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Star Wars Guided Tour added to Disney upcharge list

Banking on the popularity of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and well ahead of the opening of a Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World today launched Star Wars Guided Tours.

The seven-hour tour will set guests back $129 plus the $102 price of admission. The private tours are offered on Mondays and Saturdays only.

The tour includes VIP access to stars at the screening of Star Wars: Path of the Jedi and reserved seating for the live shows, Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away and March of the First Order. Children 4-12 can learn how to battle Darth Vadar with a lightsabre in a Jedi training class. There’s a Star Wars themed dinner, a character greeting with Chewbacca and Kylo Ren along with a dessert party and up-front viewing for the evening fireworks.

Super fan Amy Barber, who has seen every Star Wars movie, said she and her husband have tickets to Disney but would pass on the Star Wars tour.

“I wouldn’t pay that,” said Barber, who lives in Maitland. “We have premium passes, so we go once a month and chip away at the Star Wars stuff. We’re already investing a lot to go to Disney.”

Disney began construction of a 14-acre Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios last spring. Another Star Wars land is being built at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Opening dates for both have not been released.

The Star Wars tour is part of Disney’s Enchanting Extras Collection, which charges guests an additional fee for VIP tours of all four parks, dessert parties and dining adventures.

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Great expectations: Small businesses upbeat about 2017

Donald Trump‘s election as president has made many small business owners more upbeat about 2017.

Dean Bingham says he’s cautiously optimistic because business picked up at his auto repair shop after the election — people who had put off fixing their cars have decided it’s time to get them serviced.

“Over the last month, customers have been coming in with optimism that they didn’t have the last few years,” says Bingham, owner of a Mr. Transmission/Milex franchise in Greenville, South Carolina.

The shop has been so busy Bingham’s looking to hire a seventh employee to help out in the front while he works on cars.

While many business owners are more confident because their revenue looks to increase in 2017 due to the overall improving economy, they’re also optimistic because they expect Trump to deliver on promises to lower taxes and roll back regulations including parts of the health care law. But owners may not be expecting overnight relief — many recognize it will take time to see what the administration’s plans are, and what it will accomplish.

Business owners were considerably more optimistic about 2017 in a survey taken shortly after the election. Forty-six percent of the 600 questioned in the Wells Fargo survey said the operating environment for their companies would improve next year; that compares to 30 percent two years ago, after the last congressional elections. Just over half the owners said actions that Trump and Congress will take next year will make their companies better off. Twenty-six percent said the government’s actions would have no effect, and 17 percent said their businesses would be worse off.

Nick Braun expects his pet insurance business to benefit because he thinks consumers will feel more comfortable about buying nonessentials like health coverage for their pets.

“I truly believe that 2017 will not only be a great year for our business, but the U.S. economy in general,” says Braun, whose company, PetInsuranceQuotes.com, is based in Columbus, Ohio.

Braun thinks promised changes to the health care law will be one factor encouraging consumers to spend on things that aren’t their top priorities. He’s also hoping that changes to the law will make it easier for him to buy insurance for his six staffers, which he provides even though the law doesn’t require him to. He says he’s had to change carriers several times because many insurance companies haven’t wanted to write policies for small businesses.

Some companies that cater to other small businesses see the hopefulness in their customers, and it’s infectious.

“The election does give me more optimism than I would have had otherwise,” says Kurt Steckel, CEO of Bison Analytics, which does software consulting. Bison’s inquiries from prospective clients, small companies that are looking to expand, have nearly doubled since the election.

Steckel is also upbeat about an overhaul of the health care law. He says the cost of his small group insurance rose sharply when the law went into effect, and he had to stop offering coverage to his 10 staffers. He says if insurance were to become more affordable, he’d restore coverage.

Among the other laws and regulations that small business advocacy groups want to see eliminated or changed are the Department of Labor’s overtime rules that were scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1, but were put on hold by a federal court in Texas. Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, fast-food company CEO Andy Puzder, opposes the regulations.

“The decision to appoint Puzder as labor secretary is a big indication that there’s going to be a significant rollback of Obama administration initiatives,” says James Hammerschmidt, a labor and business lawyer with the firm Paley Rothman in Bethesda, Maryland.

Federal laws and regulations are only part of the requirements that small businesses must comply with — state and local governments in some parts of the country have more stringent laws and rules. For example, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, many states and some cities have a higher minimum, with plans to raise it to as much as $15.

“Small business owners whose companies are located in more progressive jurisdictions or operate across local or state borders will have to deal with a patchwork of local and state employment laws that may be difficult, time-consuming and likely aggravating to navigate,” Hammerschmidt says.

Many owners may be cautious in the first half of 2017 while they wait to see what the government does, particularly with health care, says Walt Jones, owner of a management consulting business, SEQ Advisory Group, whose clients include small companies. He also expects owners who do business with the government wait to see if federal agencies increase the number of contracts they award to small companies.

Jones is optimistic that Trump’s pledge to improve the country’s roads and other parts of its infrastructure will mean more government contracts, and in turn, more business for his company.

“As long as the administration sticks to the promises he (Trump) made during the campaign, I definitely see opportunities for small businesses,” Jones says.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Where to feed your New Year’s Day hangover in St. Pete

The winter holidays are known for Ugly Sweater parties, silly gift swaps and copious amounts of drinking. The biggest culprit of the latter, of course, is New Year’s Eve.

Not only do party-goers imbibe a few-too-many in anticipation of the calendar rolling over from one year to another, a giant silver ball coasting down a New York City pole and an un-earned kiss from a complete stranger, they also tend to consume so especially headache-inducing libations.

A beer here, a Moscow Mule there and a splash of bubbly at midnight is the perfect recipe for one hell of a hangover. That’s why restaurants all over cater to recovering partiers on New Years Day with gluttonous (and more booze-filled) brunches. Here’s a rundown on where to best secure a hangover reprieve this year in the Tampa Bay Area.

Red Robin, a fairly new addition to St. Pete, is offering a “Cure Burger” to will away the DTs with the ultimate calorie-fest. This burger includes a fire-grilled gourmet patty topped with chili, cheddar cheese, bacon, mushrooms and a fried egg.

According to Red Robin, the by-request-only burger combines all of the hangover essentials reported in a study conducted by the restaurant chain. That study found 51-percent of respndents prefer eggs to alleviate a hangover, 49-percent like breakfast meats and 45-percent love to eat a greasy burger. The “Cure Burger,” like all of its over-indulgent brothers and sisters includes bottomless fries.

“Sometimes the cure for too much – is more. More indulgence, more deliciousness, more of what you love. The Cure Burger includes all of Red Robin’s most popular toppings in one amazing burger, guaranteed to treat what ails you,” Red Robin’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer Denny Marie Post wrote in a press release. “We want to do our part to help guests in-the-know recover from the holidays in a delicious way.”

This hair of the dog, diabetes and obesity-contributing mentality runs from January 1-7. Red Robins are located in Tyrone Mall, Countryside Mall, Citrus Park Town Center and Brandon Town Center. Better run in because you might have to be wheeled out.

It was a while ago, but in 2011 a user on tripadvisor.com claimed the Dome Grill on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete was awarded best hangover breakfast. I’m not sure what award this, who it’s from or if it’s even true, but the fact remains – the menu is a morning-after drunk’s dream. It contains things like a fat Gyro Omelet that comes with home fries and toast, a breakfast sandwich on a flaky croissant and a variety of quiche. All of the favorites mentioned above are dripping with alcohol-absorbing grease.

Beverly’s La Croisette on St. Pete Beach is so perfect for hangovers it even contains an omelet called “the Hangover.” Order this and you’ll get 3-egg omelets filled with corn beef hash, cheese and tomatoes topped with Hollandaise sauce.

If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, there’s also the “leftover” omelet filled with spinach, ham, mushroom, onion, green pepper, tomato and bacon topped with Swiss cheese.

If your liver is calling for it, there’s also Mimosas and Bloody Marys.

A reviewer on Yelp refers to the St. Petersburg family-owned Kissin’ Cousins as “where did my hangover go.” This menu contains all of the breakfast, post-drinking musts including oh-so-fat-laden biscuits and gravy, eggs swimming in butter, greasy breakfast meats and hearty omelets. Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to kiss your cousin to get in. The restaurant is located on 34 Street North just north of 5 Avenue.

Munch’s on 6 Street South just north of 38 Avenue is a hungover partier’s dream. The hole in the wall diner was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives no too long ago. Larry Munch’s fried green tomatoes will cure just about any hangover. As will Edna’s platter which serves just about everything but the kitchen sink atop a biscuit. Order ahead for a giant breakfast that includes a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon and a loaf of toast.

For those rising later than normal breakfast hours and opposed to breakfast for lunch, there’s The Burg. This teeny-tiny bar and grille has limited seating both inside and out, but its menu contains plenty of greasy burger options for the newly sober. Topping the list of ultimate hangover burgers is the Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger. This is literally two grilled cheese sandwiches used as a bun for a bacon cheeseburger. Most normal people can barely fit their mouths around it. If it doesn’t cure your hangover, you can rest assured it will probably kill you instead. There’s also a Black and Blue burger topped with blue cheese and one of the best Gyros in town. If you’re ready to load up your liver again, The Burg also has a pretty robust menu of craft brews.

If your hangover is feeling a little fancier, check out the brunch menu at Cassis American Brasserie. The brunch is typically only open Saturday-Monday, but will open for patrons hungover or otherwise on New Year’s Day with drink specials on Mimosa’s and Bloody Marys. The menu includes some ultra-yummy dishes like Crab Cake Benedict, Andouille Sausage and Shrimp Ragout and homemade pastries.

Wherever your hangover belly takes you this New Year’s Day, remember, the only real cure for a hangover is time. But, go ahead and use it as an excuse to consume meals you may otherwise consider off-limits.

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Revelers bid adieu to a year of conflicts, celebrity deaths

As 2016 draws to a close, revelers around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts and deaths of legendary celebrities.

How people are ushering in the new year:

AUSTRALIA

Sydney sent up a dazzling tribute to 2016’s fallen icons with a New Year’s Eve fireworks display honoring the late singer David Bowie and late actor Gene Wilder, becoming the first major city to bid a bittersweet adieu to a turbulent year.

The glittering display over Sydney’s famed harbor and bridge featured Saturn and star-shaped fireworks set to “Space Oddity,” the classic song by Bowie — one of the seemingly endless parade of beloved entertainers who died in 2016.

Wilder was also honored as the bridge lit up in a rainbow of colors while a song from Wilder’s famed film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” played.

“This year, sadly, we saw the loss of many music and entertainment legends around the world,” fireworks show co-producer Catherine Flanagan said. “So celebrating their music as part of Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks displays is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has been and what the future may hold.”

___

LAS VEGAS

More than 300,000 visitors are expected to descend on Las Vegas for an extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration.

Nightclubs are pulling out all the stops with performances from DJ Calvin Harris, rappers T-Pain and Kendrick Lamar and artists Drake and Bruno Mars. The city’s celebrity chefs have crafted elaborate prix fixe menus complete with caviar and champagne toasts.

An eight-minute fireworks show will kick off at the stroke of midnight, with rockets launching from the tops of half a dozen casinos.

Federal officials have ranked the celebration just below the Super Bowl and on par with the festivities in Times Square. FBI and Secret Service agents will work alongside local police departments that are putting all hands on deck for the big night.

___

GERMANY

In Berlin the mood was more somber than celebratory.

“I don’t like the way politics is going,” said Daniel Brandt. “Fears are being fanned and people are so angry with each other.”

The tone of public debate in Germany has become shriller over the past two years with the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants. Some Germans blame Chancellor Angela Merkel for attacks such as the recent rampage in Berlin, where a failed asylum-seeker from Tunisia rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.

As the country heads for a general election in which the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party is expected to poll strongly, Brandt said he was hoping for “proper solutions to our problems.”

Two Israeli tourists, on a visit to the German capital, seemed at a loss when asked about their wishes for 2017. “Peace on Earth. Just happiness, really,” said Nathan and Libat, declining to give their last names.

Walking by the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, Hamed Noori said 2016 had been a good year. “I came to Germany from Afghanistan,” he said. “Life is better here.”

Birgitta Bergquist, a recent retiree visiting Berlin from Sweden, said she looked forward to spending more time with her 3-year-old granddaughter. “And we hope the family stays healthy.”

Nicole Durand-Nusser, originally from France but living in Berlin for almost 50 years, said 2016 had been a difficult year: “Brexit, Trump, Erdogan — it’s all getting worse.

“I’m a convinced European and I hope Europe doesn’t collapse in 2017,” she said.

___

TURKEY

Neslihan Dogruol, a restaurant owner in a chic Istanbul neighborhood, said she hopes for peace in 2017 following a year filled with “unrest and death.”

“2016 affected everyone badly,” she said, referring to major attacks that hit Turkey in the past year.

The restaurant, adorned with snowflakes and tiny decorative lights for the evening, will have fewer people for dinner. “There is a serious gap between 2015 and 2016 in terms of business, people are going out less,” Dogruol said, adding that she expects more people to come for drinks.

Security measures were heightened in major Turkish cities. Traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, will be closed, police said. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers have been put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.

Ankara and Istanbul were targeted by bomb attacks in 2016, killing more than 180 people. Turkey has been in the throes of violence, combatting the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and a coup attempt blamed on the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

___

RUSSIA

President Vladimir Putin invoked a bit of seasonal enchantment in his New Year’s Eve remarks to the nation.

“Each of us may become something of a magician on the night of the New Year,” Putin said in a short televised address broadcast in the closing minutes of 2016 in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.

“To do this we simply need to treat our parents with love and gratitude, take care of our children and families, respect our colleagues at work, nurture our friendships, defend truth and justice, be merciful and help those who are in need of support. This is the whole secret,” he said.

New Year’s Eve is Russia’s major gift-giving holiday, and big Russian cities were awash in festive lights and decorations. The Moscow subway offered a special holiday train, festooned with lights and artificial greenery.

“I wish for the next year to better than this,” said rider Alexander Pisaryev.

“We are waiting for good, for peace and order,” said another, Valentina Daineka.

___

THE VATICAN

Pope Francis has called on the faithful to help young people find a place in society, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.

Francis said during vespers marking New Year’s Eve that young people have been “pushed to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist, or fail to promise them a future.”

More than responsibility, the pope said the world owed young people a debt, saying it has deprived them of “dignified and genuine work” that would allow them to take part in society, instead condemning them “to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.”

___

JAPAN

Temple bells echoed at midnight as families gather around noodles and revelers flock to shrines for the biggest holiday in Japan.

“I feel this sense of duality,” said Kami Miyamoto, 21, an economics student at Meiji University in Tokyo, who traveled home in Hakusan, Ishikawa prefecture, for the holiday.

“The world is heading toward conservative insular policies,” she said of the U.S. election, Brexit and what she believes lies ahead for elections in Europe in 2017. “We learned about how valuable it is to get correct information.”

One of the most memorable experiences for Miyamoto in 2016 was a three-week study program in South Korea. She was surprised and moved by the friendship she formed with South Korean students, and she has decided to focus her studies on relations with South Korea.

“Studying about the U.S. and Europe seems to be about looking at the past, but East Asian studies are focusing on the future,” she said.

Miyamoto’s mother is preparing soba noodles, a standard New Year’s Eve dish in Japan, except in their home it will be filled with green onions and shrimp. As the new year rolls in, the entire family, including her younger brother and sister, will drive to a nearby shrine, which, like temples all over Japan, will be filled with those praying for good fortune in the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac.

___

CHINA

Residents in Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest cities, were passing New Year’s Eve quietly in a relative state of security lockdown, according to Chinese media reports citing police.

The Bund waterfront in Shanghai had no celebrations, authorities announced this week, while the sale, use and transportation of fireworks in central Shanghai will be prohibited altogether. Large buildings that often display light shows also stayed dark. More than 30 people died two years ago in a deadly stampede on Shanghai’s waterfront, where 300,000 people had gathered to watch a planned light show.

Beijing police also said countdowns, light shows, lotteries and other organized activities will not be held in popular shopping districts such as Sanlitun and Guomao. Beijing police advised citizens to avoid crowded areas, closely watch elderly relatives and children, and be aware of exit routes in venues.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his annual New Year’s Eve address that his government will continue to focus on alleviating poverty at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights.

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SOUTH KOREA

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans ushered in the new year with a massive protest demanding the resignation of disgraced President Park Geun-hye. It was the 10th straight weekend of protests that led to Park’s impeachment on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal.

The evening rally was planned to overlap with Seoul’s traditional bell-tolling ceremony at the Bosinkgak pavilion at midnight, which was also expected to be a political statement against Park.

The city’s mayor, Park Won-soon, invited as guests a man whose teenage son was among more than 300 people who died during a 2014 ferry sinking, and a woman who was forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s World War II military.

Park Geun-hye came under heavy criticism over the way her government handled the ferry disaster.

“So many unbelievable things happened in 2016. It didn’t feel real; if felt like a movie,” protester Lee Huymi said about the bizarre scandal that brought Park down. “So I hope 2017 brings a movie-like ending to the mess.”

___

INDIA

For most people in India, New Year’s Eve is a time for family. In New Delhi and many other cities, newspapers are full of big advertisements for lavish parties at upscale hotels and restaurants. The big draws at the hotel parties are song and dance performances from Bollywood and television stars.

The western city of Mumbai will host big street parties with thousands of people at the iconic Gateway of India, a colonial-era structure on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea. And there was talk about money — India’s recent devaluing of its currency in an apparent effort to cut graft and tax evasion.

“2016 was boring but Modi brought about a twister near the end,” said 18-year-old student Jugal Jadhwani of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement in early November.

“It’s good for India,” he said.

It was a sentiment echoed by 42-year old Prasoon Verma.

“2016 was good and with demonetization 2017 should be good for the Indian economy and India should move to the digital age,” he said.

___

PHILIPPINES

The Philippines’ notorious tradition of dangerous New Year’s Eve celebrations persisted after President Rodrigo Duterte delayed to next year his ban on the use of powerful firecrackers, often worsened by celebratory gunfire.

Powerful firecrackers and gunfire have maimed hundreds of people and killed some each year across the Philippines despite government crackdowns, an annual government scare campaign and efforts by officials to set up centralized fireworks displays, like on Saturday night.

Duterte’s southern Davao City hasn’t been tainted by the bloody record because of a largely successful firecrackers ban he enforced when he was still the city’s crime-busting mayor. Last month, he said he would delay his plan to replicate his Davao ban nationwide by a year because many have already invested in firecrackers and he was concerned by the impact of an abrupt ban on poor Filipinos employed in the industry.

Before New Year’s Eve, the Department of Health said Saturday that 139 people had been injured by firecracker blasts in recent days, mostly children under 15.

___

ROMANIA

New Year’s is the biggest party of the year in Romania, and thousands flocked to the mountains to ski, hike and celebrate, some in the mood for fun, others anxious about global challenges in 2017.

Former Finance Minister Daniel Daianu, traveling to the mountain town of Sinaia, told The Associated Press that Western governments should pay closer attention to the public mood.

“People are frustrated, people are resentful and people react,” he said. “Unless governments pay attention to fairness and fair play, we could see some very unpleasant surprises.”

Early Saturday, young Romanians roamed streets and trains, wearing peasant costumes and singing traditional songs about goats — a New Year symbol — while waving wands made of dried flowers.

One tradition was squelched this year. Police banned masked revelers in the northeastern village of Ruginoasa from staging a traditional fight between young men involving whips and bats after several people were injured a few years ago.

___

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

In Dubai, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to watch as fireworks shoot from the sides of the world’s tallest building, the 828-meter (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa. The show also will be streamed live online.

But authorities hope they won’t see a repeat of last year’s excitement, when police say faulty wiring sparked a fire several hours before midnight at The Address Downtown, a 63-story skyscraper nearby. The high-rise tower still remains under repair.

The United Arab Emirates, a staunch Western ally that hosts U.S. military personnel fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, remains a peaceful corner in the otherwise turbulent Middle East.

However, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi issued a warning Thursday to Americans that “extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks worldwide during this period with little or no warning.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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The Southern roots of traditional New Year’s fare

Sara Davis considers the Southern roots of traditional New Year’s fare and finds a range of disparate cultures.

Surely, for example, German immigrants brought their lucky pork and cabbage with them to their Southern settlements, although they found it easier to grow other members of the cabbage family such as kale or collards. (Tough, fibrous collards have a surprisingly cosmopolitan history, cultivated across multiple continents for the last millennia.)

Black-eyed peas arrived by way of trade with West Africa and West Indies — as was okra, another Southern staple.

The Native American crop corn put corn bread (and, later, bourbon) on the table.

The mingling of these cultures created a culinary mix of belly-filling, rib-sticking foods that can no more be separated into distinct cultural classes than the hog jowl can be separated from the hoppin’ john after simmering together all day.

Despite the diversity of this bounty, nearly every source traces the symbolism of Southern New Years dishes to a specifically financial kind of luck. The greens represent paper money, as I had heard before; black-eyed peas represent coins; corn bread alludes to gold.

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This chart might encourage you to stick to your New Year’s resolutions

Mark Fischetti offers this chart to those struggling with kicking a bad habit.

“I hate when someone tells me that something is risky,” says David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk assessment at the University of Cambridge. “Well, compared to what?” To answer his own question, Spiegelhalter converted reams of statistical risk tables into a simple metric: a microlife—30 minutes.

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The history of the New Year’s Eve ball drop

The New Year’s Eve tradition began when Alfred Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times, “successfully lobbied city leaders to change Longacre Square’s name to Times Square.”

[Ochs] resolved to throw a New Year’s Eve celebration that would be the talk of the town. “An all-day street festival culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower,” according to an official history published by the Times Square District Management Association, “and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the over 200,000 attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north.” An annual event was born — but two years later, the city prohibited the fireworks display. “Ochs was undaunted,” the official history continues. “He arranged to have a large, illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball lowered from the tower flagpole precisely at midnight to signal the end of 1907 and the beginning of 1908.” Thus the origin of today’s celebration.

Via The Daily Dish.

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Farewell, 2016: Report takes a look at New Year’s Eve traditions

Spaniards try to gobble up 12 grapes at midnight. The Danes break dishes on their friends’ front doors. And here in the United States, we ring in the new year by drinking lots and lots of bubbly.

According to WalletHub, Americans will drink more than 360 million glasses of sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve. And where they drink it — and other holiday traditions — are part of a new report looking at how Americans “understand and enjoy the occasion.”

The report found 83 percent of Americans spend less than $200, on New Year Eve’s celebrations. An estimated 48 percent of Americans will celebrate New Year’s Eve at home, while 20 percent will head over to a friend’s house. According to WalletHub, just 9 percent of Americans plan to be “at a bar, restaurant or organized event.”

No matter the celebration, it’s very likely the ball drop in Times Square will be a part of it. An estimated 175 million people in the United States — and 1 billion people worldwide —are expected to watch the ball giant crystal ball drop at midnight. Only about 1 million of those people will be in Times Square for the event.

The price of admission is steep: The price of a ball drop pass is $229. And the average cost of dinner and a show in New York on New Year’s Eve is $1,160. Want a cheaper option? The nation’s capital might be the best bet, with the average cost of dinner and a show costing $480.

The Times Square ball drop tradition began in 1907 when a time ball was dropped as part of a celebration hosted by The New York Times at its building in Times Square. The ball has been redesigned several times over the years. The ball was originally made of iron, wood and 25-watt lightbulbs.

The ball that will drop Saturday night is made from Waterford crystal triangle and will be illuminated by thousands of LED lights. According to WalletHub, the Times Square Ball weighs about as much as three pickup trucks.

Not in New York, no problem. WalletHub ranked Orlando as the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The town the Mouse built earned the No. 1 spot on the company’s list of 100 biggest cities. It also came in second in the organization’s entertainment and food category.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Orlando is the most popular travel destination over the holiday, followed by New York City and Honolulu. WalletHub estimates more than 100.5 million people will travel at least 30 miles from home for New Year’s.

More than 91 million of those people will travel by car, while 5.76 million are expected to fly to their destination.

Be careful when you head out on the roads this weekend. According to WalletHub, New Year’s Eve is the “most drunken night of the year.” The company estimates more than 40,000 people get hurt in car crashes and more than 340 traffic fatalities occur each New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.

Here’s a few more statistics to wow your friends with this holiday weekend:

— There are on average 7,792 births on New Year’s Day;

— New Year’s Eve is the second most popular day for car thefts in the United States. The most popular day is Halloween, while New Year’s Day is the sixth most popular day for car thefts;

— New Year’s eve is the busiest night of the year for illegal “celebratory” gunfire;

— 44 percent of Americans plan to kiss someone at midnight, and 20 percent of all charitable donations are made in the final 48 hours of the year;

— 67 percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, but only 8 percent of Americans are successful in achieving their resolution. The most popular resolution? 49 percent of people say they want to lose weight and exercise more.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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St. Pete restaurant wants to help women feel safe on dates

A restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg is taking it upon itself to make sure guests feel safe when meeting new people on dates.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Iberian Rooster, a Portuguese fusion eatery, has placed a framed sign in the women’s restroom. If a woman feels unsafe and needs help, the sign encourages them to order an angel shot at the bar or through their server at their table. That code will alert staff someone is in need.

The restaurant owner says if a guest orders an angel shot neat, a bartender will escort them to their car. If they order it with ice, the bartender will call an Uber or a Taxi. Order it with lime, and the restaurant staff will call the police.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Memories of Bobby Bowden: Much more than winning football games

I recently was invited to a screening of “The Bowden Dynasty: A Story of Faith, Family & Football.” That’s the upcoming movie about the life and career of legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden.

The film will debut Jan. 8 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg as part of a celebration for the national college football championship game the following night in Tampa.

If you like football, or you went to FSU, or you think Bobby Bowden is an American treasure, or even if you’re a Gator, you should see this movie. It’s scheduled for simultaneous, one-night-only release at about 450 theaters around the nation, but I’m sure it will be available before long on DVD and other places.

I was invited to this screening because I covered FSU sports for several seasons starting in 1981 for The Tampa Tribune. That, joyously, included coverage of Bobby Bowden. Now 87, he coached the Seminoles for 34 years before being forced into retirement after the 2009 season.

FSU wasn’t the football colossus then that it is now. During the years I covered them, the Seminoles took on all comers – almost always on the road – to build the program. The first season I covered them, FSU had consecutive road games at Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt (with a quarterback named Dan Marino), and LSU.

For most programs, that would be a suicide mission, but FSU won three of those five games. Many football coaches are so tight they squeak but Bowden played loose, played fun, and won through innovation and a willingness to take chances. He was completely accessible, too – just call him up direct, no need to go through channels.

His greeting was always the same: “Hey buddy!”

I remember one game against Louisville when the kickoff was moved to late on a Saturday night, which wreaked havoc on newspaper deadlines. The Seminoles were expected to win easily. So what would be the harm, I asked him, if I came down in the break before the fourth quarter and asked a couple of quick questions for my story?

I think you can imagine Bowden’s answer.

“Use your own judgment,” he told me.

FSU was ahead 35-3 after three quarters that night. Sports Information Director Wayne Hogan, now with the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, escorted me the field, shaking his head as we went. I asked my questions and zipped back up to my spot in the press box.

Imagine asking that same favor today of Urban Meyer or Nick Saban – or even most high school coaches.

Without question, though, my No. 1 Bowden memory came after I had moved from beat writer to columnist at the Trib. It was the opening game of the 2004 season at Miami. The day before, Bowden had attended the funeral of his 10-year-old grandson, Bowden Madden, who had died in a car wreck.

I was assigned to do a story of how the coach handled such a tragedy. The Seminoles lost 16-10 in overtime, like that mattered much. I hung back in the postgame news conference until all the talk about the evening’s battle was done, then approached. Bowden was gracious as always, even admitting, “It was hard for my mind not to be somewhere else.”

I went on about my business interviewing other people that night when I heard my name. I turned to see Bobby Bowden as he was headed toward the team bus. He flipped the cap he had worn during the game in my direction and said, “Give it to your grandson.”

The cap sits on my mantle, waiting to be delivered when I have a grandchild. I will tell him the story of a coach like none other.

The movie of Bowden’s life is compelling and revealing, and it’s more than worth the two-hour investment in time. The project was spearheaded by FSU alumnus John Correy.

Rob Harvell and Brian Goodwin are the co-directors. They have worked on some of the outstanding ESPN documentaries, including “I Hate Christian Laettner.”

They captured the essence of a man who did more than win a lot of football games. We know how important college football is in the South, but what happens when the games are over is the true measure of a coach. Bobby Bowden changed lives and I was blessed to have a ringside seat for things I never will forget.

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