I turned fifty last May and my husband surprised me by arranging a week in Cape May at the Chalfonte. I can’t think of a better way to have spent that milestone birthday and hope to repeat it again this year.
The Chalfonte Hotel has been part of my life for 30 years. It was part of my early adulthood and our courtship. It's where we spent our first married winter as caretakers of the hotel. I’ve spent countless birthday weekends there, innumerable hours in the kitchen or rocking on a porch with a good book or better companionship. I am predisposed to love the Chalfonte.
Do not, however, mistake my love of this Grand Dame for baseless sentimentality. The Chalfonte is an experience that, for many...for those of us lucky enough to find her in this way, becomes a part of the fabric of life. She allows for moments that stand out forever in our memories.
I’ve traveled for fun and business from New Orleans to Baltimore to Providence and stayed at a range of hotels from dives to $300 a night rooms, bed and breakfasts, kitchy motels and hostels. Each has their place in society and meets different travel needs. I do not mean to denigrate any. Well, ok, there was that Best Western in High Point, NC a few years ago, but that was an isolated incident and was nearly entirely an issue with the General Manager.
By and large, one hotel is much like the next. Most stays, interchangeable. Staff rise to set this hotel apart from that but little else is truly different.
The Chalfonte, however, is unique.
As others who’ve written on this site have advised, do not come to the Chalfonte expecting a Holiday Inn, or a Radisson, or a Courtyard. If the homogonous, modern, mostly-isolated-in-your-room experience is what you want, there are many such choices in Cape May.
Do not come to the Chalfonte expecting a small intimate B&B with six rooms and only a few other guests, either.
The folks at the front desk do a great job of telling folks about the lack of AC, or an elevator or private baths and other points deemed by many to be negatives.
The Chalfonte is a glorious sprawling hotel with wooden floors, plaster walls, shared baths on the hallways in many cases and where generations of families have returned year after year. Come open to finding something different. To stepping out of your comfort zone and back to a time when guests met new folks on vacation, had new experiences, read a book and, once the car was parked, never moved it till it was time to head home.
As with any place, there will be the occasional less-than-perfect moment of loud music, distracted employee or impolite guests. For me, and for many others, however, those few, rare moments have been greatly overshadowed by innumerable, irreplaceable memories … sitting at dinner with strangers to leave as fast friends, meeting folks on the porches … an admiral and his wife who were stationed at Pearl Harbor when the bombs started falling, a couple who run a hostel near the a state woman’s prison, a children’s author, a lawyer from Egypt, a museum curator from Berlin …
Falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing two short blocks away … waking to the sound of gulls and bird song and the scent of the sea breezes in a hotel with windows that actually open. Watching a storm rage over the distant horizon from the cupola.
And sometimes, in a quiet moment in the middle of the day or of an evening as the fog rolls in off the ocean enveloping her ginger-breading in a fine mist shimmering with the flickering gaslight and the steady clopping of horse-drawn carriages echoing around, sometimes one can imagine the year is something quite different than what the calendar reads.
And that, my friends, is not a moment to be found in any modern hotel. No matter the price.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Established in 1876, The Historic Chalfonte Hotel is recognized as the oldest continuously operating hotel in Cape May, America's Original Seaside Resort. Situated just two blocks from the beach, The Chalfonte offers a unique seashore experience defined by warm, Southern-style hospitality and simplistic traditions. We cater to every budget with spacious suites, guest rooms with premium and European style baths, and traditional rooms with shared baths down the hall. Guest rooms feature crisp linens and cool seaside colors, and are free of televisions, telephones, and clock radios. Our nationally acclaimed Magnolia Room restaurant serves Southern-style fare with lovingly prepared family recipes and our King Edward Bar is famous for its classic cocktails and casual ambiance. Our guests continuously return from around the world to enjoy this very special destination. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- The Chalfonte Hotel Cape May
- Chalfonte Cape May
- Chalfonte Hotel Cape May