- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Is picking a place to stay giving you a headache?

It is officially spring, and many of you who are looking to come to Cape May for a visit are asking yourselves (we know this because we have keen mental telepathy skills), where should I stay?

Cape May has a variety of choices – B&B, Guest House, condo, condo-tel, full house rental, hotel/motel. But what are the differences? Well, is here to tell you – or at least try to. We polled a number of accommodations owners and asked them to discern the differences, beginning with Guest House owner Linda Steenrod.


Bob and Linda Steenrod of the Billmae Cottage

Linda, along with her husband Bob, are the owners of Billmae Cottage Guest Suites on Washington Street, and Billmae Cottage, Too on Lafayette Street, both of which are dog-friendly.

“I compare our suites to renting a whole house or apartment except that we do supply sheets and one set of towels per person – in other words, once you are in, you are in. We do not come in daily to make the bed, change or hang towels. Each suite has cleaning supplies and a vacuum, if guests want or need to use them and the suites are thoroughly cleaned between guests. We tell people when they reserve (if they are new guests) to bring any extra towels they may want for the dogs, themselves, the beach. Our focus is the dogs! We aim to be dog friendly, clean, and ‘homey.’ We give our ‘guests’ and their people some ‘treats’ when they arrive (such as dog scarves, dog toys, treats, canvas bags, or mugs as examples) and everyone knows, before they actually reserve, that we do not go in the suites while they are there – primarily because of the dogs – because we do not want to startle the dogs or take a chance on the dogs getting out, getting confused, getting lost. We want the dogs to have a good and happy vacation, too. Over the years many of our guests are not only repeat guests, but increase the length of their stay.”

Of course, we know for a fact that one of the main attractions of Billmae Cottage is Yappy Hour – where all the guests, both two-legged and four-legged, gather before dinner for cocktails and treats. So, the experience Billmae offers is unique to the normal definition of Guest Suite/House, but we found exceptions to all the rules in our search.


The Columbia House

Take Columbia House for example. They are considered a Guest Suite as well, but if you follow their stellar TripAdvisor® reviews, you’ll see they are classified as a hotel. That’s because TripAdvisor® doesn’t have Guest Suite as an option.

Laura Zeitler and her husband Jim are the proprietors of the 1886 Ocean Street Victorian. The level of service they provide as innkeepers is determined by the time of the year. “In full season,” says Laura, “Columbia House does provide linens for starters, but does not provide housekeeping for the duration of the stay. In the off season however, we do provide daily room service. We’re really in a grey area. We’re not a B&B and we’re not really a hotel.”


The Columbia House

They are child-friendly and that is their niche. Just as Billmae is known for their pet friendly accommodations, Columbia House has a reputation for being kid-friendly – something not always found in a Victorian-style house. “Most of our guests really don’t want to interact with the other guests,” says Laura. “They have reserved the suites to spend time with their family. But they want the Victorian experience – the house, the furnishings and an innkeeper nearby.” Laura considers herself an innkeeper based on the level of service she provides at the time of check-in and throughout the guests’ stay and the amount of time she spends on site.

What distinguishes the Guest Suite from the condo is again the level of service. In recent years some of the Victorian B&Bs have converted their suites or rooms to condominiums, so a house with four rooms could have four different owners. It might be confusing to book a room with a historic house like the Merry Widow and not realize that generally there is no breakfast, no daily housekeeping and no innkeeper. Keys are picked up either at the office of a realtor or at an on-site management office, such as is offered at The Tides or Regent Beach. And, just as though you were renting a house, you are primarily on your own. Unless otherwise stated, guests must provide all their own amenities from linens to beach chairs. You want to make sure you check all these details before arrival.

On the other hand, booking a room in a condo-tel is quite another level of experience. If you check into The Sandpiper or the Marquis de Lafayette, you’ll really never know that the rooms/suites are privately owned. The management ismarquis the same as though you were in a hotel like the Montreal Inn on Beach Avenue or the Victorian Motel, at the end of Washington Street Mall. There is a common lobby for check-in, daily housekeeping and the ambiance of a hotel – there is not the homey atmosphere generally found in a Victorian or historic house.

Innkeeper Ray Roberts of the Mission Inn B&B on New Jersey Avenue, is an engineer and serves as a consultant on planning boards such as West Cape May, which has just recently revisited their definition of a hotel. Ray tried to help us with our own definitions.

“Each town,” he explains, “has a description of their definition of a B&B, Guest House or Hotel/Motel. Think of a B&B as a home and you are a guest in their [the innkeepers’] home. And the people who run the B&B actually live on the breakfastpremises. A B&B, as its definition implies, serves breakfast to its guests and provides daily housekeeping. A Guest House/Suite does not provide breakfast. It often has an absentee owner, that is, one who lives off the premises.” Also the duration of stay is a key difference. In a Guest House the occupants generally stay longer or have an extended stay versus those who stay at a B&B. In a Guest House the amenities are often limited and this could mean taking out your own trash like you do at home. “So a stay” Ray says, “in a Guest House/Suite is often regarded as a more independent manner of accommodation, but still with some of the amenities of a B&B, like the fact that it is a home. The definition of a motel/hotel is that it has a common lobby which is open 24-7 with someone in attendance to wait on the guest at all times. The facility also provides conference rooms and meeting rooms” like Congress Hall or the Grand Hotel. A hotel is completely commercial, in other words, ownership is not parceled out as in a condo-tel.

But this is Cape Island and change is as dependable as the tides. Several historic lamerhomes in the area have been given “hotel” status as well as maintaining a B&B designation such as the Southern Mansion B&B on Washington Street and, most recently, the Wilbraham Mansion B&B on Myrtle Avenue. West Cape May’s definition of what constitutes a hotel was not well articulated until the owner Doug Carnes decided to bump out and expand. Under the definition of a Guest House, (West Cape May doesn’t recognize the term Bed and Breakfast) Carnes received a work-stoppage from borough officials maintaining he did not have the proper work permits. He maintained his permits were in order and went before the planning board for further review – the result is the Wilbraham Mansion will henceforth be classified as a hotel.

The proposed new building behind the existing inn would, if Carnes receives approval of his request for a use variance, add a separate three-story structure with 12 new guest rooms bringing the inn’s total to 22 rooms.

The moral of the story? Decide what level of service works for you and your family and ask questions before you book – it’ll make for a far more enjoyable stay. See all of our Cape May accommodations