‘History’ and ‘Ocean City’ don’t always seem to go hand and hand, but believe it or not Ocean City has a rich history residing within the walls of many of its local businesses, including the Dunes Manor Hotel. Did you know that the Dunes Manor opened on April Fool’s Day in 1987 under the auspices of 74-year-old Thelma Conner despite being told she was a fool for continuing with the hotel’s completion on her own? The Dunes Manor’s traditions and history still holds strong at the oceanfront hotel, which we took a tour of last week to learn more about their year-round events, traditions, and revamped restaurant.
Milton and Thelma Conner got their start in the local hotel industry in the early days of Ocean City, working at the Hastings Hotel and later at their own Dunes Motel. “Their dream was to build a Victorian-style beach home here,” said Dunes Manor Hotel Director of Sales Marge Steele. Unfortunately, Milton passed away during the construction of the hotel, leaving many questioning whether or not Thelma should continue on with their dream plans. “Thelma was 74-years-old and people thought she was a fool to continue with this,” said Steele. Despite naysayers, Thelma persevered, finally opening the hotel in 1987 on none other than April Fool’s Day.
Over the years, Thelma remained deeply involved in the hotel’s daily operations, said Steele, who added that it was Thelma’s dream to provide a welcoming atmosphere for not only vacationers, but for locals as well. This is precisely where the idea for daily tea time was born. Keeping in line with the Victorian theme, Thelma decided to offer daily tea at the hotel. Open to guests and the public, Thelma aimed to provide an opportunity for guests, locals and staff to mingle. “She just loved the fact that the lobby would be full with families enjoying tea time together,” said Steele. The tradition continues, with complimentary tea available every day in the lobby and on the veranda from 3pm until 4pm. They even have their own special blend of tea, as well as ice tea in the hot summer months.
Today, the hotel is still family owned and operated. While Thelma and Milton did not have any children themselves, they were able to pass their legacy along to their three nieces, who are still very involved in the Dunes Manor. Many of the employees have been at the Dunes since day one as well, developing lasting relationships with guests over the years. One example is Ms. Shirley Toms, who has been playing piano in the Piano Lounge for the past 28 years. “It’s like coming home for many people – she is a big staple here in-season,” said Steele.
According to Steele, it was Thelma’s dream to keep the hotel bustling with activities and events for all to enjoy. “It was always a dream of Thelma’s to have this be an extension of the community,” said Steele. In fact, Thelma played an active role in the community herself, playing a major part in the development of Wor-Wic Community College, serving as the first female on the local town council, and helping to start the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association. In an effort to further Thelma’s vision, the hotel continues to offer year-round events for guests and locals, including dinner theaters, wine and beer tours, holiday weekends and more.
We’ll start with the dinner theater productions, which are put on by Ovation Dinner Theater on select Wednesdays throughout the summer (with one to be held THIS Wednesday at 6:30pm). During the off-season, they also host various weekend dinner theater packages. Currently, the dinner theater show is titled “Joey and Gina’s Italian Comedy Wedding” and leaves guests feeling as if they are a part of an actual (notably funny) wedding reception. “Joey and Gina’s is so hysterical,” said Steele. “They are in character from the moment they walk in and they make it so much fun for our guests. It’s like you are actually coming to the ceremony.”
Also available on Wednesdays (every Wednesday in fact) in the summer months is Wine Wednesdays. The Grape Escape Waves & Wine Tour takes groups to Fenwick Wine Cellars for a tour and tasting. Cost is $42 per person and yields 15 wine samples, luxury transportation, and two hours of fun. Tours begin at the Dunes Manor at 4pm and end back at the hotel at 6pm.
For the craft beer enthusiast, there’s also the Beach Brew Hop, held every Thursday in the summer from 3pm-7pm for just $99. ‘Thirsty Thursdays’ includes transportation, tasting and tour fees with a four hour tour to Assawoman Bay Brewery, Burley Oak Brewing Co., OC Brewing Co., and Fin City, who has made a special Dunes Manor brew called the Zippy Lewis Amber Ale.
“We’re just trying to reach out and partner with the community to bring our guests a full experience,” Steele said of their weekly, monthly, and year-round events, which includes their holiday spectaculars. For Halloween, the Dunes Manor will host a special dinner theater production, the Monster Mash Murders. A paranormal team from Baltimore will also be joining them for the weekend, providing guests with an opportunity to join the team as they work, as well as in workshops throughout the day. Palm readers and Taro card readers will also be floating around the hotel. To cap the weekend off, there will be a masquerade costume ball.
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s follow suite with packages for guests, as well as brunches and dinners for all. Holiday shows, breakfast with Santa, a NYE Gala, hot chocolate and cookies are just a few of the plans on the horizon for the holiday season (and yes, it will be here before we know it).
Also on the horizon is the grand opening of their revamped restaurant, to be aptly named Milton’s. The restaurant will include an entirely new menu concept, headed up by Chef Drew and featuring farm-to-table, sea-to-table dishes. The new menu is set to debut in September.
In the meantime, take a trip to the Dunes Manor Hotel for tea time, for one of their events, or for you out-of-towners (or local staycationers) book a room at the hotel! Every single room is oceanfront with a balcony and stunning ocean views. We enjoyed a few minutes on the back veranda soaking up the sun and taking in the views and the sweet smells and sounds of summer. Summer may be winding down in a few short weeks, but fall just so happens to be one of the most gorgeous times of year in OCMD. Enjoy!