Special Activities Show Kids Victorians Can be Cool

By Karen Rubin

Cape May, NJ may be better known for its romance, its history, its quaint bed-and-breakfast cottages where antiques may put them off limits to tiny tykes. But with one of the most incredible beaches in the Northeast, it would be virtually impossible to keep families away.

Indeed, Cape May has become family friendly with many special activities, tours and events, and, if you know where to look, there are resort hotels and even charming bed-and-breakfasts that have the welcome mat out for families.

This summer, the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) is introducing a trio of five-day, themed Summer Museum Camps, crafted to transport kids from the here-and-now to a world and a way of life long past, originating at the Emlen Physick Estate: “Adventures in Victorian Cape May”, “Adventures in Maritime History,” and “Adventures in Victorian Architecture.” Other events include special tours geared just for kids, Teddy Bear Tea Parties, Kids Days at the Physick Estate and Cape May Kids Playhouse.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts restored and operates the 1859 Cape May Lighthouse; kids will delight in climbing the159 steps to the top, and take a free Keeper's Tour (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Summer Museum Camps: Adventures in Victorian Cape May shows children ages 9 to 14 how life was lived more than 100 years ago. The amusements, games and clothing of the 1800s American girl and boy will fascinate today’s kids. For lighthouse lore, the history of America’s first resort, and tales of seafaring rogues, it’s Adventures in Maritime History. And what better place than Cape May for Adventures in Victorian Architecture. From witches’ caps to gingerbread you can’t eat, children will learn all about the oddities of local architecture. Tuition for a five-day camp is $125 for children of MAC members, $150 for non-members. Discounts for a second child and drop-in rates are available (check dates).

On select dates in July and August, children are invited to Teddy Bear Tea Parties at the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St. Join Dr. Physick for kid-friendly refreshments, teddy bear music and a special treat for children, compliments of the Cape May Teddy Bear Company. Teddy Bear Tea Parties begin at 11 a.m. The cost is $10 for children (ages 3-12) and $17 for adults. Teddy bears and dolls eat for free.

On select dates in July and August Kids Days at the Physick Estate is when young people can roam the grounds of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, tour the stately Physick residence, make hats, play dress-up, and learn Victorian games. There are fun activities like bubble-blowing, sack racing, storytelling and face painting. Kids Days are $5 for children and include all activities on the grounds, as well as a tour of the house. Adults are free.

The 1879 Emlen Physick Estate from the wrecking ball; today, the house provides a venue for fascinating, living-history tours and events for families (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

For children who love nature, science and exploring, MAC offers Harbor Safari, Around Cape Island Boat Tours, and Beachcombing at the Cove. Harbor Safari lets kids take an up-close look at Cape May’s beach and marsh habitats, guided by a marine biologist from the Nature Center of Cape May. Around Cape Island is a fun-filled two-hour cruise on the Cape May Whale Watcher. Beachcombing at the Cove introduces youngsters to the hidden habitats of wildlife and sea life along the dunes. Accompanied by a naturalist from the Nature Center of Cape May, kids and parents will explore shallow waters, comb the shoreline for natural treasures, and hike the windswept dunes.

Harbor Safari tours depart at 10:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday in July and August and cost $10 for adults, $5 for children (ages 3-12). Around Cape Island Boat Tours leave at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily from the Miss Chris Marina. Tickets cost $22 for adults and $12 for children (ages 6-12). Purchase tickets 30 minutes in advance at the Carriage House Visitors Center at the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St. or at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth at Ocean St. Beachcombing at the Cove starts at the Second Street Pavilion every Sunday at 9 a.m. and costs $10 for adults, $5 for children (ages 3-12). Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, or on the day of the tour at the Second Street Pavilion on the promenade in Cape May.

Dare to take the challenge? Children and adults are invited to climb 199 breathtaking steps to the top of the historic Cape May Lighthouse. At the pinnacle, get a gull’s-eye view of the Atlantic (and, often, scores of dolphins frolicking in the surf). The lighthouse is open daily, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for children ages 3-12. Before climbing the Cape May Lighthouse, learn the story of the historic beacon as told by one of the current keepers. Keeper’s On Duty tours are offered 1 p.m., Sundays and Wednesdays at the Education Center in Cape May Point State Park (adjacent to the Lighthouse). While you’re at the Education Center, enjoy Storytelling at the Lighthouse, Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Children will thrill to nautical tales and lighthouse adventure stories. Admission is free.

Take a hike in the bird-sanctuary (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Here’s a great way for families to cool off: Head to the air-conditioned Cape May Convention Hall for Cape May Kids Playhouse Mondays and Thursdays, July 3 to August 14. These entertaining professional shows feature magicians, puppeteers, singers and comedians. Shows begin at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day. The cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-12.

Board MAC’s trolley for a tour of the historic district, designed for children 5 through 10. This 30-minute trek is a great way to get kids thinking about architecture and history, and answers all their questions about why Victorian houses are so wonderfully different from most built today. The Children’s Trolley Tour is $5 for adults and children, daily at 4:15 p.m.

What was life like a hundred years ago? Kids can find out on a guided tour of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, geared especially for the 5 to 10-year-old crowd. Find out how kids (and adults) lived without electricity, computers, iPods and many so-called “necessities” of today. Tour runs at 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays June 22-Aug. 31 (with extended offerings on July 5 and Aug. 2) and costs $10 for adults and $5 for children (ages 3-12).

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Cape May’s heritage. MAC also fosters the performing arts. MAC membership is open to all. For information about MAC’s year-round schedule of tours, festivals and special events, call (609) 884-5404 or (800) 275-4278, or access MAC’s Web site at For information about restaurants, accommodations and shopping, call the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May at 609-884-5508,

Family-Friendly Accommodations

Most of the historic B&Bs are geared for couples to have a romantic, peaceful stay; many have antiques which may get accidentally damaged or broken by kids running around. However, there are a decent number of B&Bs that do allow kids, albeit with age restrictions (e.g., 10 or 12 and up):

Antoinette’s, a home that dates back to 1867 when it was owned by Humphrey Hughes VII and his wife Eliza Eldredge Hughes, offers one and two bedroom Victorian suites, accommodating up to eight people, or groups up to 24 with private entrances. The apartments include fully equipped kitchen, washer/dryer, color cable TV, VCRs, DVD’s and videos, heating/air conditioning, ceiling fans, working fireplaces, stereo with CD/tape player, board games and puzzles, children books, local phone/fax machine and private entrances. Surrounding the exterior are large Victorian porches, private patio/umbrella areas, gas grills, hot/cold water shower and private off-street and on-street parking. Innkeeper Deanna Brown is on-premise. (Antoinette’s, 717 Washington St, Cape May, NJ 08204, 609-898-0502,, email

Sunsets are dazzling on Cape May NJ's beach (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

Others BnBs which accept children include: Albert Stevens Inn (12 and over),; Akwaaba By The Sea,; The Bedford Inn,, Fairthorne Cottage (12 and up),; Gingerbread House (5 and up),; Henry Sawyer Inn (10 and up),; Poor Richard’s Inn (5 and up),; and The Puffin Guest House (4 and up),

To find other B&Bs which accommodate children and the age restrictions,

Family-friendly Hotels

The Chalfonte is proof that a historic hotel can also be family friendly–it even has a children’s dining and activity room where children can go for dinner and play, supervised by the hotel’s experienced staff, Noelle and Rene. Parents don’t have to be worried about kids knocking something down-the hotel “does not have a lot of frou frou hanging around or priceless Limoges, so there’s nothing to harm.”

Walking along Cape May's beach at sunset (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

The oldest hotel in town, The Chalfonte is celebrating its 130th anniversary with special events planned throughout summer. The hotel has a 75-seat theater where they produce weekly classical, Celtic and jazz concerts (all child-friendly) plus two productions this summer : an improvisational opera and a one-man show of Mark Twain.

The Chalfonte room rates, based on double occupancy, range from $130 to $300 per night, and include breakfast, dinner, tax and gratuities. However, the 70 rooms do not have air-conditioning, televisions, or telephones, which, the hotel maintains, “makes for a lovely, distraction-free vacation.”

The Chalfonte’s packages are based on double occupancy & include full breakfast buffet and four-course dinner daily in the Magnolia Room, tax & gratuities. A six-day/five-night midweek package (Sunday-Friday) with two beds anda private bath is $1339.40; and eight-day package (Sunday to Sunday), is $1376.76. Children up to 4 years old stay for only an $8 gratuity per night per child; children 5-14 are $24 per night per child, including meals, tax & gratuity; an additional adult in the room is $46. For reservations, visit and call 888-411-1998.

Cape May offers one of the biggest collections of Victorian homes anywhere (© 2006 Karen Rubin).

In a city made famous by its cottages, the Marquis de Lafayette is actually a throw-back to Cape May’s era of large hotels, but with an updated twist: condominiums. The original Lafayette was built in 1885 but suffered fire damage in 1955, and was rebuilt. This sprawling property, with 73 ocean-view rooms and suites that have been recently been renovated, commands an incredible location, just across Beach Avenue from the ocean; the location and the condominium-style facilities, not to mention the welcome that children get, makes the Marquis de Lafayette a great choice for families coming with children. Other amenities that add immeasurably to the experience, as well as the value of staying at the Marquis de Lafayette, is an outdoor heated swimming pool (in season), complimentary parking (a significant amenity in Cape May), complimentary beach tags, plus complimentary American buffet breakfast served in a pleasant dining room, (eggs, breakfast meats, cereals, breads and muffins, fruit, yogurt) is provided daily. The hotel also offers an elegant sixth floor restaurant, the Pelican Club, with picture windows and a stunning view. (Marquis de Lafayette, 501 Beach Ave., 800-257-0432,

The Montreal Inn, now in its 40th year, is accommodating to families, with a gated kiddie pool, five-hole miniature golf course, barbeque and picnic area, sunning deck, gym, on-site laundry. Owned and managed by the Hirsch family, it offers 70 moderately priced rooms at seasonal rates from $52 to $275 for single bed units to luxurious efficiency suites with ocean views on three sides (, 800-525-7011).

For information about restaurants, accommodations and attractions, contact the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May at 609-884-5508,

© 2006 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to .

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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