The Clarion Resort Then and Now: Once you’re here, why leave?

The Clarion Resort Then and Now: Once you’re here, why leave?

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Once you’re at the Clarion, why leave?

It’s a question that the 34-year-old North Ocean City resort has been asking its guests for ages, and it’s a difficult one to answer. The hotel, one of the first on Ocean City’s upper streets, is 40,000-square-feet and fully equipped with all the makings of a full-service, all-encompassing beachside destination. It has its own fine dining restaurant and buffet (Horizons Oceanfront), its own pub (Breaker’s) and casual dining out on the beach in the summertime (Lenny’s Beach Bar & Grill). It also has a 7,500-square-foot ballroom, the largest of any Ocean City hotel.

cean city md hotels photos
Summer views from Lenny’s Beach Bar.

It’s hard to believe that the land where the Clarion now stands was once just sand and dunes less than 50 years ago. In fact, it’s only been a few decades since North Ocean City, from 91st Street to the Delaware line at 146th, was totally developed at all. Plenty of sand and dunes remain today, but thanks to resorts like the Clarion, there’s also plenty to do (and comfortable beds to sleep in) at the end of the beach day. 

The Clarion Back Then…

The Clarion was originally a Sheraton Fontainebleau, and according to the hotel’s general manager Mark Elman, there are still guests from the Clarion’s days of yore who refer to it as the Sheraton.

Clarion President and CEO Leonard Berger purchased the property, then known only as the Sheraton, in the mid-1980s.

“It all began in March 1985, when Berger retired to Ocean City and found himself bored,” Ocean City Today reported in 2015. “He walked up the beach, made an offer on what was then the Sheraton at 101st Street and Coastal Highway and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Sheraton or Clarion, the “Fontainebleau” part always stuck. Likewise, the hotel has a following of loyal guests who have stuck with it since the original iteration of the hotel first opened in 1974. There’s even an employee in maintenance, Keith, who has been at the hotel since its opening day.

“Loyalty’s very important to him and I,” Elman said. “We’re all here for one common goal, and that’s to make sure the guests are happy, and that way they keep coming back.”

One of Elman’s main jobs at the Clarion is to stay ahead of the competition, which has skyrocketed since 1974 and ‘85, respectively. When the hotel was first built, it was the only property within its vicinity– that’s why all of its guest rooms have views that face the north and south rather than the oceanfront east. Back in the day, those north and south views were still ocean and beach as far as the eye could see, rather than the neighboring condos and sweeping hotels that have overtaken north Ocean City since.

Clarion resort 1972
Breaking ground on the property in 1972. “Back then, they didn’t envision that Ocean City would be what it is today,” General Manager Mark Elman said.

Despite its enormous size, Elman considers the Clarion a mom n’ pop kind of business, at least in some ways. Dr. Berger still owns and operates the hotel and is always on-site. Unlike many larger hotels in Ocean City, the Clarion doesn’t answer to a big, off-site corporation or management company. Rather, the people who call the shots at the hotel actually live, work and play in Ocean City, Maryland.

“He loves to interact with guests, talk with guests. This is his pride and joy, this is his baby,” Elman said of Dr. Berger. “With him being on-site, everyone knows him and it’s just one big family.”

The Clarion in 2019:

Today, as its motto hints, the Clarion gives guests plenty of reasons to stay at the hotel.

When some vacationers stay at a hotel, they rent a room, sleep in its beds and spend the rest of their vacation out and about, downtown, miles away from their accommodations. But when guests stay at the Clarion, they’re really staying at the hotel and outside at its beach, because there’s no reason to go any further when there’s already so much going on right there.

oceanfront hotel view
Once the sun passes over the hotel at midday, you can spend the afternoon and evening just lounging in the shade between dips in the ocean.

Take, for example, the Ravens Beach Bash coming up May 30 – June 1. The Clarion is entering its eighth year as the headquarters for the annual festival, wherein Ravens cheerleaders, alumni and mascots flock to the beach for a weekend honoring the Baltimore NFL team.

The tradition started almost a decade ago, when the team took notice of their local fan clubs, or “Roosts,” holding a celebratory parade in Ocean City every year.

Now, the weekend kicks off with a Thursday night tailgate party at the Clarion. Through the rest of the weekend, the Bash takes over the beach behind the hotel, featuring meet and greets with players, volleyball, flag football tournaments, cornhole and giant Jenga; on Saturday night, there’s a bonfire on the beach complete with live entertainment and a fireworks and laser show lighting up the sky. The Beach Bash typically falls the weekend after Memorial Day, giving guests another excuse to come to the beach in late May.

ravens beach bash clarion
Last years bonfire on the beach outside the Clarion. Photo by Shawn Hubbard for the Baltimore Ravens, 2018.

Aside from special events, there are tons of activities happening at the Clarion through the summer: There are children’s programs, yoga, arts and crafts, bodyboarding lessons with local bodyboarder Brian Stoehr, an indoor and an outdoor pool, an abundance of dining options throughout the hotel, and a pet-friendly floor that allows the entire family to vacation together– furry, four-legged members included.

Next year, a total renovation of their guest rooms is in store; by this time in 2020, guests can expect totally new soft goods in their rooms, including new carpet and furnishings.

Until then, Dr. Berger, Elman and the rest of the Clarion team will remain plenty busy, first with the Ravens and then with all their summer programs and the hustle and bustle that summer in Ocean City generally brings. Once the weather breaks, this season’s palm trees will be planted, the outdoor areas will get a fresh coat of paint and the Clarion’s 34th summer will be in full swing.

Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel

Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel

10100 Coastal Hwy, Ocean City, MD

As one of the finest Ocean City Hotels, the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel offers luxury and comfort to its guests. Gorgeous rooms with a majestic view of the Atlantic Ocean entice guests to return over and over again. Savor the mouth-watering selection of food at the Clarion’s two restaurants, which earned the resort an Open Table...

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