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World’s tallest water slide

Meet Verrückt: The world’s tallest water slide is opening soon at Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Its 168-foot drop will deliver what designer John Schooley calls an “extreme thrill ride.” Click through the gallery to see daring slides around the world.

(CNN) — When no wanted to build the world’s tallest and fastest water slide, Jeff Henry built it himself.

So when Verrückt was completed, and it was time to test the 168-foot coaster in his Kansas City, Kansas water park, the choice of test riders was rather easy.

The guinea pigs: Henry, owner of Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts; Henry’s assistant; and head designer John Schooley.

“It was terrifying,” Schooley said. “It was great fun, but it was actually terrifying.”

The slide is slated to open to the public in the coming week. A technical glitch has put the exact opening day in flux.

Officially certified by Guinness World Records in May, Verrückt — which is German for “insane” — is 5 feet taller than the previous record holder, a water slide at a Rio de Janeiro country club.

Verrückt is precisely 168 feet 7 inches tall. To put that free fall in perspective, it’s longer than a plunge at Niagara Falls.

Schooley stressed, however, that the ride is more than a single drop, calling it an “extreme thrill” without comparison.

“You have three or four experiences on the ride,” he said. “There is a 3-second free fall before you get launched into a weightless situation for a few seconds, and then you come down like a roller coaster and have a long splash down.”

The origins of Verrückt are as extreme as the ride itself.

According to Schooley, owner Henry was at a trade show and simply decided he wanted to build the tallest, fastest water slide at one of his five Schlitterbahn water parks. He immediately shopped the idea to vendors, who declined, but he refused to be denied.

“He decided to build it himself,” Schooley said.

“We have long experience in building water park rides and developing new technology. Our park in Kansas City doesn’t have a height restriction so we decided to put it right here.”

Top 10 U.S. water parks making a splash

Officials say top speeds on Verrückt will reach 40-50 miles per hour, slightly slower than originally anticipated.

The slower speed allows for an increased weight limit for riders.

“We always ride our rides first,” Schooley said. “And we found out it was too steep and too short. So we were able to redesign it from what we learned. We tore down two-thirds of the slide and rebuilt it into the design we have now.”

“It would have been relatively easy to do (just one drop) a long run-out, but to shoot you back over another hill was extremely challenging,” Schooley said.

Schiltterbahn is already home to the Master Blaster, an uphill water coaster over 1,000 feet in length.

Verrückt combines that uphill excitement with the thrills of a true water slide.

If you’re brave, hop on the four-person raft and take the plunge.

Schooley is confident the new ride will attract thrill seekers from across the world.

“We have multiple volunteers to be the first to ride it,” he said. “Roller coaster enthusiasts will have to try it … it has a great potential draw.”

The opening of Verrückt has been delayed several times to ensure public safety. Originally set to open in May, there was a conveyor belt issue as recently as this week.

And there’s one more issue: the stairs.

The climb is “pretty challenging,” Schooley said.

“I think its (about ) 260 steps to get to the top.”

That’s about 17 stories.

Finding vacation rental values

With more than 200 golf courses, 50,000 pools and a desert oasis of outlet shopping nearby, Palm Springs, California, tops TripAdvisor’s index for vacation rental value. About $1,250 will get you a week’s rental and a few extras. Just be prepared for temperatures topping 100˚ Fahrenheit.

(CNN) — Move over hotels; vacation rentals are the place to be for summer value.

A two-bedroom rental property often costs less than a hotel room, while allowing guests some familiar comforts of home, such as a living room and full-size kitchen.

TripAdvisor’s vacation rental TripIndex rates the value of renting a home during the summer at 15 popular U.S. vacation destinations.

The best value on the list is a scorcher: Palm Springs, California. If you can endure the desert heat — 105 degrees is average for summer — you’ll find cool prices.

For $1,250 on average, a family of four can stay for a week in a vacation rental, pay for basic groceries, one dinner at a restaurant and a one-day bike rental. Be sure to book a place with a pool.

The index looks at the average cost of this package at 15 destinations using more than 4,000 rental listings on TripAdvisor.

Of the 15 locations, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, comes in last at $3,600.

However, the second most expensive spot of La Jolla, California, prices out at $1,000 less. The San Diego weather, beautiful beaches and family friendly activities offer a great West Coast beach experience.

With California destinations on both ends of the list, four spots in Florida and a handful of other states, families looking for vacation rentals have plenty of choices this summer.

Click through the gallery above to see TripAdvisor’s ranking of 15 top spots.

A deluxe take on extended-stay hotels

The Pierre in New York launched its official private residential stay program (which requires a 30-night minimum starting at $9,450) in January.

(CNN) — The always-on-the-road business traveler knows what it’s like to bounce from no-fuss airport hotels to bland corporate housing setups along the highway.

Extended-stay options tend to offer the bare minimum in spaces that lack personality (and sometimes amenities). But there are plenty of executive luxuries to aspire to when the purse strings loosen on your expense account.

Upscale properties exist that will not only live up to travel fantasies of butlers and chefs who cater to all your needs, but surpass them with the kinds of services and features that can make you (almost) look forward to business travel.

Yes, these properties come with high price tags and these places aren’t anything like home, but in many ways, they’re better.

Rise of the two-in-one hotel

The Pierre
New York

This luxury hotel in Manhattan’s Midtown neighborhood has always welcomed high-profile, long-term guests. But an official private residential stay program (which requires a 30-night minimum starting at $9,450) for travelers who need a local pied-a-terre was only launched in January 2014.

Guests with reservations for 30 consecutive days (in any of the hotel’s 198 rooms and suites) will have access to a dedicated manager, who handles The Pierre’s residential service, the Jaguar house car, private in-room spa treatments, twice-daily housekeeping and exclusive appointments with the area’s most acclaimed boutiques.

Plus, for guests who need foreign language assistance (for that important meeting with a CEO from Brazil, perhaps), the hotel can partner them with some of the city’s top-notch specialists.

The makings of a modern business hotel

AKA Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills, California

AKA is renowned for its upscale extended-stay properties all over the United States (plus one in London), where modern, chic accommodations with plenty of on-site offerings have really elevated the home-away-from-home model.

Its Beverly Hill location (rates from $345 a night with a week-long minimum), which opened in November 2012, is no different. In fact, it might be one of the most luxurious in the portfolio, where you can pick from one-bedroom, two-bedroom and penthouse units as well as private-access townhouses.

Rooms and suites come with gourmet kitchens, living room fireplaces and Bulgari bath amenities. Some even have private terraces. Guests also get preferred access to neighbor Wolfgang Puck’s acclaimed local restaurant Spago, which can provide in-room meals, too.

Plus, AKA Beverly Hills recently unveiled a.cinema, a private, resident-only theater.

Rosewood Sand Hill
Menlo Park, California

Long-term travelers to the Bay Area’s business-heavy Silicon Valley will be itching to stay at Rosewood Sand Hill, which has five stunning villas (starting with 2,300-square-foot, one-bedrooms) for extended-stay guests of 30 days or more (rates from $1,500 a night).

In addition to a stylish decor, you’ll have a high-tech kitchen (which can be stocked with all of your favorite treats and drinks prior to arrival), walk-in closets in every bedroom, a small but private backyard, in-room dining from the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant Madera, and car access within five miles of the property.

If you need to keep up with fitness and sport for your stay, there are also golf privileges at Stanford University Golf Course plus group fitness classes at the spa included in the rate.

The Surrey
New York

New York City’s only Relais & Chateaux property, located on the Upper East Side, has designed some of the coziest suites in town, with contemporary furnishings (Duxiana beds, for instance) and artwork from around the world.

The personal touches in the extended-stay suites (starting at $11,000 per month) in The Surrey will make you feel like you’re just staying in your very own stylish Manhattan pad.

For everything else just ring down to the 24-hour concierge who can run any errand, or ask to have your meals come from Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred kitchen at Café Boulud, The Surrey’s on-site restaurant.

Milestone Hotel

Located in London’s chi-chi Kensington neighborhood (right by Hyde Park), the Milestone is a high-design hotel dating back to the 1920s.

It boasts that kind of look-at-me décor (think floral area rugs, studded leather chairs, crystal chandeliers and shaggy duvets all in one room) that might not be to everyone’s liking, but most will be pleased with plenty of amenities and services.

Long-term guests of at least seven days (who should spring for one of the beautiful apartments on the property), can get their first or last night comped (as long as it’s not during the months of June to August), a one-way airport transfer and an afternoon tea service. Rates start at $1,017 with a minimum of seven days.

Last year the hotel launched bespoke wellness itineraries prepared by local health and fitness expert Andy Elliott, who will start the process with a phone consultation before you even leave your home town. There’s no reason to let go of healthy living just because you’re traveling.

La Reserve

In impossibly chic Place du Trocadéro, these luxury apartments offer very impressive views of the Eiffel Tower. But what’s happening inside is just as nice.

The 10 units here (starting with a one-bedroom apartment for $1,988 per night all the way up to a triplex) are all super spacious (the smallest comes in at 1,615 square feet) and decorated with interior designer Remi Tessier’s exquisite taste for subtle luxury.

Everything is sleek and chic, from the whitewash spiral staircases to the rich chocolate-brown wood furniture to the sculptural mixed-media lighting fixtures.

Services are all about giving you a personalized but homey experience, like the 24-hour security, in-house chefs to prepare meals and grocery delivery from nearby Bon Marché’s La Grande Epicerie.

Grosvenor House Apartments

Overlooking Hyde Park in London’s Mayfair neighborhood, the 130 contemporary residences here — which range from $403-a-night studios to five-bedroom penthouse suites, all with full kitchens — offer the ultimate in long-term accommodations.

The guest-only (and, of course, guests of guests) restaurant in the super-high atrium, for example, is the perfect spot for a power breakfast with high-profile clients. And when you need to unwind, the 24-hour concierge can arrange all sorts of things, from private dinners to in-room spa treatments.

The apartments, run by Jumeirah Living, also host exclusive events to introduce London to Grosvenor House residents. This might include evenings with locals, classes with captains of industry and cultural gatherings such as previews of an upcoming art exhibit.

Note: Hotel rates are current as of publication and subject to fluctuate seasonally.

Holy roller

Patriarch Daniel anoints TV broadcast equipment

The leader of Romania’s Orthodox church has been mocked for using a paint-roller dipped in holy oil to bless new TV and radio studios, it’s been reported.

Patriarch Daniel unleashed his unusual blessing technique as he inaugurated the studios of church-owned Trinitas Radio and Television, the Romanian HotNews website reported. Photographs published by the Orthodox Church website show the patriarch carrying out a traditional blessing service, before moving through offices and studios with the roller on the end of a long pole.

The ceremony did not go unnoticed by Romania’s press and internet humorists, with altered versions of the photos being widely circulated, Adevarul news website reports. One popular blogger posted an image showing the Patriarch apparently endorsing a brand of paint.

A church spokesman later told Adevarul that it’s not the first time Patriarch Daniel had used the “sanctification rod”, one of a number of tools of his trade, as it helps anoint rooms with higher walls and ceilings which would otherwise be difficult to reach.

Use #NewsfromElsewhere to stay up-to-date with our reports via Twitter.

Uber and Indiegogo – tales of disruption

Indiegogo Ping-pong table

It’s a word despairing teachers use to describe the class troublemakers, but in Silicon Valley “disruptive” is what everyone wants to be.

The whole theory behind disruptive innovation – cheaper, sometimes lower-quality technologies which come along and destroy the business models of established industries – is a subject of ferocious academic debate at the moment, after an article in the New Yorker questioned the concept.

But in San Francisco this week, I’ve met two very different firms that believe they are proving just how rapidly their disruptive ideas can change the world. The first is Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site that has been somewhat overshadowed by Kickstarter in recent years, despite having pioneered the concept two years earlier.

I meet Danae Ringelmann, one of the co-founders, in a sixth-floor office that could be the set for a dot com drama. There’s a ping-pong table, an open kitchen with free food, a bike rack – and on the walls artefacts relating to firms that have raised money on the site. She never utters the word Kickstarter – but it’s clear she feels her business should get more of the credit for the crowdfunding revolution.

Ideas are everywhere, the only friction point is access to capital”

She’s exultant that President Obama name-checked Indiegogo at a White House event last week. “He thanked Indiegogo, Disney and Intel – in that order – for supporting America’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Indiegogo claims to be more open and flexible than Kickstarter, allowing anyone to raise money for just about anything – from $10,000 (£5,900) for an urban garden, to millions for a project called solar roadways, which aims to turn roads, paths and car parks into solar electricity generators.

There’s been criticism that Indiegogo projects are much less likely to deliver on their promises than those on Kickstarter, and there have been concerns that there is too little quality control.

But Danae Ringelmann says each campaign is a process of trial and error, with an ever more fruitful relationship between companies and the consumers who are effectively road testing their ideas.

And that’s where the disruption comes in – the whole crowdfunding idea is a challenge to the expertise of the venture capital industry, the gatekeepers of innovation. Until now, the only way to get a technology start-up past first base was to convince some venture capital partner that your idea was a better bet than the 20 other elevator pitches he’d heard that day.

Now, you just put up a campaign with a well-made video on Indiegogo or Kickstarter and hope that the crowd is wise enough to see its merit.

“The financial infrastructure that existed before wasn’t bad – it was the best it could be,” says Ringelmann, “but now with technology and the internet we’re making it better.” And she believes that crowdfunding could make the whole idea of technology clusters in specific places redundant. “Ideas are everywhere,” she says, “the only friction point is access to capital.”

Whether the big beasts of venture capital are really shaking in their boots is another matter – they seem to be adapting rapidly, co-opting the crowdfunding platforms as a cost-effective way of testing the products of the companies they invest in.

But the second company I visit is already causing disruption – not to say discord – on a global scale to the way transport works in cities. Uber’s new offices have some of the same visual cliches we saw at Indiegogo but project a lot more wealth and power. First, you sign in on an iPad, and are asked to promise not to give away any commercial secrets you may spot.

Then you walk into vast, open plan space, which feels part hi-tech call centre and engineering operation, part luxury modern hotel, with sofas and big TV screens showing the World Cup. I meet the Chief Operations Officer Ryan Graves, who seems almost as bug-eyed as I am about the pace of growth of the car service which only started in 2010.

He tells me that just two months ago they celebrated the 100th city around the world to adopt the service which allows you to book a ride via a smartphone app – and now they are heading for 140. But he says “we are very early on in our growth curve… we’ve realised that Uber is going to work everywhere, from Beijing to San Diego. There is an opportunity to change the way we move around the city.”

Its disruptive technology is the algorithms that match drivers with passengers faster and more efficiently than any dispatcher in a minicab office can manage. In its first market, San Francisco, another executive told me it was now disrupting more than just the taxi trade – people were using Uber for journeys they would have made under their own steam or not at all. Some were even giving up their cars altogether.

But whereas Indiegogo’s disruption seems purely positive – unless a few venture capitalists miss out on some deals – Uber’s ambitions to transform the way we move around cities have met with more disquiet. Taxi drivers have protested about unfair competition, and even Uber’s own drivers are worried that they could soon be replaced by self-driving cars.

I tried to suggest to Ryan Graves that in some places the company was actively hated, that there was also concern about the global power of Californian companies which paid little tax. He brushed all that aside – Uber was a force for good, it was improving the lives of its drivers and its users, it was transforming cities into better places.

And he said this about Silicon Valley’s appetite for disruption. “There’s a mentality here about changing the way things are done, not believing the norm has to remain forever… that’s why I moved here, and that’s a pretty damn healthy way of seeing the world.”

That sunny optimism about the positive power of technology still shines brightly here. We are gathering more tales of disruption in San Francisco for this week’s edition of Tech Tent which you can hear on Friday.