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Harry Potter Comes to Orlando—Finally!

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CNN News |  The day Harry Potter fans have been waiting for is here. On Friday, Universal Studios is opening its "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida.

The park-within-a-park, as it's being called, recreates various locations, scenes and other elements from the wildly popular book and movie series. Harry Potter has beaten out fellow  Brit celluloid character James Bond as the top-grossing film series in history.

One of the reasons Harry Potter is so successful is its legions of fans, both young and old.

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Photo credit: 2010 Universal Orlando Resort

Pitch Perfect Hotels for Baseball Fans

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I love baseball.   Alas, as a Yankee fan without a major league income, I can rarely afford to see them, or even the Mets, play live.  However, we’ve found a way to attend games: we see baseball when we travel to cities where ticket prices are cheaper.  We favor urban ballparks because we try to roll other activities into these trips and stadiums tucked into busy downtowns afford fans a crack at museums and restaurants, too.  Here are a few of my draft picks:

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Finnish Company Offers Teddy Bear Vacations, Blogger Considers Shooting Himself

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A travel agency in Finland is offering guided tours of the remote Lapland region—but for teddy bears only. No people allowed. But that’s okay. After all, it’s the bears that are coming out of hibernation, not you. Does your stuffed bruin seem a bit moody lately? Maybe what that sleepy Smokey needs is a change of pace, to be off on his own, in a land of ice and snow and pine trees and pickled herring. And Teddy Tours Lapland is standing by to help your plush Grizzly get that new perspective on life.

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Contest Watch: National Train Week, Carbon-Neutral Nuptials, More

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Saturday is National Train Day and what better way to celebrate than to win some free train travel? Not in the mood to get on board—then jet away with your betrothed for a eco-friendly destination wedding in the Cook Islands. And, if you’ve already done the love and marriage thing, the least you can do is get some peace and quiet by sending your teen off to Oxford for the summer. There’s something for everyone in this edition of ContestWatch.

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Back to the Land: Farm Stays (in Luxury Tents)

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As a young child, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Rereading them as a parent, I’m charmed anew (but kind of stunned by what a single-minded nut job Pa seems to be).  However homespun my reading material, though, I’m closer in temperament to Woody Allen than to Ma Ingalls.  My family’s method of getting down to earth will have to come with an escape hatch. Like a farm vacation.

Feather Down Farms, a farm stay company from Europe that has set up housekeeping on three American farms in the past two years, offers curious city-dwellers a chance to experience a rarified and charming rural experience without any of the hardships that plagued pioneer families like the Ingalls and the Wilders (No locusts! No prairie fires! No wolves!), or even those that faced by modern small farmers today.

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iPhone App Helps Simplify Experiencing Disney World Parks

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Despite Disney being the "Happiest Place on Earth," there are a few things—long lines, getting lost, and finding your parking spot, just to name a few—that can really put a damper on your good time...and if you've been to any theme park, not just Disney World, you've experienced at least some of these.

So, I was intrigued when I heard about this increasingly popular iPhone app developed by Undercover Tourist, a discount ticket and travel website, that would supposedly be able to alleviate—or at least provide a solution to—many of these woes. I downloaded the app and gave it a whirl.

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Spring Sightseeing: Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

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The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, held in the historic tidal basin in Washington D.C., began last Saturday, March 27th and will continue through April 11th. The festival celebrates the cherry trees that were a gift from Tokyo in 1912 and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Given the harsh winter weather that hit the area in the past few months, buds are just beginning to peek out on the capitol's battered (and recently groomed) trees. The jubilant pink flowers should be in full picturesque bloom April 4th, just in time for Easter visitors.

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Contest Watch: Ireland + Student Specials

201003-a-sceptre-5jpgParents and kids alike will appreciate this roundup of spring contests. Now if only they could agree on appropriate clothes to pack. 

Sceptre Tours “Luxurious Ireland Vacation Giveaway”

Win a 6-night 3-city Irish vacation with airfare and rental car  (Mercedes 200 E series) from Sceptre Tours. Enter here to be eligible. Careful, the contest  automatically signs you for to receive the Sceptre newsletter but for 2-nights each  at Adare ManorAshford Castle, and the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, we think it’s worth it.

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New Family Travel Auction Site Launches

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FamilyGetaway.com, a new website for value-seeking families, just launched and is offering travel packages at up to 65 percent off retail prices at places like the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa, Hawaii, Highmark Steamboat Springs in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.

Owned by the same company as LuxuryLink.com, FamilyGetaway.com operates in a similar manner as the popular luxury travel website by offering two purchase options:

-Auction: Those with flexible travel dates can submit bids on the package of their choice, assuring the website’s best values.

-Buy Now: For those with less flexibility, there is the Buy Now option that still offers steep discounts (often up to 50 percent off!).

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Child-Free Dining: The (Blissfully) Silent Trend

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Call me a grinch, a misanthrope, a DINK (dual-income-no-kids), or the anti-cute-police, but I hate (hate a thousand times over) ill-behaved children/infants/screaming banshees in upscale restaurants.

Upon doing some research, it turns out I’m not alone. Not only are there message boards, websites, even petitions to promote child-free dining, it turns out there’s an international social club devoted to the baby-free lifestyle.

I’m not a card carrying NoKidding member yet, but for now I plan on asking restaurants what their child policy is before attending.

Here, a few pre-screened restaurants that refuse to break out the coloring books and crayons:

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