Ocean City offers updates for summer season

Memorial Day weekend visitors will see change in familiar resort

  • Reservations and rental bookings are up 11 percent from last year, so this beach is about to get much more crowded.
Reservations and rental bookings are up 11 percent from last… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
May 27, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

If you're headed downy ocean for the Memorial Day weekend, you might notice something different on the beach: There's more of it.

A $9 million replenishment effort over the winter pumped 900,000 cubic yards of new sand onto Ocean City's beaches to widen and shore up parts that had eroded. That is one of a number of changes visitors will notice as the town launches another summer vacation season — changes that tourism officials say are vital even in a resort community where familiarity is what has drawn generations of families year after year.

"I think the folks in Ocean City that are successful are the ones who re-invent every year," said Dean Langrall, marketing director of the Jolly Roger Amusement Parks, which is debuting a new zipline. "You need a new wrinkle."

Here are five new wrinkles to look for in Ocean City this summer:

Bigger crowds?

Hoteliers and rental agencies say that after two down seasons, reservations are up this year.

Jim Waggoner, vice president for resort rentals at Long & Foster, said bookings are up 11 percent compared with this time last year for the more than 1,000 homes and condos that the company leases in Ocean City and the Delaware beaches. A recent uptick in bookings coincides with a drop in gas prices, he said.

Waggoner's company recommended to property owners that they hold the line on rate increases and, as the season progresses, be open to negotiating prices with potential renters to keep business coming amid a still-shaky economy.

Ocean City is still dealing with a building boom of about 11 years ago, he said. "We went through a heavy building period, so the availability of properties went up dramatically, but our vacationers stayed the same."

Sales more than rentals were hit by the recession, he said, but there's a potential silver lining to that. "Our vacationers of today are the buyers of tomorrow," Waggoner said of Ocean City's second-home market.


With the Dew Tour of extreme sports heading to OC in July, some of the town's standing attractions are offering their own stepped-up experiences this year.

The Sportland Arcade has a new virtual roller coaster, in which riders wear 3-D glasses and are strapped into seats that hurtle them every which way, while wind machines blow at them.

"If you are wearing a toupee, it will definitely knock it off," said Jerry Greenspan, one of the owners of the arcade at Worcester Street and the boardwalk. "The only thing the seats don't do is turn you upside down."

Riders, who pay $6, have their choice of a course that takes them through a canyon, space, a haunted mine or a Jetsons-like futuristic world.

Greenspan's Fun City arcade, at Caroline Street and the boardwalk, has a new Ninja Fruit video game, derived from the Angry Birds-like app.

Jolly Roger Amusements has a new "extreme zipline" at its Speedworld park on 30th Street and Coastal Highway that sends riders swooping through the air as high as 60 feet. The zipline costs $25 and runs through four stations.

"It's kind of exhilarating," said Dean Langrall, Jolly Roger's marketing director. "You get some spectacular looks at the ocean and the bay."


While everyone at the beach loves a bargain, not everyone wants an advertising leaflet stuffed behind their screen doors or stuck on their car windshields. After complaints last season, Ocean City said it will crack down on businesses that litter the town with handbills, threatening them with a loss of their license to operate.

"It's always been in the town code, but last year it got to be a problem," said Donna Abbott, a spokeswoman for Ocean City government.

"There are other ways to get that information out there," she said, such as card racks in hotels and online.

Beach replenishment

Roughly every four years, the town dredges up sand from about three miles offshore to bolster its beaches. Visitors probably will notice the change most around 81st Street, said Terry McGean, the town engineer. That stretch, along with those around 33rd and 146th streets, are "hot spots" of beach erosion because of the geography of the island and the kind of wave action they get, he said.

"There was a little more that had to be done this time because of a couple of bad nor'easters that came through on Veterans Day in 2009," McGean said.

The work was done between October and Christmas of last year.

A taste of South Beach

To longtime OC visitors, the Phillips Beach Plaza Hotel and its rocking chairs were familiar, but in a grandmotherly sort of way. "Ancient, and charming" according to one TripAdvisor.com reviewer, and "a place for the old folks" to another.

"It was a staple on the boardwalk, like Thrasher's fries and Fisher's popcorn," agreed Michelle Torres, corporate director of marketing for Phillips Seafood Restaurants. "We didn't even have Wi-Fi."

But over the winter, the hotel at 13th Street on the boardwalk underwent a facelift that brightened up its Victorian decor, added bigger windows for better views and replaced the Phillips by the Sea restaurant with Bombora, with a chic menu featuring Latin- and Asian-inflected tapas and small plates.

"There was some concern — 'I want my Phillips, I want my crab imperial,'" Torres said of OC vacationers' love of the familiar. "But people are liking the change."

Torres said the hotel already has more bookings at this point than it did by summer's end last year, which executives take as an indication the freshening-up of one of the boardwalk's old standbys hasn't driven away traffic. Perhaps it's because they've kept enough of the old, such as the signature rocking chairs.

"Just not the same rocking chairs," Torres said.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.