Chef2Sail, thanks for the feedback! Delaware Bay is really a "daydream" at this point. It's not a serious consideration for the 2012 season, though I'll certainly be going over to check out the bay near Bay Way and perhaps befriend a few of the sailboat owners (and Ulladh!) since it is close to my in-law's. It can't hurt to do a little research, but its not in the cards for the 2012 season, and with all the negatives I would certainly want some first-hand knowledge before I invested the time and energy to move the boat that far (whether by land or water).
My parents had power boats when I was a kid, and kept 'em in Ocean City. One reason they got out of boating is that the whole area was just getting nuts, and that was 15 years ago. I would imagine that it hasn't gotten any better. But when I was in Barnegat Bay, what struck me was the sheer number of boats that were around. You have boats all over the place there - probably at least as many as you find in Ocean City on a per-square-mile of bayfront basis, and possibly more since large swaths of Great Egg Harbor are uninhabited/uninhabitable salt marsh. My fear is that in the end, Barnegat Bay will be just as crazy as (or even craizier than) Great Egg Harbor, the traffic will be worse, and we're going to have to go (at least) an extra hour each way to get there. Yeah, Great Egg is small by comparison - I understand that. Realistically, with my kids being 6 and 4 next season, I'm gonna probably only get 2-3 hours of sailing at a stretch if they are with me (and hopefully they will enjoy it enough that they'll want to be with me a lot). I don't know that I need a two-day sail's worth of protected water if I'm only ever going to go for comparitively short sails. And, again, I can get there a lot easier.
Please don't think I'm being argumentative, or that I truly have my mind made up. I REALLY appreciate the feedback, and the ability to talk through the various options. I want next season to be enjoyable for my family, and finding the solution that hits the 'sweet spot' for us is the real challenge. So far, I think Ocean City may be that sweet spot, although the city of Barnegat, and specifically Mariner's Marina, look interesting. As much as I like Dillon's Creek - the owner and slipholders have all been fantastic - I'm just not 100% sure it's the best place for us.
So, with all of that (and the comments from those here and other places), here's my pro/con list. What have I missed?
Pro: Close to home and fairly easy to get to, even mid-week; Long stretches of open water; Marinas and clubs are inexpensive compared to the shore; Not overly crowded with power boaters; Lots of neat things to see along the way (including airports, seaplanes, seaports, barges, tankers, Philadelphia and Camden, etc.).
Con: Narrow; Less control over sail plan due to tidal surges, current; increased likelihood of debris to potentially damage boat; barges, tankers, and other commercial vessels to watch out for; boat too far from the beach to make sailing practical when we're there (and we hope to be there a fair bit this summer); "interesting" experience along the way (drug deals, dead bodies in Camden (yes, this one is a joke); loud noise from Boeing plant, airport).
Pro: Close; Some very nice marinas (albeit on the expensive side) and some mediocre marinas that are at reasonable prices; Access to familiar beaches and attractions; Family (both sides) and friends regularly live and/or visits that area.
Con: Shallow; Limited sailing area and no real ability to "run" the boat; Lots of crazy power boaters.
Pro: South end of the "usable" portion of Barnegat Bay, so lots of "open" protected water; Mariner's Marina is not outrageously priced; marina that specializes in sailboats with plenty of deep water access (especially good for when we move up!
Con: Roughly doubles the drive to/from Avalon compared to Ocean City (turns the trip into at least a 2 hour experience, instead of a "quick" trip); no family/friends in the immediate area; Mariner's Marina looks to be a decent marina, but it isn't exactly scenic.
Pro: Whole area is beautiful; Dillons Creek Marina is in an fantastic location, well maintained, and over all seems very clean and family-friendly; Marina owner is a sailer, and caters toward sailboats; friendly and helpful staff.
Con: farthest away at almost an hour and a half each way; marina is fairly expensive (get what you pay for).
I do know that there are other marinas in Barnegat, but all the ones I've seen that take sailboats are basically on par with Mariner's and I may as well wind up at a marina that favors sailboats. Similarly, I know there are other marinas in Toms River, but if I'm going to go the extra distance, I may as well be in a nice marina, otherwise I may as well be at Mariner's since it's cheaper and closer.