From a day in the pokey in Poland to a night on a barren island in the Bahamas, our readers relate their VACATION NIGHTMARES

August 07, 1994

"Vacation: A period of suspension of work, study or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday."

So says the Random House Dictionary. But after reading the entries from our "Vacation Nightmares" essay contest, we at Sun Magazine think that perhaps the definition of "vacation" should be expanded, as hospitals and hurricanes seem to be frequent intrusions on even the most perfectly planned vacations. Your stories showed us that real-life vacations often contain more mosquitoes than margaritas, more delays at airports than dips in the ocean.

The following "Vacation Nightmares" are some of the more hilarious, engaging or just plain outrageous examples of how a vacation can go awry. We received nearly 60 entries from readers throughout Maryland. Retired grandparents traveling to Europe as well as children traveling in the back seats of their parents' cars took the time to let us know why theirs was truly a vacation nightmare.

To those of you who wrote to us, thanks for the sharing. And to those who didn't, well, read on, and just be thankful that it didn't happen to you.

HADES IN THE AEGEAN

In the summer of 1970, we managed to book the last available cabin on a two-week cruise to the Greek Islands. Even then, it was an incredible bargain at $300 round trip, and we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.

The ship left plenty to be desired, but as the cruise promised fabled ports of call, three meals a day and air-conditioned cabins, who cared?

But there was a rub. Our cabin had a very small air conditioner at the very top of a single, tiny clothes closet. The upper parts of our garments were cool, but the cabin, which was below deck without porthole or fan, was unbearably hot and stuffy.

We asked Miki, our steward, if he spoke English. He smiled winningly and said, "Oh, yes!"

We said our air conditioner wasn't working well and asked if he would arrange to have it fixed.

"Oh, yes," he replied, smiled sweetly and left.

The afternoon was even more stifling. When we asked Miki if the air conditioner would be fixed soon, he gave us that great smile and said, "Oh, yes!"

The next morning, after a miserable night of unrelenting heat and stale air, we cornered Miki and asked him if he wanted us to die of suffocation. He smiled charmingly and said, "Oh, yes!"

His English, it seemed, was as functional as the air conditioner in the closet.

+ Beatrice Mancuso, Baltimore

HELLO, HURRICANE. GOODBYE, FUN

You wait all summer to take your vacation, selecting a week in late August. Duck, N.C., has always been a favorite destination. You ask another couple to go along, renting a house close to the beach. You both have young children, 6 months and a year old, so you bring along two teen-agers to help, so the adults can have some fun, too!

You wake up early on that Saturday, pack the car and start driving. Six and a half hours later you are there, cranky baby in tow. The other couple arrives soon after. It's sunny out but the humidity is stifling. The air conditioning is turned off and the house is sweltering. The carpet needs replacing. The house smells of sulfur but you're told it's a common problem during August in Duck.

There's no television for the 1-year-old and there is no telephone. There are lots of decks but no deck furniture. But hey, you're on vacation. No beach today -- you go to the supermarket to buy supplies and you hear that Hurricane Andrew is heading straight for the coast of North Carolina. The supermarket is packed. Three hours later you get back to the house and start praying for a miracle.

The next morning is overcast and it rains off and on and the hurricane is still heading toward the coast. Somehow you survive the day cooped up in the smelly house with two young children, two teen-agers and three other adults who are mad that their vacation is being spoiled.

The next morning, Duck is being evacuated. If it weren't for the children, you might have taken a chance and holed up in the house. It's too risky, so you go to Norfolk to see if you can weather the storm and return to the house in Duck the next day. It's raining in Norfolk, too.

The hurricane takes longer to hit the coast than expected and there is no way you will stay in this hotel another night at a rate of $120 per room. So, you pack it all up and head home, arriving late on Tuesday. Lesson learned: Go back to Duck because it's a great place to vacation. But go in June.

Pam O'Neill, Gambrills

CALIFORNIA BEAMING

It was a very dark night and we were hopelessly lost. I was sitting in the back seat with my little brother and sister while my parents were up front alternately swearing and blaming each other for getting us lost.

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