By Maddy Vitale
Where else could you begin your day with a sighting of 1970’s and 80’s TV star Erik Estrada, view hundreds of basset hounds waddling down a Boardwalk, followed by a night watching a bunch of guys in their golden years on stage dancing to the beat while holding up some heavy hams?
You guessed it. Only in Ocean City.
A pairing of two hilarious events, Ocean City’s 33rd annual Doo Dah Parade and the 2018 Mr. Mature America Pageant brought plenty of laughter and plenty of visitors to “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”
“The two events are natural together,” Ocean City spokesman Doug Bergen said of combining the parade with the pageant, which is in its fifth year. “They are both dedicated to humor and it is a draw to bring people to town for the early season.”
While it is hard to know exactly how many people attended the parade, Bergen said it would be safe to say tens of thousands of people headed to the resort.
“The entire parade route was jammed. The weather is always a big factor. Saturday was just spectacular,” Bergen said. “People were ready to come down to Ocean City to enjoy the weather.”
Bergen called Estrada, “a great sport.”
Estrada, 69, who is best known for his role on the police show “CHiPS,” seemed to have a continuous perfect smile and a lot of fun with adoring fans who took pictures with him. He even signed autographs.
“I know the parade was much longer. The biggest reason was because Erik Estrada was out front. There were so many fans. He was a great grand marshal and great pageant host,” Bergen said. “He attracted so many people.”
Executive Director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce Michele Gillian said it was certainly a busy weekend in Ocean City.
“We saw such an influx of traffic on the bridges that the police had to manage the lights to help move the traffic along,” Gillian said. “It was a nice mix of people staying for the weekend as well as day trippers on Saturday.”
Gillian said people come from far away, but the majority of visitors come from the tri-state area.
“Between the Doo Dah Parade and the fabulous weather, businesses are reporting a successful weekend. A few of the accommodations we spoke with said they were almost at capacity. Restaurants were busy as well,” Gillian noted. “We are very happy Mother Nature gave us beautiful weather for Doo Dah weekend.”
Spectators who lined the parade route enjoyed the marching bands, reigning pageant winners and of course, the procession of basset hounds.
The Conte family from Somerdale, Camden County, have been coming to the Doo Dah Parade for the last seven years. They arrived a half an hour early to get a prime spot for the parade, directly in front of City Hall along Asbury Avenue.
Joe Conte and his family said they are attracted to the Doo Dah Parade because they consider it to be the ultimate “local parade.”
“We like to see local, South Jersey things,” Joe Conte said. “We like to see South Jersey events.”
Conte was there with his wife Alicia, his son Greg, his daughter Melinda and his mother Mary Conte, of Waterford, Camden County.
For Alicia Conte, the dogs are the star attraction.
“I’m a big fan of basset hounds,” she said.
And at the end of the parade, some people really made the most of it participating in the “Pie-asco,” where they got a chance to toss shaving-cream pies in the faces of their friends and family.
By nightfall, for those who still had the energy and wanted to “party,” the 2018 Mr. Mature America Pageant at the Music Pier was the perfect way to cap off a wacky, zany, crazy day. Eight contestants ranging from 58 to 73, strutted their stuff and answered interview questions. They also gave performances that ranged from making people laugh so hard they nearly fell off their seats, to loud applause for acts that showcased unique talent.
All the fun over the weekend was just the beginning – a major Block Buster start to the 2018 tourism season, officials said.
Bergen, Ocean City’s spokesman added, “In terms of family events and goofy fun, we have it going on from now through literally every weekend until First Night at the end of year.”