite sandwich shop.
Friends have already bought into the offer, and you have only 24 hours to join them.
So you pay online with a credit card, receive a voucher, and make it your lunch plan for the next day.
Group buying sites — Groupon, Crowd Savings, Seize the Deal, for example — have become the newest way to save money. Coupon publications like Clipper Magazine have launched their own versions, as have newspapers across the country. (The Times Union is working to develop its own group buying platform to be launched in the coming months).
Group buying sites are a $133 billion market and the fastest growing ecommerce industry segment in the history of the Internet, says Chad Jaquays, CEO of Tampa-based Crowd Savings, which has been operating in the Albany market for a year and in eight other cities.
More than 150 Capital Region merchants have offered discounts through Crowd Savings on goods and services ranging from food and bowling to massages and spa sessions.
For the consumer, the model is simple. See the deal on the group buying website, see it on email after signing up to receive notices or find it through a social media site. There is no membership fee or long-term commitment.
It’s an appealing model for small-business owners who have meager advertising budgets. They offer a limited number of deeply discounted deals on their goods and pay the group-buying websites a percentage of their sales on the deals. Meanwhile, they hope the spending won’t end with the voucher and that they’ll gain repeat customers.
“It brings in new people,” says Anthony Di Piazza, owner of Anthony’s Chocolate Dipped Fruit in Latham. “I hear all the time that people will buy the coupon, and they say they didn’t even know we were here.”
Di Piazza offers his deals on Seize the Deal, Crowd Savings and Clipper Magazine’s Double Take Deals. He just signed on with Groupon, as well. With nine days left on a Double Take Deal, he’d sold 125 of the 200 deals he was offering.
The sites can be a good way to stir up business during slack times. “It’s a way to make quick sales and get brand exposure,” says Robert Wright, a Colorado-based marketing strategist with expertise in search engine optimization and social media. “Anytime I set up a Groupon, I would announce it through all my social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn — maybe even some other places I was participating. You’re going to have a much better chance of something going viral then. In social media you make friends and gain trust by giving people deals.”
Mary Song Tedisco, CEO of Clifton Park-based Yuupon, a travel deal website, was so taken with the group buying model that she decided to apply it to the travel industry. She’s run the besttraveldeals.net website for years, but launched Yuupon.com six weeks ago, hoping to tap into its potential for new advertising and sales.
Within six weeks, the site had 15,000 subscribers. A recent deal for 50 percent off a two- or three-night stay at a Florida resort was viewed by 30,000 people, she says.
The deals offered at Yuupon — usually with a 50 to 80 percent discount rate — are for lodging only, but Tedisco plans to begin offering discounts on cruises and rental cars. Tedisco said she plans to hire about 30 employees in the coming months.
“Independent hotels don’t have the marketing budget the big brands have or the knowhow. They can’t spend a lot of money on cost-per-click ads. It’s very expensive to acquire a new customers,” Tedisco says. “This isn’t the be-all and the end-all for them, but it is a new channel for them to reach new customers, new guests, without the risk of spending money up front and not knowing the return they’re going to get.”
Reach Jennifer Gish at 454-5089 or email@example.com.
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Some people find it surprising that, until this year, I had never visited Nashville.
I made it through eight countries in Europe before I took my cowboy boots to the city that is four hours away from where I grew up.
So a few months ago, I packed my bags for an impromptu trip to Tennessee. I didn’t bother booking a hotel room, instead deciding to play it by ear, venturing on a weeklong quest.
Armed with my trusty iPhone and travel apps like MapQuest, Siri, Travel Deals and my favorite – TripAdvisor – I was able to navigate, search for hotel deals, find restaurants and take photos along the way.
After doing a little iResearch about Nashville, I knew I wanted to book a hotel in Nashville’s downtown entertainment area called The District.
I wanted a room that was in walking distance, so I ruled out cheaper hotels a mile or so away and focused on trying to find a deal.
After narrowing down a few, I found a hotel on Expedia and Travelocity that I think may be the best priced in the area for what it offers.
Right outside the hotel, I found several restaurants, but opted for The Tazza, an Italian restaurant just a few blocks away.
For more information, visit thetazza.com.
The next excursion was a walk to The District’s Wildhorse Saloon. There wasn’t a huge crowd that weeknight, but if you want to sit at a bar, chat with other tourists and watch the bartender perform magic tricks, it was worth the visit. (Don’t leave without getting your picture taken with the wild horse out front)
After taking in some of the sights, I stopped in the hotel lobby and collected a handful of tourism brochures.
I wasn’t interested in doing the traditional venues,like visiting the Grand Ole Opry, so I opted for Gray Line Tours’ Homes of the Stars jaunt.
Our tour driver pointed out many Nashville landmarks and offered celebrity anecdotes as we drove past the homes of Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Ronnie Dunn, Kix Brooks, Hank Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Tammy Wynette, Lori Ann Crook, Little Jimmy Dickens and others. It was worth the $41 ticket.