Taking off: what’s new in the world

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Holiday with SpongeBob
Got kids, or a penchant for hallucinogens? This bizarre new holiday retreat works equally well for both demographics. Modelled on the home of SpongeBob SquarePants, the luxury two-bedroom villa is at Nickelodeon’s Punta Cana resort, in the Dominican Republic. It’s a faithful representation of the children’s TV character’s pineapple dwelling, with a shell phone, an inflatable armchair and a diving-helmet TV (as well as swanky touches such as an infinity pool and butler service). There is one key difference, though: it’s not — in the absence of an unprecedented storm striking the Caribbean island — on the floor of the ocean.
From £2,900 a night, full-board (sleeps up to six); nickresortpuntacana.com


Flash in the pan 
No, you’re not looking at Donald Trump’s ensuite. This is the Guggenheim’s controversial new exhibit — an 18-carat gold lavatory that visitors to the New York museum are invited to, ahem, interact with. Fully. Created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, and matching the exact dimensions of the museum’s existing loos, the piece is entitled America and is in part a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 work Fountain (a urinal). The Guggenheim insists that it will be cleaned regularly throughout the day. Even so, you perhaps don’t want to be the last person in after a busy Saturday of coach parties.


Roboat wars 
Uber is trialling driverless cars. This month, Lyons has begun operating the world’s first autonomous bus. So why shouldn’t Amsterdam get in on the act? Scientists and engineers in the Dutch capital have teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a £21m project to develop self-driving craft for the city’s 60 miles of canals. Known as the Roboats (get it?) programme, the technology is expected to be used not just for ferrying stoned tourists around, but to clean up the waterways and even fish out bikes.


Knightsbridge retreat 
Closed for two years for a total overhaul, the Franklin Hotel formally reopens next month in London’s swankiest neighbourhood. The interiors are by Anouska Hempel (“English country house meets Italian palazzo”, apparently), the restaurant is overseen by the Michelin-starred chef Alfredo Russo, and trainer-to-the-stars Matt Roberts is on hand to offer sessions in the fitness suite. In the 35 rooms, you’ll find oak floors, wrought-iron four-posters, Apple TV and — one of our mandatory riders here on the Travel desk — 400-threadcount Frette bed linen.
Doubles from £360, room-only; formal opening October 13; thefranklinlondon.com


Cycle of life 
Apologies. This is going to make your cycle into work seem even more drab than normal. Explore has launched a eight-day biking break that takes in two of eastern Africa’s undisputed big hitters: Mount Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro Crater. Beginning on the slopes of Kili, you’ll pedal through the Rift Valley, crossing migration corridors, visiting Masai villages, taking in game drives and camping under the stars. Four nights and 134 (flattish) miles later, you’ll arrive in the wildlife-rich crater armed with your big-five tick list. It shouldn’t take long to fill.
From £1,699pp, excluding flights; explore.co.uk

Burning issue
Q Is it acceptable to engage in small talk at passport control? 
A And you thought the lift was awkward. Standing there while surly, impassive eyes burrow into your face and you start to wonder whether you have a guilty blink — that’s a scenario that calls for some tension-breaking chat. Keep it light, and steer away from anything that might be construed as taking the mickey. “I’m really excited about my visit.” Good. “I love the terminal’s decor/this innovative queuing system/your smile.” Bad. Don’t get smart, and flirting should definitely be avoided: the official might see this as an attempt at distraction. Worse, you may end up on a date with them (cue more stary silences, presumably).

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