Tourism spokesperson Connie Yingling suggests chartering boats for fishing on the Chesapeake Bay for a unique vacation experience.
Tourism spokesperson Connie Yingling suggests chartering boats for fishing on the Chesapeake Bay for a unique vacation experience. (HANDOUT)

With Memorial Day weekend kicking off the summer vacation season, Carroll families and residents are starting to plan their trips and activities while the weather is hot. While Ocean City, Washington, D.C. and Disney World remain popular destinations, these summer staples are not the only way to celebrate your vacation.

Connie Yingling, communications specialist with the Maryland Department of Tourism, said one of the best ways to explore and find new vacation spots is by travelling along the Maryland Scenic Byways. These 18 byways cross the state, and each highlight a different aspect of Maryland's geography, from "Mountain Maryland" out in Cumberland, to "Horses & Hounds," which travels from Hunt Valley to Towson.

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For those travelling to Ocean City for a beach trip, Yingling recommended taking the Chesapeake Country byway which takes visitors directly through historical districts.

"If you're driving [U.S.] 50, you go through Easton, but you're seeing the commercial district. Taking the scenic route will introduce you to the historical district of towns like Berlin. Berlin is just minutes away from Ocean City, and on a rainy day, it's a perfect place to go."

Yingling highlighted the artist galleries and small shops in Berlin as perfect activities for when the weather doesn't cooperate with beach plans.

"There's a glass-blowing artist who gives lessons in a single day, you can go in and make your own pieces," Yingling said. "I saw a 6-year-old girl make her own Christmas ornament. It's a pretty cool thing and a pretty simple process."

An activity growing in popularity is visiting craft beer breweries and independent wineries, according to Yingling. Berlin is home to the Burley Oak Brewing Company, while the Evolution Craft Brewery is located in Salisbury.

For those who want a waterfront experience, without the waves and gulls of the ocean, they can head to Snow Hill, south of Ocean City. Yingling recommended trying out Pocomoke River Canoe for a unique waterbound experience.

"The Pocomoke is one of the deepest rivers in the state. It's a really different experience than you would get at the beach," Yingling said. "The coloration of the water is different because of the cyprus trees. It's also a perfect place for birdwatching.

In Western Maryland, Yingling said Cumberland is a great choice for vacationers looking for a new favorite spot, full of outdoor activities. She recommended renting an off-road Segway and hitting the trails, as a new way to experience the wilderness, or visiting the Western Maryland scenic railroad.

This year represents the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil Wars. While many have visited battlefields to commemorate the war, Yingling said there is a unique opportunity to learn about the human interest side of the war at the Point Lookout prisoner of war camp, located at Point Lookout State Park, in Scotland.

The camp will host Blue and Grey days throughout June, teaching about what happened to the prisoners following the end of the Civil War. Yingling said local historians recently unearthed drawings and a diary of one of the prisoners, featuring a first-person account of their travails.

"Put yourself in their shoes. You've been in prison for years, and it's not like they can hop in car or grab a bus to get home," Yingling said. "They've got no money and they're far from home. This is an interesting look at how people lived."

Bonnie Staub of the Carroll County Office of Tourism, said vacationers often miss what's in their own backyard. She said she constantly hears from folks who say they loved their first trip to the Farm Museum and can't believe they've never been before.

Staub said now is the time to visit the Farm Museum, as they have a new curator working on improving and changing many of the exhibits at the museum. She also highlighted the Carroll parks system, with an emphasis on Piney Run Park, for a simple day in the sun.

For those who have seen all there is to see in the Old Line State, travel agents are one way to visit the rest of the world. Leigh Johnston, of Diana's Destinations in Eldersburg, said she helps put together a lot of self-drive packages for vacationers.

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She said a popular option is to fly out to California and drive down the coast. For those who don't want to think while travelling, she recommends motor coach trips, where guests can find the places that have the best views or the best food.

Johnston and Tom McElroy of Special Journey's World Travel in Westminster agreed river cruises are becoming the new hip travel process. Popular in Europe, the river cruise allows vacationers to visit a number of cities along a single waterfront.

"In Europe, the rivers were the highways of the past. So all of the towns are right along the rivers. You have a day in each town with a guided walking tour, then they turn you loose," McElroy said. "The ship essentially becomes a floating hotel. On a ocean cruise, the ship is the destination. On a river cruise, it's the cities that are the destinations."

Johnston said for years people have associated river cruises with seniors, but they're starting to pick up steam with young adults and families. She said river cruises can take visitors through Europe, from Moscow to St. Petersburg in Russia, with new cruises focusing on Asian sites.

For ocean cruises, McElroy said cruises out of Baltimore are very popular, with most trips headed toward the Bahamas or Jamaica. He suggested families take up the Royal Caribbean trip up north toward New England and Canada for a unique and beautiful experience near the end of summer and beginning of fall.

He suggested families interested in activities on the cruise ship itself ride out of New Jersey on Royal Caribbean. He said their ships the Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas feature activities unlike any cruise ship he's ever seen. On them, visitors can enter a transparent pod that is lifted over the ocean 300 feet in the air, and gain a 365 degree look at the ocean. He said the ships also feature skydiving simulators, bumper cars and a trapeze school.

McElroy said there's only one rule when it comes to planning the perfect vacation.

"You just have to focus on what it is you want to do. No two people have the same exact dream vacation," McElroy said. "It's all about figuring out what it is you want to do."

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Twitter.com/Jacob_deNobel

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