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April 02, 2008

Cape Cod: A Cautionary Tale

Calm Before the Storm: Skaket Beach, Cape Cod (William deSousa)

No doubt, Cape Cod has earned its right to be considered one of America's best beach locales. Wide, sheltered beaches on the Cape's mainland-facing flank provide acres of sandy real estate with calmer, shallower water that's ideal for young swimmers and waders; on the Cape's Atlantic-facing side, the protected swath of Cape Cod National Seashore offers long, deserted stretches of beach, sand dunes, and choppier surf.

And as I discovered on a family trip there two summers ago, Cape Cod lives up to its reputation as a top destination for that big family beach vacation—so long as the weather cooperates. Having traveled up to the Cape just before the summer high season, days one and two for us went pretty much as planned: we'd rented a lovely waterfront cottage near Eastham (on the Lower Cape) and eagerly set off each morning for the beach, looking every bit the archetypal bucket brigade. Our favorite spot was Skaket Beach, an excellent spot with broad ribbons of sand lapped by gentle, tidal waves. There, our two-year-old son couldn't have been happier, charging into the water, filling his bucket with wet sand, and toddling between rock pools in search of tiny crabs and other sand-dwelling critters. Yes, it was the Cape Cod of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce's wildest imaginings.

But then along came an unexpected June Nor'easter, which rapidly turned our Cape Cod adventure into a wind- and rain-lashed bust. Temperatures plunged by about 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the next two days were spent cooped up inside our now-claustrophobic two-bedroom cabin. We tried to rally as a family (games, videos, books), but we also discovered that there is nothing to do in Cape Cod with young kids when it's A) wet and B) outside the summer high season.

Not being willing to throw in the towel that easily, we headed inside to the Lower Cape's only indoor swimming pool, Willy's Gym, where we were summarily ripped off over $15 a head for a disappointing one-hour swim. We tried to saunter the quaint, but wet, teashop-lined streets of Chatham and Wellfleet, but who needs yet more sugar-loaded ice cream when your toddler already has two days of excess energy stored up? The Nor'easter eventually passed through, leaving dark clouds and chilly water in its wake, but we called it quits on the Cape two days ahead of time. I've no doubt the Cape is a wonderful place to be when the sun shines daylong and summer season is in full swing, but rain-drenched Cape Cod is no place for toddlers. -- Alistair Wearmouth

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Family Vacation


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