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A Weekend at the Cape
by Sue P
Sunday, August 10, 2008

A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I needed to get out of town or I was going to burst. How badly did I need to get away? I agreed to go on a Penn State football weekend -- okay, it was an away game, but still, I gave up an afternoon glued to the television. My husband, because he loves me and knows where I find my greatest stress release, made reservations for a get-away weekend in Cape May, New Jersey. This was our second get-away weekend there; the first coming three years ago.

Both of our trips were in October, not exactly prime time at the Jersey shore. Even so, Cape May was busy both times. This particular weekend was Victorian Week. Both weekends were active with weddings, family reunions, and quite a few groups of middle-aged women having a "girls' weekend." On our first visit three years ago, we had to search around to get a hotel (we had not made reservations). This time we made reservations a month in advance, but had to go with our second choice of hotel. On Saturday night, we overheard a woman complaining that she had been to every hotel in town and couldn't find an empty room. So, I'd recommend always calling ahead, even after the season.

Cape May is pretty Victorian shore town, located on the southern tip of South Jersey. It was the town where rich Philadelphians used to summer back at the height of the Victorian age. Walking tours are available to provide the history of the many well-kept houses and hotels, or you can wander around yourself to gaze at the architecture. Cape May is an easy walking town.

The shore line and beach itself is pristine. However, this is not your typical Jersey shore boardwalk. You won't find tons of shops or small amusement park rides or casinos. Cape May's attraction is its heritage. Instead of mechanical rides, you can take a trip about town in an open horse-drawn carriage or rent bikes. You can drive over to the working lighthouse (we've never done that) or head to the Cape May-Lewes ferry that goes over the Delaware Bay. We talked about going on the ferry during this trip but decided against it. I used to ride the ferry every summer when I was a child, and without fail, I'd get seasick. Even so, I have fond memories of the ferry ride. It's a very nice way to spend an afternoon (if you can keep your tummy settled!).

Three years ago on our visit, we stayed at the Inn at Cape May, a beautiful Victorian hotel that has recently been renovated. The room we stayed in was a small suite (we never used the living room area, it was so small) that had a lot of charm, but little else. The bathroom was a converted close -- a toilet and a small shower stall (my six-foot-tall husband had to duck to use it). This may have been changed in the renovations; I don't know. We tried to get reservations there again this time, but the hotel was filled, to our disappointment. We did go visit it, to shop around in the lobby-area antique store. The entire hotel was filled with antiques for sale. What I loved was the bookcase right outside of our room, where I could grab a book to read in bed, if I so chose.

This time, we stayed across the street at the Marquis de Lafayette. On the outside, this is not an impressive hotel. It doesn't particularly fit into the Victorian ambiance of the rest of the street. Inside it is a rather nice place. The hotel is all suites. We had a Marquis Suite, with a private balcony that overlooked the ocean. The balcony had two rocking chairs, and we spent our first night sharing champagne, rocking on the chairs and having a quiet conversations, as we listened to the waves break on shore. The suite's living room had a nice Victorian charm to it, if you ignored the television and Nintendo. There was a small kitchen area (no microwave in this particular suite, but there was a stove, fridge, and coffee maker), and a large bedroom with a tv and armoir, again in a Victorian decor. It was over-priced, I think, but it was still a beautiful room. The view of the ocean was worth the price. Oh, breakfast was included for both mornings of our stay. They provide a very nice buffet breakfast, served from 7:30 to 11 am. We'd wander down about 10:30 am, and have a good brunch, saving us money on lunch.

One thing we like to do in Cape May is wander about the shops. There is a lovely pedestrian mall a few blocks from the shore. One of the benefits of going in the fall is that many of the shops are having close-out sales. You can find some incredible bargains at the seasonal shops.

We stopped for a beer and a check of the football scores at the one sports bar on the main strip, The Ballpark, I believe it was called. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. While the nachos we got were good, they only had 3 beers on tap and 5 beers in bottles. Not much variety. The service was pitiful, and it took them twenty minutes to figure out how to change the channel on the tv near our booth.

We had dinner at a restaurant called Oyster Bay. We found this restaurant by accident on our last visit and liked it so much that we made reservations this time. They only serve local Cape May wines, but you are allowed to bring in your own bottle (which is what we did -- there is a liquor store a few blocks away). The atmosphere is casual; the food is delicious. The service was a little slow, and we waited a long time for our entrees. But the food was worth the wait. Reservations are a must, though. The place is packed, otherwise. Oyster Bay Restaurant is a nice walk away from the hotel we stayed in.

Cape May off-season is very relaxing. In early October, you might be lucky enough to have warm enough weather to enjoy the ocean (the water is still very warm). We saw enough people sunbathing and playing in the waves. This is not a college-aged beach town. You'll see a lot of families and a lot of senior citizens. In any case, Cape May is the type of place you go when you want to kick back and let life stop for a while.

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