Fun With The Family

When You've Had Your Fill Of Ocean City's Sand And Boardwalk . . . . . . Here Are Three Affordable Places To Visit With The Kids

June 07, 2009|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,

The robotic pirate mannequin mocks museum visitors from behind thick glass, which is good because he looks like a dummy you wouldn't want to mess with.

"Aye there, you scurvy dog! What ye be lookin' at? Ain't ye never seen a pirate before?" says the voice-activated buccaneer featured in the Pirates Plunder, a new museum in Ocean City that's a couple of blocks from the seaside.

Filled with ocean-floor artifacts, pirate history exhibits and a theater for pirate movies, Pirates Plunder is designed to be a diversion from the town's tourist magnets, a place to go when you've had your fill of the rides, the miniature golf and the famed boardwalk.

Such places appear to be few and far between in Ocean City, but the family that seeks a break from a day at the beach will find some that are reasonably priced and kid-friendly, just off the sandy beaten path, and near other popular attractions and restaurants.

"When you come to the beach, and you've gone to the miniature golf and the boardwalk, there's not much [else]. We try to bring something here that shows what pirates were all about," said Scott Diehl, a Frederick resident and deep-sea diver who opened Pirates Plunder at 26th Street and Coastal Highway about a month ago.

The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, at the southernmost tip of the boardwalk, is a destination that has been part of the landscape for decades. It offers a glimpse at how lives were saved at sea by the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which eventually became a part of the Coast Guard.

It also features relics from shipwrecks along the Delmarva Peninsula, an exhibit that has sand from all over the world and a bathing suit collection, which includes a garment dating back to 1910 that looks more like a dress than a bathing suit.

"It's one of our more popular exhibits," said Sandra Hurley, the museum's assistant curator.

Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for kids ages 6 to 12.

Then there's Northside Park, the area's largest park facility.

The 58-acre complex, which begins at 125th Street and the bay, is a hike from the boardwalk. Yet it is a lure for amateur sporting events (lighted softball, baseball and soccer fields) and also features a fishing lagoon, a footbridge, two playgrounds, two piers, walking paths and a picnic area.

Recreation supervisor Al Handy said that the park, which is just two blocks from the ocean, is popular with visitors and local residents who enjoy "a late-evening walk just before turning in." He said that it hosts an Ocean City summer tradition, Sundaes in the Park, with a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar and live music, each Sunday night in July and August.

This time of year, family-oriented venues - particularly those away from the crowds - might come in handy when you're visiting the area.

Ocean City officials recently announced that an estimated 270,421 tourists visited during Memorial Day weekend, marking the best unofficial start to the summer season since 1993, when an estimated 278,000 people visited.

This year, the town had its most successful month of April on record, officials said. Memorial Day is typically the second-most popular holiday weekend in Ocean City, with the weekend closest to July 4 usually drawing more than 300,000 visitors each year.

The huge crowds are among the reasons many Ocean City Web sites mention people-watching as a popular pastime. But destinations such as Pirates Plunder and the Life-Saving Station museum offer families a chance to explore and learn.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service began with an act of Congress in 1871 to aid mariners in distress off the East and West coasts as well as in the Great Lakes. Before that, saving lives at sea was ineffective, as many lifesavers had inadequate equipment.

"They used to be stationed every 10 miles or so up the coast," said Hurley of the Life-Saving Station Museum.

The Ocean City museum features equipment used in rescue missions and tells of daring attempts to retrieve passengers from ships - most of them powered by sail - that were often overcome by snowstorms. Museum officials say that more than 7,500 people were saved from 300 maritime disasters off the coast of Ocean City and the adjacent islands.

The Ocean City station was commissioned in 1878 and built at what is today Caroline Street. It was moved to its current location in 1977.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service lasted 44 years, then merged with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (a law-enforcement agency) to form the Coast Guard.

Diehl says that pirates played an integral part in U.S. history as well. He says that pirates often overtook slave ships in search of loot, then freed the slaves aboard. He says that often slaves were asked to join the pirate bands and, as a result, he says, a large number of pirates were of African descent.

Diehl said that he hopes Pirates Plunder will engage and inspire people of all ages.

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