Games Beachgoers Play

Friday, May 25, 2001

With its body piercing and Jell-O shooter specials, Ocean City, Md., is the Mook and Midriff Mecca of the East Coast (think: Fred Durst and Britney Spears clones every five feet). So what am I, a married man with a 21-month-old toddler in tow and a backpack full of disposable diapers, doing here? Why, checking out Trimper's Fairy Whip, of course.

No, it's not an S&M bar. Founded in 1887, Trimper's Rides and Amusements (South First Street and the Boardwalk; 410/289-8617) is a family-run amusement park boasting dozens of rides for all ages, plus a restored 1902 Herschell-Spillman carousel. Unfortunately, special correspondent Simon Parker O'Sullivan is too young to taste the Whip.

No, not by Trimper's standards, but by Daddy's. The more dangerous rides have minimum height requirements, some of which can be waived with adult supervision. No need for that here, though, since the Whip is open to all comers. Still, it looks as if it takes corners pretty fast (hence the name), and without seats big enough for me to ride shotgun, we decide to pass it up for bumper cars (a childhood favorite). There, I discover to my chagrin that Simon, at 34 inches, is still 20 inches too short. No exceptions, even with a grown-up.

At this point, the irresponsible parent in me decides to take a detour to the nearby Ocean City Pier Amusements (Boardwalk Pier; 410/289-3031), where I noticed earlier that its bumper cars allow kids to ride with an adult. It, apparently, hasn't been sued for whiplash yet. Simon says: Fabulous! (Actually, it was more like "whoo-whoo!") We ride twice. Next stop, the giant Ferris wheel, which leaves Daddy with a bad case of vertigo thanks to Simon's repeated attempts to climb out. After that, the pier's carousel, whose horses barely move, feels tame.

Back to Trimper's, where we check out the Merry Mixer, whose spin cycle leaves us both feeling nicely sloshed. Two thumbs up. On to the Balloon-Up, Up and Away, where the combo of gentle centrifugal force and tepid up-and-down leaves these two thrill junkies craving more. The calliope music and jumping horses of the antique carousel satisfy my nostalgia jones, but something's still missing. We go looking for it in the Pirate's Cove (more of an obstacle course than a ride, really), but because I'm forced to carry Simon through the dark, disorienting passageways, I almost lose my breakfast. At the Haunted House around the corner, we both nearly jump out of our skin at an animatronic dummy in an electric chair. Cool.

Simon's all-time favorite? The Hampton, one of the slowest rides in the city -- and at about 0.02 mph, it's the only one I let him ride alone -- but one whose realistic-looking cars, dashboard buttons and flashing lights made him feel as if he was actually driving. Our expert's rating? He cried when it came time for me to pry his stubby little fingers off the miniature steering wheel. Now, what more could a parent ask for?

Other parks, of course, cater to an older crowd. On Coastal Highway between 33rd and 36th streets, there's Planet Maze/Laser Storm/Lost Galaxy (410/524-4386), an indoor-outdoor "Funplex" featuring video games, a Habitrail-style maze, laser tag and miniature golf. Billing itself as Ocean City's largest amusement facility, the massive Jolly Roger Amusement Park (Coastal Highway at 30th Street; 410/289-3477) has, in addition to kiddie rides, a water park called Splash Mountain, Speedworld miniature race cars, a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster. The 65th Street Slide and Ride (65th Street toward the bay; 410/524-5270) offers bumper boats, batting cages and a water slide. As for miniature golf fans, some of the best courses around are run by Old Pro Golf (410/524-2645), which operates four elaborately themed courses between 23rd and 136th streets, including an indoor one at 68th and Coastal.

-- Michael O'Sullivan

© 2001 The Washington Post Company