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Day 5 of our 12 Days of Sparkle comes from the Shops at Columbus Circle in New York City, thanks to Instagram user issamas. Send us your photos using the hashtag #TCHolidayLights if you’d like to be featured!

While it was snubbed from a Golden Globe nomination today, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wins our award for the movie that inspired the most travel in 2012. Opening in theaters worldwide this weekend, this latest installment in filmmaker Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy is creating a surge of tourism in New Zealand, with fans from all over the world raring to see the filming locations.

Hobbit fever is sweeping New Zealand, where about 150 locations were used for Lord of the Rings films scenery. From their Hobbit-themed plane to their unexpected safety video featuring the epic’s mythical creatures, Air New Zealand is now dubbed the “airline of Middle-earth.” And Auckland’s Wellington Airport welcomes throngs of fans with a giant sculpture of Gollum and a sign that reads, “The Middle of Middle-earth.”

New Zealand is certainly embracing Hobbit mania and reveling in their otherworldly status. The mecca of all this mania is Hobbiton, the movie-set-turned-tourist-attraction. You can tour the 44 hobbit holes set in the picturesque rolling hills of Matamata’s countryside to see how the furry-footed creatures live. You can even drink like a hobbit at Green Dragon, a Hobbit-themed pub that recently opened in Hobbiton. We do wonder, however, if this bar skips the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule so barefoot “little folk” can join the party.

But it’s not only the man-made wonders that are getting fan traffic. New Zealand’s natural wonders that provided the dramatic backdrops in the films are also getting a spotlight. One of the most-visited geological marvels in New Zealand is the mystical Milford Sound, which Rudyard Kipling called the “8th wonder of the world”. This fjord on the South Island is part of the protected Fiordland National Park. Now it’s even more popular due to its cameos in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Can’t get enough of the enchanting haflings? See more locations from the films in our Follow the Hobbit trail slideshow.  And even if you’re not part of the fandom, don’t fear; there’s a lot more to New Zealand then Hobbit treks. Even without a Hobbit sighting, the natural beauty here is simply magical.

Warm, cold, cold, warm. Make up your mind already!

It’s safe to say that’s what a whole lot of people are thinking across the country, as they don fall jackets one day, winter coats the next. Winter, it seems, has become a little moody, and no one is feeling the brunt of its mood swings more than ski resorts.

“Rising Temperatures Threaten Fundamental Change for Ski Slopes,” reported yesterday’s New York Times. “Study Shows Warming’s Threat to Skiing,” said The Aspen Times, just a few days earlier. And this equally sobering take from Bloomberg: “Ski Areas Face $1 Billion Risk From Warming Climate, Groups Say.”

But Wait, There’s Hope!

Before you reach for your Xanax, take a deep breath and repeat: “There’s still hope for fun on the slopes this year.”

Sure, we’re all feeling a little nervous, especially with still-fresh memories of last year’s unseasonably warm winter — the fourth warmest on record since 1896 — that caused half of the nation’s ski areas to open late and nearly as many to close early. This year is seeing more unpredictable temperature shifts in areas from Mount Sunapee in Vermont, where warmer temps have turned some usually snow white trails dirt brown, to several ski resorts in Colorado that have been forced to push back their opening dates.

A Pro Colorado Skier’s Opinion

Lou Dawson — no, not a climate guy, but he is the first person to ski all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks — seems pretty optimistic about the whole thing. From what we can tell over at Lou’s popular Wild Snow blog, he’s got strong opinions on how ski resorts can withstand climate change.

Here’s what Lou’s saying: “If ski resorts want to deal with global warming and continue skiing as we know it, they need to figure out where we can ski as the climate warms, and build or extend ski areas into those zones.”

Snowiest Ski Resorts — Where Are They?

So where are those “zones”? Leave it to our friends over at weathertrends360 to gather the goods. Recently, these weather gurus compiled their list of the world’s snowiest ski resorts, with their selection based upon long-term weather trends forecasts.

And the slopes with the most guaranteed powder? Places such as Alta, UT, make weathertrends360’s list – and as the NYT confirmed this week, this famed ski area, now in its 75th year, is seeing trails with a base depth of 48 inches. (Translation: Anything above 15 inches is sufficient for skiing.)

What other ski resorts made the list? For the full forecast, check out the World’s Snowiest Ski Resorts.

This week, Walt Disney World officially opened the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland is an extension of regular Fantasyland (home of classic Disney rides and many, many strollers). When guests enter the Enchanted Forest, they arrive at Maurice’s Cottage — a cozy stone and shingle structure that houses Enchanted Tales With Belle. Here, a “tale as old as time” is told with the help of an impressively lifelike Lumiere, Belle herself and a few volunteers from the audience.

Just through the grove of shady trees and past the gurgling stream is a bridge that leads to the new Be Our Guest Restaurant, which is set inside Beast’s castle. The castle itself is an imposing structure situated in the nearby mountains – which are a testament to Disney’s Imagineers and their skill with forced perspective! By day, Be Our Guest is a quick-service lunch spot, while by night it transforms into a table-service dinner restaurant. Around the corner is Gaston’s Tavern — just look for the statue of the “Beauty and the Beast” villain. Here you can try a meaty pork shank, a gooey cinnamon roll or sip on some of LaFou’s Brew — a sweet concoction of frozen apple juice and toasted marshmallow topped with mango foam.

The Storybook Circus section of New Fantasyland hosts the Barnstormer roller coaster, the Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There are now 2 of these soaring spinners, and time waiting for your flight into the big blue yonder can now be passed inside an air-conditioned circus tent. Parents are issued a pager that lets them know when it’s time to climb on board.

While these new additions are cause for celebration, the gem of New Fantasyland remains behind construction walls. The Seven Dwarves Mine Train — an innovative new coaster — is scheduled to open sometime next year. Sidle up to the walls and hear the clinking and clanging of the Dwarves hard at work on this new attraction.

- Bill Burke

Bill Burke is an award-winning humor columnist and writer with 20 years experience in the newspaper and magazine industry. He is the author ofMousejunkies (Travelers’ Tales 2009) and Mousejunkies: Second Edition (Travelers’ Tales 2011) –a humorous look at Walt Disney World addiction.

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The world can breathe a collective sigh of relief: A royal baby is on the way. Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their first child after 19 months of marriage (and intense media scrutiny).

With today’s royal revelation, the world is abuzz with speculation: Will it be a future king or a future queen? What will the baby’s name and title be?

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 By Troy Petenbrink


Photography by Troy Petenbrink

With the recent release of HBO’s The Girl and the current success of Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson, there has been renewed interest in one of the world’s most well-known (and somewhat creepy) movie directors.

Alfred Hitchcock fans — new and old — will be happy to know that many of the settings from his movies are still around and accessible.

I actually imagined myself as Melanie Daniels (played back in the day by Tippi Hedren) during a recent visit to Potter School House near the California coastal town of Bodega Bay. (Luckily, unlike Tippi, I was not attacked by a flock of crazed crows.) The school and the town featured prominently in The Birds. The school is now privately owned and closed to the public but is perfect for pictures. READ MORE

The days may be growing shorter, but one thing got longer this past month. Mustaches, and lots of them. Mustaches popped up all over the world in November — with some of the best sported by celebrities from Kris Jenner to David Beckham — for Mustache November. Known simply as Movember,  this annual movement calls on men worldwide to grow out their facial hair in solidarity against prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. What began in Australia as a campaign to raise awareness of these issues has now grown to become a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

Movember in London

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As Thanksgiving approaches and we gear up for the busiest travel day of the year, we can’t help but think about all those who will not get to enjoy a plate of turkey and stuffing in the comfort of their own home. Many are still displaced because of damage from Hurricane Sandy and are in need of help. If you’re planning on eating out this week, make your reservation through our partners at CityEats, enter the promo code “RECOVERY” and CityEats will donate $10 to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. Learn more about CityEats’ support of Sandy recovery on their blog.

Need some ideas for where to dine? Check out CityEats’ top 10 New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia restaurants, and be sure to get a look at the new restaurant listings in New Orleans and Phoenix.

If you’re not in the mood to stand in line with a bunch of Twihards tonight to see Breaking Dawn: Part II, escape to the evocative world of 19th-century Russia in Anna Karenina, which also opens this weekend. Though some would be horrified that we are putting the 2 films in the same sentence, there are some similarities between the 2 stories:  both are based on love affairs with the forbidden; one between a vampire and a human, the other between a married socialite and a young cavalry officer.  And both are set in romantic, but equally dark settings — rainy Pacific Northwest and snow-covered Russia. And both make us want to travel.

St. Basil’s Cathedral Photography by Getty Images

This cinematic take on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, Anna Karenina — the story of a married St. Petersburg socialite embarking on a passionate and disastrous love affair — is a visual masterpiece, already garnering Oscar buzz.  As with all film adaptions, this version takes creative liberties and scenes are set on a theater stage, showing very little of Russia or its famous landmarks. Being the travel junkies we are, it’s inspiring us to embark on our own Russian adventure.

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Yesterday, we asked our fans to tell us: If your candidate loses the election — what will your #ElectionEscape be? It seems as though — regardless of party affiliation — by Election Day,  all of our fans had a SERIOUS case of election fatigue, because we got quite the outpouring of tweets, Instagrams and pins. Check out some of our favorite #ElectionEscape Instagrams!  READ MORE

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