AAA Predicting Labor Day Travel Down 2.4 Percent

CNBC: On the fence about a Labor Day getaway? There was some hope falling gas prices were going to inspire Americans to squeeze in one last-minute trip before the summer ended.

But that was before Hurricane Irene.

Now, popular destinations up and down the East Coast are scrambling to get things cleaned up for the holiday weekend.

While many are mourning the loss of business during one of their busiest times of the year, the good news is most will be open, according to travel website Orbitz.

But will the tourists come?

Even before the hurricane struck there was some concern travel was going to be weak this holiday weekend. But now would-be travelers are even more likely to stay home due to fear they will have trouble arriving at their destinations, that these popular tourist attractions have been damaged, or because they are busy dealing with the storm's aftermath at home.

AAA's annual Labor Day travel forecast projected 2.4 percent fewer people would travel more than 50 miles from their home during the holiday weekend, which extends from Sept. 1 to Sept. 5 this year.

The forecast called for about 87 percent of the holiday travelers, or about 27.3 million people, to drive to their destinations, while 2.5 million, or 8 percent, would fly. Higher airfares and an uncertain economic picture were the two reasons AAA cited for the weak forecast.

At the time the estimate was made last week, Glen MacDonnell, director of AAA Travel Service, said he expected declines in gasoline prices could provide a boost to last-minute holiday weekend travel.

Other surveys, such as one published earlier this month by travel website Travel-Ticker, estimated that more than a third of consumers were still on the fence about their weekend travel plans. But now Irene is expected to prompt more consumers to stay home and barbeque.

First, there are a number of popular East Coast travel destinations that suffered serious storm damage. This included towns stretching from North Carolina up the coast to the Jersey Shore, into the Catskills and on to New England.

On Sunday, many TV networks showed footage of the mangled boardwalk at Spring Lake, N.J., but a portion of the town's beaches have already reopened, according to Jared Kaloostian, whose family owns and operates the Ocean House bed and breakfast. The Ocean House didn't suffer any serious damage, but Kaloostian is fighting hard to reassure guests the town is still worth a visit this weekend. He said power has been restored to the restaurants and shops in the town's center. Although some trees fell within the town and are still being cleared, he is hopeful the stretch of beach closest to his B&B will be reopened by the weekend.

"The town is up and running for the most part," Kaloostian said. Still, he is afraid some visitors don't believe him.

Ocean City, Md., is fighting the same stigma. “I think in Ocean City, it turned out not as that bad as was expected,” said Vicki Morris, general manager of the Dunes Manor Hotel, which is located on the city's beachfront. “There were no injuries or major damage, so you just pick yourself up and just move on….It turned out well.”

According to Morris, this year the hotel’s business has been a “little bit better” than last year. “It would have been a lot better if we had last weekend,” she said. For seasonal businesses along the shore, summertime revenue is crucial.

Visitors started leaving the Dunes Manor on Thursday due to the storm. People were able to come back beginning Sunday, but occupancy at the hotel on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday was a bit weaker than it might have been without the storm, according to Morris. However, she doesn’t expect visits will be hurt for this weekend. ut if consumers could have been persuaded to travel because gas prices dropped a few cents a gallon in recent weeks, it is reasonable to assume the cost to batten down the hatches for the hurricane will cause some to stay put.

Consumers in the Eastern U.S. had to rush to buy supplies including batteries, generators and bottled water. Some may have suffered property damage. All that means there will be fewer extra dollars laying around to spend on last-minute travel.

Labor Day tends to be one of those holiday weekends where travelers make last-minute plans, according to Ron Pohl, senior vice president for brand management at the Best Western hotel chain. But this year, advance bookings to U.S. properties are up 5.5 percent from last year, and revenue was projected to be up more than 15 percent. Pohl expects Irene could trim the final figures.

"Particularly over the past 72 hours, we have received a lot of cancellations," Pohl said late Monday. He expects to see more activity even into Thursday and Friday.

The hotel chain also had to close six hotels. But that's a small portion of the chain's approximately 2,200 properties.

Outside the East Coast, consumers may still look to find some last-minute deals. Travel-Ticker recommends consumers can find savings by booking trips to big cities where business travel has been down.

Brawl Breaks Out at Theme Park Over Head Scarves

Daily Mail: A theme park was forced to shut its gates to visitors when a mass brawl broke out after Muslim women were banned from rides unless they removed their headscarves.

Two park rangers were injured and 15 people, including three women, were arrested in the scuffle at Rye Playland in New York yesterday. They have since been charged with disorderly conduct and assault.

Muslim visitors involved in the fight accused police of brutality and claimed they were treated 'like animals'. One said: 'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim.'

‘[The guards] were beating down the girls, then they started beating down the guys as they came to their aid,' Lola Ali, 16, of Queens, told the Journal News. The incident started at around 2pm when the theme park was crowded with around 6,000 visitors. Roughly 3,000 were in a Muslim tour group celebrating a holiday at the end of Ramadan.

Trouble reportedly flared when women wearing Muslim hijab scarves tried to get on rides banning any head coverings. The women were refused entry and offered refunds - but then male and female visitors started to argue among themselves, Westchester County officials said. That apparently led to park guards stepping in, sparking the huge brawl. The park entrance was closed for two hours as the fighting escalated.

Ola Salem, 17, of Brooklyn, New York, was wearing a headscarf and said she was denied entry onto a ride with her eight-year-old sister. 'They said no because my of my "headgear",' she told the New York Times. 'I said: "It’s not my headgear, it’s my religion".'

Dena Meawad, 18, told the New York Daily News her friend Entisai Ali, was pushed to the ground and arrested when she began arguing with cops over the head scarf policy. Her cousin, Kareem Meawad, 17, went to try to protect the woman and was beaten by cops and also arrested, she added. Her brother, Issam Meawad, 20, was pushed to the ground and taken into custody when he tried to help his cousin, she told the New York Daily News.

'She just wanted to get on a ride. That was it,' Dena Meawad said of the initial confrontation. 'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim.'

Ayman Alrabah, 24, of Brooklyn said her husband, brother and father were all tackled by cops and put into handcuffs when they tried to intervene. She told the New York Daily News she was unaware of the head-scarf rule until after she and her sister tried to get on the park's Dragon Coasters.

'We requested a refund and all of a sudden an argument became a riot,' Alrabah said. 'Cops came. They were hitting my brother, my dad. My husband was on the floor and they were handcuffing him.'

She told the New York Daily News her four-year-old son was left 'traumatised' by seeing his father arrested. 'They treated us like animals, like we were nothing,' Alrabah said. 'They came with their dogs and sticks. We came to have fun.'

Amr Khater, of Brooklyn, told The Journal News: 'Everybody got mad, everybody got upset. It’s our holiday. Why would you do this to us?'

Park officials insisted the ban was for safety reasons and said they respect their customers' religious beliefs. John Hodges, chief inspector of Westchester County Public Safety, insisted that police did not use excessive force. Two intervening park rangers were injured and hospitalised. A huge police response then saw 60 patrol cars and 100 police arrive from nine departments.

The Muslim American Society of New York had been 'painstakingly' advised of the rule many times before its tour took place, parks official Peter Tartaglia said. He defended the policy against head coverings on rides for safety reasons and faulted the group for not ensuring visitors understood the policy.

Mr Tartaglia said the policy is for safety, as scarves can become entangled in mechanical parts, choke riders or fly off and land in a ride's tracks. 'We respect the religious purpose of wearing it, but we have several rides that you cannot go on with any sort of headgear,' he said.

'The misunderstanding was very unfortunate,' Mr Tartaglia told Fox News.

The park entrance was closed for two hours as police responded to the scene, where more than 6,000 people were inside at the time - half of whom were with the Muslim group. Mr Tartaglia said all the people arrested were later released.

'In this heightened state of Islamaphobia, a woman wearing a hajib is an easy target these days,' Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - New York, told the New York Daily News. 'Unfortunately, this turned ugly due to a lot of miscommunication.' He added, according to The Journal News: 'The people feel like victims, and the police feel like they were just doing their jobs. Personally I think things got a little out of control on both sides.'

The celebration at the theme park, located just north of New York City, was for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Islam's holy month of fasting, Ramadan. Rye Playland, owned and run by Westchester County, is America's only government-owned amusement park, reported Fox News.

A spokesman for the Muslim American Society of New York said it plans to investigate what happened.

Vegas Hotel Experiences Kardashian Chaos

Vegas Chatter: Kardashian. Just the word will evoke squeals, disgust, eye rolls and, some cases, slight nausea so it's no surprise that when The Mirage excitedly revealed plans for a Kardashian Khaos retail store on Facebook, kalamity ensued.

Close to 100 people gave the news a thumbs up, but just as many blasted the hotel for its decision with some going as far as saying they'll never stay there again:

Will folks really stay somewhere else because a family of famewhores have set up shop? Probably not, but in a town where celebreality is usually met with not so much of a blink of the eye, it's klear The Mirage may have to take drastic measures. Like giving away some bedazzled tees. We're holding out for the Facebook "meet the Kardashian's" contest ourselves.

Physicist Determines the Fastest Airline Boarding Procedure

MSNBC: Surprise, the standard row-block method of airplane boarding isn't the most efficient way to get passengers to their seats.

In fact, it's the worst, according to a new experiment by an astrophysicist — yes, an astrophysicist, who works with Batavia-based Fermilab.

Jason Steffen tested different methods of boarding after he, like many travelers, became stalled by passengers stowing oversized carry-on bags into overhead bins.

Among the boarding types he tested: back to front, window seats then middle and aisle seats, and the oft-used, block-row boarding. Steffen hired 72 people to try out five methods on a replica airplane on a Hollywood soundstage while he timed them.

Based on the trials, he found boarding by alternating rows at once was most efficient, followed by boarding window-to-seat and letting passengers board randomly. They're all faster than block rows, Steffen concluded.

Alternating rows gives passengers enough room to squeeze their luggage into bins while others find their seats. It's being called the "Steffen Method" and the experiment's full results are printed here.

World's First Transformers Ride to Open in December

eTravelBlackboardAsia: Universal Studios Singapore announced that it will debut the world’s first TRANSFORMERS ride this December, allowing its guests to be among the first to experience the blockbuster theme park attraction, aptly named TRANSFORMERS The Ride.

Based on the iconic brand from Hasbro and the popular film franchise directed by Michael Bay, who is also the creative consultant for the thrill ride, it will tell an original TRANSFORMERS tale using realistic high definition 3D media, sophisticated visual effects, and one of the most elaborate roaming flight simulator systems ever integrated into a ride-car vehicle.

Setting a new standard in immersive theme park attractions, TRANSFORMERS The Ride brings to life the story of the battle between the heroic AUTOBOTS and the villainous DECEPTICONS. Guests will be transported into the world of TRANSFORMERS as members of the Human-AUTOBOT alliance called N.E.S.T., giving them the chance to ‘Live The Movies™’ and putting them right in the thick of the action protecting the Allspark from the DECEPTICONS.

Mr. Dennis Gilbert, Senior Vice President of Attractions at Resorts World Sentosa, said: “The extension of the TRANSFORMERS movie franchise into a theme park thrill ride is an exciting part of the natural progression. This blockbuster, which made waves around the world with its stunning special effects and non-stop action, is the perfect recipe for a dynamic, thrilling theme park ride like none before it.”

Mr. Mark Woodbury, President of Universal Creative, said: “This ride is truly one of a kind, pushing the boundaries of hyperrealism. We are proud to continue the traditions of partnering with filmmakers to bring movie magic to our attractions. Working with the immensely talented director Michael Bay as the ride’s creative consultant has been extraordinary. TRANSFORMERS The Ride will tap into the larger-than-life characters and deliver an epic ride experience of a lifetime, thrilling guests from around the world when it opens at Universal Studios Singapore in December 2011 and Universal Studios Hollywood in Spring 2012.”

Licensed from Hasbro, Inc. and in association with Dreamworks SKG, the attraction also enlisted the award-winning Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), a division of Lucasfilm Ltd., which created the visual effects for the movie franchise, to produce ground-breaking visionary special effects and 3-D images exclusively for the ride.

TRANSFORMERS The Ride at Universal Studios Singapore, Southeast Asia’s first and only Universal Studios theme park, will reside in the Sci-Fi City zone, which is also currently home to the world’s tallest dueling roller coasters – Battlestar Galactica: Human and Battlestar Galactica: Cylon.

A brand new blog dedicated to everything TRANSFORMERS The Ride has also been set up as a one-stop destination for the latest information, updates, behind-the-scenes stories and sneak peeks of the attraction, at

Guests who wish to experience TRANSFORMERS The Ride this December can contact their preferred travel agents for the best deals to Resorts World Sentosa and Universal Studios Singapore, or visit to make their reservations.

TRANSFORMERS, the first in the film’s trilogy, debuted in 2007 and garnered three Academy Award® nominations. The first sequel, TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen, opened in 2009 and earned an Academy Award® nomination. The third film in the franchise, TRANSFORMERS: Dark of the Moon, opened on 29 June 2011 with stellar box office results worldwide. The three TRANSFORMERS films were directed and jointly executive produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, and released by Paramount Pictures. Spielberg also serves as creative consultant to Universal Studios Singapore.

Soccer Fans Watch Couple Score in Hotel Room

Model Alicia Tenderness
 UPI: A woman spotted having sex in a hotel room overlooking a Belgian stadium during a soccer match said she and her beau had thought the windows were tinted.

The woman, who identified herself by her stage name, Alicia Tenderness, 26, said she and her boyfriend did not realize soccer fans could see into their stadium hotel room during Saturday's Lokeren game in Sint-Truiden, the Dutch-language Sportwereld reported Monday.

Tenderness, a model and escort, said she and her boyfriend were shocked to see their picture in newspapers and on the Internet the following day.

"When checking out on Sunday morning the lady at the desk responded very cold, but we did not understand why. The realization came when we read the newspaper Monday," Tenderness said.

She expressed outrage that the hotel manager had filed an indecency complaint against her. She said the manager should have installed tinted windows in the rooms.

Ski Resort to Make Artificial Snow From Waste Water

Daily Mail: If you have ever needed an incentive not to fall over while skiing, this could be it.

An American ski resort is planning to use 180 million gallons of recycled waste to create artificial snow and top up the quantities of the white stuff delivered by Mother Nature. The Arizona Snowbowl resort, in the state's San Francisco Peaks, is going to use the waste water collected from treated sewage in a bid to avoid wasting clean drinking water when making snow.

Reclaimed water from a wastewater treatment plant in Flagstaff will be sold to the resort to produce the fake snow. The treated water will be pumped 15 miles to San Francisco Peaks where it will be stored in a reservoir. From there it can be sprayed through large fans into the cold air to provide artificial snow for the slopes.

Arizona Snowbowl has the go-ahead for its plan but is running into opposition on environmental grounds and from Native American tribes who consider the peaks sacred ground and consider the idea disgusting. Klee Benally, 35, a Navajo, said: 'Our identity is based on our relationship with these sacred places and this - having the source of our spiritual renewal become so contaminated and desecrated - is a direct threat to our survival.'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says reclaimed water is safe for use provided it is treated.

But some environmentalists quote studies from the U.S. Geological Survey and Northern Arizona University which report that treated water may still contain pharmaceuticals, hormones, industrial pollutants, carcinogens and a wide range of organic chemicals. Snowbowl would be the first resort in the world to use 100 per cent waste water to make its snow, and critics have raised concerns that it was unwise to approve the plan without fully understanding the long-term impacts.

A 2007 study from the US Agricultural Research Service found the environmental and public health impacts of using reclaimed effluent for irrigation 'are largely unknown'. Environmentalist Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club said: 'When you put these substances into a delicate alpine environment like the Peaks, there are going to be big impacts to amphibians, other animals and the soil.'

Legal action has stalled the reclaimed water system since 2005, and another appeal is still pending, but the Snowbowl has begun construction. Lawyer Howard Shanker, who represents the Save the Peaks Coalition said: 'While the appeal is pending, the government and Snowbowl are cutting down trees and putting down pipe as fast as they can.'

Earlier this month the Hopi Tribe filed a lawsuit against the City of Flagstaff challenging the decision in September 2010 not to amend or cancel the contract for the sale of reclaimed wastewater to the ski resort.

The lawsuit states the City’s contract to sell 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed waste water per day to Snowbowl is illegal because it violates several state environmental laws.

Las Vegas Submits Rogue Bid for 2020 Olympics

Business Insider: Las Vegas submitted a letter to the International Olympic Committee last week announcing its intention to seek to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

There's just one problem: The IOC will not accept any bid unless it also has the support of the national Olympic committee. The USOC has already declared that they will not submit an American bid for 2020.

The IOC has already specifically rejected the Las Vegas idea on those grounds.

But Vegas being Vegas, that technicality isn't stopping them. Bid organizers still think they can convince the USOC and IOC to change their minds, even though the deadline for applications is September 1.

Also – although NBC would certainly love to cover an American Olympics - unless the city can somehow find a way to hold every single event indoors, a Summer Olympics in the middle of the Nevada desert is a long shot at best.

Airline Passenger Hid 7 Snakes, 3 Tortoises in His Pants

NBC Miami: A Miami International Airport passenger is in trouble after being caught with snakes in his pants while trying to board a flight.

The Transportation Security Administration said Monday the seven cold-blooded reptiles were discovered on the male passenger by security scanners on Aug. 25.

It was not clear where in the man's pants the snakes were hidden or if the snakes were venomous.

But the unidentified passenger didn't stop at sneaking snakes on a plane, authorities allege. He also had three tortoises hidden in a nylon bag concealed in his pants, TSA spokesman Jon Allen said.

The exotic animals were confiscated by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the man was arrested for trafficking illegal wildlife.

Lamborghini Bags & Luggage Made From Carbon Fiber

Auto Guide: Lamborghini is always on the cutting edge of what’s new and exciting. So it isn’t a big surprise that the company has taken its accessories line in a new direction. Its new line of bags and luggage is made from carbon fiber – the same material used to make planes, cars and boats.

In Lamborgini’s new collection, there are three different styles to choose from – Travel, Messenger, and Envelope. Each style features hand-stitched leather with palladium-finish galvanized brass accessories, hand-mounted studs, and cotton lining. They boast diagonal graphite reflections that are highlighted by the carbon fiber.

“The uniqueness of these products is not by chance, each one has been carefully studied and is one-of-a-kind, entirely made by hand by craftsmen who carry out each phase of the process,” said Stefan Winkelmann, president and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini.

The Carbon Envelope bag retails for €850, which comes out to around $1,230US, while the Carbon Messenger bag sells for €1,050 (around $1,720) and the Carbon Travel bag costs €1,450 ( about $2,100).

Construction Begins on 'Despicable Me' Attraction

Orlando Sentinel: Work has begun on the Despicable Me attraction planned for Universal Studios theme park. A construction wall (above) has blocked off the building that housed Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast, which was permanently closed by Universal Orlando earlier this month. Also gone is the signage, Jimmy’s gigantic image that was on the side of the building along with the trademark paint splatter of Nickelodeon.

The wall is decorated with imagery from “Despicable Me,” a 2010 animated film from Universal. Although there’s mention of the Minions, there’s no sign yet of the goggled yellow beings. The attraction is scheduled to open next year, although Universal has not yet given a more specific time frame.

Another visible change: Renaming of the adjacent street within the theme park. New signage indicates “Minion Way” (just past the Universal Studios Store) instead of the old “Nickelodeon Way.”

Although the construction wall goes down Minion Way, there’s still foot traffic that can go under Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, to the Blue Man Group’s Aquos Theater and the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal CityWalk.

Northeast Ski Areas Sustain Damage

Killington's Damaged Ski Lodge
ESPN: Hurricane Irene whipped through New England Sunday, causing damage to ski areas from Vermont to Maine.

At Killington ski resort in Vermont, flooding caused damage to the base lodge, lifts and roads. According to a release, a flooded creek caused the K-1 Lodge Superstar Pub's building to shift from its foundation. On Killington's Facebook page, the resort added, "The K-1 Base Lodge is not destroyed. The Superstar Pub portion of the K-1 Base Lodge, which is on a separate foundation, sustained the damage seen in photos."

Lift towers, lodging properties and the golf course at Killington also sustained minimal damage. Summer operations will reopen after crews assess the afflicted areas, and the ski area plans to open on schedule for the 2011-12 winter season.

At Sugarloaf ski area in Maine, the storm brought over eight inches of rain Sunday, causing structural damage to roads and bridges that access the resort. According to a release, two bridges on Maine's Highway 27, one north of Sugarloaf and one south, were damaged due to high volumes of water in the river. The bridge north of Sugarloaf was damaged and is currently impassable. The state has built a detour to avoid the damage on Highway 27, so there is still access to all of Sugarloaf's infrastructure, and the state is already working to start repairs and reopen the bridges.

"We are happy with the response made by the Maine Department of Transportation and Gov. [Paul] LePage," Brad Larsen, Sugarloaf's vice president of sales and marketing, told ESPN. "The state is working diligently to find solutions to the damage on Highway 27. The state understands the importance of Highway 27 to both commerce and tourism in the region, and Sugarloaf will be here to assist them every step of the way."

Three New Roller Coasters for 2012

Leviathan Rendering
 Jaunted: This year’s roller coaster season is quickly wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean that coaster enthusiasts will have a depressing off-season. Parks are already thinking about 2012 and how to improve on their steel track offerings, so it won’t be long until you’re strapped into one of these new coasters. Here’s just three brand new coasters hitting parks in 2012:

Leviathan - Canada’s Wonderland
North of the border just outside Toronto proper sits one of Canada’s best theme parks, and once 2012 rolls around things will get even better. Leviathan will be the parks 16th coaster when it debuts next May. This $28 million roller coaster will feature an 80-degree initial drop, a bunch of crazy twists and turns, and it will last for over three and half minutes.

The track even buzzes past the front gates of the park, so you get a sneak peek when you first enter for the day. The coaster might just be one of the best in the world when it arrives, as it will be top ten based on speed and height. The thing rises over 300-feet and might just hit speeds of over 90mph.

Manta - SeaWorld San Diego
A similar ride has been doing its thing over in Florida, but when 2012 arrives it will finally be California’s turn to get in on the fun. SeaWorld San Diego is welcoming Manta next year, and it will give tourists and locals a chance to experience the movement of the underwater world—in roller coaster form of course. A new launch station will feature an all-surrounding projection system that provides a look into the underwater world while creating the illusion of even quicker launch speeds. The park is open year-round and construction is already underway—expect the fun to arrive early in 2012.

Skyrush - Hersheypark
It seems that practically every season Hersheypark some how has the cash to build another blockbuster, and it looks like 2012 will be no different. Opening next May, Skyrush will cost $25 million worth of candy bars and will rise to around 200-feet above the park. The Intamin Wing Mega coaster will be the biggest and baddest coaster at the park, and plans include a vertical 85-degree first drop along with four crazy banked turns and five hills. Imagine all of those twists and turns while you're reaching speeds of up to 75mph—oof. It’ll even feature both floored and floorless seats depending on where you choose to sit—2012 can’t arrive soon enough.

Tourism Season Ends Early for Hatteras Island

Miami Herald: A late-summer hurricane is always bad for business on Hatteras Island. But a hurricane that severs the asphalt umbilical cord to the mainland - just days before the Labor Day holiday weekend - is an economic disaster for an island that lives and breathes tourism.

"We're done for the year," Joseph Schwarzer, director of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, said Sunday. "The isolation from the visiting public will be devastating." Hurricane Irene punched several holes on Hatteras between the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The biggest breach, just north of Rodanthe, washed out a long stretch of N.C. 12.

That leaves all seven towns on Hatteras Island, as well as neighboring Ocracoke Island, dependent on ferries and private boats for supplies and transport.

State officials don't yet know how long it will take to put Hatteras Island's highway together again. Engineers will pore over the data from aerial photos and depth readings and probably arrive at an estimate this afternoon, according to Greer Beaty, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

"We've got significant issues, and the breaches are the most significant," Beaty said. The storm also breached dunes and piled mounds of sand on N.C. 12 that will require bulldozers and plows for removal.

The DOT Ferry Division set up an emergency ferry terminal on the mainland at Stumpy Point in Dare County. The ferries will go to Hatteras village at the south end of the island and Rodanthe at the north. The first ferry left Sunday afternoon, carrying National Guard troops, heavy equipment and other emergency responders, Beaty said.

DOT's regular ferry routes across Pamlico Sound, linking Ocracoke to Swan Quarter and Cedar Island on the mainland, remained closed Sunday. The Pamlico Sound ferries will available for use by emergency responders today, but no decision has been made about the resumption of commercial service.

The last hurricane to slice a passage through the island was Isabel in 2003. That breach, just south of Frisco, only isolated the towns of Hatteras and Ocracoke, which relies on the ferry from Hatteras. It took almost two months and $5 million to repair that breach and reopen N.C. 12.

"Isabel was an enormous economic drain," said Schwarzer, the museum director. Tourists spent $830 million in Dare County in 2010, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. While the breach north of Rodanthe will cripple tourism on Hatteras for the near future, storm damage hurt tourist towns farther north on the Outer Banks as well, in Duck and Corolla.

Henry Ezzell, 67, the owner of Henry's in Kitty Hawk, said he probably lost about $18,000 in revenue from being closed for 2-1/2days this weekend. He was eager to reopen, promising hot breakfast would start again today. "She's held up really well," Ezzell said as he took down plywood from the windows. The restaurant never lost power, he said, so its food stores were safe.

This time of year is huge for his business. "I don't know how to put it in words, but it's big," Ezzell said. "These are the last two big summer weeks at the beach."

At Kitty Dunes Realty, operations manager John Mascaro smoked a cigarette outside and wondered aloud about the conditions in the 396 houses the company rents. Asked when tourists could get into houses before Labor Day, he paused. "Do I think it's going to happen by Wednesday?" Mascaro asked. "Unfortunately I think it's going to take a few days. We'll see."

Thouh some coastal businesses hoped to reopen for the Labor Day weekend, Hatteras business people know it's over for 2011.

"Our summer is over," said Carol Dawson of Buxton. "Our season is over." Dawson, owner of the 58-room Cape Hatteras Motel and a clothing store in Buxton, complained that the state and federal governments worry more about birds in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge than about residents and business people who rely on N.C. 12.

"We all know birds are protected," Dawson said. "But they can't stabilize our beaches. We're taxpayers, and we deserve a passage to the mainland just like anyone else."

Even if the breaches hadn't cut Hatteras off from the mainland, Erin Meekins, manager of the Comfort Inn in Buxton, has written off Labor Day, traditionally one of the five busiest weekends of the year. Irene blew water under the doors into all her first-floor rooms, and she'll spend the next week or two repairing the water damage.

"This next weekend would have been one of our biggest moneymakers," Meekins said. "And many people come here after Labor Day to enjoy the season when it's less crowded."

State officials are hoping to redirect tourists to other parts of the coast. "All of our beaches are open from Brunswick County to Carteret," Gov. Bev Perdue said. "Our tourists can go back."

BBC Considering 'Super Hi-Vision' TV for 2012 Olympics

Super Hi-Vision Camera
The Guardian: The BBC is considering plans to broadcast the 100 metres final of the London Olympics in 3D, as well as trying out a new technology that delivers picture quality said to be 16 times better than HDTV.

Roger Mosey, the BBC executive in charge of the corporation's London 2012 coverage, told reporters on the sidelines of the Edinburgh international television festival that 3D coverage for the 100m and other events was "certainly on the agenda", as part of a "limited experiment".

The event will see world record holder Usain Bolt seeking to restore some pride after being disqualified from the world championships on Sunday, following a false start.

The BBC will also test "super hi-vision", a new broadcasting technology so advanced it is not expected to be in homes for a decade. Three 15 metre (50ft) high screens will be erected around the country so that the public have a chance of seeing the imagery that Mosey said was so good it would match up with the experience of watching from the stands.

"When you sit and watch it you really get the experience of being in seat D5 in the stadium," he said. "Super hi-vision might be a better long-term prospect than 3D in some ways as it gives you the feel of being in the stadium. People are knocked out by it."

Super hi-vision screens will be erected at the BBC's Pacific Quay building in Glasgow, Broadcasting House in London and, subject to negotiations, the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The BBC is likely to broadcast the Olympic opening ceremony using the technology, which employs a single camera to capture a wide shot. It has already been tested on sports such as basketball and "big stadium events".

Mosey added that Sharp was working on an 215cm (85in) TV set using super hi-vision technology but that it was unlikely to be widely available until 2022.

The debut of super hi-vision is part of a tradition of trialing new TV technology at the Olympics. Mosey said that the BBC led the way, delivering the "first properly televised" Olympic Games when they were hosted in London in 1948.

The Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 was the first to use HDTV cameras. However, it was not until Beijing in 2008 that the BBC first broadcast in HD.

However, Mosey said that the first 3D Olympics would not amount to a "24/7 service" during the Games, partly because it would mean interrupting its HD programming.

"It is fair to say there is a trade-off between 3D and HD," he said. "We don't want to damage the mass audience that watches HD with [too much] 3D, which is viewed by a minority".

Earlier this year the BBC made its first 3D broadcast, televising the men's and women's Wimbledon tennis finals on BBC HD.

Tourism Slow to Return to Egypt

The Nile River in Cairo
 Mercury News: Exploring Egypt months after a revolution rocked the Middle East, the only conflict we witnessed was between a taxi and carriage driver, furiously arguing over our business.

The sidewalk scene was unsettling to a pair of tourists simply seeking a ride down the street. But it was nothing compared to our pre-travel fears, fueled by media reports of violence. And it revealed a larger truth: In a nation so dependent on tourism, these are very tough times. Curious to explore a nation in transition, my 22-year-old daughter and I discovered that Egypt's loss was our gain.

The turmoil in January caused visitors to rush for the exits -- and they've stayed away, through the long, hot summer. The ongoing trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, triggering clashes between supporters and detractors, won't fix things quickly -- rather, it is one step in a long process of building the new Egypt, with elections and constitutional reforms still ahead.

But the nation's Pharaonic treasures and pyramids are as stunning as ever. And there's a new tourist attraction: Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrators gathered in anti-government protests. Although not much to look at, it is a symbol of peaceful resistance, ringed by vendors doing a brisk trade in "25th January" T-shirts, flags, caps and bumper stickers.

We also admired triumphant graffiti, marveled at Mubarak's burned-out headquarters of the National Democratic Party and toured an art display dedicated to the revolution.

It's not necessary to line up for hours, as is customary, to enter the carved tombs in Luxor's Valley of the Kings. Instead, we experienced what English archaeologist Howard Carter must have felt in 1923, peering down lonely tunnels for that first glimpse of Tutankhamun's sarcophagus.

Riderless camels and horses ringed the empty sand-swept parking lots of the pyramids at Giza, where hundreds of tour guides, postcard sellers and trinket sellers also waited for customers.

There was no jostling for snapshots of the Sphinx. At the famed Egyptian Museum, about 200,000 people a day once paraded past dimly lit cabinets of antiquities. We were free to stroll around and linger at favorite sights.

Along the Nile, many traditional falouka sailboats were roped to the docks.

Even the touristy Red Sea beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, far from Cairo's turbulence, offered deeply discounted rooms. So did the more charming smaller towns north to Jordan. "It is very safe and very quiet here," said Ali Osman, front office manager of the stunning Coralia Club Hotel in the sleepy south Sinai Peninsula beach town of Dahab. Like its next-door neighbors -- the Meridian, Hilton and other upscale hotels -- this elegant Sofitel hotel closed its doors in late January, rather than operate at a loss. In February, only 35 percent of rooms were filled.

"We drop our rates to keep reasonable occupancy," Osman said. Our lovely oceanview room, with a delicious breakfast and dinner included, cost only $95. Yet the hotel was half empty.

As always, Russians are everywhere. Australians have begun to venture back, along with New Zealanders. We saw a scattering of French and Brits.

But there were no signs of Americans.

One morning at dawn, I climbed aboard the small motorboat of naturalist Mohamed Arabi -- "The Birdman of Aswan" -- and had a personal introduction to exotic Nile species such as sunbirds, gallinules and storks. "Because of all the American propaganda outside, only you, you're the only one here!" he despaired. "What kind of problems you see today? There is not any problem. There is no problem at all."

Questionable decision?
Back home in Palo Alto, while we packed for our trip, worried friends asked: "What about Lara Logan?" -- the CBS war correspondent who was stripped by a mob and then sexually assaulted, requiring four days of hospitalization, while a crowd of 100,000 celebrated the fall of Mubarak in Tahrir Square; she was saved by women, who closed ranks around her. Privately, family members questioned my parenting skills.

It is true that Egypt has no head of state. The civil police, symbols of Mubarak's repression, abruptly have withdrawn. Political unrest continues in neighboring nations.

Thousands of troops have been moved into the Sinai Peninsula as part of a major operation against al-Qaida inspired militants, increasingly active there since Mubarak's ouster. Authorities have blamed these militants for the Aug. 18 attack of Israelis on the southern Israel-Egypt border, as well as pipeline bombings in the north. The violence does not appear to be targeting tourists.

But of this I was sure: Opportunities don't wait for perfect timing.

My daughter had just graduated from college and had an entire month free. My work at this newspaper, covering higher education, had slowed for the summer. Plus, we already had under our belt other memorable adventures in edgy nations within Africa and Latin America.

So we went. Cautiously.

We steered clear of political gatherings in Cairo, particularly after the mosques emptied on Fridays. We were careful to dress conservatively, to not walk alone or venture into the poorest neighborhoods, or look strange men directly in the eye.

The U.S. Embassy has received increasing reports during the past several months of foreign women being harassed, or groped in taxis and in public places. We encountered no threats -- just frequent catcalls that grew annoying, like mosquitoes. When hounded, it's permissible to be loud and offensive, saying "Bas!" ("Stop!"). When confronted, no one wished to make a scene.

("Tourist police" were everywhere; in exchange for help, they asked for spare change.)

Traffic jams have intensified since the departure of the police, creating chaotic streets in Cairo. We found it faster to walk, or take the subway. But we experienced no pickpocketing or property crime, so common elsewhere in the world. Perhaps because Egypt is so dependent on tourism, it seems to take the safety of visitors seriously.

"My biggest fear is that I'll turn a corner and bump into a camel," said Renate Emmler, a German electrical engineer who now works as an instructor at the Black Rock Dive Centre in Dahab. Anti-U.S. anger was targeted toward American politicians, not average citizens -- an important distinction. And while locals anxiously wanted to discuss politics, we avoided debates involving Israel.

The biggest nuisance was the vendors, desperately trying to sell their wares. Who could blame them? Tourism is the lifeblood for this country of more than 85 million people. Egyptians hoped that the overthrow of Mubarak would improve their lives, but many in the tourism industry are economically worse off than before the revolution.

After January's uprising, revenues from tourism collapsed, putting pressure on the balance of payments and starting a slide in foreign reserves, according to a recent analysis by the Economist.

Slow recovery
Hopes were high; now restless young men who lost their hotel or taxi jobs sit around cafes, with cellphones in hand, waiting for any odd work. Unemployment is highest among 15- to-20-year-olds.

"Before, I made money and could feed my horses and family. We were busy all day, going here, going there. I had two people working for me," said one man, who asked not to be identified, seeking to sell horseback rides to tourists along a Dahab beach. "Now look, there are only 30 or 50 people on the beach -- for three hotels! I am scared."

Egypt's economic growth is expected to slow to just 1 percent this year, a sharp drop from a 5.5 percent rate in the second half of 2010, according to a report in April by the International Monetary Fund. The drop in tourist revenue is a big part of the problem; only ship traffic through the Suez Canal brings in more money.

"It's not just the hotels, but all the workmen related to the hotel -- the maintenance people, the electricians, the plumbers ..." said Hanan Attiatallah, a German-educated woman who owns Aswan's lovely and newly renovated Philae Hotel. If the economy improves, it could help consolidate democracy; if it falters, it could undermine progress. In our own modest way, we were happy to help and witness, with few other tourists, both the old and newly emerging Egypt.

"This is the moment for everyone who wishes the Egyptian revolution well to visit," Egyptian novelist and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif recently wrote in the London Guardian. "Everyone who's interested in the great experiment we're living through should come and be part of it."

"It will settle down," Attiatallah predicted. "But for now, guests who like to take this adventure, they should come here now."

Holland America Announces Vampire Cruise

Holland America's Zuiderdam
Anchorage Daily News: A weeklong vampire convention on a cruise ship is planned for Southeast Alaska next summer.

Holland America's cruise ship Zuiderdam will be the setting for the event scheduled for late June.

KINY says the ship will make stops in Juneau, Glacier Bay, Skagway and Ketchikan after it departs from Vancouver.

Scheduled to join the cruise is Dacre Stoker, a great-grandnephew of "Dracula" author Bram Stoker. Dacre Stoker is a co-author of a sequel, "Dracula: The Un-Dead."

Vampire scholar John Edgar Browning is scheduled to host a vampire movie festival.

Other planned events include a vampire ball and costume contest.

Disney Goes Hawaiian

Barrons: This week, Walt Disney unveils its first hotel and timeshare project that isn't connected to a theme park, in a master-planned resort community on the west side of Hawaii's Oahu. It's similar to Disney's multigenerational cruise offerings, only at the beach and sans life rafts. "This isn't Disneyland. This has never been done, within Disney or not," says Jeffrey Stone, founder of The Resort Group, the Honolulu-based developer of Ko Olina, where the resort is located.

The $800 million project is called Aulani, Hawaiian for "messenger from a higher authority," owing to Disney's intent to tell the story of Hawaiian history and culture throughout the site. There are still tricked-out swimming pools, character-hosted breakfasts—and the Black Pearl pirate ship of Johnny Depp fame is moored nearby. This is Disney, after all. But accommodations aren't Mickey Mouse—witness amenities such as teen-only spas and adult-only pools.

Disney has also given the Hawaiian economy a shot in the arm during a woeful slump in construction and tourism. The company projects it will have generated 4,800 jobs and $634 million in economic activity during the construction phase alone, which will be completed in early 2013. Timing couldn't be better, after an already punk tourism industry was weakened further by disasters in Japan, whose tourists tend to favor Oahu over neighboring islands. Ironically, Japanese affinity for all things Disney helped Oahu and Ko Olina snare the project, which should augur well for the "Five-0." Mahalo, Mickey.

Hurricane Irene Continues to Pound U.S. East Coast

Reuters: Hurricane Irene battered New York with ferocious winds and driving rain on Sunday, shutting down the U.S. financial capital and most populous city, halting mass transit and causing massive power blackouts as it churned slowly northward along the eastern seaboard.

New York City's normally bustling streets were eerily quiet after authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate low-lying areas and shut down its subways, airports and buses.

Those who had to travel were left trying to flag down yellow taxis that patrolled largely deserted streets.

Irene, still a menacing 480-mile (780-km)-wide hurricane, was enveloping towns and cities in the northeast, hugging the Atlantic coast and threatening floods and surging tides. From the Carolinas to Maine, tens of millions of people were in the path of Irene, which howled ashore in North Carolina on Saturday, dumping torrential rain, felling trees and knocking out power.

"The edge of the hurricane has finally got upon us," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the more than eight million people who live in New York as he warned that tropical storm-force winds would hit the city. Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, was sparsely populated, mostly with visitors, as Irene rolled into the city with full force.

Broadway shows were canceled, coffee was hard to come by with Starbucks stores closed and burgers and fries were in short supply as McDonald's outlets were shut. "We just came to see how few people are in Times Square and then we're going back," said Cheryl Gibson, who was vacationing in the city.

Bloomberg warned New Yorkers Irene was a life-threatening storm and urged them to stay indoors to avoid flying debris, flooding or the risk of being electrocuted by downed power lines. "It is dangerous out there," he said, but added later: "New York is the greatest city in the world and we will weather this storm."

In midtown Manhattan, there was a substantial police presence on the streets but most people heeded Bloomberg's warning to stay inside. New York City's Office of Emergency Management said there was a tornado warning for the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and urged people to seek shelter.

Television reports said local airports had already recorded winds of over 60 miles per hour (96 kph) and they had not yet reached their expected full strength. About 370,000 city residents were ordered to leave their homes in low-lying areas, many of them in parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Some were unwilling to go. Nicholas Vigliotti, 24, an auditor who lives in a high-rise building along the Brooklyn waterfront, said he saw no point. "Even if there was a flood, I live on the fifth floor," he said.

Flood waters forced officials in Hoboken, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, to evacuate a storm shelter, the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, said on Twitter.

The Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast a storm surge of up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) for Long Island and metropolitan New York. That could top the flood walls protecting the south end of Manhattan if it comes at high tide around 8 a.m. (noon GMT). With winds of 8O miles per hour (130 km per hour), Irene was a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. By 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), the storm center was 15 miles (25 km) south southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and 115 miles (190 km) south southwest of New York City.

On its forecast track "the center of Irene will move near or over the coast of New Jersey and over Western Long Island this morning ... and move inland over southern New England by this afternoon," the hurricane center said. Boston's public transit authority, the MBTA, said on its website it will shut down all services as of 8 a.m./noon GMT. After that time, "all modes of transit will be shut down for the remainder of the day and night," it said.

Summer vacationers fled beach towns and resort islands. More than a million people left the New Jersey shore and glitzy Atlantic City casinos were dark and empty. This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

President Barack Obama, who cut his vacation short on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard to return to the White House, was keeping a close eye on preparations for the hurricane. After moving across North Carolina with less punch than expected but still threatening, the hurricane re-emerged over inshore waters on its route northward, hugging the coast.

At least nine deaths were reported in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. Several million people were under evacuation orders on the U.S. East Coast. In total more than two million utility customers were without power as of early Sunday morning due to Irene, including more than 20,000 in New York City. Utility company Consolidated Edison warned that downtown Manhattan, including Wall Street, could face more blackouts as low-lying areas flooded.

When Irene hit the North Carolina coast on Saturday, winds howled through power lines, sheets of rain fell and streets were flooded or littered with tree branches.  Hundreds of thousands of people in Irene's path evacuated their homes, many taking refuge in official shelters.

"Things can be replaced, but life can't be," said Robert Hudson, a 64-year-old military retiree, who sought refuge at a shelter in Milford High School in Delaware. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said there may be "a major hit" to tobacco crops, poultry and livestock in her state.

Torrential rain hit Washington but expected high winds had not hit the city by the early hours of Sunday.

Irene was the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008. Emergency workers were mindful of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans, killed up to 1,800 people and caused $80 billion in damage in 2005.

NYC Street Performers Take Center Stage on 'The Ride'

Passengers on 'The Ride' get a rolling ringside seat for the street theater that is New York City.

Hurricane Irene Causing Major Travel Disruptions

Hurricane Irene is causing major travel disruptions all along the U.S. east coast.

Major airlines including US Airways, American, United, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and AirTran dropped ticket-change fees for passengers scheduled to fly to or from many cities along the East Coast this weekend and early next week. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced Friday night that five airports it operates - John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty, Teterboro and Stewart - would be closed as of noon Saturday to all arriving international and domestic flights.

Weekend cruise departures from Northeast ports such as New York may be delayed. More than 20 cruise ships changed their itineraries because of the hurricane. North Carolina ports have closed in Morehead City and Wilmington. Cruise ports in Nassau and Grand Bahama reopened Thursday evening, and ships are anticipated to resume calls on Saturday, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation said.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority will begin a system-wide shutdown beginning at noon Saturday. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will halt all service beginning at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says New Jersey Transit will suspend all rail, light rail, bus and Access Link Paratransit service in the N.J. Transit system beginning at noon Saturday. That includes trains into and out of the Meadowland Sports Complex, where the New York Jets and New York Giants are set to play a preseason game starting at 2 p.m. Saturday.

North Carolina rail transportation is canceled for Saturday. Limited passenger train travel will resume between Raleigh and Charlotte on Sunday, according to the governor's office.

Amtrak said Friday evening that none of its trains would be operating Sunday and there would be even fewer routes in service Saturday because of the storm. Amtrak's cancellations include service along the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston; the Keystone Corridor between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; the Empire Service between New York and Albany, New York; the Vermonter running between Washington and St. Albans, Vermont; the Piedmont Service between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina; Northeast Regional trains in Virginia; and several "long-distance trains."

Hotel Guests Flee North Carolina Coast

Hotel News Now: As early rain from Hurricane Irene began in the Carolinas Friday morning, hotels on the coast were in the midst of evacuating while hotels more inland were scrambling to find beds for evacuees. Both residents and out of town guests were encouraged to view, where a list of counties with mandatory evacuation was available, as well as a list of counties that were accepting lodging for evacuees.

“They have started evacuation in many of the counties and the ferries (from coastal islands) will stop running tonight,” said Nina Gibbs of”Even the residents are leaving. We are instructing people to call the visitor’s center of inland counties to see if accommodations are available.”

According to the National Weather Service, the North Carolina coast, specifically near the Outer Banks region, is expected to experience 110-mph winds late Friday and into Saturday morning as the Category 2 storm bares down. The storm is expected to spread northward throughout Saturday night. As the storm is predicted to follow a path north as far as New York, as many as 65 million people could be affected, according to the National Weather Service.

In parts of North Carolina, mandatory evacuations were underway as early as Thursday. On the Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks website, a note simply states, “Property evacuated due to Hurricane Irene.”

Paul Stone, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said each hotel on the North Carolina coast has detailed evacuation plans because of North Carolina’s history of storms. “On the business side, the hotels are going to be evacuated so obviously they’re not going to have business over the next few days,” he said. “But these hotels are built to handle this weather and immediately following the storm they’re going to open as soon as they can because it’s assumed local residents will need lodging. They’re going to want to help the community.”

Demand moves inland
More inland, at the Hampton Inn Roanoke in Halifax County, GM Priscilla West was scrambling Friday morning to accommodate new guests who were displaced from their vacations. She said guests started arriving Thursday and occupancy quickly reached capacity. “Our first priority is taking care of the guests we’ve got,” she said Friday morning amid answering questions at the front desk. “We are super busy and we’re so happy.”

At the Days Inn Weldon, just off I-95 about two hours inland from the Outer Banks, GM Terry Webb said Friday morning that she has six rooms left to sell. She compared her phones to 'hotlines.' “Our area, our recreation center, is already set up for emergency management and our grocery stores were restocked last night,” Webb said. “Kids are in school and we’re waiting to see what she’s going to do. We just want to make sure we’re prepared. I don’t want another (Hurricane) Floyd; I don’t want to watch mobile homes floating down the interstate tomorrow.”

Webb said her property began receiving heavy traffic Thursday, mostly from displaced vacationers. Friday morning seemed to bring residents who were forced to evacuate. On Thursday, Webb went over emergency preparedness procedures with the staff. She has set aside a few rooms so extra staff members can stay on property and she’ll be staying to help out as well. A few rooms will also be set aside “in case the hospital calls and says someone is on a respirator. We don’t have generators and I don’t know of any hotels on this exit that do. We’ve got a few portable grills in case we lose power and about 50 flashlights for the guests,” she said. “We’ve been there.”

Webb said her hotel’s experience during Hurricane Floyd in 1999—a storm that triggered the third-largest evacuation in U.S. history—was 'humbling.' “There were one or two hotels near us that started price gouging and we learned not to do that,” she said. “They lost power, yet I didn’t. So when you do what’s right, right things will happen.”

Irene’s aftermath
Hurricane Irene battered the capital of the Bahamas over Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, but most hotels on the island reported only minimal damage. Some resorts on the island set up emergency shelters Wednesday night in preparation for the storm, as Nassau's downtown is known to flood even in heavy rain.

“Our major resort areas, Nassau and Grand Bahama, have fared better than expected as the storm moved east,” said Frank Comito, executive VP of the Bahamas Hotel Association, on Friday morning. “We had high tropical storm force winds in Nassau, which are now dying down. All major resorts are expected to be accepting guests (today).”

At the Atlantis, in Nassau, media spokeswoman Megan Marchesini said the hotel 'sustained only minimal impact.' “All guests and staff are fine and have been following Atlantis hurricane protocol throughout the night,” she said Thursday.

Once the Bahamas Hotel Association realized the potential intensity and path of Hurricane Irene on Monday, the organization teamed with the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation to activate a plan recommending early departure by guests. “Several thousand guests took advantage of early departure,” BHA’s Comito said. “The airlines were very responsive with many adding additional flights to accommodate early departures. Still, we estimate nearly 10,000 visitors opted to remain in The Bahamas during the storm and the hotels accommodated those who opted to remain.”

Moving forward
Irene is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 6 to 10 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches, from eastern North Carolina into southeast Virginia, according to the National Weather Service. Through the weekend and into Monday morning, the storm is expected to touch Maryland, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, southeastern New York, western Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

“These rains could cause widespread flooding and life-threatening flash floods,” the National Weather Service reported.

Stone, of the NCRLA, said with next weekend being Labor Day weekend, his office is fielding calls regarding the status of hotels next week. He said he can’t guarantee it, but expects coastal hotels will be able to speed through clean-up processes and open as soon as Sunday.

In terms of cancellations and refunds, Stone said each hotel has its own policy, but that “basically anyone who was evacuated, even guests with reservations up to three days afterward, is going to get a complete refund.”

“The problem is people who want to cancel two weeks after, when the hotel is fine,” he said.

How Do Large Hotels Prepare for a Hurricane?

USA Today:  How do large, New York City hotels plan for an unusual weather event such as Hurricane Irene?

To understand what's likely going on inside the Big Apple's biggest hotels, I spoke with veteran hotelier Peter Strebel. He's the general manager at the 400-room Omni Berkshire in Midtown Manhattan. We spoke this morning, just as he'd stepped out of a hurricane planning meeting.

Are guests canceling rooms? Right now, we're taking as many cancellations as we are reservations.

Last night, 34 guests cancelled but this morning a lot of our corporate accounts such as News Corp., BlackRock booked because they need people to run their operations. Most of them are taking precautions and having people come into the city so they can run operations (in case they can't get to work due to storm-related damage).

Can people still get rooms at your hotel this weekend? We expect to be 85% full Friday night and sold out on Saturday night. We may have availability on Sunday night

Are you changing your rates? We're keeping rates that we had if there was no storm. I've heard that some hotels are price gouging because people from Long Island are coming, and you've got people from Lower Manhattan wanting to book Upper Manhattan. We're not out to gouge anyone.

What do you do if employees can't make it to work? We want to run at good service levels, so we have eight managers who will be staying over the entire weekend. I also live at the hotel. We're also getting volunteers from the restaurant, housekeeping and front desk to stay. We could have as many as 20 rooms allocated to associates this weekend.

Does a hotel buy extra supplies like most everyone else does? We bought extra cases of bottled water, and we doubled our food quantities for the weekend - so that's doubled the supply we normally have of eggs, bread and cheese. We bought batteries, candles, glow sticks, umbrellas and everything else you can think of.

Do you expect to have power when/if the hurricane hits? We have full generators at this hotel that have already been tested. They don't cover all areas but they keep the building functioning.

Amtrak's California Zepher Derails, Injuring a Dozen

Reuters: An Amtrak train carrying an estimated 178 passengers struck a crane in southwest Nebraska on Friday, partially derailing and sending nearly a dozen people to local hospitals, authorities said.

There were no reports of life-threatening injuries from the collision, which occurred at about 8:50 a.m. local time near Benkelman, Nebraska, derailing two locomotives and three cars, an Amtrak spokesman said. Seven cars stayed on the tracks.

Seven people were being treated at Dundy County Hospital in Benkelman, spokeswoman Sandy Noffsinger said, describing them as reporting neck and back injuries. Four other people with lesser injuries were sent to other facilities, she said.

Noffsinger said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, though it was possible some of the patients could remain at the hospital for observation.

The train struck a crane that was razing an old grain elevator adjacent to the tracks in an unincorporated area west of Benkelman, a county official said.

The two locomotives were tipped on their left side, a baggage car just behind was tilted at a 45 degree angle and two other cars were off the tracks but upright, a bystander said.

The California Zephyr train had left the San Francisco Bay area enroute to Chicago on August 24. Passengers were being taken to a nearby high school and Amtrak said it planned to transport them east to their destinations by bus.

The passengers were taken to Dundy County Stratton High School in Benkelman near the Nebraska-Kansas border, the school district confirmed.

The train was running on BNSF Railway Co tracks, Amtrak said.

BNSF has temporarily halted trains operating on the line where the accident occurred, but had not yet issued a service advisory to customers, BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said.

The National Transportation Safety Board was still collecting information on the accident and had not yet determined whether it would warrant a full-blown NTSB investigation, spokesman Peter Knudson said.

'Lumberjack Feud' Attraction Opens Today in Tennessee

USA Today: Gentlemen, start your chain saws!

Lumberjack Feud, spotlighting the muscled, flannel-shirted men (and women) with bulging biceps, opens today in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., just down the road from Dollywood.

The attraction includes a replica of a vintage logging village, a theatrical presentation of Great Smoky Mountains logging history and a face-off between two teams of pro lumberjacks playing two families vying to chop timber on a mountain before Smoky Mountain logging was outlawed. Lumberjack Feud attendees will be designated as members of one of the clans, to make the "ax-tion" more exciting. There will be log-rolling in the water, tree-climbing and more.

"It'll be rowdy, over-the-top entertainment, and a celebration of (lumberjack) history" says Feud CEO Rob Scheer, a former "IRONJACK" world champion. A similar venue he has in Ketchikan, Alaska, is a top entertainment attraction in that state -- seen by lots of cruisers, he says.

The new venue includes dinner shows, or you can just watch the action. Cost is $26,95 for adults, show only; $39.95 with dinner and $9.95 and $16.95 for kids. Information:

Gunmen Set Fire to Mexican Casino, Kill 53

Los Angeles Times: Gunmen stormed a crowded casino in northern Mexico on Thursday and ignited a fire that trapped patrons inside, killing at least 53 people in what the nation's president called an "aberrant act of terror."

The attack on the Casino Royale was the latest bout of spectacular violence in Monterrey, an industrial hub that is Mexico's third-largest city. For more than a year, the city has been the setting for a brutal turf war between rival drug-trafficking gangs that at times have held gunfights on downtown streets in broad daylight.

Adrian de la Garza, prosecutor for the border state of Nuevo Leon, told reporters that the death toll stood at about 40. Four people remained missing. Gov. Rodrigo Medina later told Mexican media that 53 had died. He said the five or six attackers apparently used gasoline to start the blaze. Officials did not give a suspected motive.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon went on Twitter to express dismay over what he called an "aberrant act of terror and barbarity."

"This is a night of sadness for Mexico," said Alejandro Poire, a federal security spokesman. "An unspeakable, repugnant, unacceptable act of terror has been committed."

Television images showed shocked patrons waiting outside as helmeted rescue workers raced into the blackened casino in search of survivors. One woman told Milenio Television that customers scattered in panic after profanity-spewing gunmen burst into the casino and ordered people to get out. In the confusion, many people trapped themselves inside after hiding in bathrooms or fleeing to an upper floor.

Emergency exits were blocked, possibly increasing the death toll, officials said.

Monterrey Mayor Fernando Larrazabal said the casino was shut down in May for code violations but later allowed to reopen after lawyers for the casino won a court order.

The woman interviewed by Milenio Television described a frenzied scene. "Four armed persons entered and began to say: 'Everybody leave! Everybody leave!' " she said. The woman said she ran out a door to a parking lot, but many others fled to the second floor of the casino.

The witness said the attackers, wearing white masks, did not fire weapons or hurl grenades, as some early news reports had suggested. "They started to throw gasoline. There was no grenade attack," she said.

At least 20 people were killed in July after suspected drug cartel members opened fire in a crowded Monterrey bar, an apparent attack on a rival gang. Much of northeastern Mexico has been besieged for a year and a half by fighting between the Gulf cartel and former allies known as the Zetas. The bloodshed has been especially shocking in Monterrey, an important business town formerly known for relative tranquillity.

Violence has exploded across Mexico since Calderon declared war on the cartels soon after taking office in 2006.

Tourists Flee From Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene could affect as many as 65 million people on the U.S. East Coast beginning today and through the weekend.

The first rain from Hurricane Irene is reaching the Carolinas as the massive storm moves slowly northward. The National Weather Service says rain carried by the storm's outer bands is reaching the southeastern part of North Carolina. Rain is also falling in South Carolina. High waves have begun hitting North Carolina. The Category 2 storm currently has maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph), but it's expected to be stronger when it hits North Carolina's coast sometime Saturday.

As many as 200,000 tourists and residents were expected to evacuate North Carolina in advance of the storm. Irene is predicted to follow a path that could take it to large cities like New York and Boston.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were told Thursday to pack a bag and be prepared to move elsewhere. The nation's biggest city hasn't seen a hurricane in decades. Even if the winds aren't strong enough to damage buildings in a metropolis made largely of brick, concrete and steel, a lot of New York's subway system and other infrastructure is underground and subject to flooding in the event of an unusually strong storm surge or heavy rains.

Governors from at least seven states declared states of emergency in advance of the storm

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell ordered a mandatory evacuation of non-residents along the state’s coastal areas and strongly urged residents with the ability to leave beach communities to do so as soon as possible.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on people to voluntarily leave the shore and temporarily suspended tolls on all parts of the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway.

Hurricanes have made landfall on New Jersey just twice in the last 200 years, in 1821 and 1903, the latter battering Atlantic City. But the state now has 8.8 million people and coastal areas packed with homes and businesses.

In Connecticut, Gov. Daniel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency and warned there could be prolonged power outages if Irene dumps up to a foot (.3 meter) of rain on already saturated ground. The beach community of Ocean City, Maryland, also ordered thousands of people to leave.

"This is not a time to get out the camera and sit on the beach and take pictures of the waves," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

UK Theme Park Ride Closed After Incidents

Lancashire Evening Post: A woman has told how she clung on to a theme park ride by her hands and feet fearing she was going to fall out - days before a child plunged 30ft from the same ride.

Charmaine Giles, a care support worker, was enjoying a day out at the Camelot attraction with her partner and his two children until her experience on Excalibur 2.

The 25-year-old said she battled to hang on during a visit on Friday with her delivery driver partner Simon Akeroyd, 30, and his daughter Chloe, nine, and son Nathan, seven.

On Tuesday afternoon, a 12-year-old boy fell from the ride, suffering head and hip injuries. The ride is currently closed while an investigation takes place.

Charmaine, who lives in Bridge Terrace, Walton-le-Dale, near Preston, and went on the ride with Chloe, said: “I almost fell out. I was holding on with my arms, feet, ankles, everything. I couldn’t believe it. I just felt myself coming right out of the side and there was nothing to protect me if I’d have let go."

“They had an overhead thing that comes over you and a silver bar comes over the whole row to make you feel secure. But my overhead thing didn’t actually come as close as I wanted it to. I felt as if I was going to come out. I was slipping through the bars. I’m a rollercoaster fanatic and I’m not afraid of heights but this was just extreme. I should have said something (to staff) that day but I just thought that was what the ride was supposed to be like.”

Another woman, Valerie Willis, 48, said she warned Camelot and Health and Safety bosses the ride was dangerous 10 years ago. She said: “I seriously thought I would come out of it. I had to keep pulling myself up on the bars. I said sooner or later there would be an accident but they insisted it was safe. I’m absolutely appalled.”

A spokesman for Camelot said she could not comment until after the investigation was complete. She said: “We are in contact with the boy’s mother and our thoughts remain with her and her family at this difficult time. Our internal investigation is well under way and we are co-operating fully with the police and Health and Safety Executive.

“Every ride undergoes a daily, pre-opening safety and maintenance check throughout the season and is subject to an annual, independent safety inspection. As our internal enquiries are ongoing, we are unable to provide any more details at this stage.”

How Steve Jobs Changed the Way We Travel

Boston Globe: I sighed the same collective sigh everyone took last night around 7 p.m. when news broke that Apple founder, genius, and make-life-easier entrepreneur Steve Jobs is resigning as Apple CEO. Where would we be without the products Jobs helped discover and design?

His resignation letter was simple:

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,’’ Jobs wrote in his resignation letter. “Unfortunately, that day has come.’

Jobs has been sick for some time, and in the midst of the thoughts and prayers I silently sent his way, I also thought about how dramatically different our world would be without Steve Jobs. He changed the way we listen to music, watch videos, read books and magazines, take photographs, and organize expenses. Quite simply: Steve Jobs managed to change the way we live, including how we travel.

I stopped and looked around my office -- a MacBook Pro on my desk, MacBook Air in the side drawer for traveling, iPhone and iPad. I hereby proclaim I am an Apple geek, and it's all Jobs' fault - he made it so easy. Everything talks to one another, everything syncs with one another.Travel was made easier with the touch of a button. My job, and the leisure lives of others, are drastically different thanks to the Apple inventions.

Thanks to Steve Jobs, you can find hotel rooms on your iPhone, book flights from your iPad, run presentations from your computer in Boston when you're in a boardroom in Hong Kong, and arrange for a cab pick-up from 35,000 feet up in the air. You can Facetime with friends from atop a camel in Morocco, check-in with family from a cruise ship in Alaska, and work remotely with the boss from your lounge chair on the beach. Steve Jobs found a way to make life easier, while keeping travel enjoyable.

On any given trip, I've got my iPhone in hand to remind me what time zone I'm in and what time it is back home. My alarms automatically reset so I can keep up with deadlines and still make meetings. I can access every story pitch, expense report, and travel itinerary from one device. I can make new plans on a moment's notice and switch hotels within 30 minutes of check-in. There's nothing a travel app can't do for you, thanks to one man's vision to keep people moving around the world.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the inspiration. I hope you take a nice, long vacation.