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Gatlinburg aquarium: 'Animals are safe' after devastating Tennessee wildfires

Wildfires fueled by high winds roared through parts of the Great Smoky Mountains, burning the doorstep of the Dollywood theme park, destroying a resort and chasing thousands of people from their homes. In its ashy wake were scorched cars and buildings, and soot-covered debris covered in a smoky haze, The Associated Press reported.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Gatlinburg wildfire threatens Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies; employees forced to abandon building

But Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies posted a hopeful update Tuesday afternoon: All its animals are safe.

"For the safety of our employees and guests, all of our Attractions will remain closed until the evacuation has lifted," the property said in a Facebook post. "We have a team of Marine Biologists and Life Support Experts inside the Aquarium and are happy to report that the animals are safe."

>> Read the post here

For the safety of our employees and guests, all of our Attractions will remain closed until the evacuation has lifted....Posted by Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ryan DeSear, general manager of the aquarium, also spoke to the Knoxville News-Sentinel

"All is fine here at Ripley's Aquarium. Obviously, the city has had a lot of problems, and it has been very hard for us to get into this building, but all the animals are fine. Life support's working great, and the building is coming along just fine, so we're very positive moving forward that we're not going to have any issues."

He added, "We're very grateful, obviously, to all the people that have been working these fires. ... All is good. We got very lucky here at the aquarium, and we look forward to getting back to business as usual when the time comes."

>> Watch the video here

Earlier reports were harrowing.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Dollywood, other Tennessee tourist destinations evacuated due to wildfires

“We are still not allowed into the city at this time,” the property posted as flamed crept closer to Gatlinburg. “I know our Biologists are trying to get into the city as quickly as they can. We will post updates as soon as we have them.”

>> Read more trending stories

The aquarium also shared DeSear's video showing the town under smoky siege:

Arsonists need to go to prison for a long timePosted by Ryan DeSear on Monday, November 28, 2016

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Nintendo-themed areas coming to Universal Parks

Mario and friends will become a part of Universal's theme parks. 

>> Read more trending stories  

The creative visionaries behind Nintendo's legendary worlds and characters are working together with the creative teams behind Universal's blockbuster theme park attractions. Their goal is to bring the characters, action and adventure of Nintendo video games to life within Universal theme parks in new and innovative ways that capture what makes them so special.

All of the adventure, fun and whimsy that gamers experience through a screen will now be all available in real life: Guests are to feel as if they are playing inside their favorite games.

The Nintendo-themed areas are planned to be constructed at Universal Studios Japan, Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. They will be highly themed and authentic environments that are immersive, interactive and filled with multiple attractions, shops and restaurants.

Plans include something for everyone, regardless of age or gaming experience level.

Planning and creative work on these areas is well underway. They will open separately over the next several years.

The new themed areas come as the result of a global partnership between Universal Parks & Resorts and Nintendo -- two icons of the entertainment world. Universal theme parks create incredibly popular family entertainment experiences for millions of people based on compelling characters, stories and innovative technology. Nintendo creates imaginative games filled with captivating stories and beloved characters.

<iframe width="390" height="219" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H9j-MHzwEQ8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Fit for the King: Elvis' Guest House at Graceland hotel opens in Memphis

The Guest House at Graceland is now officially open.

It has been years in the making, and now this world-class resort in Memphis, Tennessee, next to Elvis Presley's mansion is taking the region by storm.

WHBQ's Scott Madaus was invited to Thursday’s ceremony hosted by Priscilla Presley. 

>> PHOTOS: Elvis' Guest House at Graceland hotel opens in Memphis

From EP's Bar and Grill, up to one of the King’s private rooms, back down to a massively detailed lobby, over to Delta's Kitchen, then back up to a seventh-floor suite themed after Elvis' Palm Springs mansion, you will have no doubt that you are in Memphis with the King.

Leading the way and cutting the ribbon for the ceremonial grand opening was Priscilla Presley.

This $90 million project has 450 rooms, a business center, a 464-seat theater, five restaurants and lounges.

It is now officially open for business.

“If this hotel was here during the time he was alive, he would have probably spend most of his time over here," Priscilla Presley said.

The lobby's ceiling is themed after one of Elvis Presley's jumpsuits.

An exact replica of the stairwell inside Graceland including the famous chandelier is there.

>> Read more trending stories

“It has just been a dream come true," Priscilla Presley said.

No detail was spared, and much of the work force inside the guesthouse is local.

The rooms, of course, are fit for a king, and the suites are fit for the King himself.

​We're getting ready to celebrate the Grand Opening of the The Guest House at Graceland! Tune in to the Today Show on...Posted by The Guest House at Graceland on Wednesday, October 26, 2016

“Someone asked me last night if Elvis would ever stay in this hotel, and I said, 'Would he ever stay in this hotel? I mean, this would be a dream hotel for him!'" Priscilla Presley said.

In the end, this project that is now the basis for revitalization in the Whitehaven area is complete. But the best is possibly yet to come.

“It positions us for better things to come in the 21st century," said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.

>> Watch a video of the ribbon cutting here

<script>(function(d, s, id) {</span><span>  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];</span><span>  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;</span><span>  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;</span><span>  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.8";</span><span>  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);</span><span>}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script> The new Guesthouse at Graceland is holding a ribbon cutting today. Scott Madaus FOX13 Memphis is live from the $90 million hotel: http://bit.ly/2dPbtxvPosted by FOX13 Memphis on Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Peanuts' corn mazes crop up for 50th anniversary of 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown'

Get ready for a Halloween treat, Peanuts fans.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," Utah-based The MAiZE Inc. has designed "Peanuts"-themed corn mazes at more than 90 farms across the country, the Washington Post reported last month.

>> Read more trending stories

According to the Post, "several of the mazes will feature political slogans, such as 'Snoopy for Prez'" in honor of the upcoming presidential election. 

Guests also will get a chance to watch the iconic "Great Pumpkin" special, first broadcast in 1966, at the farms. (And if you can't make it to one of the farms, don't fret: The special airs at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on ABC.)

Read more here.

>> Click here to find a maze near you

Tripadvisor halts ticket sales for events with captive animals

TripAdvisor will no longer book attractions that come into contact with captive wild animals or endangered species as a part of a "commitment to improve wildlife welfare standards in tourism," the company announced Wednesday.

"TripAdvisor and its Viator brand will discontinue selling tickets for specific tourism experiences where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species, including but not limited to elephant rides, petting tigers and swim with dolphin attractions," the company wrote in an official statement

>> Read more trending stories  

According to the New York Times, the decision is the first of its kind by a leading travel booking site.

"TripAdvisor's new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections," said Stephen Kaufer, president and CEO, TripAdvisor. "At the same time, we want to celebrate those destinations and attractions that are leaders in caring for animals and those in the tourism industry who help further the cause of animal welfare, conservation and the preservation of endangered species. We want to thank the dozens of trade groups, academics and nongovernmental organizations who helped us design our path forward as a company."

Instead of removing activities that feature captive and endangered animals from the site, TripAdvisor is enacting educational opportunities. Banned activities will still appear on the site, but instead of being able to book them, customers will be able to "learn from experts about responsible interactions with wild, captive, and endangered species and the relationships between tourism and conservation," Conde Nast Traveler reported. Among the groups that will provide expertise are World Animal Protection, Oxford University's WildCRU and PETA.

"We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions," Kaufer said.

Many activist groups praised the move.

"This animal abuse is a hidden by-product of the tourism industry. Millions of people look at TripAdvisor every day to guide what they see and do," Steve McIvor, CEO of World Animal Protection, told National Geographic. "This is a significant step towards ending the sale of hundreds of cruel wildlife activities and sends a message to the travel industry and millions of users that wildlife entertainment such as taking tiger selfies or riding elephants is not something you should do."

"TripAdvisor is a leader in the industry, and we understand and applaud that this is a precedent-setting move," Stephanie Shaw, a corporate liaison for PETA, said.

But Conde Nast Traveler pointed out that certain animal attractions, "including activities such as horseback riding and aquarium touch-pools where guests can pet wildlife under the supervision of experts," will continue to be offered through the site. Day-passes to SeaWorld were still available on the site as of Wednesday afternoon.

TripAdvisor's new policy is set to be completely implemented by early 2017.

Read more at TripAdvisor and the New York Times.

What's open? Orlando theme parks respond as Hurricane Matthew shifts toward Florida

Orlando's WFTV is gathering information on Orlando theme parks ahead of the possible arrival of Hurricane Matthew.

  • According to Disney’s website, “Walt Disney World Resort is currently operating under normal conditions as we continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew. Recent forecasts indicate that there could be rain and wind in the Central Florida area as early as Thursday evening.” 

>> Hurricane Matthew: Live updates as storm approaches the East Coast

  • Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is closed through Sunday. Thursday and Friday performances of Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue and Mickey's Backyard BBQ are canceled.
  • Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom Theme Park is canceled for Thursday. For rebooking, refunds and other options, call 407-566-4985, option 5, from 9 a.m.-11 p.m. ET.
  • Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park is closed Thursday and Friday.
  • Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park is open Thursday, but the Learn to Surf experience is closed. The park will be closed Friday.
  • Disney's Polynesian Village Resort has canceled Spirit of Aloha dinner shows for Thursday and Friday.
  • La Vida Health Club at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort; Senses – A Disney Spa at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort; and Ship Shape Massage, Salon and Fitness at Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resorts will be closed from noon Thursday through Saturday evening.
  • Characters in Flight at Disney Springs is closed through Sunday.
  • The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has canceled the 2016 Disney Cross Country Classic and Baseball Canada's games and practice sessions for Friday and Saturday. Baseball Canada's Thursday game has been rescheduled from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m.

>> PHOTOS: Hurricane Matthew

  • SeaWorld and Discovery Cove will be open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday closed Friday. SeaWorld will be open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday with normal Spooktacular activities from noon-7 p.m. Please check the website for up-to-date information. Aquatica Orlando will be closed Thursday and Friday.
  • Universal Studios representative said the park is “currently planning to remain open as scheduled through the week. We are obviously monitoring the weather and will always make the safety of our guests and team members our top priority.” Please check the website for up-to-date information.

>> Read more trending stories

  • LEGOLAND Florida Resort will operate as scheduled Thursday, but LEGOLAND Florida Theme Park may close early due to the approach of Hurricane Matthew. The theme park will remain closed Friday, but LEGOLAND Hotel will be open to admit arriving guests. They expect to operate as scheduled Saturday but will continue to monitor the storm’s projected path and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be closed Thursday and Friday. Visitor Complex officials anticipate reopening at 9 a.m. Saturday after a thorough assessment of the property has been completed.

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

America's first 'surf park' to open in Austin, Texas

NLand Surf Park, America's first "surf park," opens Friday, and all skill levels are welcome. The waves can be calibrated from gentle to head-high.

With a pool nine football fields long, visitors can expect the rides to last a long time. 

That's welcome news, since surfers have been waiting months for the park to open. 

First, heavy rains stalled construction, then the county and company had to settle competing lawsuits over how to safely treat the park's water.

With the issue settled, and the park finally opening to the public, the next step may be bringing in professionals. 

>> Read more trending stories  

Red Bull hosted a surf competition last year at NLand's sister park in Wales.    

For those who aren't very experienced, NLand has a training center to help surfers develop their skills.

See more at NLandSurfPark.com

Man's comment card echoes thoughts of many at art museum

For some, a trip to the art museum means and experience filled with wonder and majesty. For others, it is the most boring way to spend a day, and that's the sentiment that one man expressed on a comment card of a London-area museum.

Reddit user mar480 posted an image of a comment card he found at the Tate Modern in London, which read, "My wife made me come here, and I'm not convinced this isn't a joke."

Other Reddit users chimed in with experiences of their own at art museums.

"When I was in the Saatchi Gallery a few months back, there was one exhibit which was literally just boxes and ladders laid out to look like it was an exhibit, which was waiting to be put together," Reddit user Gisschace wrote. "I am pretty sure the artist was taking the (expletive) with that one."

Another user said that the user should "frame the note, and boom, you got yourself another piece of modern art!"

Not all users were against the piece.

One man wrote that "some people would argue that since it provoked a reaction of emotion," -- even though negative -- "it must be good art."

Read more at Reddit.

Comment card at the Tate Modern today

Zoo Atlanta's giant panda, Lun Lun, expecting twins – again

Lun Lun, the prolific giant panda at Zoo Atlanta, is expecting twins – for the second time.

Zoo officials recently announced that Lun Lun was pregnant. An ultrasound on Monday confirmed that Lun Lun is carrying two fetuses.

As of Aug. 22, those two fetuses measured 2.68 centimeters and 2.19 centimeters.

Lun Lun, who turns 19 on Thursday, is the mother of the only pair of giant panda twins in the U.S., 3-year-olds Mei Lun and Mei Huan. While giant pandas often give birth to twins, usually only one cub survives because the mother tends to nurse only one of the pair.

>> Watch a video about the panda cubs' first 100 days

After the birth of Mei Lun and Mei Huan, Zoo Atlanta’s veterinary team performed a miraculous sleight of hand, by steadily replacing one cub with the other in their mother’s embrace, giving each a chance to nurse and bond.

>> PHOTOS: Zoo Atlanta panda twins getting cuter

The result: Atlanta has the only pair of panda twins in the U.S.

The zoo hopes to perform the same miracle with these two, but there are many obstacles ahead, including a successful birth.

>> Read more trending stories

Round-the-clock birthwatch began on Monday, but there is still no certainty. The zoo said in a statement, “fetal reabsorption is not uncommon in giant pandas.” Lun Lun has given birth to five cubs, three of which live in China at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.

Lun Lun has been trained to participate in ultrasound exams, but her participation is “voluntary,” the zoo points out, so additional ultrasounds aren’t a sure thing either.

The twins could arrive any time in the next few weeks.

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