A funny thing happened when we asked readers for their vacation horror stories. The first few respondents became – how shall we put this? – strangely indignant.
"All my vacations have been perfect," wrote one.
"You must be kidding," declared another.
"I don't do vacations based on a brochure," sniffed a third.
The implication being that if you have yourself a bad vacation, you probably deserve it.
Fortunately there were others – many, many others – who didn't mind sharing their bad times with the rest of us. Who hasn't found themselves on a vacation from hell, after all, and through no fault of their own?
You can chart out every step of your dream getaway, planning minute to minute, and still find yourself on a rough road to bad times. Rain is the most frequent culprit, according to those who responded. But there is also food poisoning, disgusting motel rooms, stampeding livestock and even fire ants standing by to suck the fun right out of that exotic jaunt. If you've really offended the holiday gods, you might find some noxious combination of all three waiting in that place you expected to be paradise.
And speaking of paradise, Ursula Albert of Lewiston found it and then lost it in a big way. Hers was one of those bad vacations that seems like it can't get any worse and then does anyway. Sad for Ursula and her husband, but just grand for the rest of us. No matter how tough you think you've got it, somebody else has always got it worse.
And there's comfort in that.
Ursula Albert, Lewiston
Our first trip to the Caribbean was a slice of paradise. Our second started with me picking up a nasty parasite and ended with a two-hour wait for our luggage and our hotel (where our car was parked) refusing to pick us up at Logan Airport (part of its stay and airport shuttle package) at 11 p.m.
St. Lucia gave us memories of incredible snorkeling in calm, clear water with schools of neon-colored fish; warm, balmy nights; an all-inclusive hotel with a swim-up bar and five restaurants on-site; and golf played with caddies who made it fun (walking barefoot and breaking into song, and climbing up nearby trees and bringing down fruit).
So to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my hubby and I opted to revisit the Caribbean, this time choosing Aruba — after doing some research and talking to people who vacationed on the tiny island. (Note: My one concern was the Trade Winds. No prob, these same people said. Well, we consider getting pelted by sand and eating sand whenever we snacked on the beach a problem, not to mention having windblown hair day and night.)
Intestinal issues aside, our first mistake was in booking our hotel and opting for its meal plan. The plan turned out to be a buffet with pretty much the same choices every night for a week. Dinner was followed by wait staff urging diners to get up and form a roving conga line. Seriously folks, every night? My hubby and I aren't conga lovers, but I would have conga'd all the way into town to get a yummy sit-down meal in a nice, quiet restaurant.
One night, as part of the meal plan, we went off-site to a nearby place offering Italian food in a western-rodeo atmosphere (I know, that should have been a tip-off). We figured, how can you mess up pasta. Well, now we know. Overcook it so it's mushy and oily, and serve it with a watery sauce and meatballs that, as my hubby put it, "are hard as hockey pucks." And to top it off, send two horseback riders into the dining area and have the horses raise their legs up high, just about 8 feet from us, and call it entertainment (I kid you not.).
Snorkeling – well, that was the worst part. The water was dark, murky, sans choral reefs (not to mention pretty fish) — and rough, so rough that I got seasick even though I hadn't eaten and took Bonine for motion sickness. My hubby said I looked green, nearly purple, as I rocked in the boat; and he must not have exaggerated because a kind, female stranger said "Here, this might help," and handed me one of those wrist bracelets that are supposed to prevent motion sickness. I successfully fought back the nausea but ended up with a touch of vertigo that lasted a few days after our return home.
Fortunately for us, our 25 years of marriage went a lot more smoothly than our anniversary vacation.
Starting off on the wrong foot
Amy Osborne, Auburn
Husband and I got married in June 2000. We couldn't afford a kick-ass honeymoon, so the maid of honor, best man, husband and I shared a room in North Conway and decided to go hiking the next day. We decided to head out, hike and have a picnic. Just as soon as we set out our picnic on the ground a huge thunderstorm rolled in. The rains were crazy and the moss on the rocks was slippery. I lost my footing and — with my right foot stuck between two rocks — went down.
Now the best man and maid of honor left to go get help! The rain subsided and I was freezing! My loving husband thought a messed up knee was bad enough and that we didn't need to add shock to an already bad situation, so he gave me a piggyback ride (incredibly painful) for about 45 minutes.
At that point, North Conway Rescue and our wedding party met us with a litter and carried me the additional 20 to 30 minutes to a waiting ambulance! I spent the next 5 hours at the hospital, slept in the room one more night, got up and checked out the next morning! I went home on crutches with a brace for the torn ACL! That was probably the worse part: explaining 900 times how a honeymoon turned into me being on crutches.
The key to a successful vacation
David Farmer, Portland
At camp one summer (five miles in on a logging road), my son locked the keys in the car (both sets and the cell phone, which got no reception anyway). Took most of the day to break in without breaking anything. Not exactly a horror story, but I won't forget it.
Bad news from home
Cathi Tilleman Gonzalez, Lewiston
Being a single mother of three boys, I rarely get to take vacations. However, the worst vacation EVER was in October of 2008. I went to Florida with three friends and had the whole week planned. The first day there it rained. The second day was a little nicer, but at the end of the day I received a phone call that my best friend, who was also my son's father, passed away. I had to get a flight out the next morning and bawled my eyes out the entire way home. Haven't been back to Florida since!
Remember your flu shot
Matt Boutwell, Mechanic Falls
2009. Got comped to go to MGM Grand at Foxwoods. Became sick with the flu upon arrival. Spent 24 hours sick in a beautiful hotel. Got soup as takeout. Gambled a total of $25. Best part was using the stand-up shower. Then, wife got pregnant a couple of months later. Didn't go back until 2011.
A little rain must fall
Mark Mogensen, Auburn
We loaded up the car with all the camping stuff and headed to a favorite campground on Mount Desert Island. It was the one vacation we could afford to take each year, so we were really looking forward to it.
That year, our site was in a low area, but that didn't worry us. When we arrived it started to rain, but we got the tent up and were dry and cozy all night. The next day it rained, so we did rainy-day activities. The following day it rained and we did the rest of the rainy-day activities we knew of. No problem.
By the end of the third full day, the tent was sitting in a small pond. We drove to Bangor and stayed with the in-laws. We returned the next day — the odds were with us for some sun. It rained all day.
Back to Bangor. We woke up the next day. It was raining. We stayed in Bangor the next two days and enjoyed the rain. Saturday, the last day of our camping reservation, it dawned nice and sunny. We traveled to MDI, packed up all our soaked camping gear and drove home.
Partying with Hugo
Janet Bilodeau Vangeli
Honeymoon. 1989. Bluenose (bobbing Clorox bottle) to Nova Scotia. HURRICANE HUGO. That is all.
Well, that bites
Ann Chouinard Brown, Leeds
Went to Texas in May 2006 for my nephew's graduation. Everything was fine until we decided to spray around the house because of red ants. Well, apparently, I stepped on a mound and my calves became inflamed and they felt like they were on fire. They were FIRE ants.
My calves were full of blisters and the flight home was delayed. I got bumped and ended up stuck in the terminal for over 24 hours. Kept getting ice water to put on my legs. I have never felt so much pain in my life!
Finally made it home after 47 hours. I was never so happy to see an ice pack in all my life! I have been back to Texas (not in May though). My brother still has fire ants, but I now know what the mounds look like. I have no desire to feel "hot" in that way again!
Gail Scipione, Auburn
Up to Canada for a hockey game. Supposed to be an up-and-back trip, total of 12 hours. Took 12 hours to get home — snowstorm. Couldn't tell if we were in a field or on the road. Apparently they do not plow till it's over in Canada. Ran over a moose that had already been hit, again. He may have been in a field or on the road, still not sure. Shortly after that, learned a new way home that did not include Grafton Notch (a.k.a. Moose Alley Part Deux).
Don't cross that line
Teresa Lagrange, Portland
My sister had a worse vacation than I could dream up. She rented a camp on Pine Point next to the owner's house and while they were there on vacation, the wife shot the husband. Their vacation became a roped-off crime scene investigation.
Wet and wild
Greg Barker, Lewiston
The worst vacation I ever had was in February of 1997. I took a week off to go on a weeklong snowmobile trip on my brand new snowmobile, and it started raining the Friday before my week off. Rained the entire week until Sunday afternoon. No joke. All I did the whole time was sit at the kitchen table and glare out the window. Just thinking about it still burns my ass.
A tough break
America Munoz Wilson, Virginia Beach
I was driving from Maine to Virginia for Christmas vacay and was hit by another vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike. Never made it down. Destroyed the car, broke my hip and was in physical therapy for 1.5 years. The hospital and staff were really great in New Jersey, though.
You can't beat the price
Lori Hallett LaBelle, Auburn
Went camping with the kids when they were little, with another family . . . who had picked the spot. Way up in Greenville, off the beaten path, to a place that was NOT a campground, so it was free. I should have gone with my gut feeling. As soon as we got out of our vehicles to set up the tents, etc. we were literally attacked by black flies and mosquitoes. My kids were full of bites before I could even get the bug spray out.
Along with that, this spot wasn't even by water! Let me throw in that we had several terrible, circling thunderstorms that flooded our tents and were so severe that my girls and I were scared out of our minds. We all had to cram in my car and try to get some sleep. Needless to say I learned two things: Never, ever let anyone pick the camping spot without including you, and never, ever pick a spot in the puckerbrush just because it's free!
David Wheeler, from Waterville
Spring break of 1992. The trip was great, but I stopped in Boston on the way back to New York and my car was stolen. Losing the stuff wasn't a big deal, but it had two papers and a take-home exam in it, as well as my cat. Car recovered (with the cat alive and well inside, although unhappily, he could not provide a description of the thief), but they swiped my luggage. No electronics, nothing worth stealing, so for their trouble they got my dirty laundry.
Barbara Dupee Kazimer, Lisbon Falls
On our way to our honeymoon vacation week in Vermont from Lisbon, the motor blew in my lemon of a car. The car was acting very strange, and sure enough, luckily, we were able to turn into the Howard Johnson's exit in Gray (at that time) and check it out. Sure enough it was dying fast. We had to go back home at a creeping pace of 30 mph. When we got close to home, sure enough we get pulled over! We explained what was wrong and with our "Just Married" sign still in the back window, the police officer had a chuckle (we heard him) over the young couple with the sickly car limping home. We got back to the place we left from a long while before and took off in my husband's truck. The rest of the week was wonderful, luckily, but what a way to start out!
Basqueing in European 'hospitality'
Carey S. Clark, Arrowsic
My husband and I were traveling through Europe as young 20-somethings with no specific plans, just a Eurail pass and several weeks on our own. We left Spain because it was too damn hot and stinky in Barcelona and decided to haul our backpacks up this mountain in Andorra and spend the night in a refugio (a very basic shelter). You can't camp or sleep outside, because the shepherds bring their flocks to graze and they basically run wild; you would get stomped to death in your sleep by cows or even horses.
We were at the top of the peak at 13,000 feet, above treeline, and exhausted. There were two refugios, one — brand new — was occupied by young Basque herders and then there was an old one with no windows, but a door that shut and a chimney and a platform to sleep on.
We ate and watched the stars come out, and as night fell we saw a wagon, pulled by horses, across the valley with a lantern on it moving to join the guys at the refugio. We went to bed, having not met the herders.
A few hours later, we were asleep, the door busted open. A dog came in and started barking at us, and these herders were shining their flashlights on us, yelling in Basque, and then broken English, "You beautiful Americans, are you (fooling around) in here?" We weren't. We were sleeping.
My husband talked them out of the refugio and then he came back in and I was shaking. They stood outside of the refugio talking in Basque (which is like a mix of Spanish and French) and sometimes in Spanish, and I was afraid they were plotting something. I begged my husband to get up and talk with them as we were now sort of trapped inside this refugio with these shepherds talking outside. They were obviously quite drunk.
My husband finally did get up and started talking with them when we heard them say it would be funny if they locked the door from the outside and we couldn't get out. I was afraid they were going to hurt me or rape me, and nobody in the world knew where we were. International incident!
They asked my husband for his papers/passport in Spanish and he laughed and offered him his rolling papers (we had come from Amsterdam a few days before). He talked with them and told them they were drunk, they needed to leave us alone, and they needed to go sleep it off.
In the morning they got up before we did and the caravan was gone along with the animals. We were quite shaken and we headed down the mountain and back to Barcelona, and then settled on the coast for the rest of our European vacation.
Don't go back to the land, go back to the hotel
Jo-Anne Leonard Teacutter, Greene
Saco River camping. Poured all weekend. No canoe ride. Tent leaked. Air mattress popped. Pregnant. Kids were soaked. Spent all weekend in the campground laundromat drying muddy clothes. Hotels only for me now!
Sloshing all the way
Sandra Lefebvre Huard, Waterville
How could I forget. My honeymoon night on our way to Quebec, my new husband decided it would be best to stop for the night at a motel in Jackman. I wasn't thrilled but agreed. The room they gave us showed the signs of the time we had a lot of flooding, and, well, I'm a clean freak. The rug literally was saturated with water. The room smelled of mold! I was not going to sleep in that room! I insisted that I would sleep in the car. I wanted our money back and head on our way! My husband however, thought it would be fine for one night. I laid on top of the bed refusing to get under those damp smelling sheets. I stayed awake all night. I did shower reluctantly, but I did it fast and got out of that dump. Real romantic wedding night! Frank thinks it's funny; it makes me sick to this day! But, we continued on our way the next day and had a fabulous time! The hotel we stayed at had 18 floors and only one available room, which they gave to us. I'll never forget that room! It was their best room: 1804. King-size bed and surrounded by glass overlooking Quebec! It was beautiful! They cleaned it daily and had all the extras! But we've been married 25 years and I still feel grossed out to this day thinking of that motel — damp, wet, dirty. Frank will never live that day down!