Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Independence Day Weekend in Ocean City, Maryland


Awhile ago, Michael started dreaming up potential vacations we could take on the 4th of July weekend. Thankfully, his initial suggestion of the Outer Banks (North Carolina) got tossed aside when we decided that the drive was way too far (and therefore not very relaxing) for a weekend trip. Don't get me wrong - we would both love to visit the OBX another time, but Divine Providence steered us in another direction that wouldn't get ruined by Hurricane Arthur last week. Instead, we opted for a nice beach trip that would be less than 3 hours away: Ocean City, Maryland.

Initially we hesitated - because the holiday weekend in this tourist hot-spot meant that hotels required a 3-night minimum stay. We had originally planned to travel on Friday and stay 2 nights...but we bit the bullet and agreed that the extra night and fees were worth it. After all, we haven't taken any sort of vacation since our weekend in Miami when Gabriel was 8 weeks old and we do not yet have any other vacation plans for later this year. This could be our only vacation for awhile so we went ahead and booked our stay...and I'm so thankful we did!

Not only was the trip a lot of fun, but the timing was perfect. Michael's work really picked up this week and he is entering a busy season that might demand a decent amount of overtime. Thank you, Lord, for giving him this much-deserved break just when You knew he would need it!

So what did we do in Ocean City?

We arrived Thursday night, went to dinner, then basically headed back to our hotel to put Gabriel to bed. Friday's weather forecast included a lot of rain and storms, so we relaxed in the hotel during Gabriel's morning nap, then headed out for some indoor exploration.

Gabriel's first 4th of July! Decked out in patriotic blue.

We got lunch, wandered aimlessly around the Gold Coast Mall (which was about a block from our hotel), then headed down to the boardwalk to visit the Ripley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium. At the Ripley's museum we saw a lot of great things, including part of the Berlin Wall, Dolly the first-animal-to-be-cloned sheep, and (my favorite) an elaborate Chinese camel bone carving of the mythological mountain city of Penglai.

Despite the ominous forecast and stormy morning, Friday afternoon the skies cleared and blessed us with a gorgeous sunny walk up the infamous boardwalk. When we first arrived on our way to the museum, we were greeted by a very unexpected but familiar face. Who was it? Jesus!

I have no idea who did this, but it was beautiful and made me so giddy! Here we were on vacation, exploring a new place for the first time, and here was Jesus. What a wonderful reminder that He is always with us everywhere we go in life.

Everything about these elaborate sand sculptures made me so happy - but perhaps the best part was looking around and seeing so many people stop in their tracks. Amidst the hustle and bustle of tourists strolling up and down the boardwalk, store fronts trying to bump their music louder than the shop next door, and the commotion of the boardwalk tram passing by, here was an oasis of calm. People slowed down, looked, read the plaques (which contained Bible verses), took pictures, and walked closer to get an even better look as the message of Christ's sacrifice and love for us drowned out all the rest. I even saw one man reach down and pick up one of the informative, free pamphlets about Christianity. What an amazing sight to behold. Truly.

We reserved Saturday as our "beach day." No going downtown to the boardwalk - just a laid-back, loose schedule that involved eating amazing food (seriously - Crab Bag was amazing) and soaking up the sun.

At first, Gabriel did really well on the beach as he sat on my lap and inquisitively and hesitantly touched his feet to the sand. However, that was all over before it could really begin. He stood, holding my hands, on the sand for about 30 seconds before getting nervous and crying to be picked up. Gone are the days we lived in Florida - when Gabriel was so young that the waves simply lulled him to sleep as I waded in the water. The ocean waves freaked him out even as I held and hugged him, trying to reassure him that everything was fine. After a few minutes of him getting gradually more and more upset we threw in the towel and headed to the kiddie pool - which he loved.

The rain had pushed the local fireworks to the 5th, so after the vigil Mass and dinner on Saturday night we headed back to the hotel, trying to figure out the best way for us to view the show. Fortunately (thank you again, Divine Providence), our hotel room gave us a direct line of vision of the entire fireworks show on the northern side of the island. Gabriel got to stay up a little late to see his first fireworks and we were able to put him to bed immediately afterwards without any journeying back from the park. Win-win.

Sunday morning we headed to the beach one last time before Gabriel's nap, packed our bags, and checked out of the hotel. We caught the bus downtown for our final vacation excursion: a boat adventure tour to Assateague Island - home to wild ponies!

Yes. You read that correctly. Wild ponies in their natural habitat! It was another gorgeous day and we had so much fun as our guides showed us the ponies, a couple of (huge!) osprey nests, and a lot of different crabs and sea creatures.

Wild ponies on Assateague Island

We then visited the boardwalk one last time, got some ice cream, and begrudgingly made the trip back home - attempting to reorient ourselves to everyday life (which I don't think fully happened until Tuesday).

It was a wonderful trip and we would certainly consider visiting Ocean City, MD again. If you plan to go, here are a few unsolicited tips from yours truly:

  • Unless you want to be surrounded by swarms of drunken college kids and loud party music, don't stay anywhere near the boardwalk (stay north of 40th street). Thankfully we were informed of this and intentionally chose a hotel that was north of the boardwalk craziness.
  • Take advantage of the "B" (beach) buses that go up and down Coastal Highway. Don't drive unless you want to sit in your car forever, get road rage, and suffer through the task of finding parking. Thankfully, we were also informed of this prior to our trip and made plans to utilize the buses (which you can ride all day long for $3 - but bring exact change. Of course babies are free.).
    • Allow time for heavy traffic. We stayed near 118th street and it took the buses anywhere from 30-60 minutes each time we went to 3rd street (near the southern portion of the boardwalk), depending on how busy it was that time of day.
  • Consider a condo rental. Had we known sooner, we could have made plans to get a condo with some friends, which would have saved a decent amount of money.
  • Want to eat at Crab Bag, the restaurant I mentioned? Go for lunch - not dinner...unless you want to wait around for 1-2 hours before getting a table. We asked the employees and they said they get busy around 3pm; we went for lunch one day and they weren't busy at all. I highly recommend their crab mac 'n cheese. Their mussels were also so good.
  • Figure out what places you might want to visit, and check out their websites in advance. A lot of them have coupons you can print off! Also check the lobby of your hotel for free coupon booklets (we got a couple dollars off the Ripley's museum and the Assateague Adventure trip - the only 2 things we paid to do besides eat and stay in a hotel).

If any of you have more specific questions about Ocean City, want to know about the research I did while planning the trip, how we chose the places we went, or anything else - feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!

"Come walk with me along the beach,
where the sunsets seem within reach,
we'll search for treasures in the sand,
as we walk hand in hand."


  1. Oh this post made me so happy :-) My family and I went to Ocean City every summer when I was younger and I kind of consider it a second home. I'm so so glad you guys enjoyed it - and you gave excellet OC travel advice :-) Ps. on a semi related, mostly unrelated note: There are some really cute children's chapter books called Misty of Chincoteague (don't know if you've heard of them) that are about the wild ponies and the yearly swim from Assateague to Chincoteague

    1. i thought this island sounded familiar as i was reading the post - i definitely read those books as a kid :)

    2. Yes! I was telling Tiffany that my mom loved those books so she was REALLY excited when I told her where we were going. :)

  2. SHUT UP. I was in Ocean City last weekend, near the Gold Coast Mall, last weekend, too! We decided not to go to the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Luke's (I assume that's where you guys went?) and went Sunday, instead, but it sounds like we were practically neighbors for a few days and didn't know it! I grew up going to OC, too, and it's neat seeing familiar things like the Jesus sand sculptures through fresh eyes. If you ever find yourself there again, the Bayside Skillet is my favorite breakfast spot in all the land =)