City employees heard it at every boat show and sports convention they attended across the East Coast this winter: "We haven't been to Ocean City for a long time, but we're coming this summer."
It's an attitude buoyed by the recession: Europe can wait for better economic times. For now, Ocean City's 10 miles of fun and sun, sand and ocean swells are the cheapest, closest vacation to penny-pinching Baltimore/Washington residents.
"People will be coming here instead of going to Europe or Florida," said Leslie Craigle, public relations representative for the city, who has fielded some of the hundreds of inquiries at the city's visitor information center. "We don't expect to be hurt at all by the recession," she added.
The larger-than-usual crowds expected to descend upon Ocean City this summer have been busy booking the city's 35,000 available condominiums, town houses, cottages and hotel rooms a rate 25 percent faster than in any recent year, Realtors said. That means those who haven't already reserved their "little place at the beach" should do so immediately -- preferably before the end of April if they hope to get exactly what they want.
"It's the year to be at the beach," observed Jim Waggoner, rental manager for Long & Foster Real Estate which has already booked 45 percent of its 1,250 units through the 1991 season, (late May to early September).
Long & Foster handles rentals stretching from Cape Henlopen, Del., at the mouth of Delaware Bay to the Ocean City inlet, and bookings everywhere along this Delmarva beach are running 28 percent ahead of last year, Mr. Waggoner said.
Most of the prime-time weeks in July and August, in fact, are already rented, he added.
Colonial Property Management Co., which handles three luxury time-share condominiums in which vacationers will find Jacuzzi baths in every master suite, hot tubs in their private courtyards and two TV sets in each unit, with VCRs and temporary movie rental memberships at a local store, has already booked most of the month of June and has July and August half filled, said Shirley Hixson, rental manager.
Seagate, a condominium on the ocean at 30th Street, has already rented its prime summer weeks between July 6 and Aug. 17, reported Alice Johnston, manager of rentals.
"We have so many reservations with deposits," said Ms. Johnston, who is hoping this will be a record year.
But despite the fast pace of rentals this spring, Ocean City is usually only booked solid over the July 4th weekend, said Martha Clements, the city's director of public relations. That means even procrastinators can wait until the heat of the summer to start looking. Reserving a rental unit early, however, means you're more likely to get what you want for the money you want to spend.
Whether you're a student looking for seasonal housing while you work at the beach, or a family, vacation-shopping for the first time, you should start with a call to the city's visitor information line: 1-800-626-2326.
A city employee will ask you a few questions, such as whether you want a bay-front or oceanfront room, and what part of the city you'd like to rent in, then she'll give you names and numbers of rental agencies that handle the type of vacation units you're interested in.
There are several types of rentals available in Ocean City: hotel and motel rooms, condominiums and town houses, and time-share units. A few of the older cottages also remain.
The condominium units are becoming the most popular type of rental, reported many rental agencies, partly because they usually include fully-equipped kitchens and washer/dryers so that families on a tight budget don't have to eat all their meals out and can pinch pennies by doing their own laundry.
Condominiums are privately owned units within a building, generally rented by the owner either for the additional income or the tax advantages. Because each unit has a different owner, each one is furnished and equipped differently, which means it's a good idea for people planning to rent a condo unit to visit Ocean City in the off-season and look over the available units, then choose the one in which they feel they'll be most comfortable.
Some rental agencies inspect each condominium unit they rent, sometimes even rating the units on an A-B-C scale, according to how well-equipped and how well-maintained they are. Rental agencies don't usually tell prospective renters a unit's rating, but if you ask the rating, most Realtors will tell you. Surprisingly, a poorer rating usually won't change the price of the unit.
Today, most condominiums are equipped with such amenities as automatic coffee pots, toasters and microwaves, sometimes even telephones and VCRs, but you should ask specifically for a unit with the amenities you want, otherwise you might be disappointed.