Sure, you can have a great time in Ocean City on a budget. And you can have a great time in Ocean City with your family.
But can you really have a great time in Ocean City with your family while sticking to a budget?
Which is how my husband, Ben, and I, along with three of our kids, manage to spend a couple too-hot-to-stay-home August nights on the Atlantic without selling one of our brood to finance it all.
Granted, our double-efficiency room at the Park Place Hotel isn’t cheap (this is high season), but it’s right on the Boardwalk and fits all five of us. Plus, its microwave and mini fridge provide enough yogurt, string cheese, and popcorn to save us from constantly eating out. In two days, we have just three meals at nearby restaurants, where our biggest splurges are steak for Ben and margaritas for me.
This is a vacation, after all.
Of course, frugal measures aside, the thing that makes Ocean City easiest to afford is that its biggest draw—a gorgeous, 10-mile beach—is free.
And its waters aren’t infested with sharks, either, not that I don’t compulsively scan the horizon for dorsal fins, anyway. Like Chief Brody, I imagine my kids all but dipped in A-1 every time they enter the surf.
They, on the other hand, ignore their nutty mom as they spend hours in the waves, somehow forgetting how much they irritate one another on dry land.
Although 9-year-old Sam can’t quite navigate his new boogie board, and 3-year-old Elie isn’t swimming so much as bobbing in the waves, they’re having an awesome time.
Even 14-year-old Sadie, usually appalled by the fact that she even has parents and siblings, cracks a smile as a neck-high wave crashes around her.
They’re so mesmerized by the water, in fact, that they don’t beg to go to the Jolly Roger, an amusement park at the end of the Boardwalk, once they’re too pruned to swim anymore.
They ask to explore the fishing pier beside it.
For 50 cents a pop, we’re granted access out to the tip of the tall, weathered pier jutting over the surf. The kids are mesmerized by the sleek, grey fish (which eerily resemble junior great whites) and rays being reeled in by veteran anglers and tourists alike.
A few bucks would get us our own sack of chicken necks and a wire basket for luring crabs, but we’re content to play spectator. There’s less mess, and no one goes to bed smelling like Starkist.
But since bedtime’s still hours away—and we’re still not part of the one percent—we decide to stroll the Boardwalk for a while, stopping to climb on the big wooden jungle gyms in the sand near the hotel when Elie gets fussy.
Some soft-serve Dumser’s cones and a bucket of caramel corn from Fisher’s later, we’re ready to call it a night. (Pocketbook-friendly Assateague—with its beautiful, right-out-of-central-casting wild ponies—is on deck for tomorrow.)
The kids are sticky, sunburned, and sleepy (Sadie’s back to being surly, too, but she’s a teenager). We watch a little TV in the blessed air-conditioning and then knock off.
It’s been a terrific day packed with sandcastles, seashell hunting, and less brother-sister infighting than we’ve endured since school let out in June.
All in all, an excellent getaway—and one we can afford to do again soon.