Do you remember those ads with the Baywatch style lifeguard beckoning you to visit Ocean City? Well, it worked for me! Honestly, when I was growing up, the Maryland part of Ocean City was where you went when you were a teen or college-aged student. I avoided OC for nearly two decades opting for quieter beach retreats. However, now that I have a 10 year old who yearns for more than just the salt life, Ocean City cannot be beat.
From northern Virginia, Ocean City is an easy breezy three hour drive. Ok, maybe not easy crossing the Bay Bridge, but you’ll surely feel a breeze with the windows down! The beach is not for the faint hearted as the waves can be fierce. If you have a young child, I would recommend Bethany Beach instead. Ocean City is a bustling, yet fun beach that is great for seashell hunting, sand castle making and surfing.
As early as 5 a.m., beachgoers stake their prime spots on the sand with chairs to return later. I found this to be odd at first, but genius when I saw by 11 a.m., the crowds were in full swing. Lifeguards are on duty from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but always be vigilant in monitoring your family. Compared to my last visit, the beach was very clean, safe and friendly. We saw speedboats, parasailing and banana boats whizzing by along with the over advertised planes and tugboats.
The Ocean City Boardwalk is likened to the streets of New York City. Yes, it is busy and you need to keep moving! There are the speed walkers, the pedal bike families and the plethora of cyclists. We saw the odd Segway and a neat mini car grooving along the boardwalk. The benches face both ways so you could change from people watching to enjoying kites flying along the oceanfront. Bicycle rentals dot the walkways.
We usually avoid the tacky mini golf selections that dot Coastal Highway. The big draw is Jolly Roger amusement park comprised of Speedworld, Splash Mountain, Jolly Roger at 30th Street and Jolly Roger at the Pier. Speedworld features several types of go kart tracks, while the popular Splash Mountain is a waterpark boasting 17 slides, 3 kiddie pools and a lazy river.
Jolly Roger at 30th Street is a good option for younger children with offerings such as tea cups, swings, a funhouse, zipline/ropes course and a train ride. There are a few roller coasters, a pirate ship ride and two mini golf courses. Watch pirate theatre or free circus; both occurring daily.
However, the majority of the crowds head to Jolly Roger at the Pier (located on the Boardwalk). Both the 30th Street location and the Pier feature a double decker carousel, bumper cars and ferris wheel, with the bigger versions housed at the Pier. There is also a haunted house, roller coaster, games and arcades. Most people get the wristbands allowing for unlimited rides starting at $21.99. We didn’t see options for individual rides, which was a bummer. I will say though that the prizes were good compared to most beach attractions. My husband won our daughter a giant Shopkins toy playing balloon darts. Jolly Roger is open Memorial Day to Labor Day from 1 to 11 p.m. Check for coupons online.
Steps from the Jolly Roger at the Pier is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. There are several options the Odditorium, Mirror Maze and Laserace, which can be purchased for a combo price. However, my family felt the Odditorium prices at $9.99/child and $15.99/adult was sufficient. Notice the shark head…it’s a true story. After a storm, the shark literally busted through the building! We liked touching a piece of the Berlin Wall, seeing a gold karat Mini Cooper, Darth Vader made from recycled parts and comparing our height to the tallest man in the world. We didn’t like the display of medieval torture devices. I recommend Ripley’s for ages 8+. They are open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
When visiting the boardwalk for entertainment, paid parking is available in the inlet parking lot or use the public buses. A trolley also departs from the inlet lot to various points on the boardwalk. We scored paid metered parking on Wicomico Street just steps from Ripley’s at $2 an hour for a max stay of 6 hours.
Food and Lodging
In terms of dining, there are many options in Ocean City. If you’re on the boardwalk, step into one of several locations of The Dough Roller where you can get pizza by the slice, pie, fried chicken and everything else. I loved showing my daughter the old school lunch boxes and nostalgic toys from the past. Drive in, dine in or take away from the walk-up window of Dumser’s Dairyland for yummy soft serve ice cream. Don’t leave the Boardwalk without a bucket of Thrasher’s French Fries or a funnel cake. The New York style pizza at Pizza Tugos is made fresh to order and all three locations deliver. For something a little fancier, head to the bay front where stellar seafood options can be found at The Bayside Skillet, Fager’s Island and Phillips Crab House.
In the past, I’ve stayed at the Carousel property which contains a mix of hotel rooms and condos. I relied on yelp for a new hotel and came across the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites on Atlantic Avenue. By no means is it cheap in comparison to other oceanfront hotels, but you get what you pay for here. We splurged because the amenities were spectacular. What really sold me on this hotel is that there is an indoor pool and two outdoor pools, with one specifically for children. We’re talking palm trees, a pirate shipwreck slide, ocean themed waterslide and a whale spouting water. Heck, I’d even enjoy this pool. We specifically wanted a full view of the ocean so we booked an oceanfront room. Each room has a spa tub and fully stocked kitchen. This is a great way to save money because you can cook in your room as opposed to eating out. There are vending machines and laundry facilities on site. While I normally choose hotels with free breakfast options, we brought food from home to enjoy on the balcony. Another plus is not having to pay for parking although it can be a good walk to find a spot. However, valet parking is also available.
Ocean City features 10 miles of ocean beach that beckon you to splash in the waves, sunbathe on the sand and feel the thrills of the boardwalk’s amusement rides. In the summer there are also concerts, Movies on the Beach and Sundaes in the Park, offering free family fun.
Photos courtesy of Kathleen Molloy.