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  • COURTESY UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT
    Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" float is among the colorful participants in the new Superstar Parade at Universal Orlando in Orlando, Fla. The parade debuted this month, featuring hundreds of characters from animated films and TV shows including "Despicable Me," "Hop" and "Dora & Diego."
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Audio tour enhances visit to statue

NEW YORK » Visitors to the Statue of Liberty can now get a free audio tour with their ferry tickets.

The National Park Service says audio tours will soon be included with the purchase of a ferry ticket to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. On Liberty Island a 30-minute audio tour will explore the statue’s history. On Ellis Island a 45-minute tour will immerse visitors in firsthand accounts from immigrants.

Starting June 4, the tours will be available in nine languages.

Half Dome’s summit open to hikers

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. » Cables allowing hikers access to the summit of Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome were set in place last week.

The 17-mile trail is strenuous with a 4,800-foot elevation gain and is dangerous when wet. Officials say at least five people have died on the cables since 2006, nearly all with rain as a factor.

In recent years the route has been inundated with thousands of visitors a day, so last year park officials instituted a temporary 400-permit lottery for daily access. They are weighing different access options for the popular trail.

The lottery system ended in March, but about 50 permits per day are available through a two-day-in-advance lottery.

Nation’s capital sets visitor record

WASHINGTON » Tourism officials say Washington saw a record 17.9 million visitors last year, surpassing a previous record of 17.4 million set in 2000 before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Statistics from the tourism bureau Destination D.C. show a 4.1 percent increase in international tourism in 2011, totaling 1.8 million visitors. Washington also counted 16.1 million domestic visitors — a 3.7 percent increase over 2010.

International tourism figures are based on statistics from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

Figures show visitor spending grew last year by more than 6 percent to reach $6 billion in 2011. Destination D.C. says more than half the city’s sales tax revenue is generated by visitors.

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