Las Vegas may get a real railway station again

Las Vegas may get a real railway station again

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SINCE Amtrak closed down its passenger-rail service through Las Vegas in 1997, train spotters looking for its station have had to go to Miniatur Wunderland, a model-railway museum in Hamburg, Germany. There modelling enthuasiasts have built a scale version of the city of casinos, at a scale of 1:87, complete with a fictional railway station in central Las Vegas (see picture).

But soon Miniatur Wunderland will have to revise its model with some Brightline branding. On September 18th the Florida startup announced that it had taken-over a project to build a new passenger-rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Earlier this year, it launched its debut service between Miami and West Palm Beach, the first new passenger-rail line to built by a private company in America for over a century. In this week’s issue, we took a look behind the company’s motivations:

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Wes Edens of Fortress, a private-equity firm, is the founder of Brightline. He thinks that the industry is ripe for a rebound… Mr Edens hopes to tap more lucrative routes. Brightline plans to focus on those between big cities “too far to drive, too short to fly”, such as between Atlanta and Charlotte, Houston and Dallas, and Chicago and St Louis. Several trends may help fill the trains. The number of youngsters who drive is falling: only 69% of 19-year-old Americans have licences, compared with 87% in 1983. Wi-Fi means that business people can work on trains.

But does it have enough money to fulfil its grand ambitions?

Other track owners want to give their own freight trains priority and balk at investing the money needed to run passenger trains at faster speeds. Brightline could build new tracks, as it plans to between LA and Las Vegas. But this is likely to cost billions of dollars for each of the 10-15 lines it wants to build. Some analysts say it would need to issue more equity, perhaps in an IPO.

The full article can be found here.

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September 24, 2018 at 01:18AM

Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from the Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years, by His Yale Classmate Deborah Ramirez

Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from the Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years, by His Yale Classmate Deborah Ramirez

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As Senate Republicans press for a swift vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. The Democratic Senate offices reviewing the allegations believe that they merit further investigation. “This is another serious, credible, and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanagh. It should be fully investigated,” Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, said. An aide in one of the other Senate offices added, “These allegations seem credible, and we’re taking them very seriously. If established, they’re clearly disqualifying.”

The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was also conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.

In a statement, Kavanaugh wrote, “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name–and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building–against these last-minute allegations.”

White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the administration stood by Kavanaugh. “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”

Ramirez said that, when both she and Kavanaugh were freshmen at Yale, she was invited by a friend on the women’s soccer team to a dorm-room party. She recalled that the party took place in a suite at Lawrance Hall, in the part of Yale known as the Old Campus, and that a small group of students decided to play a drinking game together. “We were sitting in a circle,” she said. “People would pick who drank.” Ramirez was chosen repeatedly, she said, and quickly became inebriated. At one point, she said, a male student pointed a gag plastic penis in her direction. Later, she said, she was on the floor, foggy and slurring her words as that male student and another stood nearby. (Ramirez identified the two male onlookers, but, at her request, The New Yorker is not naming them.)

A third male student then exposed himself to her. “I remember a penis being in front of my face,” she said. “I knew that’s not what I wanted, even in that state of mind.” She recalled remarking, “That’s not a real penis,” and the other students laughing at her confusion and taunting her, one encouraging her to “kiss it.” She said that she pushed the person away, touching it in the process. Ramirez, who was raised a devout Catholic in Connecticut, said that she was shaken. “I wasn’t going to touch a penis until I was married,” she said. “I was embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated.” She remembers Kavanaugh standing to her right and laughing, pulling up his pants. “Brett was laughing,” she said. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said. “It was his full name. I don’t think it was just ‘Brett.’ And I remember hearing and being mortified that this was out there.”

Ramirez acknowledged that there are significant gaps in her memories of the evening, and that, if she ever presents her story to the F.B.I. or members of the Senate, she will inevitably be pressed on her motivation for coming forward after so many years, and questioned about her memory, given her drinking at the party.

And yet, after several days of considering the matter carefully, she said, “I’m confident about the pants coming up, and I’m confident about Brett being there.” Ramirez said that what has stayed with her most forcefully is the memory of laughter at her expense from Kavanaugh and the other students. “It was kind of a joke,” she recalled. “And now it’s clear to me it wasn’t a joke.”

By his freshman year, Kavanaugh was eighteen, and legally an adult. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh swore under oath that as a legal adult he had never “committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature.”

The New Yorker has not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party. The magazine contacted several dozen classmates of Ramirez and Kavanaugh regarding the incident. Many did not respond to interview requests; others declined to comment, or said they did not attend or remember the party. A classmate of Ramirez’s, who declined to be identified because of the partisan battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination, said that another student told him about the incident either on the night of the party or in the next day or two. The classmate said that he is “one hundred per cent sure” that he was told at the time that Kavanaugh was the student who exposed himself to Ramirez. He independently recalled many of the same details offered by Ramirez, including that a male student had encouraged Kavanaugh as he exposed himself. The classmate, like Ramirez, recalled that the party took place in a common room on the first floor in Entryway B of Lawrance Hall, during their freshman year. “I’ve known this all along,” he said. “It’s been on my mind all these years when his name came up. It was a big deal.” The story stayed with him, he said, because it was disturbing and seemed outside the bounds of typically acceptable behavior, even during heavy drinking at parties on campus. The classmate said that he had been shocked, but not necessarily surprised, because the social group to which Kavanaugh belonged often drank to excess. He recalled Kavanaugh as “relatively shy” until he drank, at which point he said that Kavanagh could become “aggressive and even belligerent.”

Another classmate, Richard Oh, an emergency-room doctor in California, recalled overhearing, soon after the party, a female student tearfully recounting to another student an incident at a party involving a gag with a fake penis, followed by a male student exposing himself. Oh is not certain of the identity of the female student. Ramirez told her mother and sister about an upsetting incident at the time, but did not describe the details to either due to her embarrassment.

Mark Krasberg, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico who was also a member of Kavanaugh and Ramirez’s class at Yale, said Kavanaugh’s college behavior had become a topic of discussion among former Yale students soon after Kavanaugh’s nomination. In one e-mail that Krasberg received in September, the classmate who recalled hearing about the incident with Ramirez alluded to it and wrote that it “would qualify as a sexual assault,” he speculated, “if it’s true.”

One of the male classmates who Ramirez said egged on Kavanaugh denied any memory of the party. “I don’t think Brett would flash himself to Debbie, or anyone, for that matter,” he said. Asked why he thought Ramirez was making the allegation, he responded, “I have no idea.” The other male classmate Ramirez said was involved in the incident commented, “I have zero recollection.”

In a statement, two of those male classmates who Ramirez alleged were involved the incident, the wife of a third male student she said was involved, and three other classmates, Dino Ewing, Louisa Garry, and Dan Murphy, disputed Ramirez’s account of events: “We were the people closest to Brett Kavanaugh during his first year at Yale. He was a roommate to some of us, and we spent a great deal of time with him, including in the dorm where this incident allegedly took place. Some of us were also friends with Debbie Ramirez during and after her time at Yale. We can say with confidence that if the incident Debbie alleges ever occurred, we would have seen or heard about it—and we did not. The behavior she describes would be completely out of character for Brett. In addition, some of us knew Debbie long after Yale, and she never described this incident until Brett’s Supreme Court nomination was pending. Editors from the New Yorker contacted some of us because we are the people who would know the truth, and we told them that we never saw or heard about this.”

The former friend who was married to the male classmate alleged to be involved, and who signed the statement said of Ramirez, “This is a woman I was best friends with. We shared intimate details of our lives. And I was never told this story by her, or by anyone else. It never came up. I didn’t see it; I never heard of it happening.” She said she hadn’t spoken with Ramirez for about ten years, but that the two women had been close all through college, and Kavanaugh had remained part of what she called their “larger social circle.” In an initial conversation with The New Yorker, she suggested that Ramirez may have been politically motivated. Later, she said that she did not know if this was the case.

Ramirez is a registered Democrat, but said that her decision to speak out was not politically motivated and, regarding her views, that she “works toward human rights, social justice, and social change.” Ramirez said that she felt “disappointed and betrayed” by the statements from classmates questioning her allegation, “because I clearly remember people in the room whose names are on this letter.”

Several other classmates said that they believed Ramirez to be credible and honest, and vouched for her integrity. James Roche was roommates with Kavanaugh at the time of the alleged incident and is now the C.E.O. of a software company in San Francisco. “Debbie and I became close friends shortly after we both arrived at Yale,” he said. “She stood out as being exceptionally honest and gentle. I cannot imagine her making this up.” He said that he never witnessed Kavanaugh engage in any sexual misconduct, but did recall him being “frequently, incoherently drunk.” He described Ramirez as a vulnerable outsider. “Is it believable that she was alone with a wolfy group of guys who thought it was funny to sexually torment a girl like Debbie? Yeah, definitely. Is it believable that Kavanaugh was one of them? Yes.” Another acquaintance from college, Jennifer Klaus, similarly said that she considered the allegation plausible, adding, “Debbie’s always been a very truthful, kind—almost to the point of being selfless—individual.” A third classmate, who Ramirez thought had attended the party, said that she was not present at the incident. The former student, who asked not to be named, said that she also found Ramirez credible.

Former students described an atmosphere at Yale at the time in which alcohol-fuelled parties often led to behavior similar to that described by Ramirez. “I believe it could have happened,” another classmate who knew both Kavanaugh and Ramirez said. Though she was not aware of Kavanaugh being involved in any specific misconduct, she recalled that heavy drinking was routine and that Ramirez was sometimes victimized and taunted by male students in his social circle. “They were always, like, ‘Debbie’s here!,’ and then they’d get into their ‘Lord of the Flies’ thing,” she said. While at Yale, Kavanaugh became a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, or “Deke,” which several students said was known for its wild and, in the view of some critics, misogynistic parties. Kavanaugh was also a member of an all-male secret society, Truth and Courage, which was popularly known by the nickname “Tit and Clit.”

Ramirez said that she continued to socialize with one of the male classmates who had egged Kavanaugh on during the party during college; she even invited the classmate to her house for Thanksgiving one year, after he told her that he had nowhere to go. She also attended his wedding, years later, as a guest of his wife, and said that she posed for photographs with Kavanaugh, smiling.

Ramirez said that she remained silent about the matter and did not fully confront her memories about it for years because she blamed herself for drinking too much. “It was a story that was known, but it was a story I was embarrassed about,” she said. More recently, she has begun to reassess what happened. “Even if I did drink too much, any person observing it, would they want their daughter, their granddaughter, with a penis in their face, while they’re drinking that much?” she said. “I can say that at fifty-three, but when I was nineteen or twenty I was vulnerable. I didn’t know better.” Reflecting on the incident now, she said she considers Kavanaugh’s male classmates culpable. “They’re accountable for not stopping this,” she said. However, “What Brett did is worse.” She added, “What does it mean, that this person has a role in defining women’s rights in our future?”

As Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings became a national story, the discussions among Ramirez and Kavanaugh’s classmates took on heightened urgency, eventually spreading to news organizations and to the Senate. Senate aides from Ramirez’s home state of Colorado alerted a lawyer, Stanley Garnett, a former Democratic district attorney in Boulder, who currently represents her. Ramirez ultimately decided to begin telling her story publicly, before others did so for her. “I didn’t want any of this,” she said. “But now I have to speak.”

Ramirez said that she hoped her story would support that of Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has raised an allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh that bears several similarities to Ramirez’s claim. Like Ramirez, Ford said that Kavanaugh was involved in sexual misconduct at a party while drunk and egged on by a male friend. In July, she sent a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein alleging that, at a party in the summer of 1982, when she was fifteen and Kavanaugh was seventeen and in high school, Kavanaugh pushed her into a bedroom, locked the door, pinned her to a bed, and covered her mouth to stop her screams as he attempted to pull off her clothes. Details of Ford’s allegation were initially made public by The New Yorker, which did not name her at the time. Subsequently, she disclosed her name in an interview with the Washington Post. In her letter, Ford said that during the incident she feared that Kavanaugh might inadvertently kill her. She alleged that a male friend and Georgetown Prep classmate of Kavanaugh’s, Mark Judge, was present in the room, alternately urging Kavanaugh to “go for it” and to “stop.” Kavanaugh has denied the allegation.

Ford’s allegation has made Judge a potentially pivotal witness for Kavanaugh. Judge told The New Yorker that he had “no recollection” of such an incident. Judge, who is a conservative writer, later gave an interview to The Weekly Standard in which he called Ford’s allegation “just absolutely nuts,” adding, “I never saw Brett act that way.” Asked by the interviewer whether he could remember any “sort of rough-housing with a female student back in high school” that might have been “interpreted differently by parties involved,” Judge told the publication, “I can’t. I can recall a lot of rough-housing with guys.” He added, “I don’t remember any of that stuff going on with girls.”

After seeing Judge’s denial, Elizabeth Rasor, who met Judge at Catholic University and was in a relationship with him for about three years, said that she felt morally obligated to challenge his account that “ ‘no horseplay’ took place at Georgetown Prep with women.” Rasor stressed that “under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t reveal information that was told in confidence,” but, she said, “I can’t stand by and watch him lie.” In an interview with The New Yorker, she said, “Mark told me a very different story.” Rasor recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual. She said that Judge did not name others involved in the incident, and she has no knowledge that Kavanaugh participated. But Rasor was disturbed by the story and noted that it undercut Judge’s protestations about the sexual innocence of Georgetown Prep. (Barbara Van Gelder, an attorney for Judge, said that he “categorically denies” the account related by Rasor. Van Gelder said that Judge had no further comment.)

Another woman who attended high school in the nineteen-eighties in Montgomery County, Maryland, where Georgetown Prep is located, also refuted Judge’s account of the social scene at the time, sending a letter to Ford’s lawyers saying that she had witnessed boys at parties that included Georgetown Prep students engaging in sexual misconduct. In an interview, the woman, who asked to have her name withheld for fear of political retribution, recalled that male students “would get a female student blind drunk” on what they called “jungle juice”—grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian Punch—then try to take advantage of her. “It was disgusting,” she said. “They treated women like meat.”

Kavanaugh’s attitude toward women has come to play a central role in his confirmation process. His backers have offered portrayals of his strong support for girls and women. When Kavanaugh accepted Trump’s nomination to the Court at a White House event in July, he and Trump both stressed that he had numerous female law clerks, and that he coached his young daughters’ school basketball teams. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh at one point ushered into the Senate hearing room a large group of school girls whose basketball games he had coached, showcasing his warm and supportive relationships with women. Earlier this month, on the same day The New Yorker reported details of Ford’s allegation, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee released a letter from sixty-five women defending the nominee. On Monday, CNN reported that the White House has been contacting many of those women again, hoping to present their perspective to the media, perhaps as part of a group news conference.

The very different portrayals of Kavanaugh and his social scene offered by Ford, and now Ramirez, come at a crucial point in the confirmation process. On Friday, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a public ultimatum to Ford, announcing that he would schedule the committee’s vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation for Monday morning if she did not respond to an invitation to testify by a deadline, set first for Friday night and then for Saturday afternoon. Lawyers for Ford had pushed back, demanding an outside investigation of Ford’s allegation by the F.B.I. before she offered testimony, and said that she needed additional time to prepare. The White House and F.B.I. have declined to pursue that F.B.I. investigation, though Grassley has stated that his office has conducted its own inquiries into the matter. On Sunday, Ford’s lawyer and the committee reached an agreement for her to testify on Thursday.

In a statement, Kavanaugh’s attorneys Beth Wilkinson and Alexandra Walsh, wrote, “Judge Kavanaugh fully and honestly answered the Judiciary Committee’s questions over multiple days only to have unsubstantiated allegations come out when a vote on his confirmation was imminent. What matters in situations like these are facts and evidence.” Like Kavanaugh, they said that on Thursday, “testimony and evidence will confirm what Judge Kavanaugh has made clear all along—that he did not commit the sexual assault Dr. Blasey Ford describes.”

The issue has proved to be politically delicate for the White House. Last week, Vanity Fair reported that White House officials were concerned about additional allegations against Kavanaugh emerging, and cited a source who claimed that Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and adviser, had urged him to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination. Trump has defended Kavanaugh in the wake of Ford’s allegations. In a series of tweets on Friday, he sought to undermine her account of events, writing, “I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.” He described Kavanaugh as “a fine man,” who he wrote was “under assault by radical left wing politicians.”

Ramirez said that witnessing the attempts to discredit Ford had made her frightened to share her own story, which she knew would be attacked due to the gaps in her memory and her level of inebriation at the time. “I’m afraid how this will all come back on me,” she said. Her attorney, Garnett, said that he and Ramirez had not yet decided when and how she would convey the details of her allegation to the Senate Judiciary Committee and whether new counsel would represent her in Washington. “We’re carefully evaluating what the appropriate next steps would be,” he said. They both said that an F.B.I. investigation of the matter was merited. “I do believe an F.B.I. investigation of this kind of character-related information would be appropriate, and would be an effective way to relay the information to the committee,” Garnett said. Of Ramirez, he added, “She’s as careful and credible a witness as I’ve encountered in thirty-six years of practicing law.” Ramirez said that she hoped an investigation could be carried out before the committee voted on Kavanaugh’s nomination. “At least look at it,” she said of her claim. “At least check it out.”

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September 24, 2018 at 01:11AM

Entertainment Changes at Animal Kingdom: Cuts & Additions

Entertainment Changes at Animal Kingdom: Cuts & Additions

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Walt Disney World has revealed new entertainment will be coming to Animal Kingdom on January 18, 2019, which follows rumors of cuts to offerings that will occur by this October. In this post, we’ll give you a rundown of the additions and subtractions, and dispel the “rumors” of Zootopia or Wakanda replacing Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

Let’s start with the news. As announced by the Disney Parks Blog, Animal Kingdom will celebrate the Lion King‘s 25th Anniversary with “Hakuna Matata Time Dance Party” on Discovery Island, which will feature Timon and Rafiki. This Lion King 25th Anniversary celebration will also feature three-dimensional photo opportunities re-creating scenes from the animated classic.

Normally, I’d write off a dance party as being “not for me” but after the pleasant surprise of Donald’s Dino-Bash, which features lots of clever details and cute costuming, coupled with my love of the Lion King, I’m somewhat intrigued. Entertainment has been honing the quality of these dance parties, and I’m optimistic that trend will continue here. That’s the good news; now let’s take a look at the latest rumors about Animal Kingdom cuts…

First up is Rivers of Light, which WDWNT is reporting will eliminate its live actors. We’ve been unable to confirm this with anyone in entertainment, but given the flurry of budget cuts ahead of the new fiscal year (and the buzz from Cast Members about them), we have no reason to doubt that this will occur.

As we wrote in our Rivers of Light Review, it has been a polarizing show since debuting, and its “different” style coupled with planned effects being scrapped and runtime being cut likely hasn’t helped Rivers of Light find an audience. While we enjoy Rivers of Light, it’s very much a niche product, appealing to a small minority of Walt Disney World fans and disappointing pretty much everyone else.

Cutting the four shaman characters certainly won’t help matters, but I’m honestly not sure how much it really hurts. Yes, the boats will be a bit awkward without them, but there’s a lot that’s disjointed and awkward about Rivers of Light. I’m not sure many first-time viewers will leave the show and say, “I was totally on board with the floating turtle, indiscernible mist screens, and whatever was going on for 174 seconds in the middle, but they lost me with the unguided boats.

To us, this change feels like Walt Disney World scaling back on a show that was doomed when it had to be altered from its original form. Rivers of Light should still receive a significant overhaul if it’s intended to run for the long-term. Walt Disney World cutting anything without a corresponding replacement is never good news, and as with other start-of-fiscal budgetary reductions, this is a more a matter of insult than actual injury for guests.

Another update: we previously reported that Rafiki’s Planet Watch would be going seasonal at the end of September. This came from reports from entertainment Cast Members working the area who were advised of that. It turns out that all Cast Members at Rafiki’s Planet Watch have since been advised that the entire area is closing permanently on October 21, 2018.

We have mixed feelings about this. While we’ve enjoyed our visits to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which is a refreshing change of pace from the frenetic pace of much of Walt Disney World, we seldom go. Taking the Wildlife Express Train there and back is a hassle, so we usually just skip it. I can’t even remember the last time we were back there.

In talking to others, this is common sentiment. With that said, so too is the disappointment of parents who take their small children there for the petting zoo and educational components of the area. It seems that areas offering hands-on activities for kids at Walt Disney World are decreasing in popularity, which is unfortunate. (At the same time, we get it: parents spend a lot of money on these vacations, and with that comes pressure to “get your money’s worth” and not “waste time” at playgrounds and the like.)

If this cut were occurring with a corresponding addition, we’d take zero issue. Rafiki’s Planet Watch is difficult to access, and has always been relatively unpopular. Wildlife Express has been pejoratively referred to as a “train to nowhere” for years, and we’re guessing it’s guest satisfaction scores aren’t the highest. Still, something doesn’t sit right about Walt Disney World making cuts while profits are at recommend highs and prices continue to increase.

One thing that surprises me about the Rafiki’s Planet Watch closure, and I guess it shouldn’t, is the enthusiasm for the closure. Many people think this means Disney is preparing to build a Zootopia or Wakanda-themed land in Animal Kingdom. To the extent that I can, I want to put this speculation to rest.

There are zero credible rumors that Rafiki’s Planet Watch–or any of the real estate in its area–will be replaced by Zootopia, Wakanda, or anything whatsoever. To the contrary, I have heard from credible sources that there are no immediate plans for the area, and in the long term, nothing has been greenlit.

Supposed “rumors” (air quotes) about Zootopia and Wakanda are nothing more than wishful thinking by Walt Disney World fans who don’t want to accept the reality of the closure. From a logical perspective, it doesn’t even make sense. Animal Kingdom is keeping the back-of-house animal facilities and zoological operations here, there just won’t be a guest-facing experience offered.

Moreover, there are expansion pads at Animal Kingdom that don’t require touching Rafiki’s Planet Watch. I would think that particular plot, would be fairly undesirable for expansion, as it would mean relocating backstage facilities and requires a train to access. Seriously, all of the same accessibility ‘problems’ that have plagued Rafiki’s Planet Watch would be an issue with anything that replaces it. Can you imagine the lines for the train compounded by a land that’s actually popular and only accessible via train?!

This is not to say Zootopia or Wakanda will never happen at Animal Kingdom. I think the latter is highly unlikely for a number of reasons and I’m not convinced Zootopia is an appropriate fit for DAK, but when has that mattered? My commentary here only concerns a new land replacing Rafiki’s Planet Watch. It isn’t happening.

In terms of the near to mid-term, I wouldn’t expect a ton at Animal Kingdom. Pandora has been a solid driver of attendance, and smaller-scale additions will continue to keep things fresh through Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021. Three other parks are higher priorities at this point, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see something happen in Dinoland/Dino-Rama at some point towards the end of the next 5 years. Before that, I wouldn’t hold my breath about any substantial development occurring in Animal Kingdom.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

What do you think about these cuts and additions at Animal Kingdom? Do you buy our reasoning that Zootopia and Wakanda are not replacing Rafiki’s Planet Watch, or do you refuse to accept reality? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of these changes? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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September 24, 2018 at 01:03AM

News: World Travel Awards reveals Caribbean and North America winners in Jamaica

News: World Travel Awards reveals Caribbean and North America winners in Jamaica

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The finest travel brands in the Caribbean and North America have been unveiled at a star-studded gala ceremony in Jamaica.

The who’s who of the travel industry gathered for the World Travel Awards Caribbean & North America Gala Ceremony 2018 at Sandals Montego Bay to find out who among them would be crowned best of the best.

Winners at the red-carpet reception included the paradise nation of Turks & Caicos, voted Caribbean’s Leading Beach Destination, while Jamaica’s captivating mix of beaches, culture, music and luxury hospitality was acknowledged with it picking up the title of Caribbean’s Leading Destination.

Miami was also in celebratory mood as it was named North America’s Leading Honeymoon Destination.

Hundreds of the leading travel industries figureheads from across the Caribbean and North America attended the ceremony at Sandals Montego Bay, the flagship resort of Sandals Resorts International.

Graham Cooke, World Travel Awards founder, said: “Sandals Montego Bay has proved a magnificent host of what has been an amazing night of travel triumph, and a highlight of our 25th anniversary.

“We have had the privilege of recognising many of the leading hotels, airlines and hospitality providers from destinations across the Caribbean and North America and my congratulations to each of them.”

In the aviation sector, Caribbean Airlines picked up the award for Caribbean’s Leading Airline.

Delta Air Lines also enjoyed a share of the honours, collecting North America’s Leading Airline and United States’ Leading Airline to The Caribbean.

Meanwhile Sangster International Airport, Jamaica, was heralded Caribbean’s Leading Airport.

Hospitality winners included GoldenEye (Caribbean’s Leading Boutique Resort), Round Hill Hotels & Villas (Caribbean’s Leading Villa Resort), Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa (Caribbean’s Leading New Resort), Meliá Braco Village (Caribbean’s Leading Luxury Resort), as well as Sandals Resorts International (Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand).

North American winners included JW Marriott Essex House New York (North America’s Leading Hotel), Hilton Hotels & Resorts (North America’s Leading Hotel Brand) and InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown (North America’s Leading New Hotel).

The ceremony marked the fifth leg of the World Travel Awards Grand Tour 2018 – a series of regional events to acknowledge the world’s outstanding travel brands.

Events on the tour include Ras al Khaimah (United Arab Emirates), Athens (Greece), Hong Kong, Guayaquil (Ecuador) and Durban (South Africa).

The regional winners will progress to the Grand Final 2018, which is being hosted in Lisbon (Portugal) on December 1st.

Find a full list of winners on the official WTA website.

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via Breaking Travel News http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/

September 23, 2018 at 10:09PM

Mommy Points: Book Your Gaylord Holiday Now to Save Money

Mommy Points: Book Your Gaylord Holiday Now to Save Money

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The official arrival of fall means that it is 100% acceptable, and even encouraged, to lock in holiday travel plans sooner rather than later. If your family likes to spend a part of the winter holiday at the Gaylord family of resorts (in the Marriott family), it’s time to make your bookings — today.

One of the best ways to save money on a Gaylord holiday getaway (other than using a Marriott 35,000-point certificate) is to book early. As I learned while planning our own Gaylord Texan holiday getaway last year, the Gaylord early bird holiday discounts are really good and those discounts end today (Sept. 23). Booking with the early bird discounts not only saves you 20% off the room rate, but you also get a daily resort credit of $50 or $100 each night.

With rates starting at just $148+ per night on the cheapest holiday dates at select Gaylord properties, getting 20% off with a $100 resort credit is a pretty big deal. Assuming the rate is refundable (and those I tested were), there’s little risk in booking today rather than waiting to pay more tomorrow.


Holidays at the Gaylord Texan (photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

If you want in on the Gaylord early bird booking discounts, here are the links and details.

Gaylord Texan: Save 20% + $50 resort credit per night to be used at on-site restaurants, in-room dining or at Relâche Spa. (Maximum credit is $100 per stay.)

Gaylord Palms: Save 20% + $50 resort credit per night to be used at on-site restaurants, in-room dining or at Relâche Spa. (Maximum credit is $100 per stay.)

Gaylord National: Save 20% on best available room rates plus receive a $100 resort credit per night for use at on-site restaurants, in-room dining or at Relâche Spa.

Gaylord Opryland: Save 20% on best available room rates plus receive a $50 resort credit per night for use at on-site restaurants, in-room dining or at Relâche Spa. (Maximum credit is $100 per stay.)

(Photo courtesy of Gaylord Texan)
(Photo courtesy of Gaylord Texan)

If you haven’t been to the Gaylord resorts during the holidays, they are truly holiday destinations unto themselves. While most of their on-site activities cost extra beyond your room rate, these resorts have massive multi-room ICE! displays, indoor snow tubing, outdoor ice skating, snowball throwing, an Elf on the Shelf breakfast, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and even Santa himself.


My daughter ready for snowball throwing (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Thankfully, we have lots of tips to help you save money on the plethora of Gaylord holiday activities, too.

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Texan
Photo courtesy of Gaylord Texan

While the early bird booking rates are likely the best play for some of the cheaper nights this holiday season, on peak weekend nights I would look to use 35,000 Marriott Rewards points (or less) rather than pay $300+ per night. This way you can save your cash budget for all the holiday-themed activities.

If you have a 35,000-point certificate from a card such as the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, that is another great strategy if visiting the Gaylord on a pricier night.

Inside the ICE Exhibit at the Gaylord Texan
Inside the ICE Exhibit at the Gaylord Texan (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

Finally, if you do decide to take your family to see ICE! at a Gaylord Resort (regardless of whether or not you also spend the night), here are my top 10 tips for visiting this indoor 9-degree winter paradise.

Featured image courtesy of the Gaylord Texan.

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September 23, 2018 at 09:31PM

Las Vegas Opens a Marijuana Museum Built for the Social Media Era

Las Vegas Opens a Marijuana Museum Built for the Social Media Era

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A glass bong taller than a giraffe. Huggable faux marijuana buds. A pool full of foam weed nuggets.

Las Vegas’ newest attraction — and Instagram backdrop — is a museum celebrating all things cannabis.

Nobody will be allowed to light up at Cannabition when it opens Thursday because of a Nevada ban on public consumption of marijuana, but visitors can learn about the drug as they snap photos.

It’s a made-for-social-media museum where every exhibit has lights meant to ensure people take selfies worthy of the no-filter hashtag.

The facility — whose founder says has a goal of destigmatizing marijuana use — will likely land among the talking points officials and others use to try to draw gambling-resistant millennials to Sin City.

It will welcome its first visitors almost 15 months after adults in Nevada began buying marijuana legally, with sales far exceeding state projections.

“Our goal when people come out of this is that they don’t fear the cannabis industry if they are not believers in the industry,” founder J.J. Walker told The Associated Press. “Cannabition is not about just serving people that like marijuana, it’s about serving the masses that want to learn about cannabis and or just have fun and go do a cool art experience.”

Guests will wander through 12 installations with rooms like “seed,” where people can lie down in a bed shaped like a marijuana seed, and “grow,” which features artificial plants in sizes ranging from inches to feet tall placed under bright lights to represent an indoor cannabis grow facility.

Photo ops are also available under a glow-in-the-dark tree, next to a giant marijuana leaf meant to represent an edible gummy and by a 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) glass bong that’s dubbed “Bongzilla” and billed as the world’s largest.

There is a space with taller-than-you faux buds representing different strains and another room with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s famous “Red Shark” Chevrolet Caprice.

This museum in Las Vegas’ downtown entertainment district is not the Smithsonian of marijuana, but it has some educational components. Guests get an introduction from museum guides and some graphics on walls explain how concentrates are made and the differences between indica and sativa cannabis strains.

Museums always evolve with the times to remain relevant, and audience engagement is an important goal for the facilities today, said Gwen Chanzit, director of museum studies in art history at the University of Denver.

For those who remember very traditional, no-photography-allowed museums, she said, “that ship has sailed.”

“Once cellphones became ubiquitous, the culture of museum visiting changed,” Chanzit said.

Many of the facility’s exhibits are sponsored by cannabis companies, with their logos prominently displayed. It is common for museums to receive the support of corporations and to place their logo on a wall.

Only adults 21 and older will be allowed at Cannabition. The tour is designed to last up to an hour.

Walker, the founder, has invited reality TV stars, models and other influencers to Las Vegas for the weekend with the charge of spreading the word about the facility.

As for those who buy a ticket but their Instagram followers are only in the dozens or hundreds, Walker said, “you’re still an influencer to your friends.”

Copyright (2018) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

This article was written by Regina Garcia Cano from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: People walk by the Cannabition cannabis museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, on September 18, 2018. The museum opened on September 20. John Locher / Associated Press

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September 23, 2018 at 09:26PM

The Gay Photographer Matthew Morrocco Chronicles His Intergenerational Trysts

The Gay Photographer Matthew Morrocco Chronicles His Intergenerational Trysts

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Like many gay men searching for intimacy in the modern day, the photographer Matthew Morrocco has found his share of it online. But the glossy Adonis of the Instagram era is not his type. He prefers older fellows, some of them more than twice his age. When he was twenty, he began courting such strangers on the Internet. With their consent, he photographed the ensuing trysts. The year was 2010, and his ambition, he writes in the afterword to “Complicit,” a new collection of portraits, from Matte Editions, was to preserve the queer history that an era of marriage equality, in all its progressive promise, is making increasingly remote. Many of his companions had survived both the AIDS crisis and heights of homophobia unknown to younger generations. Their very company, he writes, was an instruction in the art of persistence.

“Kevin and Bill 1,” 2013.

“Complicit” presents an ethnography of men who have matured past their physical prime, perhaps, but not beyond erotic interest. Morrocco’s models sometimes appear as bashful fragments, their limp forms sunk in a sofa or snarled around a tree. More often they flaunt their undress: one strikes a come-hither pose, and another snubs the camera, as though to test its dedication. The photographer himself emerges as a spectral presence in the series, invading the frame, on occasion, to heed his subjects’ desires. He fondles the jaw of one, paws the buttocks of another. In the collection, he writes of learning from these men how to seduce, to age gracefully, to seize the past: “The education I received outweighed anything I had experienced before.”

“Self Portrait with Rod 2,” 2015.

“Rod on the Yellow Couch,” 2015.

In our current moment, which is newly vigilant against the imbalances of power, Morrocco’s celebration of sex between young and old men risks inducing discomfort. But “Complicit” presents the photographer and his models in tender symbioses. In the spirit of his collection’s title, Morrocco bares as much skin as his subjects do, as if to mimic their vulnerability. In interviews, he has said that he took visual cues from the amorous languor of nineteenth-century French portraiture, but many of his images recall the complex perspective of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” a work from an earlier era. As in the famed Spanish painting, a carefully placed mirror often unsteadies the vantage of Morrocco’s images. His camera work casts the viewer, by turn, as a participant and an interloper.

“Self Portrait with David on the Bed,” 2012.

Take, for instance, a scene of the photographer lounging on a couch with a bearded man named Rod. The image includes two nested reflections. The first is from a large wall mirror that overwhelms the center of the shot, its gilt frame resting askew on the hardwood, concealing Rod’s body and Morrocco’s legs behind it. Within this reflection there appears a second, smaller mirror, located somewhere in the vicinity of the viewer, and containing the cloudy reflection of what at first appears to be a third man. Someone enticed by the intimacy of the series might find himself startled—is that me?—only to realize that it is Morrocco’s face, mysteriously displaced to shield the image of his elder muse.

“Self Portrait with Kevin,” 2014.

“Self Portrait with Shaun,” 2014.

“Self Portrait with Kevin and Bill,” 2014.

“Hooper in the Park,” 2013.

“Portrait of Dennis,” 2013.

“Self Portrait with David on the Bed,” 2012.

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September 23, 2018 at 09:04PM

Airlines Win as Congress Allows Continuation of Fees That Cost Passengers $7.5 Billion Last Year

Airlines Win as Congress Allows Continuation of Fees That Cost Passengers $7.5 Billion Last Year

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Doug Parker and the rest of the airline industry have gotten their way. On Saturday, bipartisan congressional legislation dropped a provision that would have allowed the Department of Transportation to decide if fees put in place by airlines were “reasonable and proportional.”

The legislation, which was announced at 2:52am Saturday, protects US airlines in collecting last year’s $7.5 billion in baggage, seat assignment and flight change fees, Reuters reports. The move was made to continue funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The 1,200-page bill to reauthorize the FAA was unveiled Saturday after weeks of negotiations. Included in the bill was language that requires the FAA to set minimum seat dimensions for both pitch and width, as well as prohibiting airlines from involuntarily removing passengers from an aircraft after they’ve scanned their boarding pass at the gate. The latter of the additions follows the infamous Dr. Dao incident on board a United Airlines flight in 2017.

“Airline travelers are being gouged by exorbitant fees, but the airlines will stop at nothing to protect this billion-dollar profit center,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), who backed the provision. Following Saturday’s dropping of the provision, Markey said that “through an opaque negotiating process, the airlines have managed to kill this important consumer protection provision,” according to The Washington Post.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker drew criticism last week when he threatened that the airline would bar passengers from changing nonrefundable tickets if the provision was included in the Reauthorization Bill.

While the fee protections were excluded from the measure, it did include language that airlines must refund passengers for services they paid for but did not receive. In addition, it included that passengers will be prohibited from making phone calls while in flight or from using e-cigarettes. The bill makes it unlawful to store a live animal in an overhead storage compartment, following the incident earlier in 2018 when a dog was killed on a United flight after the flight attendant forced a passenger to store her French Bulldog in the overhead compartment. The bill also addresses the ongoing issue of sexual misconduct in the aviation industry by pledging to create a task force to review practices and increase civil penalties for interfering with cabin crew.

Congress will vote on the measure ahead of a September 30 deadline.

Featured image by Thomas Barwick / Getty Images.

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September 23, 2018 at 09:00PM

Get 25% off Your Next UberEats Order (Including Existing Users)

Get 25% off Your Next UberEats Order (Including Existing Users)

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Hear that? It’s your stomach growling, and it wants food… like, two hours ago. And you’re in luck if you want something made fresh to order and don’t want to move from the ongoing Netflix binge happening on your couch.

UberEats is offering both new and existing users the opportunity to get 25% off your next UberEats order. In order to get the discount, enter the promo code NINJANOMS in the Promotions tab in the UberEats app.

The offer is valid through September 25, 2018, at 11:59pm CT. There’s a one-time use per user, however, there are reports that the promo code is valid for both domestic and international UberEats users.

To get the discount, open the UberEats app, click on the person icon in the lower right corner and tap Promotions. Then, enter the NINJANOMS promo code and place your order.

If you do take advantage, remember that you only have until the end of Tuesday to get the 25% discount. Also remember that UberEats counts as part of the Uber credit with the Platinum Card® from American Express. So, if you haven’t used this month’s $15 credit on a ride (or other UberEats orders), you can use that credit toward your already-discounted UberEats order.

H/T: Doctor of Credit

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September 23, 2018 at 08:30PM

American Airlines Is Handing Out Free Targeted Gold and Platinum Status

American Airlines Is Handing Out Free Targeted Gold and Platinum Status

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American Airlines is targeting some of its AAdvantage members with free status, handing out complimentary Gold or Platinum status for members to enjoy for the next few months.

If you were targeted, you’ll have received an email from AA with the subject reading “Free Platinum status for you,” or “Free Gold status for you.” (It’s worth checking the spam folder on the email associated with your AAdvantage account.) Additionally, you can log in to your AAdvantage account and click on the Promotions tab to see if you are eligible for the free status offer.

Those who did get the offer will be able to take advantage of the free Gold or Platinum status through January 6, 2019. For those getting the complimentary Gold status, you’ll also get 10 500-mile upgrades, and those who were targeted for Platinum status will get 20 of the 500-mile upgrades.

Keep in mind that if you were targeted, you must sign up by October 12, 2018, meaning the complimentary status is valid for just about three months.

The especially appealing part about these targeted offers from AA is that they’re trials of status, meaning you’ll also be able to extend the status if you find yourself liking it. If you were targeted for the Platinum offer, you’ll be able to extend that status through 2020 by earning 12,500 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) or $1,500 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs). Alternatively, if you’re liking it but think you want to take it to the next level, you can elevate to Platinum Pro by earning 20,000 EQMs or $2,400 EQDs by January 31, 2019. The extension offer for those targeted for Gold status isn’t available at this time.

It’s unclear how exactly American targets members for these free status offers. But if you were targeted, it could be worth taking advantage just to test it out. TPG values AAdvantage Gold status at $970 and Platinum status at $2,185.

H/T: Doctor of Credit

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September 23, 2018 at 08:16PM