Here at Frommer's, we pride ourselves on not only telling you what to do, but what not to do. Every one of our books has a little "overrated" tag that we attach to experiences we don't feel come up to our standards. This article is not a compilation of those overrated experiences; rather, it's one travel writer's assessment of ten things around the world to stay away from, or at least to be wary of. As always, New York is a little bit overrepresented in the list, because I live here. But there's plenty of derision to go around.
Clear. In the nervous months after Sept. 11, everybody had to show up at the airport hours in advance. So a $199 card that let people jump security lines sounded like a great idea. Until the security lines got much shorter. Then the TSA stepped in, and said that Clear card holders have to go through the same slow, humiliating sock-and-belt-removal process that everyone else does. And eight years after Sept. 11, the card still only works at around two dozen airports. That $199 card is looking like just a pretty piece of plastic. Pity you can't use your $199 to bribe the TSA agents to let you keep your shoes on.
Harajuku, Tokyo. I knew Harajuku was finished once Gwen Stefani started toting oddly dressed Japanese girls around the world, apparently as pets. Years ago, Harajuku was the center of a fascinatingly edgy youth culture in Tokyo focused on dressing up in wild costumes. Not any more. Now it's an overcrowded shopping area of overpriced midrange fashion, with a corner where tourists take pictures of preening teenagers. It's over.
New York's Little Italy. At least the "little" is accurate. A hundred years ago, a proud Italian neighborhood stretched across much of lower Manhattan. That neighborhood is gone. Totally gone. On one block of Mulberry Street, there are a bunch of mediocre, hideous tourist-trap red sauce restaurants that exist solely because tourists insist on imagining there's a "little Italy" left in Manhattan. There is none. It is a Potemkin village, a tourist trap, and the food is generally pretty bad to boot. If you need to do something in the former Little Italy, get a coffee at Ferrara's, which at least won't sour your palate with cheap tomato sauce.
Restaurant Weeks. All around the world, restaurants get together to offer three-course meals at a fixed price a few times a year. This seems like a good deal, until you realize that the meal you actually want isn't on the "restaurant week" menu, and even though it's lower than the usual price, it's still more than you want to spend. Congratulations: you just overspent your budget on something you didn't actually want to order.
The Carnegie Deli in New York City. This New York landmark long ago got intoxicated with its own fame. The result: lousy service, overpriced food, and sandwiches that are too big for any person to actually eat. You'd think an overstuffed sandwich would be a great thing, but it's really just a waste of pastrami. Oh, and look around you: there's not a New Yorker in the place! Katz's and the Second Avenue Deli are far superior in terms of prices, seating, ambiance and even food.
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Guy leaves box. Guy enters box. Why were we all waiting there exactly? Let's go get a pint.
The Sears Tower in Chicago. So you think, like, it's the tallest building in America, right? That's what everyone else thinks, so the lines are punishing. You wait on line, and you wait on line, and at the end of the very long wait, the view isn't as good as the one at the John Hancock building. Whoops.
The Wynn/Encore Hotel, Las Vegas. This pair of luxury hotels in Las Vegas are so bland, they make me weep. A good Vegas casino-hotel has an over-the-top theme -- the Bellagio does marvels with marble, the Venetian has Venice, and the Palms is bedecked with half-naked reality TV starlets. The Wynn is so aggressively unthemed, you lose mental focus when you're inside. Now connected to the equally unthemed Encore, it becomes acres of bland forgettability, a casino-hotel designed as something out of a high end Macau corporate office park. For the prices you're paying at these places, you should get some imagination. And maybe even a little sense of humor.
Vancouver. "Blandcouver" looks great on TV, where it often masquerades as other, more interesting cities. This Canadian metropolis is indeed like many other places, just duller. I actually heard a Vancouverite call their city "diverse" and "cosmopolitan" when what they mean is "we have some Chinese people as well as the Anglo-Canadians." Anyone who thinks Vancouver is cosmopolitan has never been south or east of Portland. Most of Vancouver's other attributes, meanwhile, are seen in better form in either Portland, Seattle, or San Francisco. Spend your time in Victoria instead, or Whistler, or, heck, Nanaimo. If you insist upon going, try our much more enthusiastic destination guide.
Venice, Italy. The biggest, smelliest tourist trap in the world was once a proud city, one of the commercial capitals of the world. That was hundreds of years ago. Now almost nobody lives there, and the place is mobbed by tourists. Because the entire economy consists of tourists who leech off of Venice's history, everything is overpriced. You're ten times as likely to meet forty British people following a guide with an open umbrella than a Venetian in Venice. Our official guide, of course, finds a lot to love; check it out at our destination guide.
Which travel experiences do you think are overrated? Tell us in the comment field below.