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Friday, June 8, 2012

Ocean City, MD - August 1999

This is a re-print of an original post to the ThompsonFamilyWeb site about a trip my family and I took to Ocean City MD in August 1999. It is mostly unaltered from my original post.

Summary:



August 13 - 20, 1999

Cast: Me (John), My wife Andie, Natalie (6) & Charlotte (2)
We drove from Westchester County, New York (25 miles north of New York City) to Ocean City. According to MapQuest the drive was 279 miles, and my odometer bore this out. The drive down was uneventful, though a bit slow. I had to go to work for a few hours that morning (my boss had been on vacation the previous 2 weeks and we were in the middle of a big project, so he wanted to meet with me before I left), and I took a train from my office in the City to White Plains, where Andie picked me up. From there we went across the Tappan Zee Bridge, caught the Garden State Parkway South, connected to the New Jersey Turnpike South, then took Routes 113 & 1 South through Delaware to Ocean City. We left White Plains at about 11:30 and arrived in OC at about 7:00 that evening. OC is just south of the Delaware border, part of a slender string of islands that stretch from Delaware to Virginia.
We didn't have any real specific plans for the trip beyond just relaxing. One thing we did know we wanted to do was to visit Assateague Island, just south of OC. Natalie is a horse lover and we hoped to see some of the island's famous wild ponies. (Assateague is just north of Chincateague, made famous by the story "Misty of Chincateague").


We checked into our condo first thing, which entailed going to the real estate management office, paying the balance and getting the key. Since it was well past the kid's suppertime we went straight out for supper.


We settled into our OC vacation routine, which consisted of rising early, having a leisurely morning, doing something until lunchtime, napping after lunch then going out for supper.
The weather was not perfect while we were there, but it was certainly passable. Most days were quite hot, and the skies were usually a bit hazy. There was rain our first two nights, but not until we were in for the night. Also, on our last night there we were treated to an amazing thunderstorm.


Ocean City is a narrow island. The main road into OC is Route 50, with a bridge that crosses the harbor from the Maryland mainland and deposits drivers on Division Street. South of Division lies the Inlet and OC's impressive Boardwalk. North of Division are numbered streets that start at 1st just north of Division and run up to about 150th. There is one main drag, Coastal Highway, that runs down the center of the Island from south to north.


Ocean City is a terrific place to vacation with kids. Neither Andie nor I were familiar with it, and we were somewhat surprised by how built up it is. The entire island is covered with hotel, motels and vacation properties, as well as a vast array of amusements. There were literally dozens of mini-golf courses, several amusement parks and water parks, and many restaurants to choose from. The one thing the town is lacking is shopping. There is the usual assortment of souvenir stands and resort wear shops, but no real upscale shopping. In fact, overall OC has a very working-class vibe about it. I think there is the potential for it to become a more upscale resort I think, but as of now the town seems comfortable catering to a more cost conscious crowd


Condo:

We stayed at the Saint Tropez, a 20-unit timeshare complex located on 81st street on the ocean side. The small complex is very nice, with ample parking, a small but acceptable pool and a location just a few steps from the beach. The building has 4 stories, with 5 units on each story. The end units (ending with "01" or "05") are three bedroom units, and the others are 2 bedroom. There is another small building between the Saint Tropez and the beach that must at least partially block the ocean view of units 104, 105, 204 & 205. The rest of the building would have unobstructed views of the beach and ocean.
We were in unit 304. The unit had a large living area with sliding glass doors opening to a patio on the ocean side. Each bedroom had it's own bath, with a Jacuzzi tub in the master bath (something we never felt the need to use). The master had a king-size bed, while 2 twins were in the second bedroom. The master bedroom also had a sliding glass door opening to the patio. The full kitchen came well stocked with cooking supplies. There was also a washer/dryer and all the amenities necessary for a home away from home. The room, which cost $1,200 for the week, was nice but far from luxurious. It seemed to be quite well maintained, a little frayed around the edges perhaps but nothing that would detract from our enjoyment.
I also had the opportunity to look at some other hotels and condos in OC while doing some work for a web site. Here are my observations:


The Princess Royale is located on the ocean side of the island at 91st street. the room I saw was a standard size, but with a suite configuration. It included a living area, one bedroom and a small kitchenette. The rooms were small but looked comfortable, with quite nice appointments. A major attraction of this hotel is the large atrium and pool. The space is so open and airy as to make you almost feel like you are outside. Doubtlessly this makes the Princess Royale particularly attractive for off-season visits.


The Princess Royale's sister location, the Princess Bayside is located at 48th Street on the bay side. The room I saw was large and quite nice, with a large heart-shaped Jacuzzi tub. The hotel has a small indoor pool as well as a nice and large roof pool that boasts stunning bay views. With it's location near several of OC's most popular nighttime attractions, including Seacrets restaurant, Bar and Night Club, I think the Princess Bayside would be particularly appropriate for young couples.


Further south is the Dunes Manor. The room I saw here was very large and nice, though a bit dark. The indoor/outdoor pool here is fairly large, thought nothing to write home about. The beautiful long beach side porch, however, is another thing. Populated with several large wicker rocking chairs and boasting a lovely ocean view, this porch has got to be one of the places in OC for just sitting and taking in the views. The Victorian style lobby, with its impressive chandelier, is also quite nice.


I also looked around at the Holiday Inn and the Sheraton, although I didn't see rooms at either establishment. The Sheraton seemed like a nice hotel in keeping with most in the chain, although it is due for some refurbishing. The Holiday Inn is one of the newer hotels in OC, and it shows. For one thing, the pool area, with it's more inventively shaped pool surrounded by attractive plantings, is the nicest I saw in all of OC.


I also was able to look at 2 new condo complexes currently under construction. The Islands at Hidden Harbor is on 125th on the Bay side, and the Sea Crest is on 142nd on the Ocean side. Both were quite nice, but with 2 bedroom units starting at over $300,000, I was surprised by the cost.

Restaurants:

Unless otherwise noted, all meals were dinner. We ate most of our lunches & breakfasts in the room.


J/R's Ribs is a chain of restaurants specializing in BBQ. At least there are several in OC. The one we went to was in the upper 50's.


Andie & I split rack of baby back ribs with baked potato & Cole slaw, an onion loaf (battered onions crammed into a basket & deep fired so it comes out like a loaf of bread), and beer. Nat had chicken fingers & Charlotte had a hot dog. Overall, the food was quite tasty, but somewhat expensive for this kind of faire. There is a chain of restaurants in New York called Dallas BBQ that has better food and is considerably cheaper.


We had lunch at Shenanigans on the Boardwalk - sandwiches. Not recommended, at least not for lunch. Again, there are other locations in OC.


Seacrets, a popular OC spot both as a bar & restaurant, and also as a nightclub. On a warm evening you can't beat it for location. With outdoor dining on a sandy beach and reggae music piped in through the sound system, you'll feel like your on the islands. There are also inflated rafts where you can enjoy a drink floating in the calm harbor waters (kids aren't allowed, so we couldn't test them out).


Andie and I both had frozen drinks. Hers was a house specialty the name of which escapes me, mine was one of the best pina coladas I've ever had. It tasted like it was made from fresh ingredients. I had to have another to make sure they're consistent;-)


For dinner I had a roast beef sandwich and Andie had a veggie burger. We also shared some spicy onion rings. The kids had pizza. The food was OK, except the onion rings which were very good. Overall, it's the drinks and the atmosphere that make this place a must. We would have come back except they didn't have a kid's menu and pizza was the only thing the kids would eat.


Capt. Bob's is a fish restaurant. I had fried oysters, Andie had a crab cake. Pretty good, but not outstanding.


Phillips also boasts several OC locations. We went to the one on 23rd. Specifically, we wanted crab legs, and that's what we got. Interestingly, nobody served Maryland crabs, they all had Alaskan King Crab. I think you have to go into the harbor town for Maryland crabs. If we had known, that's what we would have done. Regardless, our meals, which were accompanied with baked pot and salad, not to mention an appetizer of calamari, was quite good.


Fins is another location that, like Seacrets, has outdoor seating on the bar. The drinks, once again, were quite good. The indoor dining room has a full menu, while "lite faire" (appetizers and sandwiches) is served at the outdoor tables. If you are single and/or childless I think Seacrets would be more fun. We preferred Fins, mostly because it has a kid's menu, and this turned out to be the only OC eatery that we went to more than once. We mostly ate appetizers, and the Buffalo Wings, Caesar Salad and Steamers were all quite good.


Mackey's is much like Fins and Seacrets, once again with outdoor harborside dining. The main difference here is that they serve a full menu at the outdoor tables. The menu was quite adventurous, but I'm afraid the menu was better in concept than execution. Still, it's boasts very pleasant surroundings and the food, while not excellent, was certainly serviceable. If you want to eat outside on a warm evening but want something more interesting than a burger, this could be your place. I had Blackened Tuna with Fries & corn Andie had Salmon, potatoes & corn.


Another establishment worth mentioning is Dumsers Dairyland, where we had lunch on our last day in OC. An old fashioned diner and soda fountain, Dumsers has several locations throughout the city. The decor alone is worth the trip - high ceiling with an old fashioned roof, booths with high back wooden dividers and a gleaming full soda bar. The food, your standard diner faire, was excellent. We had burgers, chips and mozerella sticks, and I had a chocolate shake to die for. They also had a wonderful looking ice cream menu, but we were too full to partake of its pleasures. No trip to OC should be without a trip to Dumsers.

Amusements:

Ocean City is a town chock full of amusements for the whole family. It seems as if there is a miniature golf course on every block. The town boasts 3 full blown amusement parks and innumerable water parks, as well go cart racing and many night clubs. Nat pleaded to ride the go carts but we never got around to it, and we never went to any night clubs as were there with the kids. Here are some thoughts on the many amusements that we did enjoy.

The dominate force in OC minigolf appears to be "Old Pro Golf". I counted at least 4 locations throughout the city. The courses, as well as others we saw but didn't play at, were small but boasted fairly engaging scenery. Coming from Southern California, I find most east coast mini golf courses to be wanting, but then anything would be compared to the mega monsterous shrines to leisure that one finds in the shadow of Space Mountain. Old Pro boasts an indoor course on 68th Street, and that's the one we played. Themed to look like you are underwater, it was an enjoyable diversion.
OC's boardwalk is quite impressive. For one thing the beach is large, beautiful and well kept. The boardwalk itself is very long and lined with the usual assortment of tacky souvenir shops, fast food establishments and T-shirt sellers. The main appeal of the boardwalk is the people-watching (which is first class) and the 2 amusement parks at it's southern tip.
The less impressive of the 2 parks is "Pier Rides". The pier contains exactly what you would expect, mostly flat thrill rides and kiddy rides, but it does have one roller coaster called the "Looping Star".


The "Looping Star" is a coaster that seems to want to be everything it isn't. The ride does provide a fairly high level of thrills with fairly steep drops, a few good banks and some really good head-choppers. Regardless, it is, at it's core, a pretty tame ride that would be appropriate for a small child as long as they are a thrill-seeker (6 year old Natalie immediately comes to mind). The problem is, the coaster has a single small loop (hence the name). This feature, combined (I assume) with a pretty lame restraint system, rate this ride with a 55" height restriction! An average kid would have to be at least 10 or 11 to ride this relatively tame coaster.


Nat and I did manage to go on "The Pirate", one of those flat thrill ride where you ride in a "boat" that swings back and forth. Nat wanted to ride the Himalayan, but once again she was too small. We sat in one of the end rows of the "Pirate", something you definitely want to do in order to get maximum effect. Although I am a coaster nut, I'm not a big fan of flat thrill rides. Regardless, this ride - which I have never been on before - was surprisingly fun. The effect was similar to what you experience on a coaster and sitting in the end row gives you quite a thrill when the boat is at the peak of it's arch.


In addition, Andie took Charlotte on the parks small carousel, and she & Nat went on the haunted house ride as well. I also rode a NASCAR simulator on a separate trip that was pretty lame.


I made 3 trips to Trimpers, the other, larger amusement park on the boardwalk. The first trip was right after we had visited the Pier Rides and all I did was run in to ride "The Tidal Wave", a Venkoma Boomerang that is the parks centerpiece. In this coaster, after you board the sole train, it is pulled backwards via cables to the top of a lift hill. The cars are then released and you drop rapidly down, rush through the boarding station, then out into the ride's first element, a cobra roll. Immediately after the cobra roll you go through a loop, then climb another lift hill. The train is stopped before it starts to roll backwards and is pulled to the top of this second hill. Then you are released again and experience the same 2 elements while traveling backwards.
First of all, what is it about a roller coaster train barreling through it's boarding station at full speed that is just so, well... cool. Earlier this summer I went with a friend to Six Flags Great Adventure and we rode Batman & Robin The Chiller. One of the coolest things about this ride was the way you were going full speed by the time the last car left the boarding station.
Anyway, I ended up riding "The Tidal Wave" 4 more times. Twice was when I went back to the boardwalk to take pictures for a web site I'm working on. The 3rd and 4th times were on a separate trip where I came back to the boardwalk to see it at night. I rode in the center twice (1st & 2nd rides), the front twice (3rd & 5th) and the back once (4th). The experience is, in my opinion, vastly superior in the front. I read on the Internet where someone wrote that the ride was smoother in the middle, but I found the opposite to be true. I found the middle to be the bumpiest and the front to be the smoothest. Regardless, the ride is much more thrilling from the front seat, especially during the second, backwards pass.


I didn't ride anything else at Trimpers, although it does look like a park that would be a fun diversion for the better part of a day.


The 3rd amusement park is "Jolly Roger", which is toward the center of town. Actually it is 4 separate parks: and amusement park, a water park, a mini golf course and a go cart complex. Nat and I went together one afternoon we were there and rode on the parks mini steel coaster and log flume. The coaster was quite fun (I especially love it when I can ride with Nat who exclaimed her usual mantra when the ride was over: "Let's do it again!"), but the log flume was pretty lame. Maybe it was because of the drought, but this was the driest log flume ride I've ever seen.


Most of our time at Jolly Roger was spent at the Water Park. We had a good time, but I have to admit that I wanted to mostly do the water slides while Nat was happy to just play in the pools. With a little pleading I was able to convince her to take a couple of rides on the slides. In particular there was a slide that allowed for double riders that was particularly fun. Before leaving on our first trip I rode in one of those inclosed slides that are entirely in the dark. Nat wanted to ride it as well, but I didn't think it was a good idea. We came back a few days later with Andie and Charlotte and Nat continued to plead for me to allow her to ride the "dark tubes". Finally I gave in. Needless to say, those were her favorites. She wanted to do it over and over! I'm telling you, that kid is quite a thrill seeker.


On our last full day in OC we went to Frontier Town, a western themed amusement park a few miles out of town. This park truly makes you feel like you traveled back in time to days when cowboys rode the lone prairie and Indian braves lurked around every corner. Of course I mean the 1950's. This place looks like it was frozen in time and hasn't changed since Gunsmoke ruled the airwaves. In one particular street show the recorded narration even refers to "your favorite western television program". It's tacky, it's cheesy and it's refreshingly un-PC ("..sitting in the sun, Lopez looked like a harmless Mexican taking an afternoon siesta.."). We loved it.
The park has added a small water park and mini golf course, but the main attraction for us was the western town and low key attractions like a train ride, a stagecoach ride, panning for gold and floating down a tree-lined stream in peddle boats. If you're in the mood for something a little less thrilling, Frontier town is just the thing.

A popular side trip for visitors of Ocean City is a cruise to Assateague Island. The short trip is fun and relaxing, and the natural surroundings are quite lovely. The main attractions are, of course, the wild ponies that live on the island. These ponies, popularized by the book and movie "Misty of Chincateague" (Chincateague is a sister island to Assateague, and the ponies travel freely between the two islands), the ponies can be seen grazing on the wind swept hills of the island. Of course there is no guarantee you will see the animals, but we were lucky and saw a dozen or so quite close to our boat. Natalie, who is a horse nut, was quite thrilled.A big attraction of Ocean City is the beaches. The sand on the island is marvelous - finely ground and soft, it is light in color and doesn't get too hot. Also, the beaches are kept unusually clean and we didn't see a single piece of litter on the beach while we were there. The surf was a bit rough for kids Nat & Charlie's age (2 and 6), so we weren't able to spend as much time there as we would have liked, but we did go a few times. The surf looked great for body surfing, on the other hand, and we saw several kids taking advantage of the waves.

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