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What Obama's new ties with Cuba mean for travelers

Tour operators said they expect to see an uptick in the number of Americans who want to visit Cuba after President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would reestablish diplomatic ties with the island nation.

"The phones today have been ringing off the hook since Obama took to the airwaves," said Peggy Goldman of Friendly Planet Travel. And the volume of visits to her social media posts about Cuba has multiplied.

Some callers didn't realize that Americans have been able to travel to Cuba on what are called people-to-people exchange trips that are regulated by the U.S. Treasury. Her company leads trips to Havana and other parts of the island.

Katharine Bonner, vice president of Connecticut-based travel company Tauck, also said she expects interest in Cuba to increase.

"This news will make [trips] even more popular because one of the allures of Cuba is that it has been isolated," Bonner said. "Once that isolation falls away, you're going to see American brands there and more...

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Tired of waiting at border crossings? Now, there's an app for that

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a new mobile app that will tell travelers how long they'll have to wait in line at land border crossings to Mexico and Canada.


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Eight ways to celebrate the season in Las Vegas

If you like the jingle of slot machines along with Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho,” Las Vegas offers a wealth of ways to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes of the holiday.

Here are eight ways to celebrate the season in Las Vegas:

—If you thought putting up your tree was a lot of work, consider this: It took 12 people three days to install the 65-foot-tall Christmas tree in the Doge’s Palace plaza at the Venetian. The tree has 50,000 lights and 5,000 ornaments, all placed on the branches by the team of decorators.

—The tree is a mere 42 feet tall at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. Two 12-foot, animated snow globes sit beside the tree. Nearby, polar bears crafted from thousands of white carnations frolic on a winter pond while penguins build an igloo. There’s live holiday entertainment from 4:30 to 6 p.m. daily. The winter wonderland continues through Jan. 3.

—Christmas Eve will bring the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian celebration, at Giada at the Cromwell...

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Six Flags Fiesta Texas puts a new spin on fourth-dimension coasters

The new Batman fourth-dimension roller coaster coming to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in 2015 will feature seats that spin forward and backward as the train navigates a zigzagging track with undulating straightaways and free-fall drops.

Set to debut in summer 2015, the one-of-a-kind 4-D Free Spin coaster by Utah-based S&S Worldwide will feature a track manufactured by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction.

Built on a relatively compact footprint, the new Batman: The Ride coaster will reach a top speed of 40 mph over a 1,000-foot-long track that snakes back and forth like a demonic pachinko game.

Visitors will enter through the Monarch Theater, which will serve as a queue for the ride where visitors will encounter a Batmobile, bat suit and bat signal. In Batman lore, Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered right before his eyes after leaving the Monarch Theater.

After ascending a 120-foot-tall vertical lift, riders will undulate over two hills while flipping forward twice before diving over a...

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8 California hotels make Conde Nast Traveler's list of 100 best

Conde Nast Traveler editors chose eight California hotels for its 2015 Gold List of "100 hotels that change the way we see the world."

It's a dream list of top hotels deemed the best of the best in 37 countries on six continents. Twenty-two hotels in the United States made the list, with more in California than any other state.

What makes these hotels so special? A high standard of service, luxury and beauty with "unforgettable special touches that bring a hotel's ethos to life," according to the magazine.

Five are in or near Los Angeles: Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Ojai, and Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe.

The others are within weekend getaway reach: Ventana Inn

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California: Wintry close-ups of sunrise and snow in Big Bear Lake

Ski resorts in the Big Bear area received 8 to 11 inches of snowfall last week — and more is on the way.

But it's not just the slopes that are covered in white. Photographers Nicholas and Alena Barnhart captured glorious early-morning skies at Big Bear Lake and its surroundings last weekend.

The pictures show snow on the lakeshore with dramatic skies — streaks of pinks and golds — at various points around the lake, like the harbor at Fawnskin and Boulder Bay.

The snow completes a mountain tableau all but forgotten during the state's devastating drought.

"[E]veryone is waiting for the next storm to hit this week to bring more snow for the skiers/snowboarders and vacationers for the Christmas holidays," Nicholas Barnhart writes via email.

Three storms are expected before the weekend, with cold temperatures dropping the snow level to 5,000 feet in elevation, the National Weather Service reports.



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