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The worst motel ever: When there’s no decent room in the inn

November 28, 2016

My office colleagues were talking at lunch about memories of awful motel or hotel stays. One fellow remembered a place where he and some college buddies stayed when it was late, they were desperate, broke and you know, college guys. The motel was the kind where you pay by the hour (but that’s NOT why they were there!) and the motel clerk said they could have a room for the rest of the night if they waited to check in until 3 a.m. Of course they waited; the room had not been cleaned and of course they slept with their clothes on, for the ick factor.

So I asked my husband what he thought was our worst room ever. We were also once very desperate in Lancaster County Pa. Stupidly, (in the days before the Internet) we had not gotten reservations before heading there for a fall shopping/sightseeing weekend in Amish country. After stopping to inquire prices at too many motels (turning down several because we deemed them too high), we started seeing “no vacancy” signs. We realized we couldn’t be fussy any longer about price, or anything. We finally found a place that said we could check in at 11:00 p.m. when truckers got up to go back on the road. At least that was the story. I do think the room was cleaned (or we would have slept in our car), and we were just glad to find digs.


My husband’s vote for worst room ever, though, was a place called The Showboat Motel near Seneca Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. (I was sure it was no longer in business but eureka, here it is.) While the lake view was as lovely and peaceful as you’d expect, a stench of mold, mildew and dampness hit us when we first opened the door to the room. We tried to air it out and I don’t remember if we complained, but it was so damp none of us slept very well. Luckily none of us had an outright allergy to mold. We spent most of our time outside enjoying the docks and birds, where boaters could arrive for a stay at the motel. Some of the online reviews indicate the place still has the same must and mold problems—and like someone else wrote of it, the musty odor hung in our clothes and suitcases as we went home the next day.

My hub’s second vote for worst room ever happened on a trip where you never want a “worst room” experience: our honeymoon. It was actually the second night of our honeymoon, where we had reserved a cabin near Myrtle Beach, SC. Oh my. It was 50s era, spidery, mildewy, and again, a place where you were not sure if you wanted to touch anything without washing your hands afterwards.

The first order of business in the morning was finding a beautiful modern motel with a clean pool


They even had shuffleboard!


The Mariner Motel, Myrtle Beach, where we spent the bulk of our honeymoon.

within walking distance of the beach. It ended up being a lovely honeymoon, except for that one night.

I know what motel would get my oldest daughter’s vote for bad motel stay, but not so much because of the room or accommodations. Back before my husband used a BiPap machine for severe sleep apnea, the rest of us tried to fall asleep first so we wouldn’t be bothered by his snoring with all five of us in one room. This daughter ended up sleeping in the motel’s bathtub, bathroom door shut, to escape the incessant sound of sawing logs. She was in 11th grade and had pretty much reached her full adult height at the time—not the best sleeping arrangement.

I had a work colleague who almost made a business out of complaining about motel/hotel quirks and miscues. He worked in marketing and was superb at finagling for a discount—including calling the front desk in the middle of the night if noise from neighbors kept him awake. He informed us that unless you complained in the night, the front desk would usually turn a deaf ear to complaints about “not being able to sleep” because “obviously, you slept good enough that you didn’t call us.” This was in the days before getting your revenge by posting bad reviews on Trip Advisor.

Being able to view–and review accommodations before you ever reserve or spend a nickel has revolutionized the travel experience for most of us. I remember growing up, I loved the “job” my parents gave me before a family trip, of writing to chambers of commerce in distant cities for sightseeing brochures, maps, and travel/motel information. What fun it was to get mail addressed to me bearing pamphlets from distant trip destinations. I still have a huge box of travel information collected on past trips from our own years of traveling with our three daughters. High time for a severe paring down!

And while there is much to be said for family travels creating memories to last a life time, I was appalled that I couldn’t recall the name of the Finger Lake where we stayed (until I found it online) nor the location of that motel out west where our daughter slept in the bathtub. Maybe it’s a little bit of wanting to forget the bad, and remembering the good.


Happy memories from our main honeymoon motel, The Mariner, 1976.


What is your worst motel or other nightmare travel story?

I hope you were not stuck in a traffic tie up or (worse) an accident over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. Share your comments, reviews, and travel memories here. 


I wrote about a few of our travel memories in Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes: Finding God in the Everyday devotional book–where I invented a line now in our family travel lore:
“Sometimes we don’t get a just a plain trip to Grandma’s, sometime we have a super exciting trip!” (when we had to stay overnight in a motel because of treacherous icy/snowy road conditions).
My oldest daughter’s quip to that was “I just want a plain trip.” 

And now you can get this 1994 era book extra cheap through the marvels of online shopping!


From → Family Life

  1. A camper provided sleeping accommodations on our honeymoon. Think a red Ford pickup with a topper. It was a death trap: We should have put a sign on the back – Death to Our Marriage. To save money, we took Cliff’s parents’ camper that came equipped with cooking supplies (Yes, we ate “out” on this trip!) and headed for the Smokies. We could never get the vehicle situated on the level, so we slept at a slant. Although we spent our first night in a Quality Inn, for two weeks we “camped.” The experience was so bad, we returned the next year for a honeymoon “do-over.”

    At least, we weren’t forced to sleep in a bathtub – hilarious stories, Melodie!

  2. Glad you liked the stories, Marian. Even if they reminded you or your borrowed-Ford-pick-up-topper-camper honeymoon. I’m not sure I would have been willing! Wow. Oh well, you were young and it too makes a great story.

  3. Beverly Silver permalink

    When I was about 12 or 13, my parents and I headed to New England for our vacation. I remember we were driving into Rhode Island, and planned to spend the night there. (This was in the late 40’s – tourist lodgings were not what they are today!! We were crossing a river and at the end of the bridge (lots of late afternoon traffic) , my dad was flagged over and some young guy asked f we were looking for lodging. Daddy said yes, and the fellow directed us to turn left and go somewhere down the road to a place where we old get lodging for the night. He must have said there either wasn’t much else around there, or there wasn’t any thing available at other places – or something. Well, my dad “bit’ and we headed left. The place we got to and engaged a room was awful. All I remember was that my parents were so upset they called it a recycled Chicken Coop, and the bathroom facilities were separated from the rest of the room by a cloth curtain! And this was on the outskirts of Newport, Rhode Island! – the home of all the rich people that built such gorgeous mansions! We had to stay at the chicken coop – it was too late to find anything else! The rest of the trip was – better, but we never forgot that chicken coop night! PS – we knew what a chicken coop was because a few years earlier we had one in our backyard (out in the county during the war – and it really had chickens )

  4. I love your story, Beverly! Interesting that they flagged you down to advertise their place! I can imagine that happening in the 40s. My grandparents kept “tourist lodgings” at their farm until they lost their farm in the depression, my mother still has the business card they used.

    We went through Newport Rhode Island and did a boat tour of the harbor there (2010) and were duly impressed by the wealthy mansions and the names dropped–no recycled chicken coops in sight, for sure!

    Your story reminded me of another place out west (California, right outside of Sequoia National Park) we had reservations for in 2013: it was a very hippie type place, if you get my drift, and they showed us rooms for us and my brother-in-law and we decided not to keep them and the landlord/owner was totally ok with us cancelling. It was still early enough that we drove on to Fresno for standard great rooms and a pool! Fun stories here, thanks again for sharing.

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