Rotten Oysters: The worst of the worst (and wackiest of the wacky) of our first year on the job

The 15 or so oyster-borne food-poisoning deaths that occur every year are caused by a bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus, which thrives in the Gulf of Mexico. We haven't endured anything quite that heinous on our trips, but we've certainly experienced our unfair share of soiled sheets, unwanted guests, and, well, unwanted guests. Not that we enjoy it, exactly, when we end up at fleabag hotels -- but they do yield some good stories. And here, in "Rotten Oysters," is where we tell those stories.

With our first destination of 2010 launching soon (here's a hint apropos of Rotten Oysters: think, a mouse you do want in your hotel...), we decided to cull reviews of the nearly 850 hotels we covered during our first year and bestow upon each of the following our distinguished mark of shame, a Rotten Oyster.

Strangest Bathing Policy: No shampoo or conditioner allowed at the Runaway Bay Heart Hotel in Jamaica

Yes, you read that right. Because the shower run-off is used to irrigate the hotel's grounds, the Runaway Bay Heart doesn't allow you to use anything other than the bar soap they provide.

Yes, that's a warning sign above the toilet:
Yes, that's a warning sign above the toilet:

Biggest Potential for a Seriously Crappy Vacation: The no-flushing-your-toilet-paper policy at the Celuisma Paraiso Tropical in the Dominican Republic

Most Inauspicious Check-In: Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach

When the lovely Christine arrived on a Sunday afternoon, "the postage-stamp-size lobby was packed with belligerent guests complaining about their rooms, views, and the lack of TBS during the MLB playoffs. One irate customer insisted that she and her boyfriend had already paid cash for their stay, even though she couldn't produce a receipt and the hotel had no record of any payment. When my turn finally came, a burly guy swooped in and served a visibly shaken front desk clerk with a subpoena to appear in court."

Worst Pick-Up Line: "Want to make baby tonight?," to our own Sara B., at the Don Juan Beach Resort in the D.R.

Sara was propositioned three times in her first 24 hours at the Don Juan, a resort nearly as classy and seductive as its namesake. "Guests should expect to be accosted by prostitutes, local hecklers, and merchants on the resort's trash-strewn beach," Sara wrote in her review. "Small pools, dark, dingy rooms, disgusting food, and outrageous rates -- Don Juan is just about the worst pick in the Caribbean." So, not a romantic place to make baby?

Rudest Greeting from a Staff Member: "Dammit," from the concierge at the Ramada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort in Miami

More stellar service. "Taped to the back wall of the concierge desk was a sign that read 'It's My Pleasure' in red ink, one word per sheet of printer paper," reads Mike T.'s report on the service at the uber-classy Marco Polo. "The first words I heard from the concierge were quite different: 'Dammit,' he whispered as he handled some guest luggage. Later I asked about a good place to eat, but all he did was hand me a sheet of paper titled 'Where to Dine & Drink.' "

Most Unwelcome Film Tie-In: The "Congo suite" at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

Classy
Classy

Each "Hollywood Hip" room at the Planet Hollywood Hotel is modeled after a different movie. Some, like the Bonnie and Clyde suite, are even modeled after good ones. Ours (Room 1247) was based on Congo, a 1995 sci-fi dud. The Congo suite rates only slightly better than the movie. How would you like to sleep with this thing watching over over you all night?

Best Place to Cool Off in the Desert: The pool at the Cancun Resort in Vegas

Then again, if this woman is any indication, maybe the pool is a little too cold.

Place You're Most Likely to Encounter those Little Ghost Sisters from The Shining: The hallways at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco

With 553 rooms on only eight stories -- do the math -- the Palace is aptly named: each floor houses cavernous century-old corridors reminiscent of those from the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. "Come and play with us, Danny -- forever and ever..."

Second-Creepiest Corridors: The hallways at the Penguin Hotel in South Beach

There's not enough gravitas in these babies for 100-year-old ghost children to materialize, but you can definitely picture an over-sexed teenager getting hacked to death, Hostel-style, in one of them. Or maybe Tim Burton and Johnny Depp shot a scene at the Penguin for the upcoming Alice in Wonderland flick.

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