by Lissa Poirot
The oldest continuously operating hotel in Cape May, the historic Chalfonte is set in a Victorian building that has been open since 1876. Tucked down a quiet side street, not too far from the beach, the hotel features spacious guestrooms and suites. The Bridal and Presidential Suites both provide a two-bedroom setting with king and queen beds, while the Satterfield Cottage is a four-bedroom cottage rental, all best suited for families who want to enjoy a Victorian B&B with kids. Meal plans are available, from the European Plan that includes a full breakfast daily, or the Modified American Plan that includes full breakfast and three-course dinner daily in the Magnolia Room restaurant.
Our Editor Loves
- Victorian B&B
- Spacious guestrooms and suites
- Meal plans available
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
My wife and I recently dined at the Chalfonte restaurant at a fund raising dinner for the local Christmas parade. We were excited to try the legendary "fried chicken" that so many people rave about. The biggest disappointment was that the chicken wasn't fried but baked. The brochure for this event did say "fried" and although the meal was good, it wasn't what we expected. So, let the buyer or in this case, the diner beware. Baked isn't fried.
So this hotel gets an average 3.5 out of 5. Not bad, but not great, right?
Having read many, many posts, I think the overall rating depends on your expectations for this hotel. But given what they do offer, I'm not sure you're going to get a better value in Cape May than the Hotel Chalfonte.
So the Chalfonte is one of, if not the oldest Victorian hotel in Cape May. And it has been owned by the same family for generations (still is). Part of its charm is that some of the same employees and their families have been working for the same family for generations as well. One of the people who work in the kitchen, Tina, was a mere young child when her mother worked in the kitchen. And everyone who works there, from the kitchen staff to the wait staff, all talk about how great the family treats them.
While there are a few different Victorian hotels in Cape May, and there are certainly much fancier hotels with higher end aspirations (check out Congress Hall, for example), here is one that does things in moderation to keep the price down.
Want a place with its own restaurant with good food? Check.
Want a place with its own bar, with nightly entertainment? Check
Want a wraparound porch with both outside dining seating and rocking Adirondack style chairs to relax on their porch (with a drink or a book)? Check.
Clean rooms? Check.
What you do get here are relatively modest furnishings. They haven't done a whole lot of updating over the years, relatively speaking. Some hotels leave the outside architectural beauty, but tear down the insides and give you all the modern amenities.
The Hotel Chalfonte put in central air conditioning just about 9 years ago.All rooms had only ceiling fans previous to that. Many rooms used to have only a room sink, and you shared a bath down the hall. That still is the case with some of their rooms, but more rooms now have a built-in full bath.
Need an elevator to get to the 2nd and 3rd floor guest rooms? Sorry, not here. If you have a hard time navigating stairs, it's 1st floor or nothing.
Want a room with modern amenities such as a television and a phone? Not here. And though their front desk is supposed to be manned 24/7 as far as I know, I called one down to the front desk one evening using my cellphone and got no answer. But the front desk staff, of which there is usually only one person, also busses the porch for glasses left there, and cleans up if a glass breaks. A bit short on staff for that position, but that's part of its small-world feel as well. I realized, staying there for 4 nights, that this sort of service comes with the territory staying at a place like this at these prices.
Another minor inconvenience - no parking on-site. But there's parking around the neighborhood. And frankly, once you park your car, you won't need it again much. The only time in the 5 days we were there we took the car was to go to a nearby wildlife sanctuary and go to visit a nearby antique shop, though realizing that we could have walked to it. Pretty much EVERYTHING is walkable.
Which comes to the point of value. Many hotels and B&Bs, if you check prices, often are $300 and up per room, many much higher than that. At about $230 rack rate for a comfortable room with a Queen bed and private bath at an antique Victorian hotel with its own restaurant (quite good) and quaint bar with nightly entertainment? Remember, you're getting MUCH more ambience than what you would at a motel here or a Motel 6 like chain. This place has quaint Victorian charm coming out of its original floors (or what look like original floors). And look on the website for special rate deals that bring the price down substantially from the rack rate.
I'll mention that, with central air conditioning, you can't control the individual temperature of the rooms. But the first week in September with daytime temps being in the upper 70s, and nights being in the low 70s, the A/C was more than enough on the 3rd floor. (By the way, the top floor rooms gives you a view of several blocks away, as most of the homes around are only 2 floors).
Just about everything from the kitchen is made from scratch (though not all). Even their yoghurt at breakfast is homemade. I had the homemade scrapple once. Not the best thing to my newly enlightened tastebuds, but the spoon corn pudding, the grits, the biscuits - all great. And the famous skillet fried chicken was delicious. I prefer deep fried, but it was very tasty.
The only thing I would suggest that could be improved would be those at the front desk. Those at the front desk tend to be young women, and they also double as wait staff. They pull long days. But I'm guessing that they haven't been really trained in hospitality. My first impression was not one of a great welcome ("Hi! Welcome to the Hotel Chalfonte! It's great to see you!", or something like that). It was a more or less cool and neutral "Can I help you?" and it didn't initially get warmer than that. I guess I like to feel a bit more special and warmly welcomed.
One issue that came up early on, and it's partly my fault, is that they don't offer up beach towels for going to beach a few short blocks away. (Let me add that they do offer up free beach umbrella and beach chair service, something that would normally cost $27/per day per couple. Add THAT to the value of the Chalfonte!). When I booked the hotel initially over the phone, the person that booked me didn't mention the lack of offered beach towels (nor can you take them from your room). I'm used to hotels offering up towels for their pools or nearby beaches.
Rather than getting an empathetic understanding, I was given a "It was on the email confirmation. You should have read it." I was happy enough with the confirmation when I got it. I didn't look it at all the way down. It turns out the mention of the lack of beach towels was quite a way down near the bottom of the confirmation in small print. I suggested that it would good if they were to mention this verbally at time of booking. I got a non-response.
On the other hand, there were workers there who were friendly and solicitous, including one of the women who worked as a hostess at the restaurant and also at the front desk. And when I met one of the family owners of the hotel, he couldn't have been nicer.
And as the days passed (and perhaps my expectations were tempered as well as they got to know us), the front desk staff seemed to get nicer. They even kept a couple of bottles of wine we bought at a nearby winery chilled for us overnight (before we headed back home). And when we couldn't potentially finish a meal in the restaurant, the waiter offered to our leftovers in a refrigerator for future eating for us.
So in the end, overall, the Hotel Chalfonte isn't going to overwhelm you with an over the top experience or ambience at first impression (they can work on first impressions), but if you can settle into the laid back charm of a Victorian hotel from a whole other time, there's SO much that this hotel offers that is understated yet ultimately so satisfying. I'd stay there again in a heartbeat.
And even at the rack rate, full-price, it's a bargain. Great location. Quiet neighborhood.
Cape May itself? Incredible beach. Warm swimming water (75 degrees in September), though the water can be rough. Nearby Higbee Beach has protected waters that are calm for those more hesitant ocean swimmers. Great restaurants abound, though the front desk doesn't have a list of them. They have a list of family restaurants nearby, but the great ones - you'll find them listed on Trip Advisor.