We've all had them, that vacation you looked forward to and worked so hard for but in the end becomes a hard-learned lesson on why you should never leave home. You depart with passport in hand expecting chic hotels in charming cities only to find out you've been conned by a good Photoshop job and poetic copywriting.
From seafaring smorgasbords to drab luxury hotels and dirty beaches, we've compiled our most profound travel faux pas to help save you from ever having to duplicate our mistakes.
Imprisoned on a Cruise Ship
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.
As you begin to swim, you start noticing the oil residue on top of the murky water, probably from the nearby ferries that use the harbor like a train station. There are no fish. That something that looks like a giant jelly on the ocean floor is actually just a harmless plastic bag. And those bubbles? Instead of books and magazines, locals bring their dirty laundry and washing detergent to pass the time as you decide it might just be best to lay out.
The Dowdy Luxury Hotel
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.
Wintertime is a hodgepodge of iTuned snowboarders and luck-deprived gamblers that live on free fried food and beer by the bottle. The gondola-ride from the casinos to the top of Heavenly Valley you spend cramped with newbie skiers who struggle to stay upright while trying to pronounce your Bogner ski boots.
Boutique Hotel Gone Bland
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.