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Demand Pricing at Disney and the Best Airports around the World: The View from AFAR

Plus: Slide of terror in Los Angeles, an inside look at turbulence

We know, we know, the biggest piece of travel news this week was the announcement that all major airlines will have nonstop flights between the United States and Cuba. But a bunch of other important stuff happened, too! Here’s our rundown of those additional items. As always, if you have questions or comments about anything you read here, please Tweet them to us at @AFARMedia.  And please share this with friends!

Los Angeles set to open slide made of glass

Thrill-seekers will soon have a new spot to get their adrenaline pumping in downtown Los Angeles: a 36-foot, all-glass slide cantilevered off the side of an office building, 1,000 feet above the ground. The new attraction, dubbed Skyslide, will connect the 70th and 69th floors of the city’s U.S. Bank Tower on the outside of the building. Of course the lunacy experience won’t be free; a report in Curbed Los Angeles this week said the attraction likely will cost $8 per slide. Skyslide is not the only addition to the U.S. Bank Tower, which is currently the tallest building in the American West; a $50 million renovation will also give the building a two-floor observation deck with 360-degree views of the city. The renovation should be completed this summer.

Disney rolls out demand pricing

The way Disneyland prices tickets changed over the weekend, and the cost of admission is now based on when you go. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, the new approach creates three different admission prices: $105 for “regular” days with average traffic; $95 for “value” days with light traffic; and $119 for “peak” days with heavy traffic. Disney calculates that over a 12-month period, 30 percent of the days will be value days, 44 percent will be regular days and just 26 percent will be peak days. Unfortunately, however, most weekends and school vacations—in other words, the times most out-of-town families visit—will see the highest prices. Park officials said the parks would be adding additional attractions in 2016 to help justify the extra fees. (One of these attractions, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, will open in Cars Land next week.) While Disney is touting the surge pricing as a strategy to manage crowds, one can’t help but wonder if the move is a way to maximize profits.

Group lists best airports as selected by passengers

Most travelers would agree that the airport experience has taken a nosedive (pardon the pun) in the years of increased security. But some airports still are better than others—at least according to Airports Council International (ACI), which just announced the winners of its 2015 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards. The ASQ awards acknowledge the best airports as determined by feedback from more than 550,000 passenger surveys at more than 300 airports in 80 countries around the world. (The survey asks about 34 key service areas including access, check-in, security, airport facilities, food and beverage, retail, and more.) The winners this year are Indianapolis International Airport; Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia; Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador; Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya; Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia; and the Amman Queen International Airport in Amman, Jordan. 

Hilton drops $50 cancelation fee

Hilton Worldwide learned the hard way this week that travelers really don’t like having to pay to cancel reservations. Last November, the company began experimenting with a $50 “Anytime Cancelation Fee,” but last week they killed the new policy. Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta minced no words when he told reporters on the company’s recent earnings call that “customers hated it.” Hilton had hoped the policy would protect them from revenue lost to cancelations. Nassetta said that while his company would no longer pursue an anytime cancelation fee, it would explore other strategies to dissuade travelers from bagging plans at the last minute. “We have to migrate behavior from where it is to where we want it to be,” Nassetta said. “You'll see us start to move customers down that journey of recognizing, yes, if you want total flexibility, there's a price for that, and if you want a better price, then you're going to have less flexibility.” Stay tuned. 

New services in the air and on the ground

Two popular travel companies added new services last week. First, JetBlue launched new nonstop flights between Fort Lauderdale and Quito—the carrier’s first foray into Ecuador. Quito is the fifth South American destination for JetBlue, which already has scheduled services to Lima, Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellín. Second, Uber started rolling out a motorcycle-sharing pilot program for nations where two-wheeled vehicles are more prevalent than cars. According to a report on TravelPulse.com, the UberMOTO program debuted last week in Bangkok. Motorcycle drivers will be equipped with a second helmet, live GPS tracking, two-way feedback, and the ability to share trip details with family and friends. 

Hotel news

Florida’s newest hotel hotspot is the Opal Sands Resort, which opened last week in Clearwater Beach, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The property is the latest offering from Ocean Properties Ltd. & Affiliates, and it boasts waterfront views from each of its 230 rooms. Other amenities at the resort include a zero-entry pool, sun deck, fitness center, luxury spa, and a host of restaurants. Room rates start at $339 per night. In other hotel news, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, which is located near the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, outside of San Diego, rolled out two race day packages for the summer racing season. The more exciting of the packages, “Race Day Ready,” includes two nights in a suite, valet parking, breakfast, an in-suite hat-fitting, two mint juleps in the lobby, limo transfers to the track, a barn tour with a trainer, riding lessons for two, and a table with a $250 food and beverage credit at the Turf Club. Prices start at $1,600 per night.

Good reads

Makoko, a neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria, is the world’s largest floating slum. In a recent feature for The Guardian, Tolu Ogunlesi writes about life in this sprawling district and explains both the history and culture of the settlement, as well as why residents live in constant fear of eviction and displacement. The story is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It also provides a fascinating perspective on a place that few people visit but everyone should know about.

A recent BBC Travel story by Neelima Vallangi offers an interesting spin on the traditional road-trip narrative. The story documents a journey through the Himalayas, but the “road” in the story actually is the frozen Zanskar River. The narrative takes readers through India’s Zanskar Valley, one of the world’s last bastions of ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture. Details in the piece are riveting and fascinating. Accompanying photos are pretty special, too.

If you’ve ever wondered why air travel is so full of turbulence, freelance writer (and friend) Caitlin Kelly has you covered in a recent article for The New York Times. Her piece, titled, “The Challenge of Taming Air Turbulence,” delves into current scientific thinking on what causes turbulence and investigates what airlines are doing to minimize it. The story is a tour de force of reporting. It’s also a great read.

 Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association, and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.