For some residents of South Jersey, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day come to mind first when thinking about celebrating the holidays down the Shore. But those who limit their visits to the summer months—and who do not realize the enchantment associated with Cape May at Christmastime—are missing out.
One trip is all it takes to understand that the Victorian setting, the abundance of family-friendly activities and the beautifully decorated homes and businesses throughout the seaside town combine to make Cape May an ideal destination at this time of year. And a historic hotel that blends classic charm with modern amenities is the perfect place to rest your head while taking advantage of everything the area has to offer.
Founded in 1894 as The Colonial Boarding House, The Inn of Cape May has evolved into a wonderful beachfront escape that welcomes guests for a memorable vacation on any occasion. That is especially true during the holiday season, when they can attend the famous Cape May Christmas Parade, participate in a number of walking or trolley tours, find the right gift for loved ones while shopping in and around Washington Street Mall, and work up an appetite for one of the region’s renowned restaurants.
“The holiday season has grown exponentially year over year,” says Dwayne Ridgaway, general manager at The Inn of Cape May. “Businesses are staying open or reopening for the season, more houses are decorating and they do a tree lighting around the gazebo. When you walk around, you can see that it really is a Norman Rockwell-type holiday destination. Everyone has leaned into making it a magical place for the holidays.”
The Inn does its part to contribute by hosting one of the area’s signature events: Breakfast with Santa. Held every Saturday starting the weekend after Thanksgiving—this year it runs from Nov. 25-Dec. 16—it takes place in the hotel’s magnificent ballroom and includes a delicious buffet with plenty of popular items for the most important meal of the day.
Similar to the character breakfasts that are such a hit at Disney, Santa will walk around and interact with the excited kids.
“We also have a photo station so families can go up and take photos with Santa,” says Jeri Anne Gerace, director of catering and special events at The Inn. “Our ballroom is decorated with a lot of wreaths and we do candy cane fabric on the pillars. It’s very festive.
“We start getting phone calls in September about Breakfast with Santa and we’ve already sold quite a few tickets. It’s a family tradition: Some families come every year and do their Christmas card photo with Santa.”
Aside from the holiday themes, there are many appealing aspects to a stay at The Inn, which was taken over by new ownership a few years ago and underwent a $3.5 million renovation that included new furnishings in the guest rooms, refurbished common areas and refinishing of the original floors throughout the building.
“It’s nice to see it go from one family to the next and for the new owners to put a lot of love and care into the building, because it definitely needed a little updating,” says Gerace, a Wildwood Crest native who has long known about The Inn’s history. “They kept the structure the same, they just brought it back to life. They modernized it in ways that don’t affect the integrity of the building.”
The Inn features two outstanding dining options: Ocean 7, where chef Sam Walters creates unique takes on American classic dishes using locally sourced ingredients; and The Porch Coffee and Cocktails, popular for both early mornings and happy hours with its range of breakfast items and specialty drinks, to be enjoyed in comfortable bistro seating inside or out. Both restaurants offer stunning views of the ocean and beach right across the street.
Guests also love to unwind on the lawn, which includes lounge seats and fire pits during the cooler months. A popular feature inside the hotel, meanwhile, is the oldest elevator in the state, an Otis Birdcage model built in 1900 that is staff operated.
The Inn also hosts spectacular weddings all year round, with ceremonies and cocktail hours held outside on the lawn with the beach as a backdrop before moving inside for the reception in the ballroom, which can be decorated in any style.
On top of all of these offerings is the top-notch service The Inn is known for, right down to an old-fashioned bellhop who carries guests’ luggage and operates the elevator while welcoming them onto the property. For all of those reasons, it’s easy to see why it has catered to so many Cape May visitors over the years.
“Our staff are very conversational, extremely polite and they all can talk about the hotel,” Ridgaway says. “Other than the food and the amenities, we get a lot of compliments on our staff. We try to keep it an ‘inn’ environment, and we all interact with our guests as much as possible.
“We can’t go a day without three people saying, ‘I’ve been coming here for 25 years; my kids grew up here.’ We love this time of year and we love seeing our guests come back for the holidays.”
The Inn of Cape May
7 Ocean St. | Cape May
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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 20, Issue 8 (November 2023)