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Mandarin Oriental Jumps on the Free Wi-Fi Bandwagon

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If free Wi-Fi has typically been the exception at luxury hotels, there’s more hope than ever that it will soon be the rule. Case in point: this week, Mandarin Oriental has announced that they will offer free, high-speed Wi-Fi to any guest who books on the mandarinoriental.com website and fills out a guest questionnaire. Why the caveats? The brand is better able to learn about their guests, anticipate their needs, and market to their audience with the help of online profiles, and direct bookings reduce the fees and commissions associated with outside booking vendors. Plus, Mandarin promises to offer the lowest rate on their site—or beat any better deals by a full ten percent. Want the Wi-Fi without the runaround? Try Peninsula, Shangri-La, or Hilton, which recently partnered with AT&T to provide free Internet for many of its guests.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental

HomeAway Launches Luxury Rentals

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Culling the inventory for a high-end getaway on HomeAway—a vacation rental company that lists more than 775,000 properties in 171 countries—just got a little less overwhelming. The Austin-based company has launched Luxury Rentals from HomeAway, a curated collection of villas, estates, and the like geared to customers looking for a more deluxe experience.

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FAA Drops Personal Electronics Restrictions

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it would drop existing restrictions on the use of personal electronics during takeoff and landing, urging airlines to implement the changes on their own timelines.

This means that flyers will soon be able to use their phones, tablets, e-readers, and other gadgets at all stages of the flight, as long as they are set to Airplane Mode.

Last month, as T+L reported, a committee set up by the FAA urged the administration to reconsider the current restrictions, finding them unnecessary from a safety perspective. Originally set in place to prevent electronic devices from interfering with a plane's equipment, the restrictions have come under scrutiny after experts concluded such fears of interference are groundless.

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"Generous Chocolate Upgrader" Rewards Fliers in Worst Seats with Candy

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Unhappy with your 43B seat assignment? Consider a stopover in Copenhagen or Stockholm, where Anthon Berg Generous Chocolate Upgrader kiosks dole out treats for passengers flying with the worst seats, as rated by website SeatGuru.com.

Travelers simply scan their boarding passes—with the help of an Anthon Berg “stewardesses”—and, voila, the stewardess will give them a "chocolate upgrade." Someone in a middle seat near the bathrooms at the rear of the plane, for example, will walk away with an eye mask, a neck pillow, and a large bar of chocolate. Anyone with an aisle seat towards the front, on the other hand, will receive only a small chocolate sample.

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Turkey’s Marmaray Tunnel Links Europe and Asia

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Turkey opened its new tunnel connecting Europe and Asia yesterday. For the first time, travelers can cross the Bosporus Strait (and continents) in roughly four minutes, via the world’s deepest sub-sea tunnel.

This underwater tunnel between the European and Asian shores of Istanbul is the realization of a Sultan’s dream 150 years ago. Now, on the 90th anniversary of Turkey’s independence, it is truly united.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated The Marmaray Rail yesterday, after nearly 10 years and $2.8 billion dollars. The project is far from over, however. The tunnel is only a quarter of what Erdogan calls “a project for whole humanity.”

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Virgin America's New Video Puts a Spin on In-Flight Safety

Virgin America's added a little twist to their in-flight safety video. Grooving nuns, rapping kids, and auto-tuning robots guide you through the airline's safety regulations. This won't be the last dance, either. Virgin America has already posted a casting call on Instagram for future video stars. And if you can't get down with the funk, Virgin America's offer—20% off flights for today only—is sure to make you jump. Simply use the promo code "GETDOWN" upon checkout.

Maria Pedone
Maria Pedone is on the digital team at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @mariapedestrian.

Asbury Park Rebounding One Year After Hurricane Sandy

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This past summer, Asbury Park, New Jersey, was bustling. One never would have guessed that Hurricane Sandy—which hit one year ago this week—had wiped out the entire boardwalk and closed waterfront businesses for the better part of the year.

Downtown Asbury Park has organically sprouted into an urbanized pocket of culture buzzing with locals, foodies, and rockers. Its main thoroughfare, Cookman Avenue, is studded with gastropubs, mom and pop coffee shops, antique furniture stores, art galleries, quirky boutiques, and a newly minted independent movie theatre. A few blocks north lies the legendary rock 'n' roll music venue, The Stone Pony, and Asbury Lanes, a vintage bowling alley from the 1960s that was recently refurbished. Much of the current development momentum owes its success to the initial visionaries who began investing in the commercial district when it was still considered risky territory.

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New Emirates-Virgin America Partnership Allows Frequent Fliers to Earn Miles

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In a boon for frequent fliers on two of this year's World's Best Award-winning airlines, Emirates and Virgin America announced yesterday that members of their loyalty programs can now earn and redeem points and miles on either airline.

Virgin America connects many U.S. destinations to its L.A. and San Francisco hubs, while Emirates serves 135 destinations across the globe, mostly with stopovers in its hub, Dubai. It's expanding fast, too, with new flights between Dubai and Boston, and Brisbane and Manila, as well as between New York's JFK to Milan—the first transatlantic Emirates flight —and the first not to stop in Dubai.

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At Least It’s Not SpongeBob: Buddhist Fresco Restored in Cartoon-ish Style

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It’s sad when an ancient painting or fresco becomes almost unrecognizable due to vandalism or just time. But it may be even worse when it gets fixed so badly that it goes from “ruins” to “ruined.”

That seems to be the case with a nearly 300-year-old Buddhist fresco hanging in a temple in Chaoyang, in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning. The original paintings had been crumbling for years, and a recent “refurbishment” gave them a serious face lift, according to this article in the Daily Telegraph.

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Irish Singer Declan O'Rourke Makes U.S. Debut

“Divine Intervention.”

That’s how Irish folk-rock star Declan O’Rourke characterizes his foray into music. How else to explain the circumstances behind the acquisition of his first guitar, gifted to him by a priest as a ten-year-old boy in Melbourne, Australia?

It’s been a faith-driven journey from there to here, another string-picker on the Dublin open-mic circuit to opener for cult-band Snow Patrol and the legendary Bob Dylan. On October 8th, O’Rourke celebrated his first U.S. release with the album “Mag Pai Zai”, which, along with records “Since Kyabram” (2004) and “Big Bad Beautiful World”(2007), has been a mainstay on the Top Ten charts across the pond. The latest ballads stay true to O’Rourke’s classic, crooning sound, yet unfurl with a newfangled sense of self-assuredness.

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