Understanding Maryland's Ocean City: A Floridian's Perspective

I have yet to find a reason to keep coming back to this beach, which is frustrating since it is the closest one in terms of driving distance. The novelty of this vacation destination wears off after one or two visits.
07/24/2013 06:18 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

"Why are we paying this much money for this hotel?" I asked my husband as we hauled our luggage into a king suite of the Princess Royal. There was a Formica countertop in the en-suite kitchen and in the living area, a hard wool-covered couch, the kind of wool that feels like needles on a sunburn. The indoor pool was freezing and had few entry points safe for small children. The most valuable spot is a small collection of old lounge chairs, if you can find any without the straps broken, by the outdoor bar. Here a few baby palm trees frame your view of the seashore providing a quiet, relaxing place to celebrate summer. Until the band starts and the unbearably loud music blasts through two-foot speakers located right next to the outdoor bar.

Destined to not repeat such a poor hotel choice again, our next visit was preceded by almost 100 hours of online research. If there was a moderately priced hotel room available for one or two nights during the summer in Ocean City, MD that was worth staying in, we would have found it. Such a place does not exist. (Including the over-priced Hilton, which goes for about $350 to $500 a night.) We thought Castle in the Sand might be the least worst of all choices, and for around $250 for one weekend night, it wasn't horrible, but it did have that same wool couch and 1950's bathroom hardware.

The answer to why hotel rooms with itchy couches and small, cold pools go for around $300 a night in Ocean City, lies partly in how (non-uber wealthy) people in the MidAtlantic region take summer vacations. To find the best place to stay in Ocean City with granite countertop kitchens, great views at great prices, you have to stay in a time share for at least a week.

This is a complete and total shift in vacationing philosophy from the way Floridians vacation, mainly because they live in the Land of Nod, where a three or four star hotel can be found for $99 with no two-night minimums. I've reviewed five star hotels for Orlando Magazine. I've also stayed in hotels in Florida that never recovered from Hurricane Irene in 2005. Almost all coastal hotels in Florida come with at least one hot tub, two pools, and crisp white sheets where direct beach access and new lounge chairs outline a large deck.

I also don't remember anyone I knew in Florida spending a full week of their vacation at the beach in a hotel, unless it was in Miami, Vero Beach or near family in the Panhandle. We tended to take three-day weekends when the weather was nice, somewhere in Central Florida in either Sarasota or Cocoa Beach. The International Palms Resort and Conference Center is one of Cocoa Beach's oldest hotels was built in 1962. For comparison, the oldest hotel in Ocean City was erected in 1875 - 10 years before Orlando was even incorporated as a town.

But it's not just the accommodations in Ocean City that I find bizarre. Having been to Daytona Beach during Spring Break and Venice Beach in August, I've seen my share of strange things (like a thick ooze coming from a street gutter and a dog skateboarding apparently by himself). What I saw one morning on Philadelphia Avenue at 28th street in Ocean City stopped me in my tracks. Dozens of people were waiting a very long line for donuts. Specifically Fractured Prune donuts. As someone who begins dieting for a bikini worthy body about six months before bathing suit season, I found this display almost humorous.

Until I had one.

Donuts at the Fractured Prune are basically fluffy cakes with delectable sugary icing served warm. I still wouldn't wait almost an hour in line for one, but I can now see why they are so famous.

My first visit to Seacret's Bar & Grill when I discovered that a "beach" bar could be so expansive, and be an outdoor nightclub and a restaurant was fantastic. Fish Tales is another outdoor restaurant with a sand-covered floor on a marina that satisfied the truest surfer girl in me.

As for the rest of OC's offerings, I've had Thrasher's French Fries and Dumser's Milkshakes on the boardwalk. I've even tried the crabs at Bahama Mama's. I have yet to find a reason to keep coming back to this beach, which is frustrating since it is the closest one in terms of driving distance. The novelty of this vacation destination wears off after one or two visits.

Unfortunately, I don't see any new hotel's going up there anytime soon.