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It's Barbie's World, We Just Visit It

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Pack up the hot-pink convertible: It may be time to take your Barbie-themed vacation.

On May 6, two official Barbie Dream House Experience attractions will open on our planet: one in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz Square, and the other in Sunrise, Florida.

For admission starting at $14, both sites promise to offer a life-sized immersion into Barbie’s plastic townhouse. You can take an elevator from room to room, create a virtual cupcake in the kitchen, explore Barbie's "endless closet" and experience the "walk-through glitterizer." On the attraction’s web site, you learn that you will see Barbie there "in unexpected ways," as well as encounter sister Skipper, the always-controversial Ken, and other characters including Raquelle, Ryan, and pets Blissa and Taffy. Florida opens May 6, Berlin May 16.

But not everyone is popping the pepto-pink champagne. According to The Independent, the Berlin branch of the Dream House has been attracting preemptive protestors, including one 27-year-old who launched an "Occupy Barbie Dreamhouse" Facebook page. "Barbie Dream House is the expression of a conventional role model that isn’t OK," Michael Koschitzki told The Independent’s Tony Paterson.

Meanwhile, the Dream House is not the only attraction for Barbiephiles. Royal Caribbean is now offering a Barbie Premium package, on certain voyages, which includes perks like a pink-décor stateroom, a tiaras-and-teacups party, and a fashion show. And this past January, a diner-style Barbie Café, also licensed by Mattel, opened in Taipei.

Interesting to note: Royal Caribbean seems to take pains to point out that its Barbie experience is meant for girls ages 4 to 11. The Dream House, meanwhile, more slyly acknowledges that Barbie’s appeal spans the generations (and genders) by declaring it for “fans of all ages.” And perhaps trying to reach those same fans, the Barbie Café in Taipei clearly has a bar.

Earlier: Barbie Arrives at Ellis Island.

Photo credit: © Barry Lewis/In Pictures/Corbis

Boston Hosts Three Coffee Championships This Weekend

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This is a big weekend for Boston, and I’m not talking about the thousands of runners descending on the city for its famed marathon, which takes place next Monday. No, I’m talking about the three, I repeat three, coffee competitions occurring in the city.

So what exactly are these caffeinated contests?

At the United States Barista Championship, baristas who have won regional championships across the country duke it out at the national level, preparing and serving an espresso, a cappuccino, and a signature drink of their own creation to four "sensory judges"—all in under fifteen minutes.

The Cup Tasters Championship, meanwhile, has the contestants do the drinking. They sip back eight sets of three coffee-cups, and each set has two cups of the same coffee and one miss-fit. Whoever correctly identifies the most outliers in the shortest amount of time becomes the champion. Sound difficult? It is, and it tests the participants' ability "to smell, taste, recall and concentrate," according to the event description.

And lastly, there’s the Brewers Cup, which celebrates the "art of manual coffee brewing." Competitors first brew the same cup of coffee, and whoever advances to the next round must then brew and present their own coffee. Judges score based on taste and presentation, and the winner will represent the United States at the World Brewers Cup Championship in Melbourne, Australia.

The three competitions are being held in tandem at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, and are co-sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. With so many coffee beans being ground in one weekend, Boston may actually merit the name Beantown for once.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo of 2012 U.S. Barista Champion Katie Carguilo by Liz Clayton

KLM Wants to Send You to Space

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is taking its slogan "journeys of inspiration" to new heights—literally.

The carrier has announced that on April 22, it will send a high-altitude balloon into space, and whoever predicts the height and distrance traveled by the balloon before it pops will receive a ticket to space.

Worth $95,000, the grand prize includes a KLM flight from anywhere in the world to Curacao, where the lucky guesser and a guest will stay at a luxury hotel. After a medical check-up, the two will embark on a 60-minute flight into space aboard the SXC Lynx. Flying sixty-four miles above the earth at 4 Gs of thrust, passengers will experience total weightlessness.

Think you can guess correctly? Check out the official competition site and test your luck!

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Trip Doctor: Sri Lankan Scientists ID New, Massive Spider

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Disclaimer: I'm an arachnophobe. When I plan my next vacation, the first thing I do is an online image search to see what the spiders are like there. (Example, brace yourself: Australia). I've known for a while that Sri Lanka, with its Huntsman spiders, was probably too scary for me. But with the news that there's another big spider on the island, you can definitely scratch the tropical paradise off my bucket list.

Scientists at the country's Biodiversity Education & Research organization have discovered a ginormous spider, dubbed the Poecilotheria rajaei. And by ginormous, I mean it has a leg-span of 8 inches – larger than the average human skull. Oh, and it’s super hairy too. And fast. And poisonous. And did I mention it’s ginormous?

Part of the genus Poecilotheria (lovingly called “Pokies” by those in-the-know), the rajaei has enough distinctive markings to constitute its own species, although no DNA samples have confirmed this. Specimens were found mostly in the island’s northern forests, although some were found in a hospital too. Extra creepy.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by istockphoto

The Ultimate Souvenir: Can You Find the Gold and Jewels Buried Somewhere in Santa Fe?

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Buried treasures aren't just for pirate tales: Visitors to New Mexico can now act out their It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World dreams by finding an actual treasure buried somewhere in the hills.

Jeri Clausing of the Associated Press recently reported on Forrest Fenn, an 82-year-old owner of Old Santa Fe Trading Co, a gallery in Santa Fe and author of the self-published a memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. The book details Fenn’s own colorful history from his humble youth in Texas, decorated service in Vietnam, and years of entertaining celebrities like Jackie Onassis in his art galleries, while dropping clues to readers about where he hid a 40-pound chest full of gold, trinkets and exotic jewels. Fenn says the booty is out there, free for the taking, somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe.

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Don't Stand Too Close to the Water Buffalo: Tourists Crash Funerals in Indonesia

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Few things provide a better glimpse into another culture like stumbling upon on a village wedding or festival when traveling, but what about funerals?

The Torajan people, who live in the South Sulawesi region of Indonesia, are known for their lavish funerals, which can last several days. According to a recent CNN report, tourists are increasingly coming to watch the festivities, and grapple with a variety of ethics surrounding funeral-crashing.

These ceremonies go well beyond the uplifting, jazz-fueled processions one might see on the streets of New Orleans—and they’re much tougher to get to. First, you need to fly from Jakarta or Bali to Makassar, then take an 8-hour bus ride to Rantepao.

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Locals Only: U.K. Antique Shop Bans Tourists

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Where does browsing end and loitering begin?

Mark Galpin, owner of Alladin's Cave, an antique shop in Christchurch, in Southwest England might say that the "oitering" starts as soon as you enter his establishment. The shopkeeper has made his store the subject of a brouhaha recently after he posted signs that say "Sorry No Tourists" and banned shoppers who don’t live within a 30-mile radius. "We have put up with it for three years, and we believe that maybe one in every 2,500 tourists has spent a pound or two," Galpin told the Daily Mail. "The rest have spent nothing." The sign explains the ban on the grounds that the store's items would be too large to ship. ("So, scram, why doncha!" is all but implied.)

Galpin told reporters that his sales have shot up since the ban—now that there's more room for paying customers to wander around—but some of Christchurch’s civic leaders are not happy about it. "It's just so depressing that we have got one eccentric trader taking this stance," Peter Watson-Lee, the chairman of the Christchurch Chamber of Trade, told reporters. "Tourists bring a lot of money into the town. He is in the wrong town if he doesn’t want to welcome them."

Galpin reportedly said that he might consider allowing tourists again—if they chip in some money to a pot for charitable donations.

Photo by Peter Jordan_NE / Alamy

Tag Boat: Graffiti Collective Turns Ship Into Art Project

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Many old cruiseliners may end up stripped for parts, but the Duke of Lancaster is proof that one man's scrap can become another's sprawling, blank canvas.

According to a CNN report by Sheena McKenzie, a graffiti collective recently cut a deal with the owners of an abandoned ship beached on Wales’ Dee Estuary, and invited artists from around Europe to start spray painting the vessel, while also pondering the theme of corruption. Some highlights: Three suit-and-tie-clad monkeys sitting on bags of money, some cartoonish pirates and a demon riding a uniformed pig.

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Thai Beaches Are The Latest Hot Zone in the Monkey Wars

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How cute, you might say, when you spot a monkey ambling along the beach in Thailand. (“Wait, where'd my lunch go?”) But lately the primates have become a little too aggressive, so authorities have posted new signs on beaches in the country's Krabi province (which includes Long Beach, Phi Phi Island and the aptly named Monkey Bay) that read "Beware of the Monkey" in both Thai and English. According to a report from the Bangkok Post, roughly 600 beachgoers have been treated at one local hospital in the past year for monkey bites. The furry beachgoers have gotten so used to edible hand-outs from their human enablers that they can turn ugly when spurned. A whopping 75 percent of the victims are foreigners.

The need for monkey caution, however, is not limited to Thailand. The monkeys at India’s Amanbaugh Resort in Rajasthan have gotten so close to the guests, the hotel employs staffers to chase the critters away from guestroom patios where the hotel sets out complimentary cookies. In London,  monkeys at the London Zoo have been known to pluck sunglasses right off visitors' heads. And in St. Kitts, the little rascals have been caught on video making off with tourists' cocktails. A more powerful deterrent, in the latter case, may be that monkeys can suffer from hangovers just like humans do.

Photo by David Kukin

Does Feeding Stingrays Lead to Unwanted Pregnancy?

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To some travelers, feeding stingrays in their native habitat may seem like a way fun to share some inter-species goodwill, but it turns out that it can leave the wildlife feeling a little off-kilter, to say the least.

According to recent announcement, a study by the Guy Harvey Research Institute, at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University, looked at how regular human interaction is affecting the marine wildlife at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands, where travelers can pet, feed and swim with the big fish. Researchers found some distinct changes in the stingrays' behavior. For instance, the fish shifted from foraging for food at night to doing so only during the day—perhaps when human visitors might be handing out snacks—and then sleeping at night.

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