The listings in this guide feature a range of summer rates for a room with double occupancy. Keep in mind that this figure does not take into account the state and local tax, which is 9.7%. Off-season prices are typically discounted by about 20% to 30%, sometimes more.
Virtually every town on the Cape has lodgings to suit every taste and budget. The essential trick is to secure reservations months in advance for the peak season of July through August (June and Sept are getting crowded, too). You can't count on luck; in fact, unless you're just planning a day trip, you probably shouldn't even visit at the height of summer unless you've prearranged a place to stay.
Accommodations range from sprawling, full-facility resorts to cozy little B&Bs with room for only a handful of guests. The price differential, surprisingly enough, may not be that great. A room at a particularly exquisite inn might run more than a modern hotel room with every imaginable amenity.
Because there are hundreds of lodging establishments of every stripe throughout the Cape and islands, I've focused only on those with special qualities: superb facilities, for example, or especially friendly and helpful hosts. I've personally visited every place listed in this guide, but worthy new inns -- as well as resurrected old ones -- are constantly popping up.
For tips on finding the best hotel deals online, visit www.frommers.com/tips.
Reservations Services -- Several reservations services cover the region, but do your due diligence: it's "buyer beware" when it comes to such terms as "water view" or "beachfront" (Provincetown's in-town beach, for instance, is quite scenic for strolls, but a bit too close to an active harbor to make for pleasant swimming).
Some inns and hotels offer special packages, which they may or may not list, so always inquire. Most require a 2-night minimum on weekends, 3 or even 5 if it's a holiday weekend. All provide free parking, although in a congested area such as Provincetown, you may have to play musical spaces.
Family-Friendly Choices -- Although all lodgings in the state are prohibited by law from discriminating on the basis of age, a lot of the fancier, fussier B&Bs will be none too happy if you show up with a young child or infant in tow. You might not be too happy either, spending your entire vacation attending to damage control. It can't hurt to inquire -- perhaps anonymously, before calling to book -- about an establishment's attitude toward children and its suitability for their needs. If you get the impression that your child won't be welcome, there's no point in pushing it: The child, sensing correctly that he/she is not wanted, is likely to exceed your worst expectations. It's usually easiest to seek out places where kids are appreciated. Motels are usually a safe bet (it's what they're designed for), and the kids icons and reviews in this book should indicate other likely spots.
A popular family option is to rent a cottage or house by the week or month , but you must make plans in advance -- sometimes up to a year before your trip.
Renting a Cottage or House
Families planning a Cape Cod vacation, especially families with young children, should consider renting a cottage or house rather than choosing an inn or hotel. The trick to finding a great rental can be summed up in two words: Book early. Start calling Realtors in January and February (if not sooner -- some vacationers who return every summer book a year in advance). If you can visit earlier in the year to check out a few places, it helps; otherwise you may be able to view choices on a Realtor's website or the Realtor can e-mail photos to you.
Believe it or not, parts of Cape Cod are not close to a beach. When talking to a Realtor, ask specifically for rentals on the water, with views of the water, or within a half-mile of a beach. You'll have a better Cape Cod vacation if you are within walking distance of a beach.
Prices on rentals vary, but they are always much lower in the off season. Depending on the rental, "off season" could mean late June or even late August, so ask what the cutoff dates are for high-season prices. Location is the single biggest factor in determining price: A two-bedroom cottage could cost $800 a week in Dennis or $8,000 a week on Nantucket. Tell your Realtor your price range and what you are looking for, and he or she will select appropriate listings for you to choose from.
Each town's chamber of commerce can put you in touch with local Realtors. You can also call the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors (tel. 508/442-0006; www.cciaor.com) for a complete list of Realtors in the area.
Here is a list of good Realtors with rentals, by region: Real Estate Associates, in North Falmouth (tel. 508/563-7173); Kinlin/Grover Realtors, in Sandwich (tel. 508/362-2723); Bay Village Realty, in Brewster (tel. 508/896-6200); Duarte/Downey Real Estate, in Truro (tel. 508/349-7588); Linda R. Bassett Vacation Rentals, on Martha's Vineyard (tel. 508/627-9201); and Nantucket Real Estate Co., on Nantucket (tel. 800/228-4070 or 508/228-2530).
A number of state parks and recreation areas maintain campgrounds; for a full listing for the state, contact the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Forests and Parks (tel. 617/727-3180).
The largest such area on the Cape is the 2,000-acre Nickerson State Park (tel. 508/896-3491), with more than 400 campsites. The Massachusetts Audubon Society offers limited tenting at its 1,000-acre Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (tel. 508/349-2615).
Note: Camping is expressly forbidden within the Cape Cod National Seashore (with the exception of a few "grandfathered" commercial campgrounds) and on Nantucket. Seashore camping is not allowed on Martha's Vineyard either. The Vineyard has one campground, called Martha's Vineyard Family Campground, on 92 Edgartown Road (tel. 508/693-3772), which is in the middle of the island and far from a beach.
A partial list of private campgrounds that belong to the Massachusetts Association of Campground Owners appears in the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism's free Getaway Guide (tel. 800/227-MASS  or 617/973-8500).
Hostel Hospitality on the Cape & Islands
Hostelling International/Cape Cod (tel. 617/718-7990; http://capecod.hiusa.org/index.php) offers low-cost seasonal accommodations in dorms (and a few private rooms), generally from late spring to sometime in September, at five sites on the Cape and islands: Martha's Vineyard, Mid Cape (Eastham), Nantucket, Hyannis, and Truro. Rates vary but range from $25 to $35 per person per night in a dorm room for nonmembers. When available, the private rooms cost from $125 to $200 per night. HI membership is $28 a year for adults, $18 for adults 55 and over, and free for 17 and under. Note that there's a limit on the length of stay. You can also buy daily memberships at the Cape Cod hostels for $3.
HI/AYH properties are on Ocean Street in Hyannis, across from Hyannis Inner Harbor; in Eastham, just off the bike trail; in a former Coast Guard station overlooking Ballston Beach in Truro; adjoining the 4,000-acre Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard; and in an 1874 lifesaving station on Surfside Beach on Nantucket.
If you haven't been to a hostel before (or if it's been awhile since you did the backpack/Eurailpass adventure), here's some basic info about the Cape Cod hostels:
- Continental breakfast is included with the room rate.
- Each hostel has a fully equipped kitchen so you can prepare meals.
- Linens, pillows, and blankets are provided free of charge (sleeping bags are not permitted).
- There is no minimum stay required.
- Check-in is between 3 and 10pm.
- No smoking or alcohol is permitted.
- Nonmembers may either buy a daily membership for $3 or become a Hostelling International member.
- Once checked in, there is 24-hour access.
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.