Google Makes Travel Easier For Lazy People

Google’s ongoing world digitization is opening up some very cool travel experiences to people sitting in front of their laptops and tablets. Now, rather than spending thousands of dollars, lots of vacation time and a decent amount of physical exertion to see these places, you can arrive by a click and multi-task your exploring as you commute to work, procrastinate a project or tune out in a meeting.
Last fall Google Maps debuted a “street view” of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, allowing armchair travelers with no diving or even swimming ability to take a peek at the world’s greatest underwater treasures.

More recently the site teamed up with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to feature Hawaiian hiking trails on Google Street View. Hiking guides on the Big Island will carry Google’s cameras on roughly 20 of the Islands’ best trails, stitching together a 360-degree experience that people can enjoy anywhere.

Another recent addition to Street View will please Harry Potter fans who can’t make the trip across the pond to London’s Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Muggles can now tour Diagon Alley and the wizarding shops it houses through Street View.

Google Maps isn’t the only thing bringing travel experiences to the masses. Though still in its infancy, Google Glass is expected to change the way people document and share their travel experiences. This year a Running of the Bulls competition invited two Google Glass users to Pamplona to view the annual San Fermin festival events. While the Glassers aren’t expected to actually run with the bulls (too bad, that’s something we wouldn’t mind having Google do for us!), they’ll be watching the bull run from a balcony and sharing the experience via a daily webcast.

It’s doubtful that Google’s online presentations will actually keep people from wanting to experience these places in real life, but we’re intrigued about what other experiences will become available to interactive travelers. Climbing Mount Everest? Surfing Jaws? Space travel?

Where do you want your maps app to take you next?

Potter Fans Want Quidditch To Be An Olympic Sport

Harry Potter fans from around the globe have descended on Oxford, England, to take part in the first major international quidditch tournament and to promote the sport for possible inclusion in future Olympic Games. Players say that the real world version of the fictional sport, created by author J.K. Rowling, is as physically demanding and competitive as Rugby and less ridiculous than some of the other sports that are already included in the Olympics.

In the Harry Potter books and films quidditch players fly around the playing field on magical brooms while attempting to score goals on their opponents. Since no one has figured out how to create a flying broom just yet, the game was adapted for play on the ground instead. In 2005, a group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont came up with a set of rules for the sport, which features teams of seven and employs three different balls. In a nod back to the original source material, each of the players are also required to keep a broom between his or her legs at all times.

Since its creation the rules of the game have been refined and ground quidditch has taken off across the globe. The sport is now played by 700 teams in 25 countries around the globe and while many players are obviously Potter fans, an increasing number have never read the books or seen the movies. They’re all drawn to the unique combination of rugby, dodge ball and tag that makes the sport stand out from any other.

Whether or not quidditch will ever get included in the Olympics remains to be seen. Before it can achieve that level of recognition, it first must become more universally recognized around the world as a true sport and create an international governing body. Once that is achieved, that governing body can file an application to be included in the Games as a demonstration sport. After that, a second application can be filed for full inclusion in the next Olympics.

While I have to admit the game actually sounds kind of fun, the thought of running around a field with a broom between my legs just seems ridiculous. Then again, curling uses brooms and it seems way sillier than this.

[Photo credit: Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images]

Rubens At The Palace Allows Guests To Be Harry Potter For The Day, Magic Wand And All

Do you ever wish you could be Harry Potter for the day? You know, walk around with a magic wand, wear a cloak and giant glasses, hangout at Gringotts Wizarding Bank and visit all the places the young wizard himself did? With a stay at Rubens at the Palace in London, now you can.

The luxury boutique hotel, which is located across from Buckingham Palace, is currently offering a “Harry Potter Experience” package. Guests will not only get the chance to take photos at Harry Potter movie set locations, like Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, Gringott’s Wizarding Bank, Victorian Leadenhall Market, and Brockdale Bridge, they’ll also get to feel just like Harry Potter himself. Package amenities include:

  • Complimentary breakfast
  • World-class accommodations
  • Three-hour Harry Potter tour in a chauffeured black cab
  • Harry Potter wand with cloak and glasses
  • Turndown service with Harry Potter cupcakes
  • Framed family photograph taken before the tour
  • Certificate of tour completion, to prove to everyone you did, indeed, visit all the set locations

Package is valid until December 31, 2012. Prices start at $965 per night, based on two adults and two children under 10 years old. Email or click here to make a reservation.

Harry Potter park serves up 1 millionth Butterbeer

It’s not just a beverage, it’s an experience. That’s the word from Universal Orlando Resort, which said today that the company has sold 1 million Butterbeers in its Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The creamy-smooth concoction is a favorite drink in the Harry Potter books and movies, and it’s also a favorite at the theme park, where guests will wait in ride-sized lines to buy a cup. Last year, a fourth location selling the drink was added to the theme park to alleviate some of the lines.

There’s no alcohol in Butterbeer. It’s a sweet drink, which Universal says tastes of shortbread and butterscotch. I liken it to a cream soda. You can get both cold and frozen versions at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park where the Wizarding World is located.

There are lots of do-it-yourself Butterbeer recipes out there online, but Universal’s is secret. In fact, the company says it has put special security procedures in place to keep it that way.

To celebrate the 1 millionth Butterbeer, Universal passed out 1,000 free ones on the streets of the Wizarding World.

Riders of size not welcome on Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park ride

When it comes to overweight guests, none of the magic spells or potions in the world are enough to make them fit in the flagship ride at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” is one of the most modern theme park rides in the world, and our very own Leigh Caldwell described it as “not childs play”.

In fact, when she got a very early sneak peek at the ride back in May, she noted that “If you’re a plus-sized person, it’s fairly likely that you’re not going to fit in the ride cars.”

She was right, because one Harry Potter fanatic said he was “quite disappointed” when ride operators told him his 265-pound frame was too much for the ride safety harness.

Other Universal rides have some modified seats for larger passengers, but in the world of Muggles and Butterbeer, fatties are apparently not invited to share in the fun.

Ride operators are now performing “random” screenings, asking passengers to sit in a test seat in order to kick them out of the line before they actually arrive at the ride itself. As embarrassing as this is, it sure beats trying to strap yourself into a seat and realizing the safety bar won’t go down all the way.

Of course, the main reason for actions like this is to keep riders safe – seats and restraints are designed with a certain size in mind, and the last thing a park wants is to be in the news when an overweight passenger becomes stuck, or worse. And no, unlike on the airlines, buying two tickets won’t solve this problem.