by Wendy Irvine
How do you nail the modern child’s idea of an awesome beach vacation? Start by consulting the folks at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Ocean City. Begin with a ginormous, zero-entry outdoor pool, situated over the Atlantic. Add slides, a lazy river and a pirate ship. Sprinkle in attentive lifeguards to keep the grown-ups mellow, then make tasty poolside fare magically appear, and you’ve got yourself an amazing family vacation in Ocean City, Md.
This all-suite hotel, built in 2001 and renovated yearly, features 210 suites across 14 stories. Each spacious condo-like space comes with a bedroom door that closes, a private balcony, and a full kitchen. The upscale bathroom also sports a Jacuzzi that delivers a heavenly soak with a rain showerhead above.
The Holiday Inn sits on the boardwalk, but is an easy 1.5-mile walk away from the boardwalk’s old-fashioned amusement park (which means you’re on the quieter side of the area). If little legs are tired, a tram stops in front of the property; walking isn’t a bad idea though, thanks to the shopping and snacking opportunities along the way.
This Holiday Inn has two restaurants under its roof: the casual Coral Reef Cafe & Bar that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the elegant Hemingway’s at the Coral Reef, which serves dinner only. Both dining spots feed four kids, ages 12 and under, for free — as long as an adult is purchasing a meal. By cooking in your suite’s kitchen and using the “kids eat free” amenity at both restaurants, a stay at this property is easier on the wallet than you’d think.
Our Editor Loves
- Kid-paradise pool with lazy river, slides and pirate ship
- All-suite, full-kitchen, Jacuzzi-in-every-bathroom property
- Phenomenal location on boardwalk, where kids eat free
- Theme Park
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
- Free Breakfast
- Free Wi-Fi
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
Enter one of the 210 Holiday Inn suites and you're in a cozy living room with a queen sofa bed, chair, flat-screen TV and dining table for four. The sitting area spills into a full galley kitchen that shoulders a lavish bathroom with double sinks and a two-person Jacuzzi tub. All sit on a white-tiled floor. The kitchen and bathroom area flow into a large bedroom with another flat-screen TV and either two queen beds or one king bed. And beyond the bedroom is a large private balcony with a spectacular view.
Want the accessibility of the outdoor pools? Request a lobby level suite with a patio that'll allow the kids to run in and out with ease. The property sits on the quiet end of the boardwalk, but if you prefer to avoid the noise of a happy beach crowd altogether, request a room on a higher floor, where you'll also enjoy nice views.
Speaking of views, choices include oceanfront, southern, or pool vistas. The Oceanfront Suite gives a glorious view of the Atlantic while the Southern Suite balcony gives a view of the ocean, but doesn't directly face it. In some Southern Suites, you can also see the bay that's on the other side of Ocean City's peninsula. The Pool-View Suite has a private patio with a gate that opens to the outdoor pools.
The elegant, spa-like bathroom has a large two-person Jacuzzi tub (four toddlers could easily fit), rain showerhead, beautifully scented toiletries and a telephone.
The kitchen is wildly complete with a four-burner stove, a residential oven, large dishwasher, full-sized refrigerator, coffee maker, blender, toaster, colander -- you name it. The cleaning crew even leaves packets of dishwasher soap when they clean the suite. Cupboards contain plates, dishes, cups, skillets, pots and pans, while drawers have flatware, can openers, cooking knives, wine openers and the like.
The balcony boasts two large walls on each side creating an ultra-private space to enjoy the view. And this balcony is not teensy -- it's a generous size that holds a large, round patio table with four patio chairs.
The Holiday Inn has connecting rooms, but only one connecting room per floor, so reserve early. Cribs and rollaway beds are available upon request.
Extras in the suite include HBO and the Disney Channel, Wi-Fi, a large in-room safe and a morning newspaper, all at no additional charge to you.
The Holiday Inn offers three specialty suites. One spacious penthouse sprawls across the 12th floor, offering a killer ocean view with a hot tub on the balcony. The penthouse sleeps 10 to 12 people, has two lavish bathrooms (Jacuzzi in each), a full kitchen and a dining table for up to 12. Each of the two bedrooms has its own balcony and there's another large balcony with two outdoor dining tables.
The Holiday Inn also has a regular one-bedroom suite with a hot tub sitting directly in its bedroom and another one-bedroom suite with the hot tub sitting on the patio.
To reserve one of the three specialty suites, call the hotel well in advance at 866-627-8483.
The hotel's outdoor activity pool is akin to a regular pool, but on steroids. This pool is phenomenal for all ages. That said, if older teens are hoping for a 60 mph, free-fall water slide found in the enormous water parks, hand out boogie boards and point them to the beach.
The children's activity pool overlooks the Atlantic, has a lazy river, sprinklers, two slides -- one that shoots kids out from a pirate ship -- and zero-entry access, which is great for youngsters. Chaise lounges and tables with umbrellas sit around the activity pool and the Deep End Poolside Bar & Grille has servers who take your order all day long. Pool towels are provided and activity hours run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., making it perfect for kids 12 and under.
When the kids are ready for the beach, nature awaits just an outdoor staircase away from the Holiday Inn (an elevator descends to the ground floor, if required). For a small fee, an independently operated stand sets up chairs and umbrellas and rents boogie boards, making your vacation truly "a day at the beach." Note: The hotel doesn't offer beach towels, so bring a stack from home or pick up extras at the nearby Super Fresh.
A nice medium-sized indoor pool sits under the hotel's four-story atrium, too, and immediately shoulders the Coral Reef Cafe. Parents can eat and watch their kids play simultaneously on rainy days, when the indoor pool will come in handy. Pool towels are available and hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
A large game room is available with video games, pinball machines, car racing games, a claw machine and more.
A super popular magic show geared for families materializes twice a week during July and August in the conference center (nights change yearly) from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Magic John has performed for years at the hotel, and families return just to see this talented magician in action.
Arts and crafts are on hand for younger kids twice a week, in the mornings and afternoons, in the conference room (days and times change annually).
The hotel's dining area is an interesting mix of two restaurants and a lively bar directly next to the indoor pool -- and all under the four-story atrium. As you walk into the casual Coral Reef CafÃ©, you can't miss the indoor swimming pool to your left (semi-hidden by the palms). You also can't miss the happy kid-cacophony and a bit of humidity in the air. Some guests love this arrangement because one parent can finish eating while the other parent swims with the kids. Parents of older kids can eat and watch their kids play in the pool simultaneously.
To the right is the colorful, long bar with the latest game on TV. Walk past the cafe and bar through double doors and you'll find yourself in the hotel's quiet and formal Hemingway's at the Coral Reef. Both restaurants offer a fabulous deal for kids: up to four kids eat free as long as they're 12 and under, ordering from the children's menu, and at least one adult is also ordering an adult entree.
The Coral Reef Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner at moderate prices. Enjoy omelets, French toast, steak and eggs and the like. The children's menu is limited, but offers pancakes with bacon, eggs with bacon, oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, cereal and bananas. Lunches include sandwiches, salads, burgers and fries.
The cafe and Hemingway's share the same dinner menu for adults, and the kids menu offers grilled cheese with fruit, mac and cheese with veggies, chicken fingers with fries, grilled chicken with veggies, and pizza with fruit. Tip: Ask at the Holiday Inn front desk about Coral Reef Cafe coupons. The Coral Reef CafÃ© opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. daily; it also offers room service, available from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.
Hemingway's at the Coral Reef -- lined in paintings of Ernest "Papa" Hemingway -- is the most elegant dining spot in the hotel. Once inside Hemingway's, you'll rejoice at the serene ambiance. Kids are more than welcome, but keep in mind that you will find white-table cloths, fancy napkins, salad forks and so forth. The menu offers soups (cream of lump crab), salads (Caesar and standard), appetizers (steamed spiced shrimp and coconut shrimp) and entrees (salmon, crab cake, steaks, upscale burgers, rock fish, stuffed shrimp with crab, and mango BBQ ribs).
Reservations at Hemingway's are necessary, particularly on rainy days when Hemingway's is likely to be packed, and when you're dining with a large party. Hemingway's opens for dinner at 5 p.m. and closes at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Early-bird specials are not offered. Tip: Before dining, check out Hemingway's site for outstanding coupons throughout the year.
The Holiday Inn's Deep End Poolside Bar & Grille serves light fare -- burgers, seafood, chicken fingers -- and cocktails, with servers delivering poolside. It is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The Holiday Inn also has a small convenience store that offers snacks and beach supplies. The closest grocery store for stocking your suite's kitchen is the Super Fresh supermarket located at 12741 Ocean Gateway -- just two miles from the hotel. The Super Fresh has everything you'll need for full meals and items for days on the sand. A CVS is located that is across the street from the hotel and a Subway is immediately next door to the Holiday Inn and serves breakfast (morning sandwiches with egg, bacon and cheese), lunch and dinner at friendly prices.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Before booking, make sure you've got the right property -- Ocean City, Md. actually has three Holiday Inn properties.
Laundry services are free and complimentary detergent is available at the front desk. Onsite parking is also free, and there's actually plenty of parking at the Holiday Inn, both under the hotel itself and across the street for overflow.
Rates are generally based on two persons per night. Additional persons in a room are $10 per day. Children age 19 and under stay free when in the same suite as a parent. Additionally, weekly rates refer to seven consecutive nights booked at the hotel.
A business center allows guest to make copies, email, fax and print coupons to Hemingway's or local attractions.
A spacious fitness room has bikes, elliptical machines, treadmills (with flat-screen TV's mounted on some), weight machines, free weights and a large flat-screen TV mounted in the upper corner. One wall is mirrored, while another offers pleasant views.
The Art of Smart Timing
A visit to the Holiday Inn during the fall, winter and spring months assures lovely walks on the beach amid a quiet atmosphere. And the deeply discounted prices cannot be beat. Keep in mind that the off-season also means that restaurants and shops are closed entirely or have limited hours though.
During the wildly busy summer season, the Holiday Inn sits on the quiet side of the boardwalk, giving you somewhat of a reprieve from the party atmosphere.
The summer beach temperatures range from the 70's to 80's, which also bring crowds to the area. The fall months might still see 70-degree weather, but don't forget to bring light jackets for cool nights.
Before you head to Ocean City, quality time with a map will not be wasted. Ocean City sits on a skinny peninsula (bordered by water on three sides, with land touching on one side). Getting to Ocean City means bridges, tolls, traffic and so forth.
If you're heading to Ocean City from the west, you'll take highway 50 and drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (known to locals as the Bay Bridge). Be forewarned: this bridge has been known to trap people for hours at a time (and the traffic-trap can occur at any hour). From the south, you'll drive US-13 north over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (not to be confused with the Bay Bridge), which requires a $13 to $15 toll, each way. From the north, you'll take US-13 south.
If you're visiting Ocean City by air, you have several airports to use. The winning idea is to fly into Philadelphia International Airport, giving you an easy 2.5-hour drive to Ocean City sans traffic-jammed bridges and pricey tolls. If flying into Washington D.C. is important, take note: going through Washington D.C. via auto is typically -- to put it politely -- a hot mess. Airports that service the DC area include the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. All assure a 3-hour drive to Ocean City -- if traffic decides to cooperate.
Virginia's Norfolk International Airport is another airport to keep in mind. This airport will give you a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Ocean City, and will take you over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel with a toll of $13 to $15, to and fro.
The Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport offers daily scheduled service by just one airline, US Airways.
For Mom and Dad
The inviting Coral Reef bar is an ideal spot to sip a strawberry daiquiri or have a beer and catch the big game from one of many TV's. Happy hour runs every afternoon from 3 to 6 p.m., with specialty drinks ($5), beers ($3), and a different happy hour plate offered every day at a reduced price. After drinks, head to Hemingway's for an elegant, delicious dinner.
If there's time, head to the large adult pool after dinner. It sits somewhat away from -- but parallel to -- the kids activity pool and overlooks the ocean. It also sports a bar and grille and tables and umbrellas, and is ringed in chaise lounges. While kids are allowed in this pool, you won't likely see them here. You'll see even less kids in the hot tub (children under 16 years old are not permitted), which is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer months. The pool is open from 8 a.m. to dusk.