Ocean City on a Budget

Vacationing in Ocean City doesn't have to cost a small fortune. Since it is a summer only vacation resort there is no way around paying premium prices for the warm months. That does not mean you can't save a lot of money by having a good vacation strategy. First you must decide on when you want to arrive. The peak season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day but rates vary throughout the season. Early summer and late summer tend to offer the best deals both on hotel rates and restaurant discounts. Of course there are reasons for these discounts; early summer tends to be cooler and late summer is more rainy. Anytime you pre-plan a vacation you run the risk of hitting a bad weather period so we must assume a normal weather week and hope for the best. With this in mind, July is the prime month for Ocean City.

Okay, we've picked a week and now must book a place to sleep. Are choices are a hotel, a condo, a suite (with kitchen), a house (across the Rt. 90 bridge in Ocean Pines), or a campsite.

If camping is your thing than you must be aware that the best camp grounds are at Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague Island State Park. For more things to do with the children and better availability try Frontier Town Campground or a little further from Ocean City is Fort Whaley Campground. Other, smaller, campgrounds are also available.

*The National Seashore rates start at about $27 a night but are usually booked 2 years in advance. The best chance here is checking often and being willing to change sites at least once during the week or booking well in advance of your visit. Reservations are made through the National Recreation Website. If you have any questions call the campground office at 410-641-3030. Pets are allowed but check all the rules.

*The Assateague Island State Park rates start at about $27 + fees per night but book at least a year in advance for best locations and the least chance of having to change sites during your stay. Reservations are made through the Department of Natural Resources. If you have any questions call the Park at 410-641-2918. Pets are allowed only in Loop J, check all the rules.

*Frontier Town rates start at about $47 per night and go up to $92 with waterfront and dock. A western theme park and water park are located on site for a family friendly vacation, The water park is free to campers and the theme park offers a 20% discount for campers. Reservations can be made here but remember the earlier you book the better chance you have of getting the site you want. If you have any questions call 1-800-228-5590. Pets are allowed but check all the rules.

* Fort Whaley rates start at about $40 per night and go up to $78 for lake front. Frontier Towns' water park is included in the rate as is a 20% discount to the Frontier Town theme park. Reservations can be made here. If you have any questions call 1-888-322-7717. Pets are allowed but all the rules.

Renting a house for the week is a great plan for large families or multi-family vacations. The added cost of renting a home is more than made up by the savings of being able to cook in a fully equipped kitchen and the use local amenities to keep the younger, and younger at heart, busy and happy. Add to that the bonus of room for everyone to have privacy and be able to enjoy different activities of their choice. Ocean Pines is the most likely place to find weekly house rentals. Located just across the Rt. 90 bridge from Ocean City, Ocean Pines offers visitors the chance to rent a home by the week within a resort of its own. Rates vary too much to quote rates due to the many different homes and amenities offered with each home. Ocean Pines has several swimming pools, a golf course, and an ocean front beach club with pool is available. Each homeowner offers different packages with their rental. If your rental does not include an amenity that you want you can purchase it separately here. You can find Ocean Pines rentals in your local newspaper or at Hileman Real Estate.

Hotel suites, while more expensive, offer the ability to cook some or all of your meals. The savings for suites are not just from restaurant prices but also from the expense of buying drinks at highly inflated prices. Suites are usually located in ocean front or ocean block hotels giving you quick access to the beach and limiting your need to drive in Ocean City traffic. Check carefully as not all suites are created equally, some offer only compact refrigerator and microwave while others offer full kitchens.

Hotels abound in Ocean City but a few are located just outside Ocean City and offer good value for your vacation dollar. My favorite is the Francis Scott Key located less than a mile outside of Ocean City. There is indoor and outdoor pools, a free shuttle bus into Ocean City and much more. There is also the Alamo Motel and the Comfort Suites, both offering prices lower than comparable rooms in Ocean City and located about a mile from Ocean City. Click here for a more complete list of Ocean City hotels.

Condos/Apartments offer at home convenience right at the beach. Some condos have amenities equal to the best hotels while others have the basics like air conditioning and TV. Although there are exceptions, apartments generally offer few extra amenities. Decide which amenities are the most important and check each unit carefully for what they include.