Ocean City: The resort may be a summer playground, but some have discovered that winter can be the icing on the cake.

WINTER IS NO BARRIER TO THE BEACH

February 22, 1996|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

There's absolutely nothing to do at the beach in the wintertime -- if all you want to do is soak up the sun in scanty swimwear. Otherwise, if you care to go to Ocean City while the clouds are still pregnant with snow, you'll find yourself busy with pleasures to pursue.

Ocean City in the winter is quiet, and the crowds, thin as they are, tend to be older than the summer crew. Many people are seeking a hideaway, an escape from the pressures of work and the cold without spending big for a Caribbean cruise.

"It's a great place for people who like some solitude," says Martha O. Clements, who handles public relations for the O.C. department of tourism.

If you pick a hotel that suits your needs, you may never have to leave it -- check to see if it has a restaurant, bar, health spa, game room, hot tub or indoor pool. It's a delicious sensation to float in a heated pool in February while above, on the glass roof that separates you from frostbite, white snow sparkles against a blue sky.

When you do venture out, you can still stay indoors. But don't give up on the idea of ice: At the Carousel Hotel and Resort at 11700 Coastal Highway, an indoor ice rink offers the feel of the outdoors without the hassles. Hotel guests and the public alike can enjoy a multistory, light-filled space that encompasses both the rink and a courtyard adorned by palm trees. (Admission is $4, less for hotel guests, and you can rent skates for $3.) Call ahead (800-641-0011); hours vary, and sometimes a convention at the hotel means the rink isn't open.

If you prefer a warmer activity, try bowling, going to the movies or shopping. A popular destination is the Ocean City Factory Outlets at Route 50 and Golf Course Road (800-733-5444).

Cozier yet is high tea -- free to the public -- at the Dunes Manor Hotel (800-523-2888). Although the Dunes Manor, 28th Street and ocean, is at home among the giant hotels stalking the ocean, its lobby manages to convey a sense of intimacy and elegance with its Victorian decor and manners. Enter and ascend the stairs to the lounge; from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, hotel owner Thelma Conner, 82, pours tea from a silver pot and hands the pretty cups and saucers to her guests. (Also served: crumpets with butter and marmalade, and cookies.) Mrs. Conner is wearing pink and a miniature teapot brooch, perfectly decorous for a decorous ritual, which she says she envisioned even before she built the hotel.

"You'd better come get a cup of tea!" she calls to a couple approaching the table at which she sits. "You'll need it today." Outside the windows behind her, the angry wind and surf are roaring at each other. Empty, snow-dusted rocking chairs form a line of sentinels on the long deck, keeping an eye on the battle.

Adjoining the room where tea is served is the small, dark bar, where John and Judy Majewski of North Brunswick, N.J., are enjoying their quiet vacation. "We came down to relax, do nothing," says Mrs. Majewski.

"We come here every year for Valentine's Day," says Mr. Majewski. "We've been doing it for about eight years. It's an annual trek."

They aren't the only ones who have made a tradition out of coming to the beach when it's cold. Tom and Gloria Schmidt of Bel Air, among 23 couples from the Goose Harbor Yacht Club in Baltimore County, are finding plenty of things to do on their "winter cruise," during which, says Mr. Schmidt, "We go by car."

Mrs. Schmidt, who is the club's "commodore" this year, says club members also have a pier party planned -- in their hotel.

In the meantime, they're underwater. At least it looks that way at Old Pro Golf at 68th Street and Coastal Highway (410-524-2645). While the fake dinosaurs outside are covered with snow, miniature-golf enthusiasts are making their way through a clever course indoors that looks like the bottom of the ocean, with hovering sea creatures, a sunken sub, a ghost ship, a cave and even placid goldfish populating their own little water hazard.

Mike and Karen Thompson, making their way around the course, say they're in O.C. for their fifth anniversary.

"We got a honeymoon suite at the Princess Royale. Got a heart-shaped tub. That's where we've been," says Mrs. Thompson. There's definitely an air of romance for many making winter getaways.

Sometimes, the romance lies in summer dreams, which bring people through a snowstorm to the Convention Center at 40th Street and the bay for a boat show. The Convention Center has events scheduled year-round (see accompanying story). Still, not everyone at the show is convinced the cold will end.

"We're going back to the tanning beds in the hotel," says Don Victor of Prince George's County, laughing and brushing snow out of his hair. He's come to the show with Pam Dillon of Glen Burnie.

Although Ms. Dillon says they came to escape the snow, Mr. Victor has some advice for visitors: "Bring a scarf, a hat . . . and a good attitude. Have fun and to hell with the weather!"

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