Survival Tip: Avoid group dinners, drink like a fish and if you're single, skip the passengers and swim with the staff. Once-in-a-lifetime getaway or seafaring torture camp of frozen food and amateur Broadway shows? You won't know what hit you as you observe your fellow shipmates checking-in at the shipside passport control in ever-glamorous Port of Los Angeles. Once you board, there's no escape. The first night is spent at a communal table of eat-till-you-burst travelers all too often with single middle-aged children who never have their own rooms. After a single night you realize it is going to be a very long cruise, especially after watching the Broadway-themed variety show that includes pitchy show tunes from Hair and Starlight Express. The Garbage Riviera
Survival Tip: Leave. Regardless of forfeiting room nights and paying surcharges, don't waste your beach vacation on a second-class strip of sand. It's a picturesque day at the beach in a location often refereed to as "the new St. Tropez." We probably should have known it was a bad sign that a walk along the harbor meant plugging your nose. But we did as the locals and walked to the nearby beach, a short way from the town's Roman ruins and inner village. It has the makings of a great beach as you strip out of your clothes, wade in the shallow water and take your first plunge.
Survival Tip: Don't rely on reader awards of well-known magazines for hotel recommendations, look online and judge the hotel for yourself. Welcome to Sydney, one of the world's chicest cities at least until you check into its most-famous five-star luxury hotel. Operated by a super-glitzy hotel chain and patronized by every one-name Hollywood celebrity, the hotel comes with some very big expectations. After a 15-hour flight, we arrived to a sleepy lobby of classical music and hypnotic floral prints. An almost subservient staff assists with baggage and recommends even-sleepier area restaurants better suited for visitors by the busload. Things only get better as we make our way to the room, a comatose design space lost in some sort of Agatha Christie novel that thinks guests want to reside in a life-size Clue game. Perhaps it was drab style and not the Butler that killed this hotel guest. The Shabby Ski Vacation
Survival Tip: Luxury is on its way! Hit the lake's North Shore and new Ritz Carlton opening in 2009. South Lake Tahoe has the makings of a world wonder including snow-capped mountains and dramatic lakeside location. G-4 accessible through a kamikaze-landing strip or cumbersome drive from glorious Reno, you arrive to an array of mega-mansions and quasi four-star hotels. No posh ski chalet? Then pick your hotel poison of highway motels or '70s high-rise casinos with depressed Alpine interiors and communal Jacuzzis stocked with one-piece wearing singles.
Survival Tip: Go during colder winter months and stay in the nearby Mitte, where all the fun shopping and galleries are located. We read the newspapers and saw the sketches; Berlin's Potsdammer Platz was supposed to be everything you could ever want in a modern city minus the flying cars. At the center of Potsdammer Platz is the coliseum-like Sony Center and this well-touted boutique hotel. Whisked through check-in, convention center-inspired hallways lead to institutional doors that could just as easily open to a German dentist's office. While the suites are large, the décor is straight out of an Ikea catalog with loveseats upholstered in industrial fabrics and laminate office furnishings that come up a cubicle short. A sweltering summer evening results in the discovery that there's not even air conditioning, but don't open the window as the noisy neighborhood is even more worse than the heat. Bare-Bones Business Class
Survival Tip: Phone ahead to make sure you're on a reconfigured aircraft with lie-flat or flatbed Business Class seating. Is luxury un-American? We thought so on a recent red-eye from Los Angeles to Miami. While the ticket said First Class, the 737-aircraft seemed downright Third World minus the flying chickens. The 2-by-2 seating layout offered two Lazy-Boy style chairs in silvery-blue leather with extra storage in its busted seams. An attempt to lift the leg rest for some sleep uncovered no leg rest at all. Disguised under a flap of leather, the airline either sawed them off to create additional rows or never had them to begin with on the aircraft. As for the in-flight entertainment, a 10-pound tubed-television suspended on the ceiling was anything but state-of-the-art and failed to ever work despite the flight attendant vigorously slapping its side.