Plan your holiday adventure with Harry Potter at Universal Studios now

Published: Monday, October 30, 2017 @ 2:54 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 @ 1:16 PM

Planning a trip to Universal Orlando? The new Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter adventure have Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley taking on a Christmas theme Universal has moved up the start of the holidays, launching Nov. 18 There will be a new Universal Holiday Parade featuring new floats and new balloons The Harry Potter activities and parade will be included in regular park tickets which start at $74 for multi-day tickets and $110 for single day tickets Each night the Wizarding World Christmas

Christmas at Hogwarts? Start planning now to enjoy the new holiday adventure, Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at  Universal Orlando.

Both sides of the attraction will feature holiday adventure and the magic of Christmas-themed decor. Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley will take on a Christmas theme and at Islands of Adventure, the newly created holiday experiences will include special effects projecting Christmas moments from J.K. Rowling's series at Hogwarts castle.

Here are six things to know before you start planning your wizardly holiday adventure at Universal Orlando:

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ at Universal Orlando attraction will be included in regular park tickets , which start at $74 for multi-day tickets and $110 for single day tickets.(Contributed by Universal Orlando Resort/For the AJC)

The holidays start early at Harry Potter World. 
Universal has moved up the start of the holidays, so the celebration will launch Nov. 18, five days before Thanksgiving, and run through Jan. 6.

The Universal Holiday Parade has a new look.
It's not strictly Harry Potter, but the newly dubbed "Universal's Holiday Parade Featuring Macy's" will include new balloons and floats. The park is promising Merry and Mayhem minions from "Despicable Me," who will join Santa Claus to live up to their names.

Flashback photos: Grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Holiday magic, no extra charge.
The Harry Potter activities and parade will be included in regular park tickets , which start at $74 for multi-day tickets and $110 for single day tickets.

Stocking stuffers from Honeydukes are hard to top.
All the Wizarding World storefronts will have holiday decor wizarding style and they're planning speciality holiday food and drink. 'Tis the season (or at least it will be the season) to load the stockings with Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs and more signature treats from the Honeydukes™ shop in Hogsmeade™. Remember when Harry got a rubber band for Christmas from the Dursleys? These treats will be the exact opposite of that.

Get ready for Grinchmas
Seuss Landing will be throwing a Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, a live retelling of Dr. Seuss's classic holiday tale starring The Grinch™.

Stay late for the lights.
Each night, the Wizarding World Christmas celebration will go out with a bang as a festive spell is cast onto Hogwarts castle. The decor, candlelight and festive moments projected on to the castle walls come from mapped projection technology, but it's so magical!

Chair J.K. Rowling sat in to write 'Harry Potter' sells for $394K

To learn more about holiday festivities at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter,  click here.


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5 wine tours a lot closer to home than Napa

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 5:41 PM

What you should know about wine.

You can take some of the most lavish, expensive wine tours in the world in the Napa Valley, where wines are all about heritage, taste and sophistication.

»RELATED: Georgia: Whether you love beer or wine, there’s a destination for you

These days, though, even the snootiest oenophile can find a worthy wine tasting in places far from California. And the same goes for the Napa-style custom of wine tours. Travelers in the South or Southeast have lots of pleasurable wine tours to choose from, including self-guided forays, touristy excursions and exclusive itineraries presided over by the wine elite.

Georgia, Tennessee and Texas are just a few of the markets that have come into their own in recent decades and have the wine trails to prove it. While you won't be inundated with award-winners on a few of these tours, you can still find numerous high-ranked wines and others that are fun to sample. The vintners are typically small, but accessible, and it's exciting to see newer wineries just starting to make their mark.

For a taste of fine wine tours nowhere near Napa, consider these five:

Rocky Top Wine Trail

Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee


All hail Appalachian winemakers. Five Tennessee wineries (and a distillery!) along 12 miles near the Great Smoky Mountains have banded together to present a free, self-guided tour. Each of the wineries is open all week for free tastings. They include Hillside Winery and Apple Barn Winery in Sevierville, Mountain Valley Winery and Mill Bridge Winery in Pigeon Forge and Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery and Sugarland Cellars in Gatlinburg. Plus, there's no law against catching Dollywood as part of your visit. And don't miss the Muscadine Spumante from Hillside Winery in Sevierville, which recently won the Governor's Cup at Wines of the South.

Dahlonega Wine Trail

Dahlonega, Georgia

Free or nominal charge tastings

A scenic drive through the Dahlonega mountains sets the tone for sampling wines from "the Heart of Georgia Wine Country." It's the grapes that make the difference: The growing conditions and mountain elevations are ideal for European, French hybrid and American wine grapes. The trail makes a great day trip from Atlanta, with a driving time of a little over an hour and plenty of chances to meet winemakers and sample their labors of love. Stops include Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery, Frogtown Cellars, Montaluce Winery & Estates, Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery and Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery.

Georgia Spring Wine Highway

Northeast Georgia

Starting at noon Friday, March 16 through 5 p.m. Sunday, March 25, 2018 - 5 p.m.


This annual shebang is a great way to visit lots of wineries and sample a few wine and food pairings, enjoy live music or other mini-wine tasting events. The Winegrowers Association of Georgia sponsors and Northeast Georgia plays host. Travelers pay at the first winery visited and then can enjoy any or all of the other participating winery offerings: Each place does its own format, along with filling up those "passport glasses" that commemorate each year's event. Participants range from Cartecay Vineyards in Ellijay apple country to Fainting Goat Vineyards in Jasper, with dozens of other options around and about Northeast Georgia, all listed on the event website.

Texas Hill Country Wine and Wildflower Journey

Austin to Fredericksburg and Lampasas to New Braunfels and other points in between

April 6-22, 2018

Individuals $45, couples $75

Who says you have to be in California for a lavish wine country experience? The Texas Hill Country's annual wine trail celebrates the blooming wildflowers along with a full 17 days of sipping award-winning wines. Each ticket includes a tasting passport for each featured winery (limit four per day). A small sampling of participating wineries includes Lost Draw Cellars, Messina Hof Hill Country, Narrow Path Winery and Old Man Scary Cellars.

The Driftwood Estate winery in Texas Hill Country is just one of dozens in the area with phenomenal scenery.(Contributed by wayoutwestaustin.com/For the AJC.com)

Texas Hill Country wine trail day trip

Johnson City, Hye and Stonewall Texas

Tasting fees vary

An hour-long sashay that runs about 44 miles, this is a lovely way to enjoy part of Texas Hill wine country. Each place has its own personality and style of winemaking, even though the vintners are all neighbors. Enjoy escorting yourselves to Texas Hills Vineyard, Lewis Wines, Narrow Path Winery and seven others.


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Florida beach named nation's best in TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice awards

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 8:57 AM

Florida Beach Named the Best in the Nation

A Florida beach has been named the nation's best in TripAdvisor's annual Travelers' Choice awards.

>> See the full rankings here

The travel website announced Tuesday that Clearwater Beach was the best in the U.S. in 2018, climbing from No. 4 in 2017. The beach also topped the national list in 2016. 

>> Read more trending news 

Meanwhile, Grace Bay in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, took the award for the best beach worldwide.

>> Click here or scroll down to see which other beaches made the lists

Get Paid $10,000 Per Month To ‘Experience’ Cancun

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5 places to go glamping in the Smoky Mountains - Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina

Published: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 5:06 PM
Updated: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 5:06 PM

Asheville Glamping offers one-of-a-kind accommodations just outside the eclectic mountain town.
Photo via Asheville Glamping Facebook Page
Asheville Glamping offers one-of-a-kind accommodations just outside the eclectic mountain town.(Photo via Asheville Glamping Facebook Page)

Camping may be fun, but not everyone is cut out for roughing it. Some folks need a little more waiting for them after a long day of adventures than a sleeping bag and a flimsy tent. Here are five ways to experience the nature of the Smoky Mountains without pitching a tent yourself.

Falling Water Adventure Resort 10345 U.S. 19/74, Bryson City, N.C. 800-451-9972. fallingwatersresort.com

Those who aren't afraid to get their feet wet during the day (but prefer a cozy bed at night) will find an apt home away from home in Falling Water Adventure Resort, a North Carolina getaway that offers affordable yurt rentals to accommodate its sporty clientele. Activities at the resort include river rafting, canopy tours and zip lines, and visitors who choose to stay in the yurts can also enjoy amenities like fresh linens, a private fridge, and individual coffee maker. Those who stay will still get a taste of the campsite life — picnic tables, a shared bath house, and charcoal grills ensure that guests can still get their fix of the outdoors.

North Georgia Canopy Tours  5290 Harris Road, Lula, Ga. 770-869-7272. northgeorgiacanopytours.com

Don't knock tent camping until you try it with North Georgia Canopy Tours, whose tepees are fully equipped with electricity, running water, and air conditioning — a must for anyone who knows just how hot a Georgia summer can get. The accommodations range in size and can sleep up to 10 guests. Order breakfast at check-in for an additional bit of luxury and be sure to book a zip-line tour to experience the great Smoky Mountains from the trees.

Camp LeConte 1739 E. Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn. 865-436-8831. campleconte.com

The campsites at this East Tennessee getaway run the gamut from standard piece of land to luxury treehouse, offering a distinct experience for outdoorsy types of all ranges. Those who opt for the most decked-out digs will find themselves sleeping in the open air among the tree tops and enjoying a covered patio, full private bathroom, and a beautiful view of Mount LeConte. Free board game rental ensures you'll have plenty to do when you unplug, while free Wi-Fi ensures you'll have access to the outside world when and if you need it, too.

Asheville Glamping
Various sites. 828-450-9745. ashevilleglamping.com

There's a pretty long list of reasons to visit Asheville, N.C. The restaurants are incredible, breweries abound, and unique, friendly small businesses thrive in this laid-back mountain town. But one of the best things about Asheville is its proximity to nature. Within minutes, visitors can go from the downtown experience to a rustic mountain cabin, making this the ideal destination for groups with mixed intentions. Asheville Glamping offers accommodations that range from vintage Airstreams to mini yurts and picturesque domes. Each site offers an array of amenities, and those looking for comfortable, rustic sleeping arrangements will likely find something that suits them.

The Yurts at Sky Ridge 200 Sky Ridge Drive, Bryson City, N.C. 704-701-5696. skyridgeyurts.com

Most campers don't take vacations with the intention of sitting inside and watching television, but The Yurt at Sky Ridge folks aren't taking any chances: flat screen TVs, walk-in showers, kitchen appliances are among the amenities offered in these structures — and that's not taking into account the killer views.

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6 top tiny home vacation rentals that won’t cost you your mortgage

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:57 PM

Here are six tiny home vacation rentals that offer lots of fun per square foot Four-season cottage near Awenda provincial park Tiny House on the Bay Sand Pebble Cottage Victorian cottage Laurel Escape Serenity Now

Need a vacation that isn't followed by a barrage of credit card bills?

Tiny home vacation rentals are a wallet-friendly option, with beach, mountain and ranch locations available. Renting a small space for a weekend getaway or weeklong adventure is also a great way to test drive the tiny home concept. 

»RELATED: Here's what a $1 million house looks like in 7 major US cities

»Here are six tiny home vacation rentals that offer lots of fun per square foot:

(Via VRBO)

Four-season cottage near Awenda provincial park

Ontario, Canada

$119 average per night

Right across from Farlain Lake with its sandy beach and shallow waters, this tiny vacation rental is also close to many ski and snow mobile trails, parks and lakes.


Tiny House on the Bay

Olympia, Washington

Around $89 per night

Set on a hill by Puget Sound, this extra tiny 160-square-foot vacation rental comes with a window seat, full-size sleeping loft under a skylight and mini gas fireplace. Oh, yes, and trail access to a private beach.


Sand Pebble Cottage

Dennis Port, Massachusetts

Around $70 per night

Just 300 square feet, this Cape Cod cottage is just a short walk from the ocean beach and near restaurants (including Sundae School Ice-Cream). 

Victorian cottage

Canyon Lake, Texas

Around $202 average per night

Perfect for a romantic lake getaway, this Victorian cottage is made from reclaimed building materials and features vintage stained glass windows.

(Via Mountain Laurel Cabin Rentals)

Laurel Escape 

Mineral Bluff, Georgia

Prices start at $99 per night

Ah, the mountains! This is a perfect - and perfectly affordable - way to enjoy the North Georgia mountain air. The 480-square-foot cabin boasts amenities like a king-size bed, fire pit, hot tub and stainless appliances and granite countertops.

Serenity Now

Alpharetta, Georgia

Average $83 per night 

Yes, you can have a ranch vacation at tiny house rental prices. This custom-built tiny house rests on a 4-acre mini horse farm. It features two lofts and complimentary continental breakfast with biscuits.


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