Area Codes -- The telephone area code for the Cape and islands is 508. You must always dial tel. 1 and this area code first, even if you are making a call within the same town.
Business Hours -- Business hours in public and private offices are usually Monday to Friday from 8 or 9am to 5pm. Most stores are open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 or 10am to 5:30 or 6pm; many are also open on Sunday from noon to 5pm or earlier. The exception is Provincetown, where many stores are open until 10 or 11pm. Most every town has some kind of convenience store carrying food, beverages, newspapers, and household basics; the larger communities have supermarkets, which generally stay open as late as 10 or 11pm, up to 24 hours.
Drinking Laws -- The legal age for purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages is 21; proof of age is required and often requested at bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, so it's a good idea to bring ID when you go out.
Bars are allowed to stay open until 1am daily, with last call at 12:30am. Beer and wine are sold at grocery stores as well as package stores; hard liquor is available at package stores only. A few towns on Martha's Vineyard are dry by choice or tradition (no alcohol can be sold or served), but at most establishments lacking a liquor license, you're welcome to bring your own wine or beer. If in doubt, call ahead. One town, Vineyard Haven, also known as Tisbury, made the switch from dry to wet in 2010.
Do not carry open containers of alcohol in your car or in any public area that isn't zoned for alcohol consumption. The police can fine you on the spot. And nothing will ruin your trip faster than getting a citation for DUI ("driving under the influence"), so don't even think about driving while intoxicated.
Electricity -- Like Canada, the United States uses 110-120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you if you're visiting from overseas. Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel or B&B supplies them.
Embassies & Consulates -- All embassies are located in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Some consulates are located in major U.S. cities, and most nations have a mission to the United Nations in New York City. If your country isn't listed below, call for directory information in Washington, D.C. (tel. 202/555-1212), or log on to www.embassy.org/embassies.
The embassy of Australia is at 1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/797-3000; www.usa.embassy.gov.au). There are consulates in New York, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
The embassy of Canada is at 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001 (tel. 202/682-1740; www.canadainternational.gc.ca/washington). Other Canadian consulates are in Buffalo (New York), Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle.
The embassy of Ireland is at 2234 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/462-3939; www.embassyofireland.org). Irish consulates are in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. See the website for a complete listing.
The embassy of New Zealand is at 37 Observatory Circle, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/328-4800; www.nzembassy.com). New Zealand consulates are in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The embassy of the United Kingdom is at 3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/588-6500; http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk). Other British consulates are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Emergencies -- In an emergency, call tel. 911.
Fishing -- A new state law requires a license for saltwater fishing. Previously, licenses were needed only for freshwater fishing and shellfishing. The new license costs $10. To get a license, go online to www.mass.gov/marinefisheries or call tel. 866/703-1925.
Hospitals -- The Cape Cod Hospital, at 27 Park St., Hyannis (tel. 508/771-1800), offers 24-hour emergency medical service and consultation, as does the Falmouth Hospital, at 100 Ter Heun Dr. (tel. 508/548-5300). On the islands, contact the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, on Linton Lane, in Oak Bluffs (tel. 508/693-0410), or Nantucket Cottage Hospital, at 57 Prospect St. (tel. 508/825-8100).
Insurance -- One thing to keep in mind when visiting the Cape and islands is that there are no refunds for bad weather. Most hotels and inns in the region give details about their cancellation policies when you book. Some will refund your money if you cancel more than a month before the trip and they are able to rebook the room. Some people would rather rely on travel insurance.
Medical Insurance: International visitors to the U.S. should note that unlike many European countries, the United States does not usually offer free or low-cost medical care to its citizens or visitors. Doctors and hospitals are expensive and in most cases will require advance payment or proof of coverage before they render their services. Good policies will cover the costs of an accident, repatriation, or death. Packages, such as Europ Assistance's "Worldwide Healthcare Plan," are sold by European automobile clubs and travel agencies at attractive rates. Worldwide Assistance Services, Inc. (tel. 800/777-8710; www.worldwideassistance.com) is the agent for Europ Assistance in the United States.
Though lack of health insurance may prevent you from being admitted to a hospital in a nonemergency, don't worry about being left on a street corner to die: The American way is to fix you now and bill the daylights out of you later.
Canadians should check with their provincial health plan offices or call Health Canada (tel. 866/225-0709; www.hc-sc.gc.ca) to find out the extent of their coverage and what documentation and receipts they must take home in case they are treated in the United States.
Travelers from the U.K. should carry their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which replaced the E111 form as proof of entitlement to free/reduced cost medical treatment abroad (tel. 0845/606-2030; www.ehic.org.uk). Note, however, that the EHIC only covers "necessary medical treatment," and for repatriation costs, lost money, baggage, or cancellation, travel insurance from a reputable company should always be sought (www.travelinsuranceweb.com). For additional information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Legal Aid -- If you are "pulled over" for a minor infraction (such as speeding), never attempt to pay the fine directly to a police officer; this could be construed as attempted bribery, a much more serious crime. Pay fines by mail, or directly into the hands of the clerk of the court. If accused of a more serious offense, say and do nothing before consulting a lawyer. Here the burden is on the state to prove a person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and everyone has the right to remain silent, whether he or she is suspected of a crime or actually arrested. Once arrested a person can make one telephone call to a party of his or her choice. International visitors should call their embassy or consulate.
Mail -- At press time, domestic postage rates were 28¢ for a postcard and 44¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 94¢ (72¢ to Canada and Mexico); a first-class postcard costs 94¢ (72¢ to Canada and Mexico). For more information, go to www.usps.com and click on "Calculate a Price."
If you aren't sure what your address will be in the United States, mail can be sent to you, in your name, c/o General Delivery at the main post office of the city or region where you expect to be. (Call tel. 800/275-8777 for information on the nearest post office.) The addressee must pick up mail in person and must produce proof of identity (driver's license, passport, and so on). Most post offices will hold your mail for up to 1 month and are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 3pm.
Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don't know your zip code, visit http://zip4.usps.com.
Newspapers & Magazines -- The Enterprise Newspaper Group publishes the Barnstable Enterprise, Falmouth Enterprise, Bourne Enterprise, Sandwich Enterprise, and Mashpee Enterprise, good resources for travelers visiting those towns. The Cape Cod Times is published daily and runs regular supplements listing local events, arts and entertainment, and restaurant reviews. In addition, several other towns have their own weekly local paper. Martha's Vineyard has two weekly papers, the Martha's Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette, each offering insight into local issues. Nantucket has The Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror (nicknamed "the Inky"). Cape Cod Life is a glossy bimonthly, with beautiful photography of the area. Each island has its own glossy. Provincetown Arts, published yearly, is a must for those interested in local arts and letters. In addition, a great many summer-guide magazines are available (don't expect much new information), and free booklets with discount coupons are ubiquitous; the nicest of these, with a friendly tone and a lot of useful information, is the Cape Cod Guide.
Packing -- For more helpful information on packing for your trip, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to http://www.frommers.com/go/mobile/ and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Police -- For police emergencies, call tel. 911.
Smoking -- In the past few years, all of Cape Cod and most of the island towns have gone "smoke-free" to some extent. The towns of Falmouth, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, have all passed some variation on laws forbidding smoking in public places as a way to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. This means that in the majority of restaurants and bars in these towns, you cannot light up. A few bars have installed a ventilation system and/or a separate area where smoking is allowed, but these are few and far between. While some large hotels set aside rooms for smokers, the vast majority of lodging establishments on Cape Cod are nonsmoking. There is one establishment in Barnstable where smoking is currently allowed. At Puff the Magic, 649 Main St., Hyannis (tel. 508/771-9090), a cigar bar where no food is served, you can smoke to your heart's discontent.
On Martha's Vineyard, all restaurants are smoke-free except those in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown that have separately enclosed and ventilated bar areas. Vineyard Haven, also known as Tisbury, allows drinking but does not have any separate bar areas. Because the three other towns on the Vineyard are "dry," meaning no alcohol can be sold, there are no bars in those towns and, therefore, no smoking at all in restaurants. There is also no smoking allowed in the common areas of inns on the Vineyard. There may be some inns where certain rooms are designated for smokers, and visitors wishing to smoke should inquire when they book their rooms.
Taxes -- The United States has no value-added tax (VAT) or other indirect tax at the national level. Every state, county, and city may levy its own local tax on all purchases, including hotel and restaurant checks and airline tickets. These taxes will not appear on price tags. In Massachusetts the state sales tax is 6.25%. This tax applies to all goods, with the exception of clothing items priced lower than $175. The commonwealth of Massachusetts has a meals tax of between 5% and 5.5%, depending on the town. The hotel tax also varies in the 15 Cape Cod towns plus the towns on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, with the combination of state and local taxes totaling between 9.7%. and 11.7%, depending on the town.
Time -- The continental United States is divided into four time zones: Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), and Pacific Standard Time (PST). Alaska and Hawaii have their own zones. For example, when it's 9am in Los Angeles (PST), it's 7am in Honolulu (HST), 10am in Denver (MST), 11am in Chicago (CST), noon in New York City (EST), 5pm in London (GMT), and 2am the next day in Sydney.
Daylight saving time (summer time) is in effect from 1am on the second Sunday in March to 1am on the first Sunday in November, except in Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Daylight saving time moves the clock 1 hour ahead of standard time.
For help with time translations, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to http://www.frommers.com/go/mobile/ and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Tipping -- In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage), and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you've left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the valet-parking attendant $1 every time you get your car.
In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check, tip bartenders 10% to 15%, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.
As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.
For help with tip calculations, currency conversions, and more, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to http://www.frommers.com/go/mobile/ and click on the Travel Tools icon.
Toilets -- Public toilets or "restrooms" are relatively rare on the Cape and islands, but they can be found in the most touristy areas. Falmouth, Hyannis, Chatham, and Provincetown have public restrooms on their main streets. Falmouth's public restrooms are in Peg Noonan Park near the library, and Hyannis's are behind the JFK Hyannis Museum near town hall. Provincetown's are on Macmillan Pier, and Chatham's are on Main Street near the central parking area. There are public restrooms at all transportation facilities, like ferry terminals (Hyannis, Woods Hole, Nantucket; Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard), bus terminals (Hyannis and Falmouth), and airports (Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Provincetown). Edgartown on the Vineyard has a restroom in its visitor center on Church Street off Main Street. In addition, many chambers of commerce have restrooms available for visitors. You will find fast-food restaurants on main thoroughfares of a number of Cape towns (on Rte. 132 in Hyannis, for example), and those restrooms are open to the public, though you may need to make a small purchase. The Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis also has restrooms, as do a number of large stores in Hyannis. Using the restrooms in bars and restaurants is usually reserved for patrons, but if you buy something (even a soft drink or snack), you can usually use the facilities. Some gas stations also have public restrooms.
Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory: tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.). U.S. Passport Agency: tel. 202/647-0518. U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Travelers' Hotline: tel. 404/332-4559.
Water -- The water is drinkable throughout the Cape and islands, though residents tend to prefer bottled water, available in all grocery stores and convenience stores.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.