As soon as you enter the room you know this is no ordinary stay at the beach, for there's a bottle of wine beside a Victorian bed.
"It's like staying in your grandmother's home," says Jim Washington, who leaves a complimentary split of red or white wine in each room for his guests at the Snow Hill Inn.
Across town at the River House Inn, you can take off for the beach in the morning, knowing owners Larry and Suzanne Knudsen will gladly call about your dinner reservations for the evening, plan your fishing trip for tomorrow and even have a glass of wine or iced tea and a plate of cheese ready on the porch when you return.
"They feel comfortable, like visiting family," Mr. Knudsen says of his visitors, who often send him Christmas cards.
And at Annabell's, a 1910 cottage on the boardwalk in old Ocean City, you have a choice of breakfast served on fine china in bed or on the wide, breezy porch overlooking the ocean.
Beachgoers who like a little out-of-season adventure can even solve a whodunit at Atlantic Hotel in Berlin April 10-11.
It's the kind of pampering that vacationers love. The reality is that 1rates at a half-dozen bed-and-breakfast establishments in and around Ocean City are no more expensive than a hotel stay, particularly when you include the little amenities you get at a B&B, such as a full or continental breakfast.
In a town full of thousands of rental units, B&Bs have managed to fill a void by emphasizing old-fashioned personal service, wrapped in a quiet, homey environment at a price most vacationers can afford.
"We want people to feel as if they have stepped back in time to a place like where they grew up," said Mr. Knudsen, who opened the River House Inn on the Pocomoke River last year and is already expanding his B&B by renting a neighboring cottage.
Mr. Knudsen said he and his wife, Suzanne, wanted to establish a B&B on Delmarva because it would be far enough away from metropolitan areas to be a getaway but close enough that the entire weekend is not spent driving, he said.
A room in their 1860 Victorian is $85 or $95 a night per couple in season, and that includes a full breakfast.
Visitors tend to fall into several categories, Mr. Knudsen has noticed. "They're couples looking for a romantic getaway, or they're young marrieds with children who want to take the children with them. Or there are those who are in their late 40s and older whose children are grown, and they're free to travel. They're looking for a quiet place."
Annabell's, established six years ago by Annabell Plumer, is one of the oldest of the area B&Bs. Ms. Plumer was already running a boarding house nearby when the oceanfront cottage went on the market. She bought it and renovated much of the house herself, creating six rooms that vary in price from $50 to $75 off-season, to $90 to $150 in the middle of the summer. Annabell's carries the biggest price tag because of its ideal location on the boardwalk.
But most of the B&Bs are outside Ocean City in the nearby Delmarva towns, where visitors get the best of both worlds: the beach is close by, but the crowds are not.
At the Holland House, a turn-of-the-century house in Berlin, a room is $70 a night, which includes a full breakfast of fresh fruits and juices, homemade bread and an entree cooked by owner Jim Quick, who also happens to be a professional chef for an Ocean City hotel.
His wife, Jan Quick, who works full time as a dental hygienist, says visitors seem to prefer the quiet of Berlin, an historic town with numerous antique stores, and they often choose to visit Assateague Island, rather than Ocean City.
At the Victorian Rose in Selbyville, Del., 8 miles inland from
Ocean City and Fenwick Island, room rates of up to $80 per night include crystal chandeliers in the bedrooms and baths, Oriental rugs and Victorian-style furnishings throughout.
Built in 1904, its lavish decor made the home perfectly suited for conversion to a B&B, said owner Earl Cramer, who opened the business with his wife, Kathleen, three years ago.
Each B&B has its special little touch, such as a bottle of wine to welcome newcomers on arrival or snacks served in the #i afternoon, or chauffeuring to and from the airport or other destinations. Some area B&Bs, such as the River House Inn, participate in the Biking Inn-to-Inn, program where bikers ride from one B&B to another on Delmarva, while B&B owners move their luggage.
Two b&bs, the Snow Hill Inn and the Atlantic Hotel operate restaurants. In addition, the Atlantic is an authentic, 16-room inn, dating from the 1800s. Each room in the Atlantic, considered the centerpiece of Berlin, is decorated in period antiques.
Like the smaller b&bs, the Atlantic provides a continental breakfast with its room rates of $55 to $90. (Rates increase to $65 to $125 during July and August.)