Lourdes and I got married in Ocean City, Maryland on October 8th. We chose the venue because we both love the ocean and have spent many happy weekends there. Planning a wedding, coordinating rooms for guests and scheduling events gave us an opportunity to experience the best and worst Ocean City has to offer. We had to make several trips to the ocean to make arrangements. We had the opportunity to interview various event planners at hotels and visit with several restaurants.
After we got home, we took stock of our experience and thought others might benefit if we shared what we learned. In no particular order these are the do’s and don’ts of Ocean City Maryland.
Bayside 81st Street and Coastal Highway
It is difficult to express how wonderfully we were treated by the manager Matt Heiderman and his staff. After visiting just about every fine dining restaurant seeking a place for our reception, Matt met with us and prepared a terrific event. The views were spectacular, the food incredible and every one of our guest raved about the service. Matt opened the restaurant early so we would have the place to ourselves and made sure he had enough wait staff to cater to our needs. We plan to make the Hobbit a regular stop every time we visit Ocean City in the future. Triple kudos to The Hobbit.
Bayside 48th Street and Coastal Highway
OK, this needs to be clarified. Fager’s Island Restaurant is the place to be at sunset (well, not so much on overcast or rainy days). It has long been a tradition that patrons watch the sun set on Assawoman Bay while the 1812 Overture plays over the sound system. The music is coordinated so that the last notes sound as the sun slips below the horizon. It may sound quirky, but experience it one time and you will return.
Fager’s Island also features a Bachelorette Crawl. Just bring in your party any time after 9:00 p.m. The bride-to-be will be given a card with 10 items which must be completed during the course of the evening. All persons in your party will receive some “props” to join in the fun. Once the card is completed the bride will receive a $30 Gift Card to be used at a later date and a commemorative “I survived the Fager’s Island Bachelorette Crawl” T-Shirt. Lourdes and her friends took part in the event. Yes, she did complete every task and is the proud owner of the T-shirt. It is a fun time and a must experience for beach wedding brides-to-be.
The down side of Fager’s is there inability to accommodate parties larger than 8 in their fine dining areas. We spoke with several managers and could not crack the code. We certainly could bring 40 or 50 people but there was no guarantee that we could sit in close proximity to one another. As it turned out, Fager’s denial led us to end up at The Hobbit and the Hobbit blew Fager’s out of the water when it comes to fine dining.
Bayside 77th Street and Coastal Highway
I have been eating breakfast at The Bayside Skillet for the last 30 years. We joined a group of the wedding guests for breakfast there Sunday morning. They were “newbies” and it was a delight to watch their eyes grow large when they saw the size of their portions. The marveled at the fresh squeezed juices. Crepes filled with strawberries, smothered in real whipped cream were finger licking good. Omelets filled with ham, cheese, onions and more filled plates set before us. The staff is attentive while not over bearing. Depending on the time of the year, you can choose to eat inside or on the deck. They don’t serve fancy lattes or $10 cups of java. The Bayside Skillet serves good old fashioned coffee in a cup that is refilled as often as you wish. The Bayside Skillet is definitely a big Do in Ocean City Maryland.
117 West 49th Street
A visit to Ocean City is not complete without a stop at Seacrets. Seacrets is a beach party, a dance party and one great big party party. There are bars located throughout the establishment. Live music is featured in two different areas and young and old alike dance the night away in both areas. It is one of the most well staffed party spots in Ocean City. Your party can enjoy a good time, partake in beverages and walk to their car under the watchful eye of a friendly but effective security staff. We always have a great time dancing to the mixture of rock n’ roll and reggae music. There is something liberating about kicking off your shoes and dancing in the sand. Seacrets is another one of those must stops in Ocean City.
The last, but certainly not the least, of the Do’s has to be watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. Join the small group of people that make their way to shore as night begins to turn to day. Enjoy the quiet beauty of black turning to pink and then feel the wonder of the reddish golden orb as it seems to rise from the sea. As the sun begins it’s journey watch the reflection begin to reach from the horizon to the waves breaking on the sand. There is nothing like sunrise on the ocean. It’s free. It can be enjoyed alone. It can be shared with a friend. It is yours and it is everyone’s. Loudes and I will always remember sitting together, sipping hot coffee, basking in the glow of daybreak.
Honorable mention in the do’s list goes to Bull on the Beach for it’s incredibly good roast beef sandwich special; thrashers for their delightful french fries, early evening strolls on the boardwalk, the crazy art gallery that continues to survive through good times and bad and of course the warm sand between your toes on the beach.
Now this may be hard to believe, but anything run by the Harrison Group should be avoided like the plague. This group manages several hotels and restaurants in Ocean City. The are long on promises and terribly short on delivery. We encountered them at several points in our planning. We visited many of their sites. We, like most trusting consumers were stupid enough to believe their sales pitch, accept their “no problem”, and enter an agreement with them.
It began innocently enough. We wanted a hotel with access to the beach. Our search led us to quite a few above the Route 90 bridge. After spending a good part of one morning, we had just about decided on one venue and we decided to check with the Oceanfront Holiday Inn. Of course our group was not the largest of the season, but we expected to need between 10 and 15 rooms. The manager took us on a tour of the property, finishing with a visit to the top floor of the Ocean front rooms. There were three of them on the top floor. We wanted a smoking room and were told that these were the only smoking rooms on the Ocean front. The manager said there would be no problem guaranteeing one of the rooms.
Lourdes shared phone calls and emails with the hotel staff regarding prices and how guests would be able to guarantee the promised rate. Things were moving very smoothly. Imagine our shock and surprise when we checked in the Thursday evening before the wedding to discover that the room saved for us was on the second floor and non-smoking. The manager on duty began his corporate trained drone “We can not guarantee any rooms. This is the only room that fits your criteria.” We pointed out that it did not fit our criteria and it was not what we were promised. The young man, true to the Harrison Group model of “Kiss my ass, you are here and stuck with what we decide to give you”, began repeating the same mantra over and over again. He told us that if we wanted a top floor room, he had one that was overlooking the pool. He gave us a room key and we went a looked. Lourdes allowed that we had no choice but to make the best of the situation but she would only take a room if she could have the end unit.
We returned to the front desk. Friends that had flown in for the wedding were coming in the front door. They waited to check in while Lourdes made her request. The young man replied, “I’m sorry, the end unit is being held for a member of your party.” I asked, “How is that possible, you said you did not guarantee rooms.” The lad countered with “No sir, you are wrong. I said we could not guarantee specific rooms. The people we are holding it for requested a top floor room.” I then asked him if the room he offered and the room he was holding were exactly the same type of rooms, the only difference is one is in the middle of the building and one is at the end of the building.” He said “Yes sir, but we are holding the room at the end of the building for a member of your party.”
The room was being held for our guests, they stepped up and said they were fine with a room in the middle of the building. We were then given the room at the end of the building. Lourdes then asked “Will we be refunded the difference?” Mr. Harrison Group looked stunned, “No mam, you will not receive a refund. You are not due any money.” Lourdes pointed out that the room we were promised and the room we were given were not the same price. She pointed out that we should not be charged the higher rate. The manager looked her in the eye and said “No. You are wrong. You are not due any money.” At this point I allowed “Son, you are in over your head, get your boss on the phone.” His retort was, “No sir, you are wrong. I have worked for the Harrison Group for several years and I know exactly what I am doing.” Lourdes once again tried to point out the error of his ways. He suddenly said “OK, maybe we do owe you a refund.”
I will not bore you with the rest of the exchange. It involved the hotel being unable to locate reservations and desk personnel speaking rudely when asked any questions. Maybe the people working for the Harrison Group have a problem dealing with people that actually expect to receive what they were promised.
The day of the wedding, another of our guests decided to eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant (another of the typical Harrison Group establishments). They were seated. A very pleasant mixed race couple and their two daughters. They placed their order and waited. Several groups of golfers came in a placed their orders. (The Harrison Group also brings in golfing groups). The golfers received their meals and paid and left. Our friends were still sitting there. Finally, the mom stood up and walked into the kitchen and told them it was time to bring out their meal…now. She was met with blank stares. Eventually the meals were served, almost an hour after being ordered. Maybe the people working for the Harrison Group have a problem dealing with people that aren’t part of the golf package deals.
Our visit came to an end and we began to pack. As I was sitting on the bed, the head board came off and crashed to the floor. Lourdes had her wedding bouquet in a vase and our portion of the wedding cake in a box. I went downstairs to check out and let them know the bed had fallen apart. I stopped in the restaurant and asked the waitress if they had a walk-in refrigerator that we could store the flowers and cake in while we enjoyed on last morning on the beach. She said no problem. I went to the front desk to check out and told them about the bed falling apart. The clerk laughed and said “Oh, you’re the newly weds. Don’t worry about it.”
Lourdes came down with the luggage. I went to put it in the car while she took the flowers and cake to the restaurant. She encountered a different waitress that told her she would have to check with her manager first. She disappeared in the kitchen to find the manager. I came in and Lourdes was still standing there. She told me she would be right back and went back into the kitchen. The waitress that had gone seeking the manager was standing in the kitchen talking on her cell phone. Lourdes asked “I thought you were going to get the manager?” The girl replied “I haven’t seen her yet.” Lourdes said “you have left me standing out front for 15 minutes, waiting for you to bring the manager.” The waitress replied “Look lady, I’m not even on the clock.” and turned and walked away. “I am the customer here. You can not treat me like this. I only asked you to do your job.” The girl kept on walking. Lourdes picked up the flowers and the cake and came out of the kitchen as angry as I have ever seen her. “Doesn’t she know I am the customer and I don’t know if she is on the clock or not?”
We left…I don’t think we will be back.
Maybe the Harrison Group doesn’t have a problem with anyone. Maybe the Harrison Group doesn’t care about anything other than lining their pockets. After all, they make money off of tourists and they have their customers by the “short hairs” by the time they show up. It may not put a dent in their business, but it is only fair to warn everyone. This company is horrid and void of any semblance of integrity or customer service.
Harrison Group is a DON’T. Harrison Group is a DON’T. Harrison Group is a DON’T.