An attraction inspired by American Idol opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios on Feb. 14.
Walt Disney World guests can register to audition in front of a Disney casting director for a chance to take part in the theme park show. Contestants who make the cut must then audition for a Disney producer. Those selected by producers will perform in front of an onstage panel of judges and an audience of park guests who vote on each show's winners.
Performing guests with the highest votes compete in an end-of-the-day grand finale show at the attraction. The winner of that competition gets a guaranteed reservation, with no waiting in long lines, for a future regional audition for the American Idol TV show.
Details, including age restrictions and other eligibility requirements, are at www.disneyworld.com/idol.
Head to Atlanta . . . for snow?
Stone Mountain Park has opened its first "Snow Mountain Park" with three football fields of snow, a 400-foot hill with 11 tubing runs and a 30,000-square-foot play area.
The Atlanta snow park is open weekends through March 1. Details at www.snow mountainpark.com.
Kids can make snowmen and snow angels, and there's even a snowball-making zone, along with warming chalets and bonfires for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores.
Tickets are $25 and are for timed entry. Advance reservations are recommended, as is snow gear like boots, gloves and hats. The park sells some outerwear at a store on-site.
France, the overachiever
With the opulent French Riviera, iconic Eiffel Tower and luscious vineyards, France stands tall and proud as the world's No. 1 travel destination.
But it's not No. 1 in tourism revenue, to the chagrin of the country's tourism authority. So it has launched a campaign to "rebrand" France, a place already considered a dreamland by would-be travelers around the globe.
According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization, 82-million visitors traveled to France in 2007, an increase of 3-million from the year before and well ahead of No. 2 Spain and No. 3 the United States, which welcomed 58-million and 51-million visitors respectively.
The French government unveiled a new French "brand" last month, including a logo and travel campaign aimed at rejuvenating tourism revenue.
The logo features a young woman symbolizing Marianne, an allegorical figure and national symbol since the French Revolution, as she looks toward the future. The dreamy tagline, "Rendez-vous en France," is designed to seduce visitors to the land of fashion, food and fine wine.
Passport card eases crossings
Nearly 740,000 Americans have ordered passport cards, a new document being offered by the State Department to speed border crossings by U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Beginning in June, travelers will be required to present documents proving both citizenship and identity when entering the United States through a land or sea border. For Americans who drive to Canada or Mexico or cruise regularly to the Caribbean, but who do not expect to fly abroad, the passport card is a cheaper, smaller, more portable alternative to a conventional passport book.
The passport card is the size of a credit card or driver's license, and has a photo and identification information printed on it, like a driver's license. It's not valid for air travel.
Passport cards are good for 10 years and cost $45 ($35 for children under 16). Applications can be made at any passport-processing site. If you already have a passport but want the card anyway because of the convenient size or quick scanning, it's only $20 and can be ordered by mail.
For details on how and where to get a passport card, go to www.travel.state.gov.
New Orleans hopeful for 2009
A spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau is optimistic about 2009 but says officials early in the year will be watching whether the national recession affects tourism numbers.
Mary Beth Romig says no conventions have canceled so far, but companies may send fewer attendees to meetings.
Major sporting events and tourist staples such as Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival brought crowds that got 2008 off to a strong start. This year, Mardi Gras takes place Feb. 24 and the Jazz Fest is scheduled for April 24-26 and April 30-May 3.