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Recommendations Reviews Secondary Features

Sandy Point State Park Beach Review

Sandy Point State Park Maryland

IMPORTANT: Sandy Point is currently open (Summer 2020), but no life guards are on duty. Please follow social distancing and no groups larger than 10! Swimming and boat ramps are open. * Sandy Point Entrance admission fees are listed below *(6/26/20)  

[See my list of gift ideas for brainy kids]

Central Marylanders are often faced with a choice during the summer–trek out to Ocean City or the Delaware shore or go to one of the closer in Chesapeake Bay Beaches.  If you don’t have time or money to head all the way over to the Eastern shore, there are definitely a few popular beaches in Anne Arundel and Calvert County.

I’d say that among the most popular Chesapeake destinations are North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Point and the one everyone knows – Sandy Point State Park.

The park is open year round. As of this writing, it is only closed on Christmas Day.

The street address for the park to put into your navigator is:

1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD 21409
1-800-830-3974 / 410-974-2149 (Office) General Information
Hours of Operation are 7am to sunset. Fishermen and boaters may have 24 hour access.

There are entrance fees (see below) that are paid either using coins (quarters or dollars) or credit cards (Visa/Mastercard).

See below for park entry costs (Updated for Summer 2020).

[Looking for the perfect solution for your child’s allowance? Have a look at my review of the FamZoo MasterCard Debit card for kids]

Sandy Point, which opened in the 1950’s, is located just to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which looms over the beach. In fact, one drawback of the Sandy Point beach is that you may encounter some of the beach traffic you’re hoping to avoid by not going to Ocean City.

To get to Sandy Point, you head down Route 50 towards the bridge but exit (exit 32) shortly before you reach it to get to College Parkway.

Just plan your visit with the potential for traffic in mind and most days you’ll be able to get there without much of a delay.  In case you were wondering, a section of the beach is supervised by lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day.

[See my hand-picked list of great places to host a birthday party in Baltimore County, Howard County or Anne Arundel County.]

As a state park, there is an admission fee which as of June 26, 2020, Sandy Point State Park entry for Maryland Residents is:

  • $4 per person admission fee on weekdays
  • $5 per person admission fee on weekends and holidays.
  • Children buckled in a child safety seat (infant and small children in a car seat or booster seat) are free.
    Costs are a few dollars more for non-Maryland residents. Rates may increase for holidays or special events.
  • Military and their dependents as well as disabled people get in for free–you have to present proper ID to get these free passes to Sandy Point.You can also buy a season pass or buy a Golden Age Pass for $10 if you’re older than 61. Here are a few more details: If you plan to go often, you probably want to consider getting a season pass. Golden Age Passes are available for purchase for people age 62+ –with it, you’ll get free admission (and unfortunately, the National Park Service Eagle Passees aren’t accepted).
  • The costs for out-of-state residents to enter the park is slightly more. I don’t have the exact amount right now, but it’s maybe a dollar or two above the in-state cost.

As mentioned above, those with a Maryland Park Service Disability Pass get in for free.  BTW, when you get a season pass, they give you a magnetic card to get you into the park, as the entry gates typically aren’t staffed.  By the way, aside from those passes, these automatic toll machines accept exact change only in the form of $1 coins and quarters. Alternately, you can use a credit card: MasterCard and VISA are accepted.

Be aware that sometimes, especially on certain holidays, the park can fill to capacity and they simply stop letting people in. That can really be disappointing because there aren’t really any comparable nearby beaches. If that happens to you, I can only suggest taking a ride to downtown Annapolis and taking in the sites, or if you a heart-set on the beach, take about a 1-hour ride down to North Beach and hope for the best.

The beach itself isn’t perfect, but it is a nice way to spend the day with kids. As mentioned earlier, there are life guards on the beach during the summer months from 10am to 6pm.  Snacks and concessions are available for sale at the beach.  They also have showers and restrooms available.

Aside from going in the water or hanging out on the beach there are also opportunities for crabbing and fishing (for licensed fisherman and people age 16 or under).  There are rock jetties you can stand on for fishing or you can rent a 16 foot motor boat/bring your own small craft. Fisherman enjoy 24 hour access to the park during certain times of year.

Jigging and chumming seem to be effective ways of catching striped bass at Sandy Point–especially if you’re there in the early morning hours. If you like hiking there is are several nice trails that take you through marsh land and a planted pine forest.  It is a great way to see wildlife such as birds and turtles.

Pets are allowed in the park only during the off-season times of year. Dogs must be leashed.

[Looking for things to do with kids in Maryland? See my list of ideas.]

Sandy Point might be a place to consider for group outings or parties.  For large parties they have shelters available for rental that can hold up to 300 people. Note that even if you rent a shelter, your guests will still have to pay to enter the park. You can pre-pay for each person, but you’ll also need to give them their entry tickets prior to their arrival at the park.

Note that this is the only place alcohol is allowed in the park, and you MUST get a permit if you intend to serve drinks.  Also, you are NOT allowed to have amplified music at Sandy Point.  Another important consideration for groups is that everyone entering the park must pay separately.  Youth and scouting groups can also reserve a campground area.

Another important thing to note is that Sandy Point is a “trash free” park.  What that really means is that it is up to the visitors to collect their trash and take it with them.

There aren’t any trashcans in the park.  Related point–you can bring your dogs to the park during the off season, but you are expected to clean up after them.

People ask me what I don’t like about Sandy Point.  Well, we’re lucky to have a close-in, convenient option, but well, it isn’t the same as Ocean City.  The sand is different, the bottom of the bay feels different to walk on and there seem to be more creatures that bite and sting (Both flying creatures and lots of jellyfish some years–especially when the water starts getting warmer).

Another issues is that the beach itself can get kind of dirty sometimes. Anyway, I do like it, but sometimes it makes me wish for O.C. — also, on most days, given the choice, I would rather trek out to North Beach which tends to be better maintained for sunbathers and swimmers.

Liked this post? Please check out my other reviews and lists. For example, my list of gift ideas for children and restaurants for kids in Howard County.

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Save Money Secondary Features Technology

Easy Ways to Save Money Part 3 – Get Rid of Your Cable Television

Roku box channel screen
Roku boxes let you choose various channels from the internet
including  unusual channels like the Autism Channel and NASA
Television.  You can’t get these on cable TV at all.

I wanted to write some posts that outline a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately.  Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.  This one is about cutting out cable TV in favor of getting your television entertainment through internet-based channels.  I have written others about changing your home’s electricity provider and changing your mobile phone provider.

Save Money By Getting Rid of Cable Television and Going with Streaming Video Instead

More and more households are coming around to the idea of getting rid of their cable television provider and sticking with an internet only service. (See here for Nielsen’s survey on this)

I used to have cable TV until recently–I was sick of paying $120+ dollars per month for service that I mostly didn’t use.  I had a “triple play” from Verizon FIOS which included  phone, TV and internet.

First of all, I never once used their phone service.  I was very happy with Vonage and didn’t see the need to switch.  In fact, the only reason I had Verizon FIOS’ phone service was because it was part of a bundle deal, and if you didn’t get the bundle, you’d wind up paying more than you would if you got it. (You can read more about how to save money on phone service in Part 2 of this series)

Secondly, I hardly ever watched Verizon’s Television offerings.  I had hundreds of channels but couldn’t find anything to watch.   So that leaves the internet.

I rely heavily on good internet service, not just for surfing the web, but also because we do watch alot of streaming video entertainment.  So the idea here is get rid of cable TV and then “roll your own” television entertainment instead.

If you are not in a contract with your cable/FIOS provider, then you should be able to cut the service down to internet only.  We found that Verizon’s best price for internet was about $75/month–alot cheaper than the $120 we were paying, but still kind of alot.

Luckily, we also have Comcast cable in our neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to build up their customer base.  They had an offer for relatively fast internet (25down/5 up) for $24/month with taxes for a year (and then it goes up to 34 the next year).  So that’s what I decided to go with.

Note that you do have other possible options besides cable if you have “alot of bars” for cellular service in your neighborhood you may be able to get a cellular modem from Verizon, AT&T, Clear or FreedomPOP (the later two being the best deals price-wise–again it also depends who’s service has strong signals in your neighborhood). As 5G starts to roll out, this will become more common.

We have a Roku Ultra Box, which is a device that costs between $50-100 and allows you to connect your television to the internet.  This device allowed us to watch television series and movies that are available on services such as  Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

If you have a Wii or an X-box, then you will also have the ability to use these services and view their offerings on your television. (See my blog post on Kid’s TV shows that are available on these three services)

We especially like Netflix because it has the largest selection of streaming videos that you can watch on demand.  This includes all sorts of television series, comedians, films and educational videos.   They also have a DVD service that mails you DVD movies that aren’t available on streaming video.   Visit the Netflix website to see their offering and to get a free trial.  Netflix streaming costs about $9/month.

Hulu is good because it has many more recent TV series that you can watch, but it also has commercials.  At this writing (July 2019) Hulu costs $5.99/month.  You can visit their website to have a look at their offerings.

Amazon Prime is similar to Netflix with a couple of differences.  First they have fewer available free viewing choices when compared to Netflix, but they also offer newer movies and tv shows that you can pay-per-view.

These choices usually don’t appear on Netflix for a few months, so it is a nice option, but it can cost $1.99 per TV episode, which can add up fast.  The other difference is that when you get Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on many Amazon.com items and you get a free kindle book rental per month.  So the free movies and tv shows on Amazon could be considered a perk if you use it enough to justify the free shipping.  Amazon Prime costs $99.99 per year.

You could also get  a digital HD antenna to pick up “over the air” channels.  Many people have had cable for so long, they don’t even realize this is an option…and in fact, it is a pretty good one.

The antennas cost about $30-60 and they are able to pick up many traditional TV stations, plus some other stations that you probably didn’t know you could get for free over the air.  This may be a good idea because it does make up for one thing you might miss-if you ever need to watch live news on TV or an event like the Superbowl, it might not be possible without one.  Although my Roku box does offer the “Roku News Channel” and in fact Fox News, it’s not usually “live” news.

It is clear that the costs of cable TV aren’t going to go down soon unless more people start dumping cable.  More than a form of protest, you will save money and probably wind up fairly satisfied with what you get.

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Recommendations Review Reviews Secondary Features

Review of North Beach Maryland – Great Summer Beach Day Trip

North Beach Maryland Review
Review of North Beach, Maryland

If you are like many parents these days, a getaway to Ocean City or some of the other Maryland, Virginia and Delaware beaches is just a bit too much of a commitment in time and money.  So then there are the Chesapeake Bay beaches to consider, and although none of them are quite the same as, say Ocean City, there are two or three that come to my mind that might be decent day-trip substitutes.  They are all in Calvert County and they are: North Beach, Chesapeake Beach and Flag Ponds Beach.  These are way better than Sandy Point State Park near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and aren’t that much further.  (I couldn’t help but laugh and agree with a recent review of Sandy Point on Google — it said something like: “If you’re looking for a dirty beach and jellyfish, this place is for you.”)

Today I am going to talk about North Beach.  Its about 30 minutes from Annapolis and not far from Howard, Prince George’s and pretty much anywhere in Anne Arundel County.

When you arrive, you find that there is a free parking lot right near the public beach, but you do have to pay admission and wear an armband to show you’ve paid.

Current beach admission fees (as of May 2017) for out of county visitors are:

Adults 12-54:  $17.00
Children 3-11:  $9.00
Children 2 and under:  Free
Seniors 55 and up:  $9.00
Active Military: $9.00

Season passes are $120 for adults and $100 for children.

It’s cheaper for in-county visitors:

Adults 12-54:  $7.00
Children 3-11:  $4.00
Children 2 and under:  Free
Seniors 55 and up:  $4.00
Active Military: $4.00

It  was $10 to rent an umbrella and $5 to rent a chair.
Fishing Fees Two poles maximum per person
North Beach/Calvert County Residents: Free. (Must show proof of Calvert County residency.)
Out of County Visitors: 1st Pole & 2nd Pole  Inquire at Welcome Center
Paddle or Pedal Fees Single Kayak:  Hourly $15.00/Daily $45.00
Double Kayak: Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00
Stand Up Paddleboard:  Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00
Bicycles: Hourly $10.00/Daily $30.00

[Looking for birthday party ideas in Anne Arundel County?]

There are many regulations to be aware of.  No large coolers (actually only pretty small coolers are allowed – 9 quart limit), no tents, no pets, no loud music, no alcohol, no fires, no g-strings, don’t feed the animals, no thongs, no fireworks.  Although I thought they might be kind of restrictive, I also thought that it did make the beach nicer for everyone. You have to pass a guard on the way down to the beach and they definitely stop you if they see you have a cooler or tent.  See the image with most of the other rules and regulations below.

Beach Rules and Regulations at North Beach Maryland

The area of the beach we were on was surrounded by breakers and was never more than 2 or 3 feet deep even if you walked out pretty far.  There were very small, gentle waves.  This meant that it was a perfect place for kids to play and not have to be worried about getting bowled over by a huge wave or going in too deep.

The sand was clean.  There wasn’t alot of trash around.  Some people might be turned off by the feel of the bottom when they’re in the water.  You could either consider it slimy or silky or somewhere in between.  It surely feels different than at an Atlantic beach.  Its kind of a muddy clay. It didn’t bother me, but it is kind of surprising the first time you experience that.  Otherwise, other than some seaweed in the water,  it was a very clean, nice experience.

There were some restaurants and shops around, as well as a fishing pier.  Again, there are some fees involved if you want to fish (see North Beach admission rates above).

If you are looking for a place to spend a summer beach day (or night) then I would recommend visiting North Beach, MD.  You may also want to read my blog posting on Summer Camp Ideas for Kids In Maryland. You may also want to read my post about educational birthday gift ideas or my review of the FamZoo debit card for kids.

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Columbia Maryland Recommendations Review Reviews Secondary Features

Review of Kids First Swim School

Kids First Swim School Columbia Md
Review of Kid’s First Swim School

My girls have been taking swimming lessons at Kids First Swim School since they were a few months old.

Summary: I have good and bad things to say about our experiences with them over the years.  I would tell people to look for other alternatives if they have one available (see below for some ideas in Columbia MD).  If you’re wondering about the cost of lessons, as of February 27, 2013, 6 weeks worth of half hour lessons are $100.  Considering that you don’t have to pay for a monthly membership like in other venues, this is somewhat competitive.

The Facilities
First thing I would say is that the idea is great.  The Kids First Swim Schools that I have been to are in strip malls.  Its kind of unexpected to find a swimming pool next to a grocery store and a Good Will Thrift store, but it works…mostly.  The pool at the Columbia location is medium sized.  It goes up to 5 feet deep and is usually kept pretty warm.  They are quick to point out that they use salt to generate their chlorine, which I guess is great.  They say this makes it more “natural”.  The pool area is usually kept pretty clean although they do leave some things to be desired.

The dressing rooms are horrible.  Problem one: they tend to be occupied.  There are only three of them.  Can you imagine what its like when several classes end at once (which is the norm)?  You have a bunch of cold wet kids and unhappy parents waiting for the next one to become available.  Of course, if your kids are still young, you can take them into the bathroom and change them, but in practice you will find at least a few parents changing their kids while hiding them behind towels.  People have other things to do besides waiting to change their kids–and changing even one child is never a two-minute thing.  I think they could easily build a few more dressing rooms if they wanted to.  They really should–this is one of the biggest complaints about the place.  I feel that they could easily fix this by putting additional changing rooms in their open space areas or near their front door.  They don’t have to be very big, they just need to be available.

For some reason, computers haven’t made it to Kid’s First yet. It is quaint. As a customer, you wouldn’t care, except setting up your next swimming session can be a real pain for them and for you.  They have books of paper with the kids’ records on them.  So when you go to setup a session, they have to dig through the books to find your kid (which sometimes doesn’t go well) and then look at their paper schedules to figure out what times meet your needs and fit your kid’s level.  It can be time consuming and often a little bit silly.  Add to that the fact that you don’t always know whether your kid is going to be promoted to the next level when you go to sign up.  This is because they give “Report cards” on the last day of class.

Keep in mind that the next session will start the following week, so your choices are sign up earlier and hope you got your kid’s level right or wait and risk not having the time slot you want available.  I have two kids on two different levels so this can be even more comical.  Having said this, we’ve had pretty good luck and the staff tries to be accommodating, even starting new time slots just for one of my kids so they could go at the same time as the other.

The “Time Zone”
I used to complain about this foible, but I have to say, it has saved me from being late several times: They keep the clocks at Kid’s First Swim School set five minutes or so behind.  So if your class is at 6:30pm, its really at 6:35pm.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen new parents go busting into to pool area rushing their kid along because they thought they were late, but instead were early.  Its almost funny.

The Teaching
As far as the teachers, there are a few great ones.  The problem is that the turn over is very high.  Its not unusual for my daughters to have two or three different teachers over the course of 6 weeks…that is a problem because the teachers don’t get to know what the kids can do.  And in the case of one of my daughters, it can be a bit upsetting because she only feels comfortable with certain teachers.

At one recent lesson, my five year old had to tell the teacher that she was teaching them on the wrong level (too easy) because the new teacher forgot what level they were on. There are definitely obvious levels of experience too.  We’ve found that even if you pay for private lessons, you may get two or more different teachers over six weeks.  That is likely to make you angry.

Class sizes can vary quite a bit.  We have had many classes with just one or two kids in them…and others with at least five kids. Keep in mind that with one teacher alot of the time only one kid can swim.  So you can guess that the size of the class dramatically affects the amount of attention each child gets….And with bigger classes your kid is sure to spend at least half the time in the water waiting for her/his turn.  You can purchase semi-private and private lessons to control this, but obviously the cost of this is much higher.

In spite of the above, all in all, I can definitely say that my kids have improved in swimming as a result of the lessons.

Family Swim Nights
Family Swim Nights take place on Saturdays and Sunday evenings from 6-8pm.  It’s a great chance to practice with your kids and talk to other parents about their experiences.  Recently they have restricted the use of boards and noodles so you will want to bring your own.

I would definitely say that a side effect of going to the family swim nights is extra improvements due to watching other kids and playing with them.  Kids definitely learn well from other kids.

Birthday Parties
This is a pretty good place to have a birthday party.  There is plenty of room and since 25 kids are allowed in the pool, you can really have a nice party for about $225 (check with them for current pricing).  The party areas aren’t anything fancy, but are roomy.

Depending on what time of day, your group will either swim before or after the party.  They have two party areas at the   Columbia location, so its very possible that another party can be going on at the same time as yours.  The other group isn’t allowed in the pool at the same time as yours though…still, it’s not an ideal situation.

Don’t forget to tell parents that they likely need to come prepared to get in the pool with their young kids on your invitation.

By the way, check out these posts if you’re looking for birthday party places or gift ideas.

The Cost
Of the activities we do with our kids, swimming lessons are probably one of the most expensive.  I can’t even imagine what the insurance for a pool for kids must cost, so I guess they need to charge alot to make up for that.

Right now (2013), we pay about $90/six week session.  So that works out to be about $15 for a half-hour lesson.  You can purchase many sessions at a time for discounts.  They also offer private lessons and semi-private lessons.  These are more expensive, but I am not sure what they cost right now.

On Saturday and Sunday evenings, you can take advantage of some practice time, that costs $5/per person.  Birthday parties for 25 kids with one hour in the pool and one hour having a party costs about $200.

Alternatives To Kids First Swim School
There are of course many alternatives to Kids First Swim School.  If you’re in Columbia, Maryland two obvious competitors are the community indoor pools (in Columbia, that’s the Columbia Association) and Lifetime Fitness.  Both offer competitively priced lessons and honestly, the facilities tend to be nicer in general, especially at Lifetime Fitness.

I recently became a member of Lifetime.  Swimming lessons at Lifetime fitness are $50/month and its a much nicer experience.  There are more changing rooms  just for families and they even have  showers–and class size is capped at 4 kids (You have to be a member to get lessons there–memberships are about $150/month for a family–so again, this is why I am saying that Kid’s First is competitively priced if you’re just looking for swimming lessons.).  Here is my full review of Lifetime Fitness.

Another very good alternative in Columbia is the Columbia Association.  I have heard only good things about the lessons and I know the facilities are very nice too.  I am not sure what the lessons cost there, but the membership for a family that already lives in Columbia is about $75/month. The YMCA in Ellicott City also has a good reputation.

Kid’s First Swim School Located at 7351 Assateague Drive, Columbia, MD . https://kidsfirstswimschools.com/locations/columbia/ Reviewed by Eron Cohen. Rated: 3/ 5 (Okay)
Looking for other activities to do with your kids?