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More than in any other part of Maryland, lodgings here rely on a high season. Summer -- especially July and early August -- commands the highest rates, often with weekend supplements. In many cases, minimum stays of 2 or 3 nights are required, so check in advance. Reservations are essential for weekends. Most hotels have pools (ask if it's important to you), but those with indoor pools can fill up in the off-season, especially on holiday weekends. Every hotel has rooms that are accessible for those with disabilities; nearly all have free parking.

Rates are a little lower on rooms without an ocean view or with a partial view. January rates are bargain basement (for good reason), but tariffs in spring and fall are also economical, and many hotels offer packages. Spring can be rainy, but September is terrific: The beach is nearly empty (except on weekends), lots of restaurants are still open, and the water is warm. I hate to give this secret away, but early June can also be a good time -- as long as you're willing to put up with "June Bugs" (new high-school graduates celebrating their freedom). Since the grads are occupied elsewhere, you'll find lots of room in restaurants, shops, and nightspots; drive carefully. Valentine's Day and Christmas also draw a crowd; look for hotel packages and special menus for each holiday, as well as light displays and New Year's Eve parties.

For many families, renting a condo or town house is the only way to go. With several bedrooms and bathrooms, full kitchens, and living rooms, these offer a convenient way to take everybody to the beach. Most rent from Saturday to Saturday. Several real-estate companies offer hundreds of units on both the ocean and the bay; try Coldwell Banker (tel. 800/633-1000; www.cbvacations.com) or Long and Foster (tel. 800/843-2322) for rentals in Ocean City, as well as in the "suburbs" of west Ocean City. Rates start at $1,000 a week and take off from there. Every unit is different, so read the thick brochures and check the firms' websites. Generally, units are well kept, with fairly new furniture, appliances, and often a stash of paperbacks and board games for rainy days. Bring your own paper products and linens. Just about everything else is usually provided. (Check the listings to be sure.) The best units -- that is, the newest and closest to the beach -- are snapped up by January or February, but if you decide in May to go to the beach, you'll still have plenty of choices.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.