Big Apple beats the Mouse: New York City tops tourists’ lists

Tourism to New York City dropped close to 4 percent last year. For a city already beleaguered by the financial crisis, this represents lost revenue we really could have used. But, the damage wasn’t as bad here as it was in Orlando, which slipped from its spot as the top tourist spot in the United States. This is the first time America’s cultural and financial capital has been the #1 tourist destination in the country since 1990.

Last year, 45.2 million people passed through New York City, and the projections for 2010 are for an increase of 3.2 percent. And, that’s in what is still expected to be a tough travel market.

[Photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

Orlando kid contest wants to know what makes you smile

All it takes is a short video and a good reason … and you could win a trip to Orlando. A new contest sponsored by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Florida Film Festival and an organization called KIDS FIRST! Will send a family of four to Orlando for three nights, with accommodations, airfare and rental car access included. Theme park tickets will also be available, but the filmmaker passes to the Florida Film Festival (which runs from April 8 – 19) is the real prize. I went last year and had a blast.

To win, a kid age 13 – 18 needs to answer a simple question: Why does Orlando make you smile? The answers, which must be by video, can either be animated or in live action and can’t exceed three minutes. The winners will be announced in late February, and their films will be premiered at the film festival.

Five haunted attractions for Halloween: options around the world

Halloween is the one day a year we seek fear rather than try to avoid it. We invite the prospect of ghosts, witches and vampires, and even if we concede that they aren’t real, it’s fine to suspend disbelief for a day. To heighten the sensation, consider wrapping your next trip in the Halloween spirit. There are plenty of destinations around the world that will help the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end.

1. Melbourne’s Haunted Bookshop
Ghost-hunter and historian Drew Sinton is waiting for you at The Haunted Bookshop in Melbourne, Australia. If you’re not afraid of the written word, this starting point won’t scare you, but along the way, you’ll hit a number of spots where ghosts have been sighted. Old Melbourne Goal (jail, that is) was home to 135 hangings. One of them, Ned Kelly, is said to have resulted in a ghost that won’t leave the site of his demise. While you’re there, walk the road to the gallows. If this isn’t enough for you, look for nutty ghosts on the Beechworth Ghost Tour at what was once the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum.

2. Under the Royal Mile
Beneath Edinburgh‘s Royal Mile, you’ll find a warren of hidden “closes” where people once lived, worked … and perished. Mary King’s Close, once abandoned and forgotten, is now open via the Supernatural History Tour. Explore one of Scotland’s most haunted locations, get the scoop on urban myths and hear about sightings that occurred as recently as 2003. A few claim to have felt ghosts brush past on this tour. Will you be one of them?

3. Follow New France’s Great Master
Old Montreal‘s cobblestone streets set the scene for any supernatural encounter. The sun goes down; the wind blows off the river. You don’t know what’s gust and what’s ghost! History is the breeding ground of the other-worldly, and the Great Master will take you through the century’s that have contributed to what is now the “New France Ghost Hunt.”

4. The Darker Side of Luxury
No, you won’t have to worry about peasant uprisings, but if you’re looking for paranormal trouble, you can find it at a handful of Fairmont hotels. At the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (where I suffered through a business trip from hell a decade ago), keep an eye open for Victoria, a now deceased member of one of the founding families of the Sonoma Valley. A former steward, now dead, of course, hangs out in the silver room at the Fairmont Royal York, and a hotel maid who fell to her death in 1908 has yet to leave the Fairmont Empress.

5. The Ghastly Side of Downtown Orlando
I’m sure there’s something going on at Disneyworld, but skip it in favor of downtown Orlando (my favorite part of Florida). On the Orlando Ghost Tours, you’ll get two hours to pick up the basics of parapsychology and poke around in locations confirmed to be haunted. You’ll even get to use specialized equipment to conduct your own paranormal investigation. Who you gonna call? After this, probably yourself.

67 Days of Smiles Assignment Begins

Orlando’s “67 Days of Smiles Assignment” has begun. Kyle Post, a Broadway performer, and Stacey Doombos, a childcare worker in Harlem, have hit the ground and are getting ready to experience everything. The duo won the gig after competing against hundreds of applications from more than a dozen countries. Now, they will take on more than 100 attractions in a little over two months.

Their first assignment is to train animals at Discovery Cove, followed by VIP treatment at Hard Rock Live. Throughout the first week, they’ll wrestle alligators at Gatorland, take a tour of downtown Orlando (my favorite part of the city, to be honest – I hope they stop to visit Charley Keila at the City Arts Factory) and sit down with Mayor Buddy Dyer. They’ll also be among the first to ride Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios.

“We’ve been counting down every day until we start our 67 day adventure in Orlando,” said Kyle Post. “The suspense of not knowing what we will be doing is killing us, but if Day One is any indication of our 67 Day experience, then we are two of the luckiest people in the world.”

During their stay in Orlando, Post and Doombos will crash in a two-bedroom condo downtown, not far from Lake Eola and chronicle their experiences by blogging and tweeting. I’m pretty excited to see how this turns out.

Check out their application video after the jump.

Minnie Mouse molester convicted

John William Moyer, a 60-year-old visitor to Walt Disney World probably won’t be welcome at the theme park any longer. The Cressona, Pennsylvania resident was convicted of feeling up Minnie Mouse (yes, there are people inside those suits). Moyer claimed he was innocent, and his son vouched for him, saying that his father would never touch a woman inappropriately.

Meanwhile, the victim reveals, according to an Associated Press report, that “she had to do everything possible to keep Moyer’s hands off her breasts.”

Moyer was nailed for misdemeanor battery. His punishment includes 180 days probation, 50 hours of community service and to write an apology to the victim. He’s also on the hook for $1,000 in court costs and may have to submit to a mental evaluation.

Apparently, nobody told Moyer that he could ogle all the boobs he wants over at Splash Mountain, where the ladies can’t seem (to be bothered to) keep their shirts on.