Legoland Looks To Make Bid For SeaWorld

Merlin Entertainments Plc has approached SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. about a potential deal, according to people familiar with the matter, as the U.K. theme-park operator seeks to expand in Central Florida.

Merlin, which runs the Thorpe Park Resort in southern England and Legoland parks across the world, has made a bid for part of the company, which could be a hurdle as SeaWorld prefers an outright sale, the people said. SeaWorld, which has been working with advisers to explore options including a sale, also received interest from other possible suitors, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details aren’t public.

The offer comes as SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby struggles to stem declines in sales and the stock price of the Orlando-based park owner once famous for its killer whales. For Merlin, a deal by the operator of the London Eye and Madame Tussauds waxworks would mark a continuation of its strategy to expand internationally to cope with a drop in day-trippers to the British capital following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

SeaWorld could raise as much as $1 billion from selling regional parks like Busch Gardens, getting funding to invest in its core aquatic-themed locations, Suntrust analyst Michael Swartz said in August. Busch Gardens has locations in Tampa, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia.

More than two years into an attempted turnaround of the company, the shares of the theme park operator have fallen 25 percent this year, amid shrinking attendance and missed earnings forecasts.

The park owner came under fire in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which accused the company of mistreating its killer whales. Under Manby, SeaWorld stopped breeding orcas, created a new show in its San Diego park with animals performing more natural behaviors, and invested in non-animal attractions, such as roller coasters and ocean-themed rides.

Blackstone, the world’s largest buyout firm, took SeaWorld public in 2013 after acquiring it four years earlier for $2.3 billion. Blackstone sold its final block of shares this year, cementing a return of about 2.7 times its original investment. Blackstone also owned Merlin in the past. The private equity firm acquired the entertainment company in 2005, bolstered it with acquisitions, sold a stake to CVC Capital Partners in 2010 and exited its final position in 2015.

Legoland Florida Donates 20,000 Tickets to Kids After Irma

Legoland Florida is giving away 20,000 tickets to help cheer up in kids affected by Hurricane Irma.

The central Florida park announced in a news release Thursday that they’re donating 18,000 theme-park tickets to the UNICEF Kid Power Schools program and 2,000 tickets to Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs in Winter Haven. The donated tickets have a value of more than $1.8 million.

Legoland Florida general manager Rex Jackson says they felt compelled to do something special for Florida’s children after the storm left so many households facing months of recovery.

The donations were made in conjunction with Merlin’s Magic Wand, the global charity of Legoland parent company Merlin Entertainments.

Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, causing power outages, flooding and other damage throughout the state.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Completes Largest Redesign in the Resort’s History

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort has completed the largest transformation in the resort’s history: a $140 million, three-year project which included a redesign of all guest rooms, complete transformation of the Dolphin Resort lobby and renovation of all meeting space.

“This is both a huge accomplishment for our team and a significant moment for our guests,” said Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort General Manager Fred Sawyers. “With the transformation now complete, our guests can enjoy a stylish new look, new amenities, the latest in technology, an operation with more than a quarter century of excellence in serving guests and a prime location at Walt Disney World Resort, all in one property.”

The completion of the project also means the resort returns to operating at full capacity just in time for the openings of Toy Story Land (2018) and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (2019) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is within walking distance of the resort.

The resort celebrated the milestone with a special ceremony on Thursday.

Overall, the redesign included:

Guest rooms:

  • All 2,267 guest rooms were completely transformed to a new look which reflects the resort’s water-themed architecture. Noted interior design and architecture firm Garcia Stromberg/GS4 Studios designed the rooms, drawing inspiration from the resort’s original designer, the renowned late Michael Graves. The new rooms offer guests a relaxing oasis featuring hues of white, blue and gray, sleek multi-functional furniture and all new bathrooms featuring vanities with backlit mirrors on iridescent glass tiles
  • Technology upgrades include the addition of more outlets and USB ports for charging devices and new high-definition TVs. The resort will also soon introduce new interactive TV software, allowing guests the ability to check out from their room and cast their own video streaming services from their personal tablets and mobile devices to their in-room TV

Public Space:

  • The new Dolphin Resort lobby, designed by ICRAVE, features a contemporary look with a new geometric ceiling, enhanced lighting and more than double the amount of guest seating. The centerpiece of the new lobby is a grand chandelier stretching 20 feet from the ceiling with nearly 1,000 strands and about 10,000 individual crystals suspended above the Dolphin fountain
  • For the first time since its opening, the resort has built a completely new dining venue.  Located in the Dolphin lobby, fuel offers high-quality quick service and grab-and-go food and drink options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast options include pastries from world-champion pastry chef Laurent Branlard, muffins, breakfast sandwiches and wraps and a variety of coffee, tea and espresso options. Lunch and dinner options include sandwiches and salads. Those with a sweet tooth will find Branlard’s signature desserts and chocolates as well as frozen yogurt and a wide assortment of candy
  • Phins, a new bar centrally located in the Dolphin lobby and seating up to 150 guests, offers wines, beers and cocktails along with appetizers perfect for sharing. Signature offerings include the resort’s own craft brew Phins & Feathers, wine on tap and creative cocktails.  On Sunday mornings, Phins offers brunch-themed beverages including a variety of bloody marys and sparkling options
  • Coming soon will be new private poolside cabanas furnished with lounge seating, tables, fans, refrigerators and television for rental.  Each cabana will include full food and beverage service

Meeting Space

  • A new 2,800-square-foot meeting and event space, Lake View, offers scenic outdoor views of the resort’s private lake and picturesque Dolphin Resort
  • All of the resort’s 332,000 square feet of meeting space has been transformed with an updated appearance
  • New technology includes electronic reader boards throughout the meeting space and the latest in high-density Wi-Fi offering high-speed, uninterrupted internet to groups as large as 15,000 people

Florida Now Accepting New Medical Marijuana Business Applications

The Florida Department of Health has proposed regulations to establish the procedure to apply for Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) licenses and to outline the evaluation process for applicants. The application is posted on the Office of Compassionate Use website, and applicants may begin completing applications for submission.

In order to become a licensed MMTC, each applicant is required to submit financial statements and to pass a background check. The law regulating Amendment 2 provides for 10 new licenses to be granted to growers in the state in addition to the seven that already exist and would require another four licenses to be issued for every 100,000 patients added to the state’s medical marijuana registry.

Cheers! Craft Beer Contributed $67.8 Billion To The U.S. Economy Last Year

The Brewers Association today released its biennial (every two years) analysis of the craft beer industry’s economic impact, and the numbers are pretty impressive. The not-for-profit trade industry of “small and independent American brewers” calculates that for its 2016 Economic Impact Report, craft beer contributed a whopping $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

This number represents a 21.7% increase from 2014, the last time that data was collected, showing the growth of small and independent breweries regardless of whether growth may have stalled on some level at larger regional and national craft breweries. The figure is derived from “the total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products that brewpub restaurants and brewery taprooms sell.”

The report also takes job creation into consideration, tracking the number of people employed by the craft beer industry, which rose to 456,373 “full-time equivalent jobs” in 2016. This is a 7.5% increase from 2014, with 128,768 of those jobs being directly at breweries and brewpubs, including serving staff at brewpubs.

The BA, which will soon host the annual bacchanalia known as the Great American Beer Festival, also noted the top five states in terms of economic output. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be where the most beer is brewed. You can see the full impact by state, and per capita, at the BA website.Ideally, these statistics would be collected every year, so we could see the change between 2015 and 2016, but the numbers still point toward significant industry growth.

Top Five States (2016)

California
$7,344,502,000

Pennsylvania
$5,787,811,000

Texas
$4,539,628,000

New York
$3,439,441,000

Florida
$3,074,261,000

In Ten Years, Robots Could Replace More Than 4 Million Workers

Robots could replace human workers in up to four million jobs in Britain over the next decade, according to research conducted by UK market research firm YouGov on behalf of the Royal Academy of the Arts. This accounts for 15 percent of the workforce in the country’s private sector.

Researchers quizzed business leaders on how they see automation and artificial intelligence affecting their industry over the coming years. Over 20 percent of employers in finance, accounting, transportation, and distribution stated that they expect more than 30 percent of jobs in the field to be automated by 2027.

We’re already seeing more robots enter the workforce, from robot construction workers to drones that can deliver vital medical supplies. New technology is offering up benefits to the world of work that simply can’t be ignored, but it’s crucial that we consider the impact that it will have on society as a whole.

Chiefly, businesses have to make sure that the millions of workers who are replaced by robots and other automated systems aren’t left behind.

Many robots are simply better equipped to perform menial tasks than humans are. They don’t get bored, they can be designed for a specific purpose, and if they break, they can generally be fixed with relative ease. We simply can’t compete on a level playing field — but we can work alongside our synthetic colleagues.

Robots can raise overall productivity by doing the dirty, difficult, or otherwise unpleasant jobs that human workers would rather avoid. This frees up those people to perform tasks that require a level of judgement or original thought that a robot would not be capable of providing. Many experts would argue that we can have the best of both worlds.

“The UK must make the most of the economic opportunities that new technologies offer,” said Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of British national trade union federation the TUC, speaking to The Guardian. “Robots and AI could let us produce more for less, boosting national prosperity. But we need to talk about who benefits — and how workers get a fair share.”

There have been several different solutions outlined in response to this problem. Some argue that a tax on robots is the best way to ensure that no one is left unable to support themselves, while others would push for universal basic income to become the norm.

The biggest question is how quickly automation is going to be adopted. If it’s a steady process, it will be easier to transition human workers in other roles to help take advantage of increased productivity. If it’s sudden, this will be much harder — and as many as four million workers in Britain, and millions more worldwide, stand to be stuck in a very undesirable situation.

Here’s Which Airlines Are Maintaining Fares, Adding Flights For Travelers Leaving Due To Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria continues to gain momentum as it churns through the Caribbean, strengthening to a Category 5 storm after making landfall on the island of Dominica on Monday. Forecasters and safety officials are advising everyone in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to get to safety, and so some airlines are capping fares for travelers trying to get out of the storm’s path.

On Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida sent letters to 10 U.S. airlines asking them to limit prices on airfare for anyone fleeing Hurricane Maria, citing skyrocketing prices many travelers faced ahead of Hurricane Irma, which led some airlines to cap fares for evacuees as a result.

“As you know, Hurricane Maria is a major hurricane and is threatening Puerto Rico and the Caribbean now and may be a threat to the U.S. coast by next week,” Nelson wrote.

“Individuals and families should not be forced to delay or cancel their evacuation efforts because of confusion over the cost of airfare,” he added in his letter to executives at United, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Alaska, Hawaiian, Frontier, and Allegiant.

In response, some airlines have announced their plans for capping airfare, as well as adding additional flights, and offering travel waivers for those who need to change their travel.

United

United says it has capped fares at $384 plus tax for nonstop flights in economy class.

United also says it’s adding more seats on departures out of Puerto Rico beginning with an early morning departure today from Aguadilla (BQN) to Newark.

Additional seats have also been added on the airline’s three scheduled departures out of San Juan (SJU) on Sept. 19. United also added an extra flight departing San Juan at 3:30 p.m., bringing the total number of seats leaving the island today to 500.

“We will suspend operations at SJU and BQN on Wednesday with a tentative plan to resume operations on Thursday pending infrastructure assessments,” the airline says. “Our Emergency Response teams are engaged to coordinate any needs. As the storm tracks northwest, we will also develop plans for Punta Cana/PUJ and Santo Domingo/SDQ for Thursday operations.”

United is also waiving change fees and any difference in fare for flights departing through Sept. 30.

American

American says it will also cap nonstop fares at $99 one-way for Main Cabin, and $199 for premium cabins (though connecting fares may be higher) through Sept. 24 in the following markets:

• Antigua, Antigua (ANU)
• Cap Haitien, Haiti (CAP)
• Port Au Prince, Haiti (PAP)
• Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands (PLS)
• Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (POP)
• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
• San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
• Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)
• St. Croix Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
• St. Kitts, Saint Kitts and Nevis (SKB)
• St. Thomas Island, U.S. Virgin Islands (STT)

“Our team of meteorologists continues to coordinate closely with the National Weather Service; we are also monitoring developing storms offshore,” American notes.

Check here for more information on American’s Hurricane Maria-related travel waivers.

Delta

Delta is capping main cabin, one-way nonstop fares at $199 for flights departing the following airports through Sept. 21:

• San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ)
• Santiago, Dominican Republic (STI)
• Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ)

The airline says it’s also added two extra flights to and from San Juan to Atlanta to help customers leave ahead of the hurricane, and is temporarily waiving fees for baggage and pets in cabin for customers traveling to and from San Juan and several other airports.

A travel waiver has also been issued for passengers flying out of San Juan from Sept. 19-26. The waiver, which allows customers to change plans without incurring a fee, also covers customers from St. Maarten, Saint Thomas, and Turks and Caicos with tickets issued from Sept. 5 to Dec. 31.

For more information, check out Delta’s travel advisory here.

JetBlue

For those looking to evacuate areas in the hurricane’s path, JetBlue is offering any remaining seats on its flights to and from the below destinations for travel through Sept. 25 at reduced fares:

• San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU)
• Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (BQN)
• Ponce, Puerto Rico (PSE)
• St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (STX)
• Antigua, Antigua (ANU)

JetBlue also says it has added five additional flights to its regular schedule from San Juan to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and New York JFK on Sept. 19 “in order to help customers and crewmembers evacuate ahead of Hurricane Maria.”

The airline is also waiving waiving cancellation fees, change fees, and differences in air fare customers traveling today through Thursday, Sept. 21.

Southwest Airlines

A spokeswoman for Southwest tells Consumerist that the airline has removed advance purchase requirements to allow customers to have access to fares that were lower than what they would normally have had access to.

The airline has also added five extra flights out of San Juan today, one additional flight out of Punta Cana, and “had all inventory set at the lowest fare.” Southwest says it has “also matched all competitor pricing actions if lower than ours.”

Travelers can check the Southwest site for travel advisories and flexible accommodations.

Other airlines

As for the rest of the airlines, we’ve reached out to each to ask if they’ll be capping fares in regions affected by Hurricane Maria, and will update this post as we receive new information. As always, you should check with your airline before you head to the airport to confirm your scheduled flight.

In the meantime, you can check out travel advisories for the carriers below for more information on waivers and change fees related to Hurricane Maria (not all airlines have issued alerts or advisories, depending on which markets they serve):

• Frontier Airlines
• Spirit Airlines

Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Bankruptcy

Toys ‘R’ Us Inc, the toy store giant with branches across the US, Canada, UK and Japan has filed for bankruptcy.

In a so-called Chapter 11 filing, the 60-year-old retailer asked for bankruptcy protection late Monday, with analysts citing the rise of online shopping and declining high streets being partly to blame. Toys ‘R’ Us is also said to be saddled with debt following its acquisition in 2005.

According to Reuters, the Chapter 11 filing, made in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond is “among the largest ever by a specialty retailer” and is a worry for the company’s 1,600 stores and 64,000 employees. The Canadian arm of Toys ‘R’ Us now plans to seek similar protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

“While today’s decision does not necessarily mean it is game over for Toys ‘R’ Us, it brings to a close a turbulent chapter in the iconic company’s history,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

To ensure suppliers still receive orders for the holiday season, JP Morgan and other banks and lenders have agreed $3 billion “debtor-in-possession financing” to help Toys ‘R’ Us restructure over the coming months. This financing will now need to be approved by the court.

Also known as a DIP, a debtor-in-possession is an individual or company that has filed for bankruptcy protection but keeps control of the business. Under the DIP order, Toys ‘R’ Us would continue to run the business and would “have the powers and obligation of a trustee to operate in the best interest of any creditors”. This means Toys ‘R’ Us will continue to trade for the time being and has a duty to inform the court if anything changes.

In the US, a Chapter 11 is a form of bankruptcy in which a company will reorganize its debts and assets. Its named after the US bankruptcy code 11. Due to the fact it lets companies reorganize their finances, it’s also referred to as giving the firm a “fresh start” as long as they adhere to the conditions of the bankruptcy order. A Chapter 11 is meant to be seen as a last resort, after other measures have been taken to reduce the debt and pay creditors.

Notably, filing a Chapter 11 doesn’t mean the company is closing. It’s designed to help keep the company afloat and other firms, including General Motors and United Airlines, are among the US firms that have previously filed for bankruptcy protection and are still in business. Even Apple was close to bankruptcy once.

“We expect the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” Toys ‘R’ Us CEO Dave Brandon said. “Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long-term debt on our balance sheet.”

Shortage Of Insurance Adjusters May Delay Claims For Hurricane Irma Victims

If your home sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, you might have to wait just to get the insurance company to look at your property to see what repairs will and won’t be covered. Why? Because there aren’t enough claims adjusters to go around right now.

Claims adjusters are the folks used by your insurer to assess damage claims. Larger insurance companies have their own staff adjusters, but smaller insurers often turn to independent adjusters. And in times of widespread calamity, insurers of all sizes will turn to third-party adjusters.

Since independent adjusters get paid on a per-job basis — and on the size of the claim — they are often traveling to areas that have been newly ravaged by disasters, working 12-plus-hour days and seeing as many homes as possible. So when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, a number of adjusters from Florida went west to deal with the massive amount of post-storm claims.

Problem is, notes the Wall Street Journal, that many of those Florida-based adjusters are still out of state working on the Harvey aftermath, meaning there is a shortage of adjusters immediately available to assess Irma-related claims.

The Journal also points out that the lack of readily available independent adjusters is particularly a problem in Florida because the state’s home insurance market is heavily populated with smaller and mid-size insurers.

While homeowners might feel like their insurer is deliberately delaying sending out a claims adjuster, the reality is that the sooner an insurance company looks at a damaged property, the better it is for the insurer. If you think a home with a roof ripped open by a falling tree looks bad on day one, imagine how it looks after two weeks. Not only will that claim be more costly to the insurer, but the delay increases the likelihood that the homeowner could get litigious.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” an insurance company defense attorney to the Journal.

According to the Journal, Florida insurers are in a game of tug of war, offering increased compensation to attract adjusters and get these claims sealed up now. At the same time, insurers in Texas are tugging back in an effort to hold on to the adjusters working on Harvey claims.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” one adjuster for an independent company tells the Journal. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Need An Aspirin Or Some Deodorant? CVS Is Rolling Out Vending Machines

We’ve all been there: You’re going about your day when suddenly, your stomach is growling, you’re struck with a blinding headache, and you realize you forgot to put on deodorant before you left the house. So now if you’re having one of those days when everything goes wrong, CVS wants you to hit up one of their brand-new vending machines for a quick fix.

CVS is rolling out new vending machines at “select landmark locations” in the Northeast, like airports — including New York City’s LaGuardia Airport — public transit stations, and college campuses. The first 25 machines will be ready for business between now and the end of October, and CVS is considering adding 50 or more locations elsewhere in the country in the future.

Although machines will each be customized to suit the location they’re in, they’ll be stocked with things like over-the-counter medications, beauty and personal care products, eye care and oral health care products, first aid items, batteries, phone chargers, earbuds, and healthy snacks and beverages.

Machines accept all major credit and debit cards, and feature a touch screen that can bring up high resolution images with expansive product information and a QR code reader to read barcodes and promotional codes.

“These new vending machines allow us to make our innovative CVS Brand products available to customers outside of our store locations for the very first time,” said Cia Tucci, Vice President of Store Brands and Quality Assurance at CVS Health. “The CVS Pharmacy vending machines will be located in places where we can bring our customers smart solutions and convenient access to the products they trust when they are on-the-go.”